1982: The Marry Rosie
Stupid old bugger. Stupid, stubborn old bugger. He’d retired, two years before; given up the sea as a bad job.
I can just picture him there, standing at the bar in one of the pubs down at the harbour, flat cap pulled over his head, jeans, boots and gansey, the proper fisherman’s jersey Mum still couldn’t get off him; the one that stank of seawater, cigarettes and fish. Hands knotted by arthritis, features carved nut-brown by the wind and weather.
And Peter Thom coming up to him and saying, Davy was laid low, and they were a man short, could he - ?
Well, of course he said yes – this was my Dad, remember. Finished his pint and got straight on the boat, where it just so happened there would be a change of clothes for him. That way, he didn’t need to go home and tell Mum – not that she’d have changed his mind: but he avoided the aggravation, as usual.
It was left to Davy Thom, sick with a hangover, to go up to the house and tell her Sandy was away on the Marry Rosie till Saturday. To his credit it was Davy, sick with grief this time, that went back to see her that Sunday morning with the news.
The Marry Rosie. I’d grown up with the Thom brothers, but I’d never had a straight answer out of them about that boat’s name. Sometimes it was after Rosie Cassells, the year below me in school, who was handed down from Peter to Davy without either of them showing any inclination to make an honest woman of her.
Or Davy would tell me it was after Cider with Rosie, the book we’d had to do at school: I think that was to impress me with his literary taste. This was on visits home after I’d left Arbroath for good in 1969, when the Thom brothers were getting set up in the family business of a fishing boat. By 1982, of course, they’d bought the older generation’s shares of it, and they could call it what they liked.
The worst of it was, I didn’t hear about the boat going down for a week. I had been on my travels around the Midwest, lost, lost in the Midwest, where the folks stick to their own and kinda look at you funny when you roll up in their town, but there’s still enough of them to turn out and fill a bar to hear that hippy chick from outta town play.
Sometimes weeks went by without my checking in on anyone, but something – intuition maybe, a feeling? – made me phone my kid sister.
‘We’ve been trying to reach you,’ she said. ‘Dad was on that boat…’
Places are so self-contained, aren’t they? I had drifted back east by then, and there was no more reason for the folks in Arbroath to know about a boating accident off the Maine coast that took two lives there, than for the Portland local news to carry a story about a fishing boat going down in the North Sea. Even if I’d been watching the news.
I only just made the funeral. The media came down like a flock of seagulls, feeding on the coincidence between the Marie Rose, some old mediaeval ship, being raised out of the water, while a fishing boat with a similar name went down. Throw in an ‘ex-pop star’ as the daughter of one of the men drowned, and you had a story. As if I didn’t feel guilty enough, it felt like I’d brought the whole media cavalcade down on Arbroath with me.
That night, after I’d spoken to my sister, I drove the Dormobile down to one of the beaches near Cape Elizabeth, and watched the waves surge in from the Atlantic, and thought of my Dad, somewhere out there, in another sea, the waves rolling above him, shrouding him in the dark. When dawn broke I was still there, the salt drying on my skin, the gulls wheeling and calling above me, shivering in the cold that had crept into every part of me.