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10: Pay up or else!

You owe me! I’ve earned it! I need it you piker!
You think this is some sort of charity deal?
Just gimme my money before I get bitter,
I’ve been nice and waited—it’s get it up time,
I’ve got bills, and a boat and a wife who need keeping.
I’m tired of crying the blues in my beer!

You prob’ly got problems—well who the hell hasn’t?
I don’t need yours—I’ve got enough of my own,
So go find some cash ’fore I get really angry,
’Cause I can get just as hard-hearted as you,
And I want you to know it’s enough of your stalling.
This one’s my last dunning—I WANT IT NOW!—Hear?!

bright leaf canoeIncoming Tide laughed loud around Shalisa Creek Bay as West Wind of Spring pushed whitecapped waves hissing onto Beach where they fell against each other, jostling and scrambling, rolling and shouting on shore while sounds of their tumbling play splashed back to be harried against Cliff and thrown over water, sending echoes of impact out through Gap to crashing Sea where they were lost in distance after bouncing off the circling arms of rocky slopes which held the crescent of sandy, high tide line in their wide, protective arms.

     Landward, trees danced about as Wind whirled and swung them into the fun to hum and whistle softly, accompanying Echo’s measured fading tunes, while they swept Sky with new tip growth.

     Fog, standing offshore, heard laughter and strolled over horizon to see what was going on, keeping a cautious, curious distance away from the tumult, as Sun tried to have a look, standing on tiptoe to peer over Fog’s shoulder.

     When Wind moved on in search of other partners for the dance, Fog rolled through Gap and, entering into the party atmosphere which was all around, performed a magic show—Sea disappeared with one swipe of Fog’s grey cloak.

     Following up this opening act to the performance, Fog entered space left behind by Wind and spread a shining aura over Shore, making the invisible visible, to the consternation of eight-legged engineers whose unyielding fishing nets had been set in air, almost as unseen as that element. Webs of suspension bridges and hubless wheels built by enterprising spiders, who knew how to repeat the spectacular processes and patterns endlessly, with delicate nuances, day after day, were now plainly revealed for all to see, as Fog, threading flashing crystal beads of mist on every tiny cable, exposed their calculated tricks of barely apparent construction. Shore became spangled with prismatic water drops lit by muffled sunshine, as general visibility was reduced to a narrow margin.

     From a tall dead fir Raven spoke and Bay listened, startled. He spoke again, and Gull at water’s edge rose abruptly with all his companions, crying out news of an arrival.

     Where Sea and Sky formed one bright mass of light, a moving form came on, indistinct through Fog, swift and sure over whitecapped water. Straight through Gap, unchallenged by Bay Guardian, and without hesitation, a canoe of graceful curves, high of bow and stern, whose design was of ancient lineage, held a course for beach which gulls had just given up, and touched bottom. A moment before this happened, its occupant backed one stroke, quickly stowed the paddle, vaulted lightly out to catch the rising bow on the next incoming wave and, with its help, drew the canoe onto sand away from sweeping, breaking surf.

     Raven called an excited greeting as the traveller, walking quickly and without pause up across beach, shawl of long straight black hair waving around her with rhythm of movement, entered space where trees had been seen a short while before and then, like them, she was erased from shore.

     Without pausing she went forward until tall salal, wild spiraea bushes and thorny blackberry wands barred her way. Then she turned aside, working a winding passage through underbrush, finding a well used deer path, leaving it again, continuing toward the high meadow, and on until she came to a group of large, old yew trees at its far edge, trunks padded thick with mosses and fungi and wound around with the vines of wild honeysuckle and clematis.

     Here she stopped, and stood before them, looking up through shafts of bright, sunlit Fog. Swinging lichens hung from dead branches and reaching swordfern grew at the feet of sentinels who had kept their caring, faithful watch through centuries.

     Standing quiet and still, in silence for awhile, at last she said aloud, using an old, musically flowing language,

     “We’re here Grandfather, just as you wished it to be. I don’t know the ceremonies or words which should be used in this place, and my heart aches for this, but I’ll try to remember things you used to tell me, and I’ll sing the song I’ve made for you, because I know you and the Old Ones are listening, but I won’t sing sad songs. It’s of hope, because this is a happy time. We’ve returned and now we’re here to stay. I’m late in keeping a promise made years ago, and for this I ask forgiveness.

