By Tracey Waddleton Honourable mention for the Cuffer Prize 2013
Take this, Gerry says and he hands me a caplin impaled on three prongs. I hold it to the fire. The skin lifts and crisps, manoeuvres against the heat, then the whole thing slips and lands in the flame, wraps itself onto a log.
— Image by Thinkstock.com
I haul it out by piercing it. I eat it anyway, because it was caught when the sun was over the water, on the first real roll. Just think, dying to lay eggs like that.
On the beach there are 15 fires, 15 tribes. We stoke flames in semi-circles, roasting fish and marshmallows, hoisting brown beer bottles.
We want the best fire. The next one over has a perfect steeple built from lengths of 2x4. Rich sacrifices the chairs we’d made from cardboard and duct tape and we step back from the wall of heat. Jenny says how lucky we are to have caught the weather and the last hurrah at the Cobblestone.
A ship blinks across the horizon. I think the ocean is some great beast, that any moment it will rise and climb the beach for us. That it will sound some call we know and all of us, all 15 tribes, will leave our little worlds of fire and follow it to sea, our marshmallows unmanned and burning to hard plastic black. I wait for it. I think if only that sound, but it is just the rush of the waves sweeping pebbles, the electric shock of the spitting orange night.
I whisper to Gerry, take me dancing.
It’s a $30 cab ride from Middle Cove, split four ways, and the Cobblestone is like a yard sale. There are price tags on the pint glasses, on the flags that line the ceiling, the brass bell and its frayed rope chord. The owner stands out front in his Friday best, announcing the end.
We take turns with our condolences and the girl on the door says we smell like fire. The trio plays jazz about the food fishery. The bass struts in salted tones, chasing wayward cod.
There’s a table and the cooler is broken so it’s what’s on tap. We start on the Guinness.
This place, back in the day, Gerry says, hand to chest. Let’s move back, he says.
C’mon, b’y. You’re drunk.
Why not? He says, but he knows why not. He sips his beer and looks away.
We hoist our glasses. Tomorrow this place will be a gourmet hotdog parlor with foie gras and endive for toppings.
Out on Water Street, the smokers stand in circles. The talk rises to a din so that nothing is discernible. It’s so loud it’s quiet again but it’s a comfortable beat. I see Gerry gesticulating, telling a joke. I see Rich tap Jenny on the shoulder, present her with a blue flower. A band of street kids with banjos and accordions swamp a guy into a corner, playing him tunes.
I am remembering the moments as part of some past memory, even as they happen. I am storing them for later. The street kids bow and curtsy and disappear with their instruments into the night, all shadows and tattoos and dreadlocks. The full rose moon sits on the hill, takes their names.
At midnight, the bartender is swamped and sweating in his pint-glass fort. We put $20 in the jar with the toonies and loonies and we head to the park on the harbour front. Rich passes a joint. We say let’s hunt the bubble but we can’t get close, there’s a fence. We’re not supposed to be here now. We take pictures from some other wharf, our eyes on the black spot where the gulls circle and dive.
Fog grips Signal Hill, runs down it in tendrils. It’s Portuguese man-o’-war fog, drawn in the colour of city lights.
Rich sings the “Ode to Newfoundland” and Jenny salutes by hiking her skirt up. Rich says she’s a tart and she shoves the blue flower into his mouth. We make our way to George Street. Two bars pipe two versions of “Northwest Passage” through overhead speakers. We trace one warm line to the hotdog cart. In the morning, I host a headache of a thousand ice picks.
In the lineup for hangover coffee, we see the Cobblestone owner. He is different in the daylight, almost like a normal man. He says that place, how it ran him for so many years. It was his thing, though. The meeting of people. He likes the things that bring people together. Like how we all find ourselves here in this moment, in this coffee shop so far from the downtown. Like maybe we’re all part of the same thing.
Like a tribe, I say.
He says without the bar, he might go into real estate. His friend Joe is an agent, could show him the ropes.
Happy travels, he says.
One-hundred and 35 whales off the point are dancing in caplin. A guy says this like he’s counted them. Jenny and Rich drive up to meet us and we eat brie and mussels tinned in brine on crackers that cost $12 a pack. Closer inland, a pair of humpbacks are chased by a tour boat.
On the deck, the tour guides sing Irish songs through megaphones. The music stops the whales from fleeing, it draws them back to circle the boat. They applaud with slapping fins, toss salt ocean at the tourists.
Down the road, the house where I grew up is sunk in with ivy. Rich photographs us walking through the ruins. He says was this your tree and was this your hill and I say yes, that it was all mine once.
At the airport, there’s the feeling that you’ve left something behind. A cel phone charger, a book. Gerry’s got his suitcase open on a blue plastic chair. The local paper has a picture of the bar from midnight, of the owner in his suit unplugging the Cobblestone’s yellow sign. The caption reads “End of An Era.”
Rich asks when are we moving back and Jenny says she’s sorry to see us go, she’ll miss us again.
The captain says look out over the left wing. In the water, there are whales, hundreds of them, heading for Newfoundland, heading to feed. Gerry leans into my shoulder.
They would never hear us singing this far up, I say, but he’s asleep already. He doesn’t wake again until we’re over the Prairies.
Tracey Waddleton lives and writes
in St. John’s. She is currently completing her first collection of short stories.
Next week: Aley Waterman’s “A Summer Without Parks”