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What a story of journeys this is. Just how far round the globe will it take me? How thin is my character to be drawn by harsh luck and improbable circumstance? But then, why did I care? Loveless, I was indifferent to my fate. So I lay there amongst fermenting chips, plastic wrappers and eerily luminescent fish eyes while the bird flew higher and higher.
The next thing I remember was sunlight, the stink of diesel, the slosh of seawater and the world rolling from side to side. The bird had disgorged me onto the deck of a fishing boat and above me stood a deckhand. ’Welcome to the Queen of the Seas,’ he said.
He took me to the master. ‘So what can you do?’ the Captain asked. ‘This is a working boat. We carry no baggage, no tourists and no Lord Byrons.’
There I was, covered in gull spit and fish bits, a lone nose without love, without prospects. What could I say?
‘Well,’ I said and then I told him all about my childhood fixing nets by the docks in Marseilles, my teen years hauling bluefin at the Tsukiji fish markets, my fisher ancestors going back three generations and my recent spell as assistant third mate on The Pelican out of Mallacoota.
The Captain didn’t believe a word but being a big-nose himself was sympathetic. ‘You can start on the gutting line.’
And for a while the oceanic mountains and mirrored plains that The Queen traversed, the sleek treasures and bug-eyed horrors it drew daily from the deep was enough. Enough but for the setting sun which again and again returned my thoughts to Nina.
All this time K wore a prosthetic nose; a sculpted rubber fabric-covered dingus imported from Switzerland by Silas the local cosmetician. The contraption was attached with flesh-coloured tape and the joins were powdered over with make-up. Although inconvenient (he spent an hour each morning in front of the mirror, turning from side to side dabbing filler here and there) he told Silas that it was less trouble and had a more pleasing ‘Scandinavian’ slope than the precipitous angularity of the original. It fooled no one of course.
Three months on, I’m in the Catalina bar, my wallet fat with back pay having left The Queen for good. And after a long night of drinking and garrulity, someone is offended and I find myself in the car park out back with the carpenter and his apprentice being schooled on the uppercut, the long-arm jab, the roundhouse swing and the kick in the guts for good measure.
Next morning finds me broke, bruised and sore sitting up the back of the Murrays coach as it climbs the escarpment towards the Capital. I had nothing left but conviction: I had spent a season over the horizon but Nina was my lighthouse, calling me back, calling me home.
Anyone can find work in the Capital. Recruiters in cheap suits are on every corner calling out as you pass. They’ll sidle up to you in cafes and pursue you in the parks and gardens, so that after a morning touring the monuments, your pockets will be full of business cards and you’ll have an interview at two and another at three-thirty.
And the interviewer will be smiling and offering you tea (or coffee or a citrus spritz if you prefer) and a sandwich. Despite your demurral, she’ll muscle the platter towards you insisting you take an egg triangle. And while you’re chomping away she’ll be scanning your CV and saying things like: ‘Oooh yes, we could really use someone with your particular skills…’
Finding work was easy but my conscience was troubled.
‘Forgive me father for I will sin.’ I knelt at the All Saints service.
How can there be forgiveness if there is no remorse?
‘I am remorseful. I wish it were not so, that it were not a necessity but the thing I must do I must. I am compelled.’
Take responsibility for your actions.
‘And ignore unreasonable circumstance, the twisted heart and outrageous luck?
You’re making excuses.
And her father? Does he not have a slice? Why couldn’t he charge me with twelve impossible labours: find the golden fleece, trim the Gorgon’s fringe, distil a tincture of moonlight, indenture me as sweeper in his flour mill for a decade, all this would I gladly do. But he is obdurate, his refusal is a boulder, a lump.’