     “I’ve brought Chanting Breeze as well. He would have stood here in my place if he hadn’t left us so early and I know he would have wanted to be here. Forgive me for coming to this honoured place without knowledge or preparation, but in these days I have to do what I can, even in ignorance. Here is all which is left of our people and it’s better for me to do this than nothing at all. In this way we live, even only as one woman. Our future is with me—whatever that will be—and we’re here together now.”

     Then, from around her neck, she took a necklace of small varied shells with an intricately fashioned pouch of fine twisted cedar bark attached to it which was adorned with tiny, smooth, stylised shapes, pierced for their attachment with wild clematis fibre. Minutely fashioned Raven, Hummingbird, Loon, Fish, Flower, and other small shapes, fashioned of arbutus, juniper and yew—all of these the representations of good spirits who had made themselves known to the carver.

     This she held out before her now with both hands as one does with an offering and, after another silent pause, she began to sing in a clear alto, the song of her own making, which Forest around seemed to understand, listening intently. Raven did not interrupt, nor did any other forest dweller, and the bright misty space in which she stood seemed caught up in music of her voice.

Strength for the journey
Endurance to make it
These were we given
By those who are gone
Of the past we come
To the past we go
Creating a footpath
For those who walk on

     After she had ended her song, she carefully opened the pouch a little, and into it pushed a hardwood finger pick such as those used by guitarists, and carefully she closed it again, then stood holding the necklace a little hesitantly. No branch of the big trees presented itself to her sight or reach as recipient of the offering she held. Lower dead limbs had long since fallen away and any others, dead or alive, were well above her head.

     A small, sturdy little yew grew by its elders, protected and trusting in their shelter. Toward this she walked, saying,

     “This is fine Grandfather. You and Chanting Breeze will stay here and watch as the little tree grows, seeing and hearing everything.”

     She reached out and settled the shell necklace with its pouch around the new sky-pointing candle of the young tree and stood back. Still, she hesitated, and at last, torn between fulfilling a duty and parting from something treasured deeply, she said,

     “Grandfather, if I leave this here what will I have of you? These are your friendly spirits whom you’ve entrusted to me all these years. Shall we just let them stay here with the Old Ones, simply resting? You did a lot of good with them and—maybe I can too. Besides, I like to have you near and I like to think of you and Chanting Breeze close to me when I touch these things, ready to help me when I need help. It’s always comforted me when things got difficult.

     “Today when BRIGHT LEAF and I came through white water I touched them often to remember you and the good spirits, and we came here safely. I’ll leave you a shell from it so that you’ll rest here with the Old Ones, and one for Chant too, but you’ll both still walk with me to help me on my path, and have your good deeds and songs go on. It’ll be a token of my pledge never to leave this place for so long again.”

     Having found these credible excuses for keeping the necklace, she added, even more truthfully and with less speciousness,

     “Besides, it’ll get all wet and go mouldy and fall apart, and then we’ll have nothing at all for ceremony or to remind me to walk it straight.”

     With that she removed the offering from the little tree and, carefully breaking two of the larger shells from it, she put them carefully at the base of the chosen young guardian. She stood in silence once more, holding the necklace in her hands, then replaced it around her neck, tucking it into the collar of her sweater.

     “I’ll come back,” she promised, addressing the little tree with its two white shells shining at its feet, “Many times from now on. We’re home now and the Old Ones won’t be alone any longer.”

     She turned then and began her slow return to the beach, leaving the spirits of Grandfather and of Chanting Breeze to rest with their forebears, but taking with her the treasured remembrances she couldn’t bear to part with, while behind her back the Old Ones, Grandfather and young Chanting Breeze shook their heads and smiled at her unorthodox behaviour in this revered place, as they watched the last of their People walk away, respectfully enfolded by Fog.

     Her return to shore was slower than the ascent to the meadow had been. She stopped often to listen and to enjoy the surroundings she was in, talking back to a vocal flock of chickadees who themselves seemed like small aerial spirits as they flitted and spoke to her from firs, and she laughed as Raven flew ahead of her loudly and proudly announcing her progress.

     “You’ve missed us haven’t you—you and all the others I used to know so well. Was your longing deeper than mine? Maybe not. You were still home. I was the one who went away.”

     When she reached the beach again she walked along it until she came to a large old fir tree close to the water. Reaching out she laid the palm of one hand flat against it’s rough trunk and gave it some soft pats, saying,

     “Hi—I’m back.”

     She leaned against the trunk for a few moments, then slid down to sit at its base, picked up a stick which was lying there and absently began tracing figures in the fir duff, as she had done in the sand years ago.

     Sitting there surrounded by fog it seemed to her that the only real things in her life at that moment were the ground she sat on and the tree at her back. Nothing else was there. She was looking out into nothingness—suspended in space with only a tree and a piece of tangible earth beneath her.

