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General News · 30th April 2021
Ian Ross
Nov 8, 1942 - April 30, 2017

ebb tide, April

for Julia (for Marcel)

one last time he pulls upon the oars and the small grey skiff surges forward in the water where it shallows then and scrapes along the oyster shells and stones, the sound like hollowed bones against the flatness of the hull and, with the boat now grounded out and stopped, he sits and listens to the world gone quiet here and still but for the clear crisp whoosh whoosh whoosh of a raven passing watchful overhead;

and then he moves and with amazing grace steps down into the low cold ebbing sea and, looking all around as if just rousing from a dream, he pats the pockets of his pants and too his shirt and eyes the contents of his boat, for he has neither gloves (he realizes now) nor knives nor even any buckets here or sacks and, seeing then the wharf across the bay where the live-aboards are tied and where the work-boats of the farmers bob at anchor off the beach, he shakes his head and laughs, a sound as big and brass as a steamhorn’s sudden blast, Holy God, he thinks, she’s right, I am, I’m losing my grip and I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that I am or the fact that she’s maybe probably right;

looking all around again he sees the sun-bleached oyster shells and stones, the barnacles like teeth enrooted on the beach, the five-armed starfish sprawled half-hidden there beneath the large half-sunken rocks, and he feels no urge nor even need to pry them from their place to toss them high above the high-tide line where they will wither-up and die and, smiling once again, he thinks, I have, I’ve lost my goddamn grip, the man remembering then when he first came here to this place and the beaches and the rafts had seemed a teeming, moiling thrive of people working in their gumboots and their gloves amidst the deep rank offal stink of sealife rotting in the sun, remembering as well that other heady smell, the sure sharp springlike scent of salt and oxygen and kelp which seeps right deep into the very dimmest, most-reptilian places in the brain, the workers here a catholic and a motley bunch both young and old and feminine and male and hale and not-so-very and some too even sane and, for some reason that he knew but had never quite thought through, he’d known that he’d come home;

the air out here is cool and even cold, April-sharp and clear, the sky all high and blue and ringed all round by great white piles of glowing cloud as if this small green shining island of a rock were haloed from above while words like mist now drift within the air – Waddington, Bee Islets, Pendrell Sound, Refuge, Orchard Bay and Potlach, Manson’s and the Cove, Joyce Point, Smelt Bay, Teakerne Arm and Lewis Channel, the Gorge and Deadman’s and the Plant – and he sees her as he steps out through the shuckroom door with the barrow-full of shells he’s swept up off the floor, sees her leaning lank against the Plant’s high wall as she watches from the shade, her tea and sandwich in her hands so that, in what must be a first, he forgets the one thing he has not forgot for years: that he has caged within his brain a book as wild and untamed as a tiger or a torch and, squinting in the light, he smiles at her, he bares his great white teeth behind the great white vastness of his beard and laughs, a huge sound thunderous as storm:

Good God, he thinks, the times we’ve had;

and then, like that, like something from a dream, the Silent Harvest looms up drifting past, its crew back-bent and grimace-faced as, slashed by galing rain, they curse and heave and turn the Wheel again while somewhere back behind their moans he hears a voice that can only be his own – a voice with all the booming timbre and the surgent loom and grace of a freight-train bearing down – “A-one,” he hears, “and-a-two, and-a-three and, goddamnitall, a-nudder, and a-nudder, and a-nudder;” the Wheel of Fortune is the udder name he gave this thing that he and Cathy too and Julia and Vik had not just built but worked for far more many years than common sense or even decency should ever have allowed, a great flat floating platform with a long wide wooden table butting up against a large and wooden wheel above which, gallows-like, an A-frame hangs with a pulley at its peak and, half-way up, a hand-cranked winch with not one power-pack (beyond the human back) in sight; those he hired to crew it knew it by its truer names – the Great Wheel of Woe, the Rack, the Wheel of Death, of Damnation and of Pain – just as they knew too that it was largely thanks to him and this prehistoric pretence of a tool that they had not just jobs they could rely on through the year but (unlike so many here) jobs that paid a more-than-merely living-wage (and that bought, then, more than merely one of them their homes);

and then, the Wheel with its madly glad besotted crew turned on beyond the Point, he feels an aching like a grim bleak scraping deep within and so, the tide like breeze still ebbing from the shore, he palms the transom of the boat to ease it out to keep it floating on the sea and, hearing something purring like a murmuring of people stirring some with goblets in their hands, he looks towards the untrue entrance of the Gorge and sees a spring-green field of grass and hears the clear light liquid sound of harp-strings in the air and smells as well the garlic-buttered salted scent of seafood on the grill until, the sun upshining like a prayer, he feels again that sharp dark inner pang of pain and, closing both his eyes, he bows his head and nods and says


and lets the boat float free

and he is rising now and climbing up the branches of a tree, his longknown frame of flesh and bone as light now as a sprite’s ascending with an ease that feels as foreign as a throne, the sky so high, so high above and beckoning as love, and then he feels a lifting like a body rising on its wings and all around the seagulls swirl and shriek like souls in transit between worlds until, from somewhere high atop a tree, a raven shouts out loud, it barks one last black ragged song – khaa! it sings, khaa! – and looking then he sees her there and them and all this whole green shimmer of an island of a world and, soaring almost clear, he hears their words like sunlight sinking softly in the sea, “Farewell,” he hears, “Marcel, farewell; with all our love, farewell”

and then this too

ebbs into a dew