Tag Archives: sailing

Across the Bay

FloatOn

FloatOn

As I drove from under the shade of tall trees the view across Dublin Bay to Howth was as magnificent as even. With my window open the salty air tickled my nose and all I could do in response was smile. It had happened many times, and the clear blue water that stretched and stretched before becoming one with the distant horizon intensified the good feeling.
I parked my car, turned and took in the view just like the dozen or so onlookers who were seated at the viewing point on the curve at Seapoint. From here you had an uninterrupted view of the expanse of the bay, that on a bright day like today was simply ‘the place to be’. Lost in the far-off blueness yachts were cutting across the water heading back to the marina in Dun Laoghaire, while beyond them a large cruiser made its way leisurely towards Dublin Port. Such liners were a recent feature in the bay, and their gigantic presence always generated plenty of photographs and comments on social media.
I knew the scene in front of me well but I realised, and not for the first time, that I had never sailed across the bay to Howth. It was something that I had always wanted to do, as I would be able to take photographs of the city from a new vantage point. But, not being a member of a sailing club the opportunities were non-existent until last week. As I was putting my photography equipment away after a shoot in an office where the owner, a man named Chris, had two framed photographs of a boat on the water, he asked ‘Do you like boats? I noticed that you seemed quite interested in these pictures.’
I nodded. ‘Firstly, these are fine photographs, and then it seems to me that whoever is on that boat is having fun.’ The boat was leaning to the side and slicing through the water with ease. It was exciting.
Chris smiled. ‘Well, that’s FloatOn, my boat, and she really moves. It’s a Berwick Westerly 31and it’s the best boat that I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a few.’
I looked again at the picture and I could almost feel the spray in my face as Chris talked about being on the water and going across the bay to Howth or down the coast to Greystones.
‘Do you sail?’
‘No,’ I replied, ‘but I like the sense of freedom that it offers. People say that they feel released when sailing, and I think that I can understand that. Skipping across the water is something that I have often thought about…and it’s still on my To Do list.’
Chris smiled again. ‘Well, in that case, I’d like to welcome you aboard FloatOn sometime.’
That was a week ago, and now as I looked out from my car at the endless blue scene in front of me, I was excited because tomorrow I would, finally, be on the water and sailing to Howth. From where I was now the distance didn’t far, and I reminded myself to look up from the boat and take photographs of the where I was now. Then I would have the story from both sides, as it were, and with that thought I started the car and slipped into the traffic, and away from the beautiful vista.

Dublin Bay, with Howth Head, from Seapoint

Dublin Bay, with Howth Head, from Seapoint

The late-September sky was clear, with a few white clouds high up and barely moving.
Lines of boats bobbed at anchor as sunlight sparkled from their metalwork. It was an image that I liked and I took some photographs, before spotting Chris who was waving from the end of the West Pier. Ship ahoy, I thought, the excitement now undeniable as butterflies, or whatever, buzzed in my stomach.
Chris looked me over, head to toe, and nodded approvingly. ‘Suited and booted, you look fine,’ he said offering a firm handshake.
I quickly glanced at my new clothes and felt as it was a good start. ‘I got them from a friend-of-a-friend who is on holiday this week. He’s a member of the National Yacht Club and, thankfully, we are almost the same height and weight.’
‘You look fine, Joe, and ready for action.’
‘Sure am,’ I replied wondering if that was just a figure of speech or should I be aware of something more serious. I’d had some negative thoughts in the last day or say and I chided myself for them. Why was I thinking like this? I was going sailing with a man who was a seasoned veteran and boat owner, and others, across Dublin Bay on a glorious day. It was what I had always wanted and now I was having dark thoughts that kept coming back like the tide. That was an unfortunate, if accurate, phrase and I tried to let it go and busy myself helping Chris.
The breeze was warm and fresh, and above us seagulls swooped and cawed as they fought over scraps that a sailor on a nearby trawler tossed into the air.
‘Here, put these in the dinghy,’ Chris said as he handed me a box with milk, sugar, coffee, a bag of doughnuts and two packets of biscuits. ‘I have a sweet tooth, several of them in fact, so we’ll have something when we get a little out.’
‘Sounds fine to me,’ I said as we were joined by the third member of our motley crew.
‘And this is, Dave,’ said Chris introducing my new shipmate. ‘He’s a dentist,’ he added ‘and I’m sure that we’ll not be in any need of his skills today.’
Dave shook his head playfully before asking. ‘Chris, I thought there was going to be four of us today?’
Chris shrugged, and shook his head. ‘Kevin, my travel agent friend, got involved in some business in London that dragged on…and he didn’t get back yet. So, it’s just us, The Holy Trinity, who’ll be having lunch in Howth later.’
I looked over to Dave. ‘Are you a sailor?’
‘A few times a year, I guess, as I’m usually found on the golf course. I’ve done this trip maybe a dozen times and it’s always fun. Do you sail, Joe?’
I had thought about that a lot since Chris had invited me onto the water. It was during summer holidays, I think I was fourteen, and I went with a group of local friends to an outdoor, pursuit centre near Courtown in Wexford for a week. We went climbing, horse riding, surfing, orienteering and sailing, by the end of which we were so exhausted that we were happy to go home. It had been a great time and I did remember having a feeling of lightness as the teacher took control of the tiller and the boat picked up speed and moved easily over the shimmering water. I laughed as the salty spray hit my face – oh yeah, that had been fun. ‘Once, and that was a while ago,’ I said ‘but I have been studying up lately.’
‘That’s good to hear,’ said Chris as he stepped aboard the dinghy, and took us to FloatOn.
‘I like the name,’ I said when aboard ‘where did that come from?’
‘Well there’s nothing funny or suggestive to it, if that’s what you mean? I know that’s often the case, but FloatOn is meant to reflect exactly that – Float and On. I think it was a combination of floating and drifting on, both of which are immediately identifiable with the sea.’ He looked over the length of the boat. ‘I like it, and it sounds good, too. That’s important.’
‘Yeah, it’s one of the best that I know,’ added Dave who had just tied his lifejacket on.
Half an hour later after Chris had given me a quick A-Z of the boat we were ready to go. I recognised most of the items he pointed out from the YouTube videos that I had watched, the one titled ‘Sailing for Dummies’ being my favourite. He was impressed, but when I said that the only time I had encountered a halyard was when I did the Irish Times crossword, he stopped the ‘lesson’ and laughed out loud.
‘I must remember that one,’ sniggered Dave making a face.
‘Right, gentlemen, I think that we are ready to move off.’
‘Have you checked the weather, Captain?’ asked Dave.
Chris adjusted his cap and pulled it tighter over his silver hair. He was, I had found out, fifty-seven years old but looked much younger, the years sailing a boat in the fresh air had obviously been a benefit. He was in better shape than most of my contemporaries who were nearly twenty-five years younger. ‘I have, and we might get some rain later. It should pass over quickly and, apart from that, we should be fine.’ He glanced out to sea. ‘It’s a lovely day for a crossing; you’ve picked well, Joe.’
I hadn’t picked anything at all, but I appreciated the inclusivity of his words. And, I hoped that I might in some way contribute to the day’s outing.
So, just as we moved slowly towards the sea the clouds that had drifted across the sun slid away and we bathed in strong, bright light. I took a few photographs, taking my time as I tried to get used to the movement of the boat. Around me salty air was now so much stronger than I had expected and I felt great.