     Suddenly she felt totally and utterly alone. The excitement and expectation she’d felt up to this point now was absorbed into empty space along with everything else, as melancholy doubt reached into her with the chill of the fog.

     <What am I doing here anyway, talking to trees and things, like an insane person?! If I don’t get warm soon I’m liable to call a float plane and get myself out of this. Brrrr! It’s horribly cold. One of the fireplaces in the old houses had better be workable or I’m in trouble. Have I been a fool to dump everything and follow my heart? Don’t ask. It was a promise. So I can keep promises—and sit here alone for the rest of my life.>

     She began tracing letters with the stick she held... C/ R... .

     <Oh damn! I’m getting maudlin and I swore to myself I wouldn’t do that.>

     Out of the duff, as she erased the letters, the stick turned up a small white shape—a guitar peg, with a small crack running from the hole where the string would be fed through.

     The small jolt which went through her did nothing at all to warm her.

     ”Chant? You are here with me! So I had doubts. Coward? That’s all very well for you to say. You weren’t exactly a pillar of bravery and rectitude yourself. Maybe the two of us together might have propped each other up enough to add up to one. Okay, I’ll give it a try—but no guarantees that I won’t chicken out somewhere along the way—and you can quit smiling in that superior fashion. At least I finished what I started.”

     She threw the stick away and pushed the guitar peg back down, deep into the duff, rubbing her hands together to clear away the dirt and warm them up a bit.

     guitar peg and tree”Damn this fog and cold. Couldn’t you have ordered up some sunshine for our reunion?”

     As though rebuffed, Fog pulled back a little just then, and began returning the world slowly to her sight. Looking out toward the barge vaguely delineated there on the spit, she saw the indistinct outline of a sailboat tied alongside it toward the stern. For a long time she sat motionless, her arms wrapped around her pulled up knees, until Fog retreated steadily so that she could make out the structure which sat on top of the barge and even at last the name of the boat alongside it.

     Then she smiled. It seemed like a welcome reality in this world of blankness. The guitar peg had only made her feel lonely, guilty and still doubtful.

     There was a man leaning on a stanchion of the barge and as she looked at him he gave her a friendly wave. She acknowledged the gesture with a wave of her own.

     “Will you come aboard for a cup of coffee?” he called.

     “That would be great!” she accepted quickly.

     As he left his place she went to her canoe and was on her way to the stern of LEGER DE MAIN, although she could simply have walked over and climbed up the bow ladder.

     <Well! Here’s someone of Sea like myself. Never walk when you can use a boat.>

     At the moment Raven had called out his first greeting to the traveller, Fitz had been lounging with a book in front of the fireplace, and the ongoing sound had warned him that something unusual was happening shoreward. He’d risen quickly and gone out onto the deck, listening and watching, but there was nothing to see except Fog.

     During the time he’d spent in the bay he had learned to hear and trust the airborne tree dwellers there and, when their loud and persistent warnings told him someone was coming, whether it was Otter, Raccoon, or any other visitor his own eyes couldn’t see, he believed, took note, and called Charm to come home if she happened to be on shore leave.

     This time he’d stood trying to see the treeline through thick fog, knowing that Charm was safe aboard, and at last he’d made out a canoe beached there out of reach of the unruly water. He stood a long while looking at the vague shape, until the fog thinned a little and he could view its lines. Then his interest became focussed.

     It was a hand-hewn coast canoe. A small one, useful for transporting light loads, or two or three passengers. As fog dissipated a little more he could see what looked like a carved leaf sweeping back from the bow, and coloured, stylised paintings of Fish and Seabird on the hull of the craft, which was fashioned from a single cedar log. Graceful and elegant with its high bow and stern and curved gunwales, it sat waiting for its owner like a trusted friend.

     Fitz stayed on deck, also waiting for the owner to return, and as he leaned there on a stanchion he heard a voice raised in song reaching out to LEGER DE MAIN, lilting and clear even from a distance. He couldn’t make out the words, as they were in a language he didn’t recognise, but it sounded cheerful and light and he felt it belonged and seemed at home in this bay with its fog-covered waters and misty shore.

     He remained at his place on deck, hoping to see who would come back to the canoe, and eventually someone came out of the treeline to the beach, walking along it to sit beneath a fir, looking out toward the water. He wasn’t sure if he’d been seen at first, but gradually, as the fog lifted steadily, he realised that the person by the tree looking toward LEGER DE MAIN was certainly aware that he was there.

