Spearfish Lake Tales logo Wes Boyd’s
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Blanche Tickle Girl book cover

Blanche Tickle Girl
Book Two of the Full Sails series
Wes Boyd
©2012, ©2014

Chapter 5

Mary reached out and put her arm around him, pulling him close; right then it seemed as he needed a hug. They rode along silently for several minutes with nothing being said, because there were no words that needed saying. Finally she whispered, “Ye miss her, don’t ye, b’y?”

“Yes, and no,” he sighed. “Don’t get me wrong. We were friends, not close friends. But for one night I was her lover, and that’s something . . . well, I don’t know how to describe it.”

“It might not be my place to say,” she smiled. “But I admit to some surprise that we’re not sailin’ to Ireland on a boat named Laurel.”

“I thought about it,” he admitted, not moving his head from her shoulder. “There were reasons not to do it, but that’s another story.”

They rode along like that for a while longer with no words passing between them. Presently his tears dried up, to be replaced with an overwhelming fatigue. Finally, he pulled away from her a little and said, “Mary, thank you. I really appreciate it.”

“Ye needed it, b’y,” she grinned. “An’ I think ye needed it more than you’ll admit.”

“You’re probably right,” he sighed. “Look, Mary, I can barely keep my eyes open. I’m afraid I’m not being a good host, but I need to go below and lie down for a bit. Do you mind if I do?”

“Naw, go do it. It’ll do ye some good. I can keep an eye on things up here for ye. Sleep as long as ye need.”

“Thank you, Mary,” he said as he got up, using a handhold to keep his balance. “I’m sure glad you’re with me.”

Matt went below and just collapsed on the cushions of the leeward bunk, not even bothering to take his foul weather gear off; he wasn’t sure he had the energy to do it just then. With the excitement of the trip on him he hadn’t had much sleep the night before, and the exhaustion plus the memories of Laurel were enough to do him in. He was asleep within seconds, a sound sleep like he’d never expected to get at sea with the need to get up frequently to look around.

Amazingly enough it was a dreamless sleep, or at least if he dreamed he didn’t remember it. Laurel and the memories of that evening he’d spent with her had come to him often in his dreams before, and there were times that the memories of her and the promise he’d made had kept him on his course when it was tempting to take an easier way. But this time, perhaps because he was actually setting out on one of his long-held dreams, his mind stayed away from those memories.

As it turned out he slept for several hours, and felt better when he woke up. There was no strangeness to finding himself in the cabin of the Mary Sue; this was far from the first time he’d slept there, even at sea. When he woke, he felt a sudden urge to check topside, since he felt like he’d slept far too long, but after a moment he remembered that he had his unexpected companion with him. From the cabin nothing seemed too far out of place, but he still felt like he should check in on her.

He pulled himself to his feet and looked out the hatch, to see Mary just sitting on the cockpit seat with a stainless steel coffee mug in her hand. “How’s it going?” he asked.

“Just fine,” she told him. “The self-steerin’ wouldn’t hold the right course, until I finally realized the wind was skewin’ a little. I reset it, and let the sheets out some. Now, everythin’ is fine, but the wind is shiftin’ and it’s probably not done changin’. The fog is thicker than it was, I think, but it’s hard to tell.”

“See any other boats?”

“Not a thing. They’d have to be pretty close to see in this murk, although a while back there were some cross waves that might have been the wake of a big trawler or somethin’. No way of tellin’ to be sure, though. Did ye sleep good?”

“Yeah, I think so. I guess I needed it.”

“I went below a while ago to make some more coffee an’ saw ye were sleepin’ like a baby,” she smiled. “It looked like ye were needin’ it.”

“Well, thanks for keeping an eye on things. Let me hit the head, then I’ll come up and relieve you.”

“No need to be rushin’, b’y. Take your time.”

A few minutes later Matt was back on deck, sitting next to his red-headed companion. The diffuse light in the fog wasn’t enough to tell him whether it was morning or evening. A glance at his watch revealed that he’d slept most of the afternoon. “Hey, Mary,” he said. “If you’d like to catch a nap or something, now would be a good time for you to take a turn below.”

“I think I might take ye up on that,” she replied. “I don’t think I need ta be turnin’ in, but I could use a visit to the head myself. I rinsed out the dishes from lunch while ye were asleep, an’ put them in that little sink in the galley.”

“Good place for them,” he said. “Look, we haven’t talked about watches. What do you think of doing it Navy style? Four-hour watches, with two-hour dog watches changing at 1800 local time? That way neither of us will have to take the midwatch every night.”

“Sounds good to me,” she said. “It’s about time to be changin’ over on the dog watch, so why don’t I take the watch below, then get us some grub? By the time the evenin’ watch is over with I’ll be needin’ some sleep myself.”