Martello Tower at Seapoint

Martello Tower at Seapoint

Chris talked about the crossing, something he had been doing for longer than he cared to remember. There were tales of people getting sick, no surprise I thought as a wave lifted the boat momentarily. And he reckoned that FloatOn could probably sail over and back on its own so familiar was it with the journey. He was a font of stories, the old sea dog in the mood and enjoying it. He pointed off to the right. ‘Looks like the good weather has brought out the crews,’ he said as we turned to take in the spectacle of thirty, no maybe forty, yachts racing. The sails billowed as the crews moved about doing whatever was necessary to get more speed. I leaned on the roof of the cabin and took a stack of photographs knowing that I would probably not get this chance again. With the zoom fully extended I knew that I had some good stuff, as the yachts quickly moved away from us and into the open sea.
Beyond them the Kish Lighthouse, its whiteness standing out from the surrounding blue canvas, shone briefly before a passing cloud took its glory.
I took a few shots of where I had been sitting in my car yesterday but I was much further away than I had expected and I knew they would be much good.
The tide was coming in and I could see it breaking against the stones below the Martello Tower. Traffic moved silently along the road, for all I could hear now was the wind rippling the main sail and the sound of waves hitting the boat.
‘How far are we now?’ I asked Chris who was looking closely at the sky.
‘Oh, we’re about half-way now, and you can see straight down the Liffey estuary into the city.’
Being this far out at sea I had to gauge my bearings by finding the twin towers of the Poolbeg Power Station and then looking to the right. Sure enough I could see up the river and the cranes along the quays. The glass and metal from some of the recently erected buildings sparkled like Christmas trees. This was new to me and again I took a load of photographs.
‘Getting in plenty of work, eh,’ said Chris.
‘Yeah, and the sunlight really is such a big help.’

A leisurely cruiser

A leisurely cruiser

Chris pointed a finger to something over my shoulder. ‘Hey, you’re in luck.’
I had been so lost with taking photos of the river that I hadn’t noticed the cruise liner that had come from behind a line of warehouses and was now heading out to sea.
‘We’ll get a little closer,’ Chris added ‘and then you see just how big these boys are.’
Ten minutes later both Dave and I took photos of the enormous ship as it moved with purpose past North Bull Island, and in no time it was gone.
‘That was great,’ I said, and noted that that Chris was again looking at the sky.
I sat at the back of the boat and watched what Chris was doing. With so much experience he made it all look simple and I decided that I must take some sailing lessons. I would ask him about it later as right now I felt he was concentrating on something I didn’t understand.
‘That wind has certainly picked up,’ said Dave, looking back at Chris and I didn’t miss the concern in his voice.
Chris didn’t reply as he kept looking at the sky.
We were now getting close to the southern side of Howth Head from where the Baily lighthouse kept watch.

Baily Lighthouse - silent watcher

Baily Lighthouse – silent watcher

In a matter of a few minutes the sky darkened and the breeze rose.
‘Take down the main sail, Dave,’ Chris shouted ‘as I’m going to turn on the engine. This is getting too rough; I don’t like it.’
Dave made his way carefully along the deck and began to take down the flapping sail. He struggled at first but he got it down and managed to tie it to the boom as the boat was knocked about by the rising waves. On his way back he slipped and cried out in pain.
I was already up and moving when Chris shouted ‘Help him, Joe.’
Dave was holding his knee and his face was contorted in pain. ‘I’ve twisted bloody knee,’ he spat. ‘Shit.’
I leaned down, grabbed him by the shoulders and dragged him to the back of the boat. He was smaller than me, and with my shoulder under his I managed to get him into the cabin.
‘It’s not broken,’ he said ‘but it hurts like hell.’ He let out a lungful of air. ‘Thanks, Joe, you’d better go and help Chris, I’ll be alright. Go.’
‘Sure?’
‘Yeah, yeah.’
I went back on deck where Chris was working hard at the wheel. ‘How’s, Dave?’
‘He’s twisted his knee, but nothings broken.’
Chris managed a tight grin as he looked ahead at the rising waves. ‘I wasn’t expecting this,’ he said ‘but shit happens.’
‘What’s happening?’ I asked.
Chris gritted his teeth and pulled hard on the wheel. ‘We’ve been hit by a squall that I never saw coming. It’s like it came from behind Howth Head – we’ve been ambushed.’ Once more he strained to keep control as another wave slammed into the side of the boat.
The cliffs below Howth Head were disappearing in the falling mist and I wondered just how bad things were going to get. We left the marina a man short and now one of us was lying injured. That was not good but I consoled myself that I was with a man who knew these waters as well as any sailor. We’d be okay.