     He waved and saw the long hair and slender figure as his greeting was returned and knew it was a woman, which surprised him. In his imagination he’d expected a man, tall and muscular, with arms which could drive that canoe anywhere, but here was this young woman with arms which apparently were quite as capable, because she had just brought her boat through some whitecapped water which would have tested any skilled canoeist and now here she was fastening it to the stern ladder of LEGER DE MAIN.

     As her head topped the deck Fitz walked over and gallantly handed her aboard, although he was certain she was capable of managing things herself, and he smiled at her, saying,

     “Welcome aboard. I’m Fitz Jolly.”

     “Thank you. Is that your boat alongside? My name’s Rose too—Rose Hold.”

     “We have something in common already,” laughed Fitz. “Come on in, away from this chilly fog and I’ll make some fresh coffee.”

     He turned to usher her into the warmth, but she surprised him by leaning over the stanchion rope and, looking down to where her canoe floated just astern of JOLLY ROSE she addressed it, saying,

     “Wait for me here, BRIGHT LEAF.”

     Then, as she turned to Fitz, she caught the look on his face and told him,

     “I hope you don’t think I’m silly, but—everything seems that way today.”

     <Including myself and, besides, I haven’t spoken to anyone for two days and the canoe’s been getting it all.>

     “I hope it’s not silly,” he told her as they went inside. “I do that sort of thing myself all the time with JOLLY ROSE. I’ll have to watch it though, or somebody will catch me talking to what they consider a utilitarian bundle of wood and they’ll have me put away. They’re fond of doing that with older people, ‘for the old boy’s own good’ of course, they’ll say.”

     “People interfere too much with other people’s lives,” she agreed.

     Then, as she entered and looked around the big room with it’s warm fire she remarked, almost as though she might have formed some preconceived notion of its interior from her assessment ashore and was pleased to find it met her expectations,

     “It is really something. I thought it was anchored out. Looks like it’s met with disaster somewhere along the way though. What a shame. Must have been delightful when it was new.”

     Fitz felt obliged to clarify his situation. Although he’d brought a few things of his own aboard, he didn’t want to mislead his first guest.

     “It isn’t mine,” came his explanation, somewhat truthful and somewhat not, “I’m just looking after it.”

     “Oh, it has a caretaker then,” Rose commented, her eyes on the fireplace which was smiling invitingly at the end of the room. “Bit late, but—better late than never I suppose.”

     “Come along and sit by the fire. You must be cold,” he invited, noting the direction of her gaze and walking that way himself.

     “It is a bone chiller out there,” she told him as she sat down in one of the chairs. “Mmmmm! Clover and deer’s foot. Grandfather and I used to gather them and bring them to Aunt Letty. It made the office smell so nice. There’s a small meadow just a little over the hill there, full of flowers and grass right from the beginning of spring. I guess you’ve been there?”

     “Charm and I have been walking there often,” returned Fitz. “She likes the open space.”

     Then, his curiosity rising, he asked,

     “Do you live around here?”

     “I did—but I haven’t been here for awhile. My people lived here. I’m Shalisa.”

fog rolling in

     Fitz, who had gone to the galley to start fresh coffee, attended to his work in silent surprise. With those last two words she had told him something of her history. He knew only a little of the coast story, only enough to make him aware that there had been many different Peoples living along these vast west shores and that many no longer did. Some of the old names were gone forever. He had met a few of those remaining, on fishboats and in harbours. He was intrigued to have such an interesting woman aboard.

     “So that’s how the bay and the village received their names.”

     “Yes, at least we’re remembered for that,” she laughed. “Most people remember only the logging which kept the village going.”

     He brought the coffee things, put them on the burl table and, noticing that she’d taken off her jacket but still stayed well hunched into her sweater which was topped with a down vest, he thought of how cold and difficult her journey must have been, so he asked,

     “Will you have a little nip with the coffee to take the chill away?”

     “Oh—thank you. Wonderful.”

     He felt the smile she accompanied the reply with was one of the most engaging he’d met up with in a long while. He got out two of his little glasses which he’d installed from JOLLY ROSE and set them on the table along with a bottle of liqueur he’d bought when he’d cashed his monthly cheque the day before, which purchase, in retrospect, had seemed to him like a rash expense on his part, but it had given him a feeling of light-hearted heedlessness, like the old days, and he’d liked that.

     When he’d brought it in he’d left it sitting on the bar by the galley for awhile so that he could admire the size and shape of the bottle, the colours as the sun came through the windows and hit the deep green glass, the little red ribbon, and its seal which once, during the height of this product’s popularity and quality, had been real sealing wax but, due to progress, now was plastic.

