Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
It took Matt and Mary a few days to get settled into her house in Blanche Tickle. There was some cleaning to be done, nothing terribly strenuous, but just to make things a bit neater and more comfortable. The next day Evan dropped by and the three of them carried a load of firewood from his battered pickup and stacked it near the kitchen door. Later that same day, a truck came by and filled the big white propane tank; Mary said that if they were careful it ought to get them through the winter.
Several days later, they made a long day trip into St. John’s with the Cavalier, stocked up on groceries, and picked up a few things from Mary’s former landlady. Even after only a few days in Blanche Tickle it seemed like the big city to Matt; they did quite a bit of shopping for groceries and other things they thought they’d need in the next few months. It was getting dark on the short, cold, windy November day before they made it back to the house and unloaded the car. “We’ll probably have ta go inta St. John’s again sooner or later,” she said. “But that’ll be makin’ for a nice break when the walls start gettin’ a little close.”
As the next few days went by Matt and Mary tried to get over to the post office and store regularly, if not every day. Before long Matt had met many of the couple hundred people or so who lived there, although he knew he’d be a while remembering all the names, and thought it could take years. One day it struck him that he already knew more people in Blanche Tickle than he did in the town he came from, at least anymore. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but thought it said something about how close the people were here and how anonymous things had been at home.
After a while he and Mary began to settle into a routine. It involved a little housework, some odd chores inside and outside that always seemed to need to be done. Almost every day they took a walk to the store and the post office, a trip that could take an hour or longer depending on how much they talked with people while they were out. There always seemed to be something to talk about, although it was often weather or fishing. At least part of every day was spent doing some reading, either from the books Matt brought with them or the supply that Mary had kept in her closet; often there was a cheery fire in the little fireplace to keep them company while they curled up in their chairs. Of course, they managed to spend some quality time under the covers of the double bed that was crammed into Mary’s tiny room. It was a lazy existence, and the time threatened to pass slowly, but somehow it never did.
Matt did get to learn a little about fishing in Newfoundland, at least the way it was done in Blanche Tickle. One day one of Mary’s friends took the two of them out on his fishing boat, and they spent the day long-lining for cod not far out of the harbor. It was not the nicest day Matt had seen in Blanche Tickle, not by a long shot, but he wore a borrowed set of oilskins so stiff they seemed to be able to stand up by themselves. He did his best to carry his share of the load while thinking of his comfortable foul-weather gear sitting on the Mary Sue in Denmark. While they were out a thick fog blew in; though Matt knew that Mary’s friend had a GPS on board his boat, which wasn’t much larger than the Mary Sue, it didn’t seem to get used. Mary’s friend seemed to be able to smell his way back into the mooring at Blanche Tickle just on local knowledge. It was an impressive performance, telling Matt not only how it not only used to be done, but how it still often was.
A few days later, a nice day for mid-November came along. It was a day that happened to be closed to cod fishing, and Evan offered to take the two of them around in his boat just to show them a bit of the local scenery. Of course they took him up on it, and along in the afternoon they happened to pull into a little cove, where there were half a dozen abandoned and tumbledown little houses. “This is Ballycotton Cove, where I was born,” Mary said. “I don’t remember much of it, an’ I ain’t been here in quite a while. I remember it bein’ a nice little place from when I was a little girl, but it looks like it’s all but gone, now.”
“Aye,” Evan said. “Must be ten-twelve years since anyone’s tried to live here. There used ta be a lot of little places like this up an’ down the South Shore, but one by one they’re goin’ away. Life here is a-changin’, an’ there’s times it don’t seem like it’s changin’ for the good.”
The weather closed in after that day on the water, and one day it was storming so hard that even a walk to the post office didn’t seem very appealing. Right then, just sitting and reading didn’t seem all that appealing to Matt, either, so for lack of anything better to do he decided to fire up the laptop he’d brought with him and get started writing an account of their ocean crossing back in the summer. The laptop’s battery was dead, of course; it hadn’t been used in something like eight months, but the charger soon got it working. As he booted up the computer, he was surprised to see a notice come up on the screen that a wireless network had been acquired.
“I will be damned,” he said to Mary. “No phone, no flush toilet, but wireless Internet. That was about the last thing I expected to find here.”
“Surprise to me,” she shrugged. “’Course I hear that people have been usin’ it for weather an’ such. Maybe it’s somethin’ the government put in.”
“Could be,” he smiled. “But I need to order some books on European canal cruising, and this looks like the time to try.”
The laptop and the availability of the Internet put a little different spin on the winter for them. Matt spent a little time teaching Mary how to use the little computer, and together they spent some time researching what they planned to do in the Mary Sue the following summer. For a while it seemed like a new book arrived for them at the post office about every other day, to the point where Sinead teased them about opening a book store.