Wheel of good fortune

Wheel of good fortune

Seconds later a big wave hit us hard and FloatOn was knocked sideways. Chris managed to hang onto the wheel but not when the next wave hit. This was bigger and he was tossed past me where he stumbled, fell and banged his head,
‘Oh, God, Chris,’ I shouted ‘are you okay?’
He didn’t answer and then I saw the blood on his forehead. I felt for a pulse and thankfully I found it, although it was slower than it should be.
‘What’s happened,’ cried Dave ‘are you okay?’
I leaned into the cabin. ‘I am, but Chris has been knocked out. What are we going to do?’
Time seemed to stand still before Dave said ‘Drag him down here and I can take care of him, okay?’
I nodded and wiped rain from my face.
‘And then you can sail the boat. I mean we’re not far from Howth marina.’
I couldn’t believe what he said. ‘Me…but..’
‘Just do it, Joe, there’s nothing else we can do.’
The boat was rocking more and more and I knew that he was right even though I was scared stiff. ‘Ok, I’ll get him now.’
It took a mighty effort to drag Chris across the deck but surprisingly the rolling of the boat actually made it easier than I had expected. When I got Chris into the cabin Dave was standing and he had an open a First Aid box on the bench. ‘Do your best, Joe, you’ll make it,’ he said as he began to check the mark on Chris’s head.
I struggled to get back on deck that was now sluicing with water. Around the boat the waves seemed to grown and I knew that I had never felt so nervous. There was another lurch to the left before I got behind the wheel and began to pull it down. We had to get away from the cliffs and the lack of visibility meant I had no time to lose. It was a struggle and the muscles in my arms ached as I held on and headed directly into the waves. Boom, boom rang the sound of crashing waves as I held on and rode the madness. It can’t last, I told myself, it just can’t last. And then, just as the pain in my arms and legs had grown unbearable I spotted sunlight on a side rail. It couldn’t be, I thought, suddenly feeling a new rush of energy surge through my screaming muscles. The waves continued to drench the boat but the worst of the buffeting seemed to have passed. Minutes later the mist that had been my enemy drifted away and I was guiding FloatOn past the northeast corner of Howth Head. The sense of relief was overwhelming and I fell forward onto the wheel.
‘We made it,’ I shouted down to Dave ‘we bloody well made it.’
Dave laughed. ‘I knew you’d do it, Joe. Top man.’
‘And how’s Chris?’
‘He’s still unconscious, but his pulse and breathing have settled.’
‘Tell me, how am I going to park this bloody thing?’ I asked.
‘Don’t worry, Joe, I’ve already alerted the local Life Guard and they’ll come and take us in.’
Phew, that was a relief, I said quietly as I guided FloatOn towards the marina. Ten minutes later a man who knew exactly what to do was in charge and he took us into a berth.
‘That was a close one,’ he said.
‘You’re not joking,’ I agreed. ‘And thanks for the help.’
‘And by the way…you did very well. Very well indeed,’ he added before heading off down the quay.
Getting a compliment from a professional was unexpected, but I would have preferred if he never had reason to say anything.

Chris had mild concussion and he was kept in the local hospital overnight. Dave had his leg strapped up, before a sailor he knew from Howth Yacht Club drove us back to Dun Laoghaire. It was a fine gesture and I made sure to send him a Thank You note a couple of days later. And when I called to see Chris at his home later in the week he still had a bandage above his eye. He looked like a boxer who had gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson, but he was recovering.
‘I owe you a big thanks, Joe,’ he said, giving me a hug.
I shook my head. ‘You owe me nothing, Chris, absolutely nothing.’
Over a cup of coffee I told him what I had done and he sat in silence taking in every word. ‘I spoke with, Dave, and he told me what you did…and just how bad the conditions became.’ He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to remember something, I suspected, or maybe it was to forget what happened. He gently shook his head, opened his eyes, and met my gaze. ‘But then we had you, Joe….we had you.’ He smiled, and it was a crooked one considering the bump to his head. ‘Well done that man.’
I didn’t respond, as we shared a moment that neither of us would ever forget.
Chris sipped his coffee. ‘And, of course, we never got to have lunch. I was so looking forward to that.’
‘I know, but I’m not exactly starving,’ I replied, tapping my belly.
Chris grinned. ‘But we will do, I promise…and I’m paying. Okay?’
That was fine with me. ‘Aye, aye, Captain,’ I said, and we both laughed at that.

