G. L. Eikenberry
Like the endless tides, life goes in cycles: sometimes up, sometimes down. Even as you watch the waters pull away, leaving you beaches on land, remember: give it time. The tide will rise.
Time was, the eyes inside his head showed him the harbor for what it had been in the city's early days.
But now he looks down from Point Pleasant's overlook and sees nothing that doesn't register on physical retinas. Layer after layer of rejections and missed chances just keep on piling up, feeding on each other, wearing down the romance, the visions -- back then when different things mattered -- when a man could walk the docks freely, his head held high, seeking not a mindless job just to pay the rent and keep a body in burgers and smokes, but a berth on a good ship -- an adventure.
Now there's nothing but the container pier, almost dead; the autoport and refineries, their promises of prosperity long tarnished; sleek office towers and a wild jumble of stone, brick, and wood frame buildings: just Halifax -- the sharp-edged, paint peeling, corrosive twentieth century edition. No tall ships, no romance, no dockyard throngs -- no chance. The make-believe waterfront is practically reserved for tourists, the few working docks practically reserved for machines.
What's happening to him? Six years now in Halifax with plenty of highs and even more lows. Then, when he first arrived, crammed full of history, books and dreams, he was popular with the ladies -- young, blond, chiseled features, tall, sleek, hard prairie farmhand muscles. It had been easy. He took a few courses, and worked when he felt like it, changing jobs like he changed socks: when it suited him. Maybe there were tough times back then too, but they easily succumbed to the magic -- going down to wash away the lows with his private view of the harbor -- flying back across 230 years to the era that had drawn him to the old seaport.
Now the city sulking below him drains the once-was city from his veins -- feeds an intense pressure throbbing out against his temples -- mocks his used-up luck, his still unrealized possibilities.
Then it was 230 years of maritime history that drew him to the edge of the continent. Now it's 28 years of personal history that mocks, goads, beckons from a different edge. If he had a boat he'd make for open water and offer himself up to the first seething Atlantic gale snarling across the Coast Guard's weather radar.
But all he's got is a bicycle. Blue, kind of battered but dependable -- he picked it up from Dan, trading a stereo he almost never used anyway. It gets him around, but it doesn't get him the sea.
He pumps the old Peugeot up the hill to be alone -- to watch the city bleed into the harbor. To reach back. To think.
What he thinks about is making do with what he's got. What he thinks about is purging the boat he'll never own from his mind and pedaling away from all the hassles and all the promises that never have and never will pan out. He thinks about the rent that isn't paid, won't be paid, can't be paid, about grinding that screw of a slumlord underneath the tires, about spinning down along the shore.
He thinks about the job roster down at the Halifax Longshoremen's Association -- the one that rarely offers work to Eddie Plett. He thinks about feeding that list into the bicycle's chain, shredding it into freedom. Away. Eastward.
At first he worked at simplifying, purifying his life, but what's the point? He gave up drinking, except for the odd beer. It doesn't help. He's down to half a pack of smokes a day, but that doesn't make much difference either, except maybe for a few extra cents a week for burgers and chips.
Most of his so-called friends seem to be too busy for him these days. Oh, sure, Christi hasn't quite given up on him yet, but even her patience seems to be wearing thin. He has always considered her something of a kindred spirit -- not like all the good-time Susies that fade into the shadows when things begin to go a little sour -- but, the other night she called him a self-indulgent jerk.
"Some Maritimer you are," she preached, "You've got to learn to think of these stretches of unemployment as a blessing. Use the time like a gift -- do all the things you couldn't find the time for before they laid you off. What about that dory you're always planning to build?"
Yeah, sure, build it with what? Out of dreams? Treat the time like a gift? After fourteen months anything he ever wanted to do has either been done or costs too much. So what's the point? Why stick around?
It's late. The past is all used up and the future is crowding in. The chill he feels goes deeper than the chill that precedes the sunset.
He waits for the moon, but nothing changes.
That's it, then. The decision is made. It sits on the knot in his throat, waiting for him to do something about it.
He wheels down the hill and up out of the park. Christi'll get on his case about running away from his problems. She might even try to talk him out of it.
Her apartment is up on the north end, a fifteen minute spin on the Peugeot. It's a bright moon. Wispy clouds break across its face on a surging, leaping nor'west wind -- the kind of wind that, back when the only waves he knew were waves of wheat, used to carry his thoughts east -- way beyond the limitations of reality.
He's already off and away by the time he rolls up in front of Christi's place. It's a nice place. She's got a four room flat. She's got furniture. She's got a job.