     It had seemed to bring something of the former life of the place back—a bottle of fine liquor sitting there waiting to be served, reflected on the bar top which still showed a little of its polished past. He often sat there with his old deck of cards playing solitaire, remembering other bars and card games. It had been a long time since he’d allowed himself to afford a luxury like this and he was pleased now to have such an appropriate guest to share it with.

     He broke the seal and poured out the liqueur, gently and carefully, handed one glass to Rose and, raising his own in his old-fashioned gentlemanly way, said,

     “To you and BRIGHT LEAF and may you always know fair winds and safe harbours.”

     The gesture and his words reached into Rose, as she too remembered old times, large gatherings, good food and laughter. When he took a sip, she raised her glass to him saying,

     “We ask that Sun shine brightly on you and your people, Rain wash all things fresh and clean, Sea lift your boat with care, Wind fill your sails gently, Path lead your feet through flowers to friends, and always may you have Song and come safely home.”

     It took him by surprise. Here, he thought, was no ordinary young woman. Here was someone unique. Someone of both the ancient and the immediate world.

     He offered her one of his home made scones just as Charm made a cautious and well contemplated re-entry, having deserted her warm place before the fire when she’d heard the strange voice outside. Charm had never taken on friends lightly. She sat and watched from a distance as this stranger who had taken possession of her chair talked with Fitz, and she waited—and waited and waited—but there was no sign from the young woman that she had been noticed. No cries of—’Oh what a sweetums! Here kitty kitty!’—or worse—’Sorry, I can’t stand cats’. No necessity to take off at a fast canter to avoid being picked up.

     Charm’s curiosity and some of her own sense of worth got the better of her as time passed, nothing happened, and there was no indication that this person was going to get up and vacate the warm seat by the fireplace. Finally she got a little braver, walked over, sat down in front of the visitor and stared at her, unblinking. Still there was no sign that her presence was known.

     That was too much! If a Persian Princess couldn’t be given at least a slight token of respect things were getting out of hand. It was one problem having to avoid trouble. Quite another to be ignored completely and be robbed of her rights as well. She wouldn’t put up with that. After all, it was her chair this person had usurped. She gathered her dignity and courage together and walking over she stood up and put her two front paws on Rose’s knee to make her presence known, and suggested by a politely voiced request that the chair be vacated, startling Fitz who had never seen her do such a thing with anyone else.

     “Ah, you’ve seen me have you,” laughed Rose reaching out and lifting Charm onto her lap before the objector to her occupation of the beanbag had a chance to escape. “I wondered how long it would take. This must be Charm who likes to walk in the meadow.”

     Charm, herself startled at this unexpected event, and uncertain what to do next—fight, flight or negotiate—allowed Rose to stroke her. It was a nice hand which knew how. She looked steadily into this new face and liked what she saw. She also liked the pleasant petting, so she settled herself on Rose’s lap and began to purr. She felt royalty had been recognised and, perhaps just this time, the soft warm seat by the fire could be shared.

     “Well that’s something,” Fitz told Rose, surprise in his voice. “I’ve never seen her do that before.”

     “I love little people,” she told him, laughing, “And I think they can tell. I was always bringing one or two of some sort of little orphans home when I was a kid. It’s nice to be back.”

     “Have you come far?” asked Fitz, remembering the distance by water from the village and knowing how the wind could really roar around out there in the open.

     “Well, it took me a bit of time to get myself organised. I had to haul BRIGHT LEAF out of storage along with some other things. Some people farther south from here were taking care of him, but I was so excited about getting going it hardly seemed like any distance from there at all. Took me two days, but I think that’s pretty good time considering I haven’t done much canoeing for awhile.”

     “You certainly must have skill with that canoe,” he told her with admiration in his voice. “The water looked to be quite rough out there.”

     “It was a bit, but BRIGHT LEAF is a very safe boat. It was wonderful camping out again. I didn’t know anyone was here though. I thought everything was deserted. Are the old buildings still in reasonable shape do you think? I have the idea of repairing one to live in.”

     “Are you here to stay then?”

     “That’s my intention.”

     Fitz, who had been feeling the pinch of loneliness himself, even though he made regular trips to the village and was used to being alone, felt a ripple of pleasure at the thought of company nearby.

     “From what I’ve seen they’re still hanging in there, but I wouldn’t say in good shape. Take some fixing up to make them livable. In fact I’ve been working on the water pump at the old wellhead shack. Bit of a monster but I thought I might be able to get it going. Haven’t had much luck so far.”