“Since I slept so much this afternoon, I’ll just plan on replacing you a little early,” he smiled. “Let me know when you want to turn in.”

Dinner was nothing special, just canned chili with beans; while Mary cooked it, she needed some help from Matt to find some things. It tasted good to eat back out in the cockpit, along with coffee for both. As they were eating, Matt noticed that, like earlier, the self-steering vane wasn’t holding them on course; that was not surprising as the gear was taking its orders from the direction of the wind. It was easy enough to adjust by resetting the vane and letting the main and jib sheets out a little more.

“If this keeps up,” he commented to Mary, “It should get around abaft the beam in the next day or so, and that’ll smooth the ride out quite a bit. The problem with that is if it gets too far around we’re going to have to sit here and steer.”

“I’m not sure I’m mindin’ the idea,” she said. “It got a little dull this afternoon just sittin’ here. Steerin’ would at least keep the mind alive.”

“That’s the down side to self-steering,” he admitted. “It’s handy if you have something else to do and often there is, but it does take away something from the dull times. It’s going to be different with you here, but if I was by myself I don’t know how I could have gotten along without it.”

“I can see that. I suppose we’ll get used to havin’ it by the time we get to Ireland.”

When they finished eating, Mary took the dirty dishes, rinsed them in a bucket, then went below for a while to heat some sea water to clean up, again with a few suggestions from Matt. “I still haven’t quite gotten used to the fact that we’re on salt water,” he commented at one point. “After all, until just a few days ago all my sailing experience has been on fresh water.”

“Aye, I’ve seen that,” she smiled. “But you’ll be learnin’ the difference soon enough, about the time you go ta take a drink from a seawater bucket.”

Dinner and the cleanup afterward ate up most of Mary’s watch below, not that she appeared to mind. Soon she was settled back on the cockpit seat next to Matt. Seeing that he was in a better mood than earlier, she decided to get some conversation going again. “Ye said ye didn’t want ta name this boat after your friend Laurel,” she observed. “An’ why might that be?”

“Oh, it’s part of the larger story,” he replied. “I never got that far along. But there’ll be time enough to tell it over the next few weeks. I’ve bent your ear enough about me for one day, and I still don’t know much about you.”

“I’m afraid there ain’t much ta be tellin’ about me. At least not the story that ye have to tell.”

“Maybe so,” he smiled. “But there has to be something interesting about a girl on the dock who was talking to a guy she’d never met, and an hour later was setting out to sail across the Atlantic with him. I’ve never met anyone before who would do something like that. Well, girls, anyway. I can imagine a guy doing it, but not a girl.”

“Well, ye seemed interestin’, b’y,” she grinned. “And I guess ye were. The idea of takin’ out ta cross the ocean in this little sloop just tickled my imagination, an’ I couldn’t think of anythin’ else I’d rather be doin’. I’ve always been told to grab an opportunity when it comes by since it may not come again. Like I said, I’ve been wantin’ to see someplace other than St. John’s and the South Shore now for a long time. The chance came along, so here I am.”

“Yeah, but it still seems strange for a girl to take off on a trip like this with a guy she’d never met before. There had to be something in your past that would let you do that.”

“Maybe so,” she conceded with a smile. “I suppose my Mam and Pap both dyin’ young had somethin’ to do with it. Even though I was livin’ with Cousin Albert in Blanche Tickle, I had to learn early to shift for myself.”

“How old were you when that happened?”

“I was seven when Mam died,” she related. “I guess now it was somethin’ like a heart attack, but I have always thought Mam died from a broken heart. She wasn’t the same after Pap was lost, that was for sure. I probably ought to tell you that we lived in a place named Ballycotton Cove, up the coast a ways from Blanche Tickle. It’s a real small place, only four or five houses, no roads or cars or anythin’, an’ I don’t remember it too well. There wasn’t no school there an’ I sort of remember Mam and Pap talkin’ that they’d have to move someplace so I could go to school, but that must have stopped when Pap died. You were talkin’ earlier about how you didn’t have a lot of clear memories of some of your time in hospital, and it was sort of the same for me. All I really remember was Cousin Albert comin’ to me and sayin’ I was gonna be livin’ with him in Blanche Tickle so I could go to school. In spite of Mam dyin’, I was excited ’cause I was going to get to go to school.”

“I can relate,” he nodded. “Christ, when I think of the days I spent laying on my back in the hospital, getting to go back to school was about the greatest thing I could imagine.”