Dun Laoghaire marina, with Howth Head beyond

Dun Laoghaire marina, with Howth Head beyond

 

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Filed under Dublin, Ireland, short stories

Saved by the Book

Sail Away

Sail Away

1

She turned over and winced when a sunbeam cut straight past the sleep in her eyes. A small guttural sound involuntarily escaped from her throat and she pulled a pillow over her head. The sunbeam had woken her and she knew that change had come. There was no going back and, for better or worse, she was moving on. No, no…the worse doesn’t come into it, that’s over. Fool me once, she thought, her breathing even and loud with her nose pressed against the mattress. Yeah, you’ve caused me too much pain to go back, she said, hearing the words reverberate in her head and was genuinely surprised at the thought.
But then all things change.
Standing in front of the mirror she brushed a few loose hairs from her face and exhaled, loudly. The first thing she noted were the eyes; the eyes that had seen her boyfriend with another woman yesterday. They were red and sore and she shivered when she realised how tired she looked. She hated what she saw but didn’t look away. Not even her droopy shoulders could do that as she wanted to remember this image and imprint it on her brain. She did that and then stepped under the shower for a long, cleansing of both body and soul.
Images of Roger, her Roger, kissing a woman outside a restaurant on Merrion Street kept coming to her mind as she dressed and made coffee. She tried to push them away and eventually surrendered to the intrusion while she packed some clothes in a bag. She had been to see her dentist on Merrion Square and was making her way to St Stephen’s Green where she spotted Roger. From across the street she recognised his familiar, confident steps as walked up and then embraced a woman with shoulder blonde hair. This was not a friendly, work-colleague kiss on the cheek greeting, but something much deeper. She remembered feeling her mouth falling open as Roger and the woman looked at each other before going into the swanky restaurant. The pain from her visit to the dentist was forgotten as she wondered what to do. I can’t handle this now, she decided, and hailed a taxi that took her home.
The doorbell sounded near eight o’clock and she took a deep breath, went to the door, and opened it.
Thinking back on what happened she saw it all from above, as if she was having an out-of-body experience. It helped not to be part of the story, to be removed from it, but she knew she wasn’t fooling her herself.
‘What’s wrong Shelly?’ Roger said when he saw her red eyes. He had to know that she had been crying but had he been rumbled? ‘Are you ok?’
He leaned close to kiss her but she stepped back. ‘What’s the matter?’ he said, his eyes clear and wary.
The moment that had been on her mind all day had arrived. ‘Who is she?’
Roger’s brow lifted. ‘Who…who are you talking about?’ He opened his hands out in a ‘I-don’t-know-what-you’re-about’ gesture and their eyes locked.
Shelly kept telling herself to ‘keep cool’. ‘The woman you went to lunch with today. The blonde you kissed like there was no tomorrow, that’s who.’
Roger’s nostrils flared and the sneer gave him a nasty look. He didn’t move and Shelly could almost see and hear his brain working as it considered and weighed her words.
Since she’d known him, about sixteen month now, he had always been sure of himself but not in an overt and pushy way. He was confident, she liked that, but now there was an arrogance that she had not seen before. And she didn’t like it.
‘Spying on me, are you?’ he said, his words mocking and dangerous. He stood tall, looking down on her, every movement and gesture now threatening.
‘I was coming from the dentist when I saw you with…her. It was an accident, that’s all. I mean, why do you think that I was spying on you?’ Even as she said the words she wondered if she had gone too far. It was done now and she knew that the next few moments would make or break them.
Roger drew a hand over his mouth, the sneer a tight line now. ‘She’s a friend if you must know, and she’s…’
‘Go on say it…it’s not like you to be stuck for words.’
Roger stepped forward an raised a hand.
Shelly, to her own great surprise, didn’t flinch. ‘That’s it…lash out. Is that the best you can do?’
Her words taunted him and for a long moment he was undecided. She could see the guilt in his eyes and knew he hated being found out. She had heard stories about men beating women but she never for a moment believed that it would happen to her. But now as she looked at Roger with his hand raised, she realised that she might soon have her own story to tell.
‘You’re not worth it…no way,’ he said clearly and lowered his hand. Then he opened the door, glanced back over his shoulder, and left.
Shelly stood in the hall staring at the lock on the door as she felt her pulse begin to slow. She didn’t want to break the moment and waited…and waited until she was ready, and walked over and turned the key in the lock.
It was over, they were over, and she went into the kitchen and put on the kettle. I need to clear that bad taste from my mouth, she thought, putting a spoonful of coffee into a cup. Later, as she sat at the table, she began to shake. It was a strange, knife-edge type feeling that she hadn’t expected; she didn’t know what to expect, but she had reached a new place where there was no room for Roger. He hadn’t even challenged her, confirming his guilt, and the blonde was welcome to him. He was a cheat, a two-timing liar and, painful as it was, she was better off finding it out, now.
Later she called her mother who invited her for dinner. That was all she needed right now, and then she went for a long walk on Sandymount Strand where the salty air and cawing seagulls helped her to think about other things.

 

After a big hug and a cup of tea Shelly told her mother the whole story.
‘You’re better off…and that was very brave. It could have turned nasty.’
It was a close run thing and thankfully nothing like that happened. Roger the Rat had run down a sewer and she hoped never to see him again.
‘So what are you going to do?’ her mother asked.
Shelly had thought about that when she was walking on the beach. It took a while but she had decided to call her friend Rachel who had a shop in Skibbereen, west Cork. She was always asking her down and now she was going to take her up on the offer for a month or so. School had just closed and her work as a junior school teacher meant she was free.
‘At least that’s some good news, so when are you heading off?’
‘Tomorrow morning. And don’t worry, my apartment is fine. Everything…will be ok.’
Shelly was up early the next morning and put a suitcase and a small bag of clothes, shoes, books and other bits and bobs in the boot of her car and drove away. The day was sunny and she hoped that it was sign of something good.
Her phone pinged. It was a text from Rachel. ‘Your room is ready. Take care.’
She replied. ‘Just leaving. I’ll bring wine. Thanks.’
She took one last look around, got into the car and headed south.