     “No problem about water though,” smiled Rose. “The creek never runs dry. The waterfall and creek are forever. Guess you already found that out. I’ll have to go have a look at things.”

     “Did you live right here in the bay?” enquired Fitz.

     “Oh yes. Grandfather and my parents and I, and a few other families. My father and the other families worked for Ben and Letty. They built the new houses—or they were new once. Grandfather’s house is the old, small one. We’ve always lived here in the Bay. It was sad when Letty and Ben gave up the business, but it was getting too much for them anyway. He was a good man. He was always a fair and generous employer with his workers.”

     “There was a logging company here at that time then, was there?”

     “Yes. He was something else. The Shalisa had an ongoing battle about the land here but when he got the lease for logging and Grandfather and Father told him there were old historical places here which were owned by Shalisa, he asked them to show him just how much of an area they didn’t want touched. I guess they all got carried away talking about the hereafter, and places which shouldn’t be desecrated and such, because when they got back Ben told everyone that they weren’t to touch anything around the Bay and for a long way back past the ridge at the end of the meadow, and never to go near the peninsula. Then he hired everyone here who wanted a job to work for him and we were glad of that.

     “That’s why everything is still so nice and green here. They staked it all out and no one from outside ever went beyond those boundaries or they got fired. He even apologised about having to clear a space on our beach for the buildings and putting a road and wharf and log skids in, but he did as little as possible in the way of clearing around here, and it was selective logging, so even the area he did cut didn’t really get ruined too much like some other places I’ve seen.”

     Fitz could vouch for that. The old logging road was becoming overgrown with broom and young alder, and small fir trees along its edge were getting expansive ideas. They stopped talking long enough to drink their coffee and eat scones, until Fitz remarked,

     “This is something of a homecoming for you then, is it?”

     “Exactly right. I guess I had a wonderful thing here. I was with Grandfather after my parents died, and when I had to go away to get more advanced schooling I spent all my summers and holidays here too. I suppose I was lucky to get such a good education and yet—I don’t know—it took me away from all this. I’m thirty now and I’ve spent almost half my life in the city when really deep down I think I wanted to be here, but I got so involved in my success that I just put it all aside for awhile.”

     She took in a deep breath, let it out, picked up her glass and drank what was left in it. Fitz did the same with his, refilled the glasses and waited to hear more from this interesting visitor, recognising that her return was something important in her life, that she wanted someone to share the experience with, and was glad he was here to listen.

     “I should have come sooner to keep my promise but you know how it is. Sometimes it takes ages before we finally find out who we are and what path we really ought to be taking. BRIGHT LEAF was Grandfather’s creation. He made that boat himself. He said when he first put him in the water he looked just like a bright autumn leaf which was floating there, so he did the carving on the bow and called him that. Grandfather used to take me and Chanting Breeze all over with him and he taught us how to handle the canoe. I suppose I always knew I’d come back, and here I am, and—oh—I’m sorry. I guess I’ve been running on. Uh—if there’s more coffee—then I really should get busy. There’s so much to do to set up camp and everything.”

     “Oh there’s lots more,” Fitz told her, getting up and going over to the stove. “I always have a pot going these days.”

     He almost added—when I can afford it—but he didn’t have to say that any more. He could afford all sorts of things now which he’d done without for years, including coffee at times.

     He filled their mugs, then went over to the fire, poked it around thoughtfully and put more wood on. He was wondering just who Chanting Breeze might have been and if it would be indelicate of him to ask. He’d gathered that Rose had returned to her childhood home and had brought the memories of her family with her, the song he’d heard having been something to do with that.

     He turned back to the table, about to suggest that she was welcome to stay on the barge for awhile until she could get a house into livable shape because there was plenty of room and privacy, but he found that Rose had fallen asleep, lulled by the scent of deer’s foot, lavender and clover, tired out by excitement and exertion, warmed by the fire, hot coffee and a nip, the comfort of a good listening ear, and the trust of a cat who had never trusted anyone except Fitz Jolly.

bottle and glasses

- - -

Afternoon sat quiet and mild over Shalisa Creek Bay as the drone from the motor of an offshore tug was over-ridden from time to time by the pounding of Rose’s hammer as she repaired the roof on her chosen new old residence—her Grandfather’s place. Rain having moved in the same evening she had, her newly occupied house had been found lacking in several essential areas—mostly over her head.