From the books and the Internet, it slowly became clear to them that Knud hadn’t been fooling back in Copenhagen: not only was doing a canal tour of Europe possible, it was done commonly enough that such recreational cruises could even be called popular. There might be a few places they couldn’t get the Mary Sue into with the mast down, but there weren’t many of them, and they didn’t sound worth the bother. “Not only could we spend the summer doing it,” Matt commented at one point, “It would be possible to spend two or three summers doing it. I don’t think we want to take that much time, but we don’t have to commit ourselves one way or another at this point.”
“Aye,” Mary agreed. “There are other things to do, too.”
For a while they gave some consideration to spending some time in the Baltic Sea, perhaps going as far north as Finland. Eventually they gave up the idea since it would have to be done early in the year, and it would be uncomfortable if they had a cold, wet spring. “If it comes down to being cold outside, I think I’d rather be right here rather than freezing our butts off there,” he said one night as they talked about it. “If we got back to Copenhagen, oh, by the middle of April, we’re still going to catch some cold weather but it might not last too long.”
“It’s not like we’re just goin’ ta get ta Copenhagen, hop on the boat an’ sail off,” Mary pointed out. “I’ll bet it could take a week to get the boat back in the water an’ get ready for the summer. Don’t forget we’re gonna have ta stock up on food an’ that.”
“Right, but we don’t need the full load we had when I sailed out of home last year,” Matt agreed. “In fact, we don’t want it. A couple weeks’ worth, fine, but we’re going to be able to stock up along the way. We’re often going to be not more than two or three days away from a town big enough to have a store, and from what the books say there are often places where we’ll be able to tie up right next to one.”
As the year rolled to a close they had worked out a rough idea of where they wanted to go, and at least some semblance of a schedule, with plenty of loose spots so they could investigate new opportunities, or just take a few days off from traveling. They’d start from near the northeastern part of Holland around the first of May, with the idea of being around Marseilles toward the end of November. Depending on a lot of things, they might find a place to leave the boat there for a few months and come back to Blanche Tickle for the winter, or they might spend the winter cruising in the Mediterranean. That idea seemed to have more than a little potential, and before long more books and charts of the area were arriving at the Blanche Tickle post office.
“If we like it,” Matt concluded, “We could go back and go canal cruising more the following summer, or we could go somewhere else.”
“Goin’ around the world, maybe?”
“It’s not out of the question, but maybe we don’t want to plan too far ahead. We might think differently about it this time next year anyway. But maybe I ought to think about ordering a few more books and stuff so we’d be able to research the idea a little.”
“An’ give poor Sinead more ta gossip about, too,” she grinned.
“Aye, there’s that,” Matt laughed. He was picking up a little Newfoundland accent himself, at least partly from being around Mary all the time.
A couple days before Christmas Mary went into a flurry of baking cupcakes, no small chore in the tiny stove in the house. Matt didn’t think much about it, other than the fact it would be nice to have a bit of a change of diet, but he realized that Mary was grinning a lot, like she was keeping a secret.
Not long after dark on Christmas Eve there came a knocking on the door. Mary just about leaped from her chair and went to the door, opening it wide. Matt glanced up from the easy chair in front of the fire to see that there were a dozen or so masked people standing at the door. “Any mummers ’lowed in?” one of them said.
“Aye, sure,” Mary laughed. “I fear ’tis been a while since there’ve been mummers in the house, but come on in, I’ve got some cakes for ye, an’ a bit of rum.”
“Aye, thank ye,” one of the masked people said in a disguised male voice. “Didn’t think ye’d want ta be left out.”
Mary stepped out of the way and watched the masked people walked in. A couple of them were carrying fiddles. They arranged themselves around the fireplace, and began to play some old song on the fiddles that Matt had heard but couldn’t identify, while Mary rounded up some cupcakes and small glasses of rum.
“Matt,” one of the mummers said after the song, still in the disguised voice, “I know this has ta be strange ta ye, but mummin’ around the village on Christmas is somethin’ that’s been done on the South Shore for centuries.”
“Aye,” Mary explained as she passed out the treats. “’Tis mostly an outport thing, an’ one of the things we have ta do is ta try ta guess who the mummers are. If we get it right, they have ta take off their mask, ain’t that right, Evan?”
“Aw, Mary, that was too easy,” Evan answered in his normal voice as he grinned and pulled off his mask. “Ye ought ta have had Matt try ta guess.”
“Aye, but Matt doesn’t know many people here ta be able ta guess like that. Give him a few years here an’ he might have a chance. Now, let’s see who else we have here? Sinead, that’s you for sure.” She was able to pick out most of the people who had come calling, but a couple even stumped her.
“Ye ought ta come with us,” Evan said after the drinks, cupcakes, and identity guessing. “No matter how ye dress him up, not many people ain’t gonna be able ta guess who he is. We could come back in an hour or so and ye could go with us ta a place or two.”