2

‘Where shall I put these?’ asked Mark, pushing a box of books into a corner of the shop.
Andrew turned. ‘You can leave them there for now as I want to move a few more things about first. Then we’ll have a better idea of where they should go.’
That made sense Mark thought. ‘And there are half-a-dozen posters as well,’ he said tapping the tall, white tube.
Andrew nodded. ‘That’s good, because the last time the printers forgot them and it was…well, let’s just say it wasn’t good.’
Mark grinned at the understatement. He had been working in the bookshop for three weeks now and liked the way Andrew spoke. He was articulate, had more to say about writers than his English teacher in school and didn’t talk down to him. They were equals, nearly, and he liked that.
Andrew looked around the shop. ‘Ok, I’m going to get a coffee, fancy one?’
‘Sure.’
‘Right then, you mind the shop for a few minutes,’ then the bell jangled as Andrew opened the door and crossed the street.
The smell hit him before he opened the door and stepped into T R Coffee, the most aptly named shop in town. Rachel, the owner, pushed the cash drawer closed. ‘Morning Andrew, and how are you today?’ she asked.
‘I’m good thanks, and can I have two cappuccinos and Danish pastries please.’
‘Mark with you today?’
‘Yes, and for a seventeen year old he’s doing fine. He’s a great help.’
Rachel looked over. ‘And I’ll also have an extra pair of hands later.’
‘That’s a good idea with the holidays kicking in.’
Rachel nodded. ‘Exactly, and it’s very much appreciated.’
Andrew let two customers pass. ‘I know, as I have a book launch in a few days and Mark’s been very good.’
Rachel handed over the coffees and cakes and Andrew paid her. ‘Do come along, I’m expecting a good crowd as the author is local,’ he added. ‘You must know Ian Reed?’
‘The photographer?’
‘That’s him, and his new book is, from what I’ve been told, a very entertaining read…with great photographs.’
Rachel smiled. ‘Thanks, and can I bring a friend?’
‘The more the merrier. Thanks,’ he said and stepped onto the sunlit pavement.
He and Mark moved tables and chairs about until they were satisfied with ‘the look’. The shop, Turn The Page, was narrow but stretched a long way back where old stock was stored in an adjoining room. Andrew also used the room as a studio where he painted, and Mark was impressed with the canvasses that lay against the wall. ‘Are you going to sell those? he asked.
‘Hopefully,’ said Andrew ‘and we’ll find good places for them later.’
And they did before Mark went home, and Andrew locked up.
The old shop was looking good and his aunt Lilly, who had left it to him, would be happy. The place was busier than ever, and although he was not going to make a fortune, having regular Readings by aspiring authors and showing off works by local artists all went to lift the shop’s profile. And the fact that Des, one of his sailing friends who he owned a boat with, ran the nearby radio station in Ballydehob that often mentioned the shop, all helped.
Running a bookshop nowadays demanded thinking outside the box, and it never stopped. It was so different to working for a hedge fund in London, but he’d done that and didn’t miss it. Apart from the money, of course, but he had made enough, and he was happy not to be in that rat race any longer. There was more to life than making money and being under constant pressure, and now he was enjoying himself. He wasn’t going back.
After making dinner he put on his painter’s garb and enjoyed the strong sunlight as he added to his latest work. It wasn’t quite finished, yet, but it was close. Later, he thought, closing the door and heading upstairs to bed.

3

Shelly worked hard in her first days and Rachel was delighted. ‘You should have come sooner,’ she quipped when Shelly wiped her brow.
‘Being on my feet all day is tiring,’ Shelly said ‘but good. I feel as though I’ve lost a few pounds, and that’s never a bad thing.’
‘It happens,’ said Rachel ‘and better than going to the gym.’
They both laughed at that.
It was on the second night that Shelly told Rachel her story. Rachel hadn’t asked, wasn’t going to, but Shelly wanted to talk. Needed to talk.
‘You’re better off, Shelly, he sounds like bad news.’
‘That’s one way of putting it…but he was a real charmer when he wanted to be. That’s what fooled me for so long. Bastard.’
Rachel leaned close. ‘You’re here now, so forget the past and enjoy the future. I mean, you never know, nobody does, what might happen.’ She shrugged and Shelly smiled ‘Thank you’.