“It was for me, b’y. ’Course, it didn’t turn out to be the happiest experience, but I had no way of tellin’ that at the time. All that came later. I remember gettin’ on Albert’s bummer so’s he could take me to Blanche Tickle so I could go to school, and I was so excited I was almost peein’ my pants. Now, I knew Albert, not real well, he was related to Pap somehow an’ I guess that was about all I ever knew. He didn’t have a wife, never had, an’ he lived by himself. Lookin’ back on it, I have to say that he must have had a real good heart to take on a little girl like me, but the truth of it was that he didn’t have much idea of what to do with me. Truth was, he could remember what it was like ta be a boy, so that was pretty much how he treated me. I can’t remember if I even owned a dress at that time, but if I did I don’t remember wearin’ it.”

Matt laughed out loud and said, “I’ll bet you don’t own one now, either.”

“Had one for a while up till a couple years ago, but I gave it away ’cause I never wore it much, b’y. The way I move around here an’ again, I don’t have need for more stuff to own than I have ta. Somehow I didn’t look like me when I had it on, so I didn’t mind the losin’ it. Sides, I never had much of a place to go to wear it.”

“You know, you could be right,” he smiled at the picture his imagination was presenting. “But somehow, I think it would be fun to see you in a dress sometime.”

“’Twouldn’t be on a boat, that’s for sure b’y,” she laughed, then went on. “Anyway, it weren’t so much that I wore trousers all the time that set me apart from the other girls at school, ’cause none of ’em wore dresses much, but most of them at least some, in the springtime and early fall. Little places like Blanche Tickle tend to be pretty close. They don’t always get along with outsiders well, an’ it goes right on down to the youngsters. There were times I got to play with some of the other kids a little, but it sometimes was pretty much them against me, if you follow.”

“I sure do,” he nodded. “It was pretty much like that when I went back to the sixth grade when all of my friends were in the seventh. I was an outsider, and I never really cracked the wall of strangeness.”

“It still had to have been pretty different,” she related. “’Specially because I often wasn’t around the other kiddies. See, in a little place like Blanche Tickle the boys are often helpin’ out on the fishin’ boats at an early age. Now, like I said, Albert had never got married. Most times it was just him and his bummer out fishin’, and he didn’t have anyone to leave me with, so more often than not I was out with him, at least in the summer. I wasn’t playin’ with dolls or nothin’ like that, either; I was doin’ the best I could to help him out. It may have not been very much, but there always seemed like there was somethin’ to do. Truth be told, b’y, I soon found out that I’d rather be out with him where I had a friend, rather than stayin’ back in Blanche Tickle by myself.”

“You know,” he said thoughtfully as he shifted his position a little, “That sounds just a little like how it was with Uncle Jake back up at Winchester Harbor.”

“Aye, probably was a little now that you mention it, although it would seem likely that there were more things different than there were the same, mostly because all the time I knew Albert, he was right on the edge of bein’ broke. We never was starvin’, but I got awful tired of boiled cod after a while. Somehow, he managed to hang on, an’ we never went hungry, but there were times it was awful close. Now, we were poor, there wasn’t no doubt about it, but Albert was a happy man, and he always was good natured. I suppose I picked up a bit of it from him.”

“You do seem to have a pretty good smile and look on the bright side of thing,” he said, realizing that he was beginning to understand her a little. “It was one of the first things I noticed about you. I take it that being poor didn’t help you a lot in school.”

“School, well, it was school, and it was just somethin’ I had to do, b’y,” she shrugged. “Now ye have ta understand, while I grew up poor, it wasn’t that much worse than anyone else in Blanche Tickle. It’s a fishin’ village, and when the catches were good people had a little more money, but most people weren’t a lot better off than Albert and I, at least most of the time. It wasn’t like I was a poor girl in the middle of a bunch of rich kids, it was just that most of the others were only slightly less poor than I was. It was more just my bein’ the outsider than it was anythin’ else. I don’t want to make you think I was sad or angry or anythin’ ’cause I didn’t know much better. If ye’d asked me at the age of, oh, eleven or twelve, I’d probably have told ye that I was pretty happy.”

“I’d say you still are,” he grinned.

“Aye, I can look back an’ say I probably learned somethin’ from that, b’y,” she nodded. “In some ways school was just fine. Now, like I said, I’d never been to school before I was brought to Blanche Tickle, so when I started in grade one I was a year or two behind the other kiddies my age. But the school was all a one-room school from grades one through six, an’ I was so excited to finally be in school I paid a lot of attention. I learned to read right quick, and by the time I got done with my first year, I’d pretty well caught up with the kids a year older, so the next year they started me in grade three. I had to work at first to keep up, but with me in grade three it meant that there was no one in grade two, so the teacher didn’t have to do much extra. That helped me to catch up some.”

“One-room schools are long gone where I grew up, except for special situations,” he commented. “But now and then I’ve talked to some older folks who went to them, and they said they liked them just fine.”

