written by Barry B. Wright
The azure sky and the heat from the blistering sun at his back was a welcome blessing and felt good. He stretched every part of his body that he could while he examined the hull of the Nervana. His schooner was forced out of necessity to dock at this small port of West Bay, Nova Scotia. He feared repairs would be less than the standard he expected, and the time spent longer than he wished. Five days max, he thought, as he searched the dockyard to negotiate with tradesmen skilled enough to do the job.
“Ye’ve got quite a swagger there, young fella. I ain’t seen someone like ye in these parts in a long time.” He scratched the side of his weather-beaten face with the stem of his corncob pipe. “It looks like ye and yer crew ran into some rough weather.” The front legs of his wooden chair slammed down on the asphalt surface.
“Two weeks out. A living hell. Lucky to be alive.”
“The ordeal’s still written all over yer face. What’s your name?”
“You remind me a bit like me, James Stirling, not now, mind you, but when I was your age. Though, I’ll give ye it, you’re a lot better looking than I was. I’m Jake, Jake Weathersley. Let me guess, twenty-four or there ‘bouts?”
“Actually, thirty-five, old-timer,” he replied with a tetchy chuckle. “But I’m looking for craftsmen, skilled, to repair my boat. And if you know of a place with good grub and where to bunk down, me and my crew would appreciate that too.”
“I can see yer in a hurry. Let me talk to the fellas,” Jake replied, thumbing toward the red-brick garage behind him. “In the meantime, you and your crew can unwind at the Grace to Glory. About half mile that way. Good grub and whiskey. I’ll come git ye when I’ve got wha’ ye need. Tell Bess I sent ye. Tell her I said to take good care of ye and yer crew.”
“How will I know who she is,” he replied, as he watched Jake disappear into the darkness of the garage. He heard him laugh. “Ye’ll know. Trust me,” Jake shouted back.
Not an empty table was in sight. The chatter in the room stopped as the collective gaze of the patrons of the Grace and Glory fell on them. James stared back; a kink began to form in the back of his neck. The server layin’ whiskey down at one of the tables, placed her tray aside and approached him.
“You look like a deer in headlights, sailor,” she chortled. “No one will bite ye here.” She turned round to the men at the tables and with a scolding expression said, “All you leathernecks, get on about yer business and leave these gents to settle in.”
The chatter quickly turned to homes owned and sold and catches when fish once ran plentiful. While at other tables the call came for her to fetch another round.
When she turned her attention to him, James was drawn in by the shining beauty of her face and eyes capable of capturing the very soul of a sailor and plucking him from the sea.
“The lot of ye will be needin’ a table,” she said softly.
“Ye-yes,” James stammered. What he felt in that moment he sensed she felt too, a surreal exchange where the world stood still, and nothing existed except the two of them. Time stretched long and meaty and evaporated with the blink of an eye. “Jake… sent us. He said…you’d take good care of us.”
“Oh, he did, did he?” she said, hands mounted at her waist.
Her smile would brighten the dullest of rooms. No exceptions, James thought. And he felt relief by her reaction.
She cleared a table, and the men who once sat there were vociferous in their reluctance to leave as they staggered passed him with a sneer. But before they went out the door, they took time to wish Bess a fond farewell.
Time was spent easily while he ate, drank, and watched her move from table to table. When he told her his story of the past two weeks, all ears listened in. There was a crescendo of “ayes” from the knowledgeable lot when he described the rise and fall of the ocean in all its raging glory. His gaze never left her as he played out each harrowing plot.
By the time the evening came to an end, and the glad-handing had stopped, many stories had been shared, some humorous, some not. As James and his crew listened, they learned about the kindness, generosity, and compassion that lied within this isolated community.
James watched the comical efforts as each member of his crew was helped to their feet and draped across a shoulder or two. He knew their path home would be wobbly and long, but at least each would have lodging for the duration of their stay. He peered at Bess who was cleaning up at the bar. “Seein’ the time, I don’t think Jake is coming,” he said, scratching the side of his head.
“There’s no need,” she replied, counting the receipts. “I won’t be long, and you can walk me home.”
Except for the click and scuff of their shoes, the town was silent. His hand deliberately brushed against hers.
“If yer thinkin’ you want to hold my hand, I’m okay with that,” she said. A stiff breeze wound up and filled out her red hair.
Hand in hand they walked without saying a word, each comfortable in their state of quietude.
At the end of town, they came to a 2-storey home fronted by a white picket fence.
“This is where I live and where you will stay until your boat is seaworthy again,” she said.
“Is that wise?” James replied, feeling awkward. “I mean, the town’s people…”
“Shush! This is what me father had planned for ye.”
“Jake. I’m his daughter.”
Five days turned into ten, then twenty. The trope ‘love at first sight’ held as much truth for James as it did for Bess. But he had become restless and knew he could not stay.
One evening, after a long embrace, they sat on the porch swing, like many nights before.
“Ye appear troubled?” she said, grasping his hand tightly.
He sighed. And reaching into his jacket pocket he handed her a blue box with gold scroll on it.
“What is this?” she asked unable to hide her excitement.
“Open and see.”
Inside was a locket at the end of a braided chain made of the finest silver.”
“I bought that in Spain,” he said. “On the back I had it engraved right here in town.”
She turned the locket over and read what it said, From James with Love. “Oh, I must put it on. Help me.” When it hung off her neck, she hugged and kissed him. “I must show da.”
“Wait!” Her alarmed expression froze his next words.
“What’s wrong, James!”
“We must talk but I don’t know how to start,” he replied. She sat patiently facing him squeezing his hands. “No harbor was ever my home until…I can’t stay Bess. It would not be fair to you. The sea runs through my veins…its been my life, my lover, my lady too long. Its who I am.” He could see tears forming at the corner of her eyes.
“I think I understand,” she replied. She snuggled into him. “I lost two brothers to the sea. And they spoke much the same as ye. Must you go now?”
“Soon. A couple of days at most.” He stroked her long red hair. “Oh Bess, what a good wife you would be. But not to the likes of me.”
Bess never married. She bore a child nine months after James left. She called her daughter Jamie. Bess tended bar at the Grace and Glory until she was too old to complete the walk from the home she had shared with her father. Jamie studied medicine and returned to the community to set up her practice. Bess died in Jamie’s arms while holding the locket. The last name Bess said was “James.”