The bookshop was packed as Andrew talked with Ian Reed and his publisher. A good crowd was always welcome and that sort of news spread long after the launch was over. Mark was operating the cash register while Des poured wine for the guests. He was busy and waved Andrew over. ‘Have we more wine?’
‘In the store, but we’ll start now and people can pay attention to the author instead,’ said Andrew.
‘The voice of experience, eh.’
Andrew winked. ‘You wouldn’t want the guests to forget about buying a book now, would you?’
Rachel and Shelly arrived in just before the speeches and grabbed glasses of wine. ‘Nice place,’ said Shelly looking about the crowded shop. ‘It’s quirky; I like it.’
Ian Reed spoke well, told a few funny stories, and signed plenty of books afterwards. The local newspaper had sent a photographer who was busy snapping guests who were enjoying the night. The launch was a success and Mark had never seen so much money in the till.
Andrew came over to get wine for the author. ‘Hi Rachel, it was good of you to come.’
‘Delighted, Andrew,’ she replied ‘and this is my friend Shelly.’
Andrew’s eyes flicked onto Shelly. ‘Hi there, I suppose Rachel has you working all hours.’
Rachel made a face and Andrew shrugged.
‘You bet,’ Shelly said, and Rachel slapped her on the shoulder.
‘No fighting, please, at least not inside,’ said Andrew taking wine over to the author.
Rachel pointed to paintings in the window. ‘Andrew paints these, and…’
‘And you have one in the lounge,’ offered Shelly ‘I recognise it.’
‘Very good, you’ve been paying attention.’
Later when Shelly was reading through a book Andrew stopped. ‘Ah, that’s a really positive book and well worth a read.’
It was what she wanted to hear. ‘That’ll do nicely,’ she said.
He pointed to a sign near the door. It was a square of white, with black letters that read You Can, You Must, You Will.
‘Very profound,’ Shelly said, liking the message.
‘Those words are from the book,’ Andrew said ‘and I think they’re great. I put them there for people to see, and they like them.’
Andrew topped up their glasses with the last of the wine. ‘I’ve been busy all day so – Cheers.’
They clinked glasses and chatted for a while before Andrew had to talk again with the author. ‘I hope you like the book,’ he said. ‘It’s been nice talking with you.’
Rachel had a signed copy of Ian Reed’s book under her arm. ‘You look happy,’ she said to Shelly. ‘What’s happened?’
‘Nothing really. I bought this book on Andrew’s recommendation and we chatted for a bit.’
Rachel turned and spotted Andrew. ‘I’ve known him for years. He’s a nice guy, and a very good sailor..’
‘..and artist,’ added Shelly.
‘Of course, and he’s made this shop a very ‘happening’ place. Look,’ she continued ‘the place is still packed and that cash register has been ringing all evening. The town needs a place like this.’
Shelly sipped her wine. ‘Have you never…you know..’
Rachel laughed. ‘No…I know him too well. It’s just one of those things.’
Rachel and Shelly waved to Andrew when they were leaving.
‘Enjoy the book,’ he replied nodding to Shelly.
‘Well, guess who’s made an impression?’ Rachel said outside as they walked back to the apartment.
Shelly chuckled. ‘I liked talking with him, that’s all. And thanks for the invitation, I really enjoyed myself.’
Rachel put an arm around Shelly’s shoulder. ‘You’re very welcome…and thanks for being here.’

4

Two days later Andrew helped Mark tidy up after the Book Club members had finished their monthly meeting. As it was the holiday season there were only a few participants but two of them bought new books. ‘I really enjoyed the other night,’ said one man ‘there was a great atmosphere in here. Well done, Andrew.’
‘Thanks, and keep spreading the word.’
Mark was cutting photos of the launch from the local newspaper and pinning them to the notice board on the wall opposite the cash register. ‘It went well, didn’t it,’ he said.
‘It sure did, and the publisher called me earlier to say thanks. He was impressed, and maybe, we’ll have more launches. It’s what I wanted to hear.’
Mark nodded.
‘Coffee?’ asked Andrew, repositioning the one remaining painting in the front window.
‘Thanks,’ Mark said, clipping the edge of another photo.
Andrew checked his watch and didn’t realise that it was nearly midday. No wonder I’m hungry, he thought, and headed across the road to Rachel’s shop. As he approached he could smell the coffee and checked that he had enough money.
As he opened the door Andrew was suddenly aware of the strange, quiet atmosphere. The place was usually a hub of chatter but now all he could hear was one voice, and he recognised it. It was Shelly’s and it was pleading.
‘Please go Roger, just go away,’ she said from behind the counter to a man Andrew didn’t recognise.
‘Don’t you dare tell me what to do,’ the man shouted and Shelly stepped back nervously. ‘Nobody tells me to go away…nobody.’ His voice was louder and Shelly was slowly curling into herself as she leaded against the wall.
The nine or ten customers in the shop were all struck dumb and silent.
Andrew took a step towards the counter. ‘What’s the problem?’ he asked.
The man turned and snarled ‘It’s none of your fucking business; now get lost.’
Andrew noticed Rachel behind Shelly, a look of total dread on her face. ‘That’s what you’re going to do,’ he said, watching the man carefully.
The man stared at Andrew, stepped over to him and swung a punch. Shelly and everyone in the shop screamed as Andrew ducked and swept the man’s legs from beneath him with a scything kick. The man hit the floor and Andrew stood over him, daring him to continue.
Seconds later the man scrambled to his feet and without a backwards glance left the shop. A loud cheer went up and Andrew grinned like he had just beaten Mile Tyson. ‘Thanks,’ said Shelly ‘I really appreciate that.’
‘Yeah, thanks Andrew, I’m impressed,’ Rachel said. ‘Where did you learn that?’
Andrew touched the side of his nose. ‘You don’t want to know…believe me.’
Andrew looked at the two women. ‘Well, is somebody going to tell me who that was?’
‘My ex-boyfriend,’ said Shelly ‘and he’s crazy. He hates not getting his own way…and that’s why I broke-up with him. He was impossible to be with.’
‘In that case I hope that he’s now got the message,’ said Andrew, looking over to Rachel.
‘Oh yeah, loud and clear,’ added Shelly before reaching up and kissing Andrew on the cheek. ‘Thanks again,’ she said and went behind the counter and into the kitchen.
Rachel was smiling. ‘That was some surprise Andrew, really.’
He shrugged.
‘And, to show my appreciation coffee and cakes on me today. Ok?’
Of course it was ok, and Mark was wide-eyed when he told him about the incident. ‘It sounds like something from cowboy movie,’ added Mark, shaking his head.
Andrew almost swallowed his cake. ‘Thanks, but I think you’ve been reading too much lately.’
Mark grinned and had an even stronger reason for liking the man who chased thugs out of town and painted lovely seascapes. Interesting, that was the word he was looking for, he thought, before taking another bite from his delicious, free pastry.