“Well, I liked it just fine, ’cause I didn’t know anythin’ different. When I finished grade six, I went on to grade seven in what we called the high school. It was a different building, but right next to the other one, and the kids were all the same as I’d known all along. It still had only one teacher, but a different one, but things really hadn’t changed much. By then, most of the boys were helpin’ out on the fishin’ boats when they were out of school, and once in a while one or two of the girls besides me, but none of them were doin’ it as much as I was. See, in a place like Blanche Tickle things don’t change much over the years. The boys were mostly expected to be fishin’ when they grew up, and the girls were supposed to wait on the shore, have a family, an’ the like. There ain’t a processin’ plant at Blanche Tickle, but in other South Shore towns where there is one the girls often work in them. Albert always had to sell his catch in a town up the coast where there was one, an’ I got to know it pretty well. I never much liked the processin’ plant, and always figured I’d rather be fishin’ than workin’ in one.”

“Hard work?”

“Aye, it is. I’ve had to work in one or another every now and then, but every time I have, I’ve always been lookin’ for the chance to do somethin’ else, b’y. It stinks to high heaven, not that a fishin’ boat can’t get a little smelly now and again. It’s noisy, and it’s borin’, doin’ the same thing time after time for hours on end. It can be a tough life on a fishin’ boat but at least it’s interestin’ most of the time. I won’t say that I’d do anythin’ other than workin’ in a processin’ plant ’cause there’s some things even worse, but I always figured that there was somethin’ better, too.”

“As I recall, you said you didn’t make it all the way through high school.”

“Naw, I didn’t,” she shook her head. “Not that I wouldn’t have liked to, but things didn’t work out right. Albert, well, about the time I was eleven or twelve he started not feelin’ good, an’ had trouble breathin’. At first it wasn’t too bad and he could grit it out, an’ it helped that I was bigger an’ could be more help to him. He just got worse and worse, and finally, the winter I was in grade eleven he was so sick he couldn’t go out in the bummer no more. Finally he had to sell it, not that he got much out of it, and the next thing you knew he was in hospital in St. John’s, an’ I was pretty much out in the cold. I lived by myself in his house for a while gettin’ by one way an’ another, an’ it did get a little hungry for me at times then.”

“You couldn’t get welfare or assistance or whatever they call it there?”

“I could have,” she shook her head. “But I didn’t. I was probably a little dumb about that, but I can be as independent as anyone else from the South Shore, b’y. ’Sides, I was worried the government would want to stick me in some foster home in St. John’s, an’ I really didn’t want that, so I just hung on. I got a little help from some of the neighbors, and there was an old skiff Albert had given up on that I could go out in the harbor and do a little hand-linein’ when I wasn’t tryin’ to keep it afloat. Just when things seemed like they was worse, I’d catch a fish or two and I’d be all right for a while longer. It wasn’t till them times was over with that I really realized I could have gotten assistance from the government, and by then it was too late.”

“But you stuck it out,” he nodded, again impressed with the grit of this girl.

“For a while,” she replied. “I finished up my grade, but if I started the next one, there weren’t no way I could make it all the way through the final year, so one day I got a ride on a fishin’ boat that was headed up to St. John’s so I could go see him. Well, the skipper knew me a little an’ knew I knew what I was doin’. He had a hand sick, his brother or somethin’, I don’t remember now, and asked me if I could fill in for a while. The pay wasn’t too bad, but by the time his brother came back it was too late for me to go back to school in Blanche Tickle or anywhere else to get that final year, so I just didn’t. Since then, it’s been one job or another, doin’ what I could, sometimes at sea, more often not. I’ve kept hopin’ I could find somethin’ I could stay with, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m in no rush, though. There are some advantages to not bein’ tied to a job and such, b’y, ’cause ye never know when some guy in a little boat is going to come along and ask me to go to Ireland with him. That way, there ain’t reason to say no.”

“I’m still impressed with the way you made a snap decision to go with a stranger like you did, but I guess I’m just as glad. Out of curiosity, what happened to Albert’s house?”

“I kept it up for him the best I could in hope that he’d be able to come back to it someday, but he never did,” she sighed. “It was all he had left by then, and he left it to me when he died. It ain’t a shack or anythin’, but it’s very small, an’ it’s in good shape and clean. I’ve tried to keep it that way. Every now and then I get the chance to rent it out to someone for a while, like last summer I rented it to a Yank artist guy who spent the summer makin’ paintin’s. Most of the time it sits empty, although now and again if I’m not doin’ anythin’ else and have a few loonies in my pocket, I’ll go down and just live there for a spell. I still have some friends in Blanche Tickle, although I’ll always be an outsider. If I was to get married and live there, my kiddies might be considered locals, or they might not. My grandchildren, though, they might pass the test. Even though I’m an outsider, Blanche Tickle is still home to me, and I’ll always consider myself a Blanche Tickle girl.”

<< Back to Last Chapter
Forward to Next Chapter >>

To be continued . . .

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.