     In her explorations around the property she’d reclaimed as home, Rose had rested her eyes on an irregular hillock, which was lurking beneath a rampant growth of blackberry bushes and grass some distance from the buildings, and she was quite sure no such natural phenomenon had filled that space when she’d been there last, even if it had been some time ago.

     To satisfy her curiosity and to make sure her memory wasn’t deserting her, she’d given the bushes a few whacks from a sharp machete and had uncovered a tumbled pile of shakes, old but usable, because cedar withstands much weather and neglect even over many years, and instantly the problem of her leaking roof had been solved.

     <Well, fancy that. Something good has happened. All I have to do is get some nails and bang the shakes into place. A trip down to the village in BRIGHT LEAF will soon take care of that and a few other needs, including a hammer and a good pair of gloves.>

     On the afternoon she’d decided to start the roof project Fitz offered to lend a hand, but she told him it was going to be fun doing it herself, so he left her to it. He figured that as soon as her initial enthusiasm had worn off a bit and a couple of blisters started warming her hands she’d probably welcome any help she could get, so he went for a leisurely row with ROSEBUD, taking Charm, who always accompanied him whenever it was possible. This time he went close along the shoreline, enjoying the sunshine, often measuring his strokes on the oars with her purring—two purrs, one stroke.

     On the barge the cormorants were drying their wings around the perimeter of the stern deck and a couple of gulls preened themselves on turrets. Left to their own amusement, JOLLY ROSE, LEGER DE MAIN and BRIGHT LEAF were busy swapping stories about some of the weather they’d been through, as the drone of the tug outside the bay became louder and the hammering on the roof ashore got less so.

     LEGER DE MAIN was into the middle of her tale about the big storm and her meeting with a Coast Guard boat when it became evident that the droning sound had become more of a clearly audible engine throb, and a glance seaward confirmed that fact, as the tug passed through Gap into Bay and began closing space between itself and the barge quite rapidly.

     It was just the thing to verify LEGER DE MAINs tale, because it was the very same tug which had participated in the whole adventure and, as the big work boat rumbled up, there were cheerful greetings all around the little group while the wash of the newcomer lapped each craft.

     The flap of cormorants’ wings mingled with the cries of retreating gulls as the feathered population launched itself off and away while sounds of hammering ashore stopped altogether and Rose descended her home-made ladder. Hammer still in hand, she walked quickly down to the beach and watched, at first curiously and then in alarm, as the tug pulled alongside the barge. A young man who was as large as the tug, on his own scale, climbed aboard pulling with him a good stout towline as he moved toward the stern bollards of the barge.

     “Hey!” she shouted, “What do you think you’re doing?!”

     Either nobody heard or they paid no attention, because the man kept right on walking and started to make the line fast to LEGER DE MAIN, who didn’t seem to be putting up any argument.

     Rose ran to the bow ladder, swung up the rungs hand over hand, whipped around to the stern of the barge and confronted the startled deckhand, who eyed this angry woman holding a hammer and paused in his work.

     “Just what do you think you’re doing?!” she demanded again, in the same loud voice she’d used to carry over the distance from shore to barge, which almost made the young man flinch as the surprise in his face grew, because he wouldn’t have expected such a little woman to have such a big voice. It reminded him of his mother, who was bigger than that, but who also could make people jump.

     He collected himself, smiled charmingly as he always did at any femininity which came his way, and replied,

     “I’m putting a tow line on this barge, Sweetie,” indicating by his tone that the action was self-evident and didn’t need explanation.

     “Don’t you ‘Sweetie’ me!” ordered Rose. “Who said you could do this?”

     “He did,” returned the young man, jerking his head in the direction of the tug.

     “Who gave you the right?” demanded Rose again, rewording her question.

     “Right?” he grinned. “He’s always right.”

     “I’m asking you if you have a court order,” Rose came back, clarifying her words.

     “What for?”

     “You can’t just come here and haul off someone else’s property just because you feel like it. Now get off!

     The authority in her delivery of the words and a second glance at the hammer in her hand got him thinking. He leaned over the side of the barge and called,

     “Hey Gramp, we got a problem.”

     An older, larger version of the young man, with wrinkles around his eyes and mouth which all turned upward came out from the wheelhouse onto the stern deck of the tug, jerking at his cap which also had wrinkles, but non-directional, and looking over he asked,

     “What’s going on Wilf?”

     “This here lady says the barge is hers,” Wilf reported.

     He hoped his grandfather could see the dangerous looking weapon the woman held, since it would be unthinkable if anyone got the idea he was being run off by a little female. An armed opponent was something else.