5

Andrew had just uploaded a post to the bookshop’s blog, when there was knock on the window. It was Shelly.
‘Hi there,’ he said opening the door ‘this is a nice surprise.’
Shelly had two cups of coffee and a bag with donuts. ‘I brought these to say thanks.’ She looked around the shop. ‘One of them is for your assistant. Is he here?’
Andrew shook his head. ‘No. I let Mark go early as he’s playing in a golf competition in the local club. So, I guess you’ll have to drink that.’
‘I guess so,’ she replied.
‘I’m posting photographs from the book launch to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, so give me a minute.’
‘You’re a jack-of-all-trades?’
He looked up. ‘Well, if I don’t promote the shop nobody else will, so…’
Shelly understood. ‘I didn’t hear any music the other night,’ she said trying to work out who was playing.
Andrew sipped his coffee. ‘I know. Before Mark left I was painting…and I like to listen to music when I do so.’ He turned his head. ‘Come on, I’ll show you.’
The storeroom was tidy with racks of books dominating one wall. Opposite, Shelly saw tins of paint, brushes and a number of finished works. The window, at the back, was large and looked onto a tiny garden that was now bathed in early, evening sunshine. There was an easel in the middle of the room and the painting that Andrew was working on.
‘It’s not quite finished,’ he said, sitting on a high chair ‘but it’s close.’
Shelly immediately liked the blues, some strong, some light, making it look very natural. It was a scene looking across a beach and out to an endless sea that rolled onwards to a horizon. She could almost feel a salty breeze blowing. ‘What are you missing?’ she asked, sitting on a wooden box by the door.
Andrew looked at Shelly and then at the painting. ‘I don’t know.’ He drank some coffee. ‘It happens like this sometimes.’
‘What does?’
‘It’s like you’re going down one road, seeing nothing else, when suddenly a completely different idea or perspective shows itself. It’s like coming to a fork that you hadn’t anticipated.’
‘That’s interesting.’
‘Yeah, and I’m not sure if that’s called inspiration or luck. Maybe they’re really the same thing!’
Maybe, thought Shelly, looking at Andrew as he studied the painting. Rachel reckoned that he was two or three years older than they were, probably thirty, and his clear blue-grey eyes, collar-length fair hair and easy composure were attractive. And she couldn’t forget what he’d done to Roger.
He looked over. ‘I take it that you were not expecting your visitor today?’
That was a nice of putting it, Shelly thought. ‘No, I was not. I can only say that he knows where Rachel lives and he put two and two together…’
‘And got five.’
Shelly laughed, spilling coffee on the floor.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said ‘it’ll add to the story of the shop.’
Shelly wasn’t expecting that. ‘Roger would have started screaming if that had happened.’
‘He’s a bully…and unhappy.’
It had taken Andrew only minutes to sum up what Shelly had been thinking for months. Maybe she was too close to the issue, that sometimes happened, but she was still impressed at his insight. ‘Yes, you’re right. He was great fun when things were going his way, but I noticed him change recently.’
‘Any particular reason why?’
‘I began saying no to him. No, I didn’t want to go to this place or that, and he began to lose interest in us. Then I saw him with another woman, and when I challenged him about it he stormed out. He hated not being in control.’
‘A bully, and hopefully he’s learnt something from his visit.’
Shelly nodded.
‘Otherwise it was such a wasted journey, don’t you think?’ he added casually.
This time Shelly smiled.
‘And what’s your plan? Are you staying here for a while?’
Shelly put her cup down. ‘I’m a school teacher on holidays, so I’m going to help Rachel for the next month or so. It’s getting busier by the day and I know she appreciates the help. And I’m…thankful that she invited me down.’
‘That’s what friends do.’
‘And thanks for what you did today. I mean, I was scared stiff when Roger started shouting at me. He was crazy, and God only knows what he might have done.’
Andrew brushed a stray hair from his brow. ‘I know, but he didn’t and that’s all that matters.’
There was a long silence between them with only the quiet playing of Myles Davis’s trumpet intruding. It wasn’t uncomfortable, and Shelly noted how relaxed she was when she found herself looking at her feet in a square of sunlight. It was a funny thought, and she liked it.
‘Do you fancy sailing sometime?’ Andrew asked.
Shelly was surprised. ‘Sailing?’
‘Yes, the thing people do when they put a boat into the sea.’
She laughed at that.
‘I’d love to but you better tell me what to wear, and what to do as I..’
‘What is it?’
‘I can’t really swim,’ Shelly replied nervously, hoping that Andrew was not going to cancel the outing.
He was unfazed. ‘Well, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve never lost a passenger yet. Ok?’
Shelly offered a relieved grin. ‘Fine; and when is the big day?’
‘I think that tomorrow evening would be good, say six o’clock.’
‘Fine, I’ll clear it with Rachel.’
After Shelly had left Andrew put on another CD and thought about the day. It was so unplanned, but then nobody ever knew what was going to happen. But it had, and as he contemplated the painting he reached for the brush and made a few strokes. Yeah, that was what it needed, he thought, remembering how the sound of Shelly’s laughter filled the room. He liked that, and maybe he would hear more tomorrow. He made a few more strokes, sat back, and was happy. On The Beach was finished.

6

Shelly had a lot to say when she returned to the apartment.
‘Going sailing, are you?’ said Rachel, unable to hide a grin.
‘Like I said, he invited me and I couldn’t very well refuse, could I?’
Rachel was laughing. ‘No you couldn’t, not after what he did to Roger the Rat.’
‘That’s what I mean.’
Rachel topped up their glasses. ‘And I know he’s a very good sailor because I’ve been out with him.’
‘And…?’
Rachel shook her head. ‘I told you before, nothing happened. I guess it’s chemistry…or the lack of it. There are somethings in this life that you just can’t force.’
Shelly nodded. ‘You’re so right, and maybe he’s just asked me out after the incident in the shop. Make me feel better.’
Rachel sipped her wine. ‘It’s possible…but then again.’
They laughed out loud, all memories of the nasty incident with Roger blown away in a heartbeat.

