The Island - an excerpt from A Capacity for Violence (WIP)
It was a suicide Tuesday when Clodagh spotted Crowe loitering at the library entrance. She felt fried from her mother rising at 2am to start cleaning down the kitchen and knocking over the mop bucket, spilling suds and detergent over the floor. Mother, Old Woman, Burden, turning on every light in the house as she went about her business. She didn’t have a name now; she was an object, a diminished outline - a ghost. Settling Mother down, returning The Old Woman her to bed and cleaning up The Burden’s mess had left Clodagh sitting at the kitchen table watching the hands of the clock crawl around to morning. Breakfast had been a double vodka followed by another. Neat. Then a sugar-laden instant coffee. In the shower, Clodagh had pendulumed the water from freezing to hot and back. Her skin bristled from the harsh towels. Perfect for her purgatory.
She left a small bowl of cereal and milk on the table. She wrote a note to the oldwomanburden upstairs sleeping ever longer into the day that she wouldn’t be home to prepare lunch. There was a sandwich in the fridge and some scones in the bread bin.
Clodagh was too drained mentally and emotionally to row.
Crowe must have really gone to town on the dye as his hair was still a wild bubble-gum colour. It poked out from under the cap in jarring sparks. Under the battered fleece, one she had seen hanging on a rail in the charity shop a few days earlier was a book. He was cradling it like a child. As she free-wheeled the bike toward the library, she had a momentary flashback of throwing up on his shoes. The same ones he was wearing today.
Like all feral creatures, she had instinctively marked her territory.
She thought of him amid the early morning chaos, that slow appearance in the mind of someone you sensed was like you. A kindred. Someone who crept into your mind unannounced that you knew was thinking of you. He stood less awkwardly, as if the conversation between them was already half-way through. He dropped his cigarette into a disposable coffee cup, and she watched him scan around for a bin.
“Library will open in fifteen minutes, Podge,” she said.
Podge felt gauche around her tongue, she decided she’d go with Crowe.
“I’ll wait,” he replied.
She locked the bike with a heavy chain she carried in her backpack. In it was the change of clothes from her athleisure leggings and windbreaker, microwaveable soup from the fridge and her bottle of water.
She would be on her own today.
“There’s a bin on Main Street.”
Crowe seemed uncertain; a flash of confusion slid across his face.
“I’ll wait,” he said.
“Then wait,” replied Clodagh.
Fifteen minutes later, he was on the opposite side of her desk. He handed her the book.
“You can scan it…” she started.
“You saw me everyday on the beach? During the search?” said Crowe.
The book in his outstretched hand waivered slightly. He had big hands, in his lifetime, Crowe, the battered barn door, had performed heavy labour.
“I said that?” she said
“I can’t remember, yes, possibly,”
She took the book. The plastic cover had a fresh cup ring right in the middle of it. It hadn’t been there when he had taken it out.
“Would you have a map of Inis-Carriag?” he asked.
“Map?” she thought about it, “yes, there should be one in the town records on the second floor, far right-hand side, after the biography section.”
“Not in a book. A fold-out? something in a frame?”
She hadn’t noticed it before, but Crowe started living up the name – the slight tilt of the head as his eyes scanned everything. He had already spied the large ordinance map of the town and island mounted on the wall behind her desk.
“You can’t have that, Crowe.”
“Can I borrow it?”
“No, don’t force me to ask you to leave.”
“It’s a library – I see DVDs, CDs, Magazines to borrow…?”
“The answer is still no,”
Her ‘No’ sounded like biting down on tinfoil. It sliced across the desk.
“Thanks. One other thing,” said Crowe
“I need to get out there. To the island.”
“It’s private property,”
“It’s for sale?”
“Win the lottery?”
“Derry has connections, apparently, I’d like to visit,”
“I’m sure one of the fishermen would charter out for the day. Derry, bless him, thinks he has the finger on the pulse, but the world just side-steps him,”
“I’d like to charter you,” said Crowe
“In a kayak?”
“Boat, whatever, you know the currents, the tides, the best time to go.”
“These can all be Googled you know.”
“Do you have anything bigger…?”
“Crowe, there is no way I could row a man your size out that island and back on my own – ever rowed before?”
“No, but it doesn’t look hard… I’ve good upper-body strength.”
Clodagh stared at him.
“I’m not talking to you anymore – town records upstairs, have a nice day.”
The Library doors groaned open and three of the local blue-rinses and perms ambled in to occupy the library space. Their indiscreet glances and muttered voices hung in their hair like the virulent miasma of an old woman’s kitchen.
Crowe climbed the stairs to the second floor. Rows of waist-high shelves spanned the wall. Perched above them hung the local artist’s group’s paintings. A myriad of still lives, seaside sunsets and one superb study of a boat hung in pastel and acrylic hues. He slid past ‘History’ to the small corner table with a reading light and docking port for a laptop. The forlorn looking shelf of leather-bound town records offered little by way of the island. Two volumes in offered a few old plans: sheep crofter cottages, the Martello tower and a seemingly long list of British owners before a Canadian Billionaire’s family bought it in the 1960’s. It then seems to have been forgotten about, an acquisition that wound up in a wall safe somewhere. Apart from caves on the northern side where seventeenth century smugglers plied their trade, the island, like the town it was tied to seemed to have always been the bridesmaid, but never the bride.
Between the books a laminated triptych fell onto the floor. Crowe folded it out; The Rocky Shore Trail was the title. Opened out, it showed all the varieties of shore-life and flora of Ireland and The British Isles. Starfish, urchins and crabs lined up in neat rows with seaweed.