     “This here lady didn’t say anything of the sort,” Rose corrected over the engine noise, leaning over a stanchion, “But that’s beside the point. Do you have some claim to this barge or something?”

     “Yeah. I’m claiming it as salvage for an unpaid towing bill,” retorted the captain, in a voice bigger than Rose’s.

     “Well, let’s see the papers then,” came the peremptory request, as Rose hoped the whole thing wouldn’t turn into a shouting match, because she realised that he had more volume than she did and he hadn’t even begun to turn it up yet.

     The captain, who was in the habit of sealing business deals with a handshake and who held the opinion that possession was nine tenths of the law, found himself confronted with a law more powerful than his own. The only paper he had was an unpaid bill for towing and he wanted it paid. He tried to get around the present problem by not dealing with it.

     “I towed this barge in here with the authority of the Coast Guard, and I never got paid for my work so I’m claiming it to settle the account,” he told her loudly, which was his normal voice.

     “Okay, let’s see your papers,” persisted Rose, just as loud.

     “Get that line fastened and then push that boat from astern and set her anchor out Wilf,” ordered the captain, addressing his deck hand and indicating JOLLY ROSE, as he decided to ignore this noisy little woman completely.

     <I’ve come for a barge, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to leave without one.>

     “How would you like to be charged with theft of a marine craft, otherwise known as piracy?” Rose enquired of the captain, as Wilf attempted once more to carry out his orders.

     “Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?!” bawled the captain in exasperation.

     “Rose Hold, Barrister at Law, and on behalf of my client I still have to see the papers allowing you to haul this barge off—legally.”

     Not to be put off by what he saw as a ploy, the tug captain hollered back,

     “Well let’s see your papers.”

     Rose reached into the hip pocket of her jeans, took out her wallet, removed a card from it and flipped it across at the captain who, surprised at this unexpected response, let the thing fall to his deck after it struck his chest, keeping his dignity by not deigning to pick it up.

     Wilf gave up his efforts to secure the towline, leaned against the starboard bollard and grinned with enjoyment as he sat there watching his grandfather, who was used to doing things his own way, fume impotently.

     Things were very clear to the tugboat captain. There were no papers, but—if somebody didn’t pay, somebody forfeited their barge. Yet he knew very well that there were proper channels to go through, even though he always tried to side-step them if he could, considering all those formalities a bunch of red tape and—other things.

      He hadn’t expected to find anyone aboard. He worked over the idea of this woman actually causing real trouble. She looked like a scruffy little nobody, but she definitely didn’t speak like one. He knew from experience that clothes didn’t mean anything. Besides, she was right. A man had to be careful.

     Rose, sensing the hesitation, followed up her demand with,

     “Wilf, you’ve got ten seconds to get that line and yourself off this barge or I’m going in there and call the police.”

     Wilf looked across at his grandfather, who said shortly,

     “Get over here.”

     “That’s better,” declared Rose in a softer voice, as Wilf released the towline. “Now, if your grandfather wants to be reasonable, tell him the person he needs to see will be along shortly and they can discuss this matter like gentlemen, over a cup of coffee.”

     “Yes ma’am,” grinned Wilf as he vaulted over the ropes with the aid of a stanchion and landed on the tug, showing off a bit and laughing to himself at seeing his grandfather stymied by a pretty little woman.

     Rose seated herself in the doorway at the top of the three big slab steps and listened to a voice raised loud and angrily, exploring the possibilities of actually going and getting papers legally, to show that damned slacker that he couldn’t take Bud Westman for a ride, or maybe they should just put that woman ashore and get to work, but then they might be up for assault and battery or something, while his grandson bent down, picked up the card, read it and said,

     “Gramp—Gramp—she is a lawyer—and look at all the letters by her name.”

     “Bull! I could have one of those printed up for myself.”

     The look he got from his grandson didn’t seem to place much faith in that theory, while Rose sat reflecting on the luck she’d just had in scaring them off without having to go inside and pretend to call the police with a telephone which didn’t exist on the premises in dispute, because her cell phone was ashore.

     She wasn’t quite sure if Fitz had some proof of his caretaker’s position or not, but she was positive that she wasn’t going to sit around and see this barge get hauled off without hearing his version of the matter.

     Had her senses been more attuned to pleasanter sounds as she sat waiting, Rose might have heard the conversation going on among the boats who, completely ignoring the loud arguments of their owners, were having a wonderful time all to themselves talking sea talk and becoming friends, while everyone waited for Fitz to arrive and perhaps straighten out the mess.

Fog vignette