“We might have ta think about it,” Mary said. “Ye be havin’ a good time, now.”
“Boy, that’s something,” Matt said after the group had gone. “You just don’t see anything like that where I come from. Hell, they’ve even gutted Halloween, and that’s mostly just for kids anymore.”
“Like I said, it’s pretty much an outport thing,” Mary told him. “It ain’t even done in St. John’s much these days, but people around here are still friends, an’ some of the old ways still hang on. Fact is, there’s probably more of it than there was when I was a little girl.”
They scrabbled together a little bit of a costume, and when Evan, Sinead, and some of the others returned a little later they joined them for a while. It wasn’t much of a costume, and of course everyone picked Matt out almost immediately since he tended to stick out so bad. By the time they made it back to Mary’s house, he’d had a few shots of rum and several treats, so he was feeling pretty good. But still they stayed up, and groups of mummers kept coming by until late.
“You know,” Matt said as they cuddled together in bed that evening. “That was really something special. There’s more of a sense of community here than I’ve ever seen before. Even Winchester Harbor isn’t as close as this.”
“Aye, the old ways are changin’, but at least there’s still some of them left,” she said. “I think ye see why I like Blanche Tickle, don’t ye, b’y?”
“Yeah, it feels like home to you, and I have to admit, it’s starting to feel like home to me a little, too. I mean, I feel more at home here than if I was home.”
The next day, of course, was Christmas. They’d done a little bit of decorating of the small house, with things like a Christmas tree strung with popcorn. Mary roasted a chicken in the tiny oven, and they had a fine dinner between themselves. “This may be the best Christmas I’ve had in years,” he told Mary. “It’s the first one I haven’t spent at home, but everything seems so sterile there comparing it to what we have here.”
“Aye, Matt,” she said. “This is actually the first time in a couple years I’ve been back here for Christmas. Last year, it was in St. John’s with the Widow O’Kelly, an’ we just went out an’ had dinner in a restaurant since it didn’t seem worth the trouble of cookin’. I felt pretty much alone then, but it’s so nice ta have ye with me this year that there ain’t no comparin’ of it.”
Shortly after Christmas was over with they’d finished spending two months in Blanche Tickle, and still had a little over three months to go. It was still a month before they were due to go to Florida, but the time was passing reasonably well. New Year’s came and went with little of note, except for the fact that a major storm blew in a couple days afterwards. Even though the weather was cold and miserable, they took the opportunity to make their daily walk down to the post office, more for the sake of getting outside the house for a while than anything else. Even from the safety of the shore, it was clear that conditions were wild in the bay, where there were a number of fishing boats riding the storm out at their moorings, and they could see that things were even wilder outside the harbor. “Not a day I’d care to be at sea,” Matt commented. “Or if I was, I’d want to be well offshore.”
“Nay, me either,” she agreed through the howl of the wind that swept around them as they walked. “Bein’ caught out in an onshore blow like this has been the death of many a man around here over the years.”
Fortunately there had been enough warning of it that no Blanche Tickle fishermen were caught at sea, at least as far as Sinead knew down at the post office. However, the postmistress said that there were reports that a fishing boat from a village up the coast a ways had apparently been lost; at least it hadn’t been heard from, and people were worried. Fishing off Newfoundland, with its frequent bad weather, had always been a chancy way to make a living, and there had been many who had paid the price. Living close to nature had its advantages, Matt mused, but nature often had a bite, too; that was especially true in places like this.
Days went by, and there was no word of the two men who had been aboard, but then came the news that they were more or less all right. The boat had lost power and been blown ashore in a particularly desolate part of the coast; they hadn’t been in good shape but had managed to stay alive until after the storm, when a boat from another village spotted the wreckage along the shore and found them. There was a great deal of rejoicing around the village; while the men hadn’t been from Blanche Tickle, there was a brotherhood among those who went to sea, and everyone was glad that they’d escaped the ocean this time.
A few days later another storm blew in; this one didn’t have the wind of the previous one, but brought a lot of snow. A little to Matt’s surprise, there hadn’t been a lot of snow in the village, and Mary told him that while it wasn’t uncommon, they usually didn’t get a lot of deep snow. Still, it was bad enough that they had to get their exercise by shoveling out the deeper drifts on the faint track from her house up to what passed for the main road, since they were planning their monthly trip to St. John’s in a few days. It was cold work, and several times they retreated to the house to warm up, sip at coffee and rest their tired, aching muscles.
They’d finished the job, put the snow shovels away, and were warming themselves in front of the fireplace when there came a knocking at the door. While they had visitors from time to time, they really hadn’t been expecting anyone. Since Mary happened to be up, she was the one to go to the door. She opened it and let out a gasp of surprise. “Adam!” she said. “What are ye doing in Blanche Tickle?”