There was no mention of Thea’s remains having been in contact with seaweed. He had put the plants he had found in the B&H packet, sealed in Sellotape and jammed in with the frozen pizzas in the fridge. Inis-Carraig didn’t have a beach. It was sheer cliffs all around apart from the old stone jetty and slipway. Crowe pulled back down the last record he had skimmed and thumbed to the page with the image of the island coiled in soundings and indecipherable maritime numerals.
He ran his finger around the outline of the island - and then he spotted it.
A long thin line that joined Inis-Carraig to Róscarraig. A causeway. A strip of sand.
He creased up the laminate and jammed it into the pocket of his cargo pants.
He took the stairs two at a time, his lumbering gait reverberating around the library.
Clodagh looked up from her computer.
“Whatever it is, the answer is no,” she said.
“I will pay you €200 if you take me out the island. I will also buy you dinner,” said Cowe.
“Not out of a takeaway?”
“A sit-down, bottle of wine replete with actual napkins, knives and forks. Coffee in a cup and saucer. Perhaps a digestif to ward off the food coma?”
“Tempting offer. Not much by that in this town. I do know somewhere though. Might want to shave, Crowe. Shower might help. Meet me at the boathouse at four-thirty tomorrow morning.”
With the beginnings of a smile, Clodagh drew on a lined A4 page directions to the boathouse from the library. She folded it neatly, creasing it down with her short, sharp nails.
Crowe thought of them scraping his back. He quickly shelved the image away.
“I think there’s a spare life jacket. I know another rower who has a two-person sea kayak. I’ll have to check with them.”
“Can I have your mobile?”
“No. Crowe. You cannot have my number.”
“So it’s a lottery, then, the charter?”
“ ’Fraid so, cash up front. Kayak or no kayak. Four-thirty. No guarantees.”
Crowe was nudged aside by an old lady. She was looking for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. Clodagh checked her computer and made an apologetic smile to her.,
“The only ‘J’s I have Mrs, O’Connor are Henry James, P.D. James, and James Joyce, sorry.”
The old lady left with Crowe equally disheartened in tow.
“See you at 4:30,” said Crowe
“4:30. Know how to get there?”
“No. But how hard can it be?”
The halogen lights of the boathouse burned, casting shadows across the old English stone facade. Dawn was nearly an hour away. After dragging the yellow two-seater kayak out onto the jetty, Crowe had wedged himself into the front. Despite the cold, he was sweating from the effort. Clipped to the aft was a plastic barrel with a change of clothes for both. A walkie-talkie was strapped to Clodagh’s wetsuit – the frequency set to the local lifeboat station. Secured by plastic ties on the kayak’s rubber skirt was a hand-held waterproof GPS. Over his fleece, Crowe’s small life jacket struggled with his bulk. A warm woollen hat offset the freezing thin discomfort of running shoes, socks and cargo pants. Low down in the water in the dark, a primordial fear gripped him. Beyond the arc of the boathouse lights and the safety of the estuary was the depths of the open sea.
And pitch blackness.
Clodagh slid an aluminium paddle to him,
“Don’t let this fall overboard, they cost a fortune. And almost impossible to get.”
Crowe found the paddle’s weight deceptive; it felt as light as a feather.
Clodagh continued, “Shaft, power face, back face – see? The power face is the side of the blade that catches the water. We’re going to do a few circles in the estuary to get a rhythm going, then when I say so we head out. I’m going to chant ‘Powerface’ until we get it right.”
After a few meandering circles and clash of blades, they headed out to sea.
“Christ, you are terrible, Crowe,” she muttered. Crowe was a dead weight, a liability, she thought. She found herself having to adjust her stroke to avoid clashing with his paddle.
Crowe had questions. His mind had started firing up; momentary light bulbs that came on and remained burning. Under his hat was the folded jotter. Wedged between his ear and the hat’s elastic, was a pencil pared to fine points at either end. His fear expended with every stroke of the oar. Out of the estuary, the full force of the elements hit them. The kayak bobbed and dipped and with every stroke as they aimed the prow toward the black outline on Inis-Carraig. The effort took his mind off the seawater leaking in around the rubber skirt. His heels were frozen. He was beginning to thrill to the challenge.
“Do you know where the jetty is?” he shouted over his shoulder. He doubted the kayak would survive being hurled against the sheer cliffs.
“Yes!” yelled Clodagh, “Aim for the left of the island.”
“Do you want to stop?”
“No,” he replied.
“We can turn back,”
“If I think its too risky, we’re turning back, Crowe,”
“Fuck that,” he shouted.
“I’m the one with the walkie-talkie and the wet suit; so you’re on your fucking own if we tip over,”
Crowe finally synched and they made good time. He was wheezing like an old bellows and spat up phlegm in long rivulets over the side. His heart felt like it was going to burst out of his chest.
Incrementally, the island drew closer. A thread of blue appeared on the horizon as the world turned toward the sun. The clouds danced and chased each other across the sky as the sea and the island took form. Like Nubian galley slaves they powered their vessel through the troughs. Clodagh couldn’t see over Crowe; she strained her neck to check direction. Above them, the stars looked like diamonds strewn across a black velvet sky. Her nostrils were assailed with sea spray, damp fleece with faint undertones of sweat from their exertions.
They reached the jetty. The craft banged against the Napoleonic stone as they manoeuvred toward the slipway. Clodagh eased herself out first. Crowe almost pitched everything over getting out. But somehow kept his balance. They dragged the kayak up the slip and onto the Jetty. Clodagh expertly la shed the kayak to the ancient rusted moorings and opened the carrier. She produced a flask and two protein bars. Crowe’s shoulders were a fireworks of agony and his legs were shaking.
The flask was hot black coffee with a heroic shot of brandy. Crowe fished out the B&H’s. He had to shake the BIC to get a modest flame. They smoked until the brandy and nicotine dulled the pain.
“Rat run,” said Crowe.
“Its how she got here," said Crowe.