Before he even realizes it he's up the stairs and at Christi's door. She said he could save his rent -- stay there with here until he got back on his feet, but they both know it wouldn't work.
He's already gone -- the freedom -- the release pumping through his veins. But he knocks on her door anyway -- just to let her know.
The face she wears when she answers the door says she won't be trying to change his mind tonight. She won't even notice the good feeling building in his chest, percolating up, slipping out through the small crack of his smile. Somebody's in there with her. A guy. Necktie, suit, the works. Looking right at home. Mr. Right.
"Oh, hi, Eddie. You must be looking for that book of spells and incantations I was telling you about. Last week. You know, at Ginger's. I can let you borrow it, but you have to promise to be careful. It's my cousin's -- it's really old -- ancient. Wait here. I'll get it for you."
So maybe he is a self-indulgent jerk, but he doesn't need a telegram to figure out what's going on. He may be broke, but he's not stupid. But what the hell, why make a fuss? No point in making things awkward in front of Mr. Right. Mr. Desk Job. Mr. Paycheck Every Friday. But what damned book?
Returning with a crumbly, leather-covered book, smelling of musty old streamer trunks and attics, the face she wears says it all. "Just take the book," it says. It's a face that reminds him that, even when things go right there can still be knots in the throat -- knives in the gut. She's finally got a shot at the things the guys she usually hangs out with can't give her. So who can blame her? If opportunity walks up and kicks you in the ass you can't ignore it.
He leaves. He can't to take off for good without going home to pick up a couple of things first, but he can't go there 'til the slumlord's lackey of a superintendent heads off to his graveyard shift job.
So he goes down the street to the cafe -- the same place he used to go to with Christi. Killing time. Drinking tea. Flipping through the old book -- she just wouldn't let him get away without it.
The pages fall open to a place marked with one of Christi's fabric scrap bookmarks. A spell to turn a run of bad luck.
That's Christi, all right. Always ready with the free advice.
Another tea, the book, the spell -- and the guy on Christi's davenport. Mr. Right? Mr. Just-What-the-Checkbook-Ordered? A run of bad luck turned around? Read the spell. Nothing too complicated. What's the harm in pulling up a few weeds?
Eddie slips up the fire escape and in through the door on the roof. His Queen Street bedsitting room stays dark, just in case the super is running a little late.
The exhilaration of the decision to split is fading now. Everything's closing in again -- all the jobs somebody else got, the rent he hasn't paid for almost three months, Christi, the guy on her sofa, the jobs, the bills, the guy, Christi -- a run of bad luck.
A run of bad luck -- real bad -- shattering -- splintering, stabbing with sharp edges: past, present, future. Eddie gets up and lights a small, dark candle.
Eddie opens up Christi's cousin's book.
Grass blown by an east wind. Grass blown by a west wind. Grass blown by a north wind. Weave it into an amulet. Steep it in rain borne on a south wind. Steep it under a full moon up on the roof for good measure. Well, almost full, anyway -- what the hell. Mumble a little Latin or something. Everybody does it, right? Cast a quick spell to change a run of bad luck, right?
How stupid can you get?
Is he taking off or isn't he?
It's 3:37 a.m. A good time to break away.
Away. Down along the waterfront.
Away. Up to Brunswick Street. Along the city's spine, gliding out onto the bridge, out across the harbor. Out through Dartmouth. Lawrencetown. Wheels spinning. Seaforth. The Chezzetcooks. Spinning hard. Musquodoboit Harbor. Thrusting, surging...
Sunlight is just beginning to spill over the horizon, seeping in off the Atlantic.
The early morning wind blows over him, blows back to the city, the harbor that was, the tall ships from far-off lands -- aromatic with the romance of the seven seas, with the rum, the tea, the salty, pungent, acrid, back-of-the-throat smell of the spice merchant's clipper.
Eddie Plett, pushing eastward, cresting yet another wave, pulling against the pitch of the wheel, peering through the viscous mists of another morning, drinking deeply of the wind, the spray, the snap of the sails, marvels at the luck of a farm boy like him -- securing so choice a commission...
G. L. Eikenberry (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a frequent InterText contributor who works as a freelance information systems and communications consultant in Canada. He's been writing fiction for more than twenty years. His work has been published in a wide (often obscure and mostly Canadian) variety of hard-copy publications as well as in electronic media.
InterText stories written by G. L. Eikenberry: "Eddie's Blues" (v3n5), "Reality Error" (v4n2), "The Loneliness of the Late-Night Donut Shop" (v4n4), "River" (v5n1), "Oak, Ax and Raven" (v6n2), "Schrödinger's Keys" (v7n1).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 3, Number 5 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1993 G. L. Eikenberry.