‘My friend Des was out in our boat and he should be back by now,’ Andrew said slowing the car as they came into Baltimore. The small village was busy with flags and colourful bunting flapping in the steady breeze.
‘What’s all this for?’ asked Shelly.
‘There’s a big regatta next week, and it’ll be manic here. It’s not to be missed.’
Shelly had borrowed Rachel’s sailing gear and she was excited when they walked to the sailing club and met Des. There was plenty of activity around, and after putting on her lifejacket Des helped them push away. Here goes, she thought.
Andrew looked over. ‘Done this before?’
‘Once, on a school holiday.’
‘Then you’re an expert; so, just try and relax. Ok?’
Shelly nodded as Andrew passed her a rope. ‘Hold that,’ he said, and as he moved the tiller the wind filled the mainsail. They were off, and in a few minutes the boat was heading away from the busy quay at a steady rate.
‘You ok?’ asked Andrew.
‘Yes, this is great,’ Shelly said, listening to the sail as it rippled in the breeze. ‘Where are we going?’
Andrew pointed. ‘Straight out, then left past the Beacon and we’ll go around to Kedge Island. And after all that fresh air we’ll be ready for a bite in Villa Carlotta.’
‘What’s that?’
‘It’s the best tapas bar in west Cork.’

As the boat rocked back and forth Shelly’s stomach got used to the movement and she was feeling fine. She had been worried about getting sick and making a fool of herself, but now she was enjoying the experience. ‘This is great, and thanks for the invite.’
‘You’re welcome, but it might get a little choppy soon, so hold on.’
‘Yes, Captain,’ she replied and Andrew winked.
He was right and before long Shelly wasn’t feeling quite so comfortable. The ferry to Sherkin Island passed by and Andrew waved over, but Shelly kept her head down. She was concentrating hard when they passed below the Beacon and barely noticed the people waving down at them.
‘It’s choppier than I’d thought it was going to be,’ Andrew said. ‘Are you ok?’
Shelly nodded and felt water splash her face. She looked up to see a wave hit the boat side-on tossing her to the other side where she banged her knee. ‘Ahh,’ she cried out and Andrew leaned down to help. In an instant the boon swung violently, smacking into his head and over he went into the sea.
‘No,’ Shelly screamed when she saw Andrew lying face down as the boat moved away. She was in a panic and started shouting HELP and waving her arms at the people on the cliff. She was getting further away from Andrew, and with heart pumping, she heard a voice in head shout GO.
She jumped.
The water was cold and she splashed and swam as waves lifted and dropped her. GO, GO, GO the voice kept shouting as she struggled, doggy-paddling like crazy. She thought her heart was going to explode when she stretched for Andrew’s lifejacket. On the third attempt she got a hold, and with a massive effort, her arms, legs and every part of her screaming in pain, turned him face-up. He was unconscious and there was blood coming from a cut above his left eye. ‘Oh Jesus,’ she cried as the boat continued to float away with each passing wave. She couldn’t believe what had happened, and put her hand under Andrew’s head to keep it above water. She kept crying out HELP and wondered if they were going to survive. As the blood trickled into the water she heard herself saying over and over ‘Please don’t let him die’.
They floated close to the cliffs and Shelly had to use her feet to stop Andrew from banging against the jagged rocks. She had no time for being scared and, with strength she never knew she had, they moved away from danger. The swell was getting worse and they waited, rising and falling, for about twenty minutes until she heard the sound of an engine getting close.
Two men helped pull Andrew and her aboard before another was left off to sail Andrew’s boat back to the club.
‘What happened?’ asked one of the men examining the injury to Andrew’s head.
Shelly told him as best she could, not taking her eyes off Andrew’s face.
There was a crowd of onlookers at the quay where an ambulance waited. ‘He’s hardly breathing,’ said the medic, ‘that’s not good.’
The ambulance raced along the narrow roads, its siren screaming and blue light flashing, as the medic worked on Andrew. There was real concern on his face and Shelly was in silent shock as she looked on. At the hospital Andrew was rushed into an emergency room and Shelly feared the worst. And started to cry.
Half-an-hour passed before a doctor, stethoscope around his neck, opened a door and came over to her. ‘He’s a lucky man,’ he said.
She was surprised, and relieved. ‘Lucky?’
Andrew had been knocked unconscious and the cut above his eye was deep and needed a dozen stitches. ‘Well, if you hadn’t flipped him he may well have drowned. He was knocked out and…’
He didn’t finish the sentence; he didn’t need to.
Rachel arrived and threw her arms around Shelly. ‘Des called and told me what happened. How is Andrew? And how are you?’
Shelly was wearing pyjamas and a nightgown and looked both tired and relieved. She told her story and Rachel shook her head a few times. ‘That’s crazy, Shelly, absolutely…I don’t know what to say.’
Shelly brushed her hair back. ‘I know, but that’s…’
Rachel’s eyes suddenly were open wide. ‘I…I didn’t think you could swim.’
Shelly twisted her head from side to side. ‘Barely, but I just had to try and save Andrew…so I jumped.’
‘Jesus, Shelly there’s never a dull moment with you, is there?’
The two women were smiling and wiping tears away when a nurse came over and spoke to Shelly. ‘Andrew would like to see you,’ she said and they walked down the corridor.
Andrew was sitting up in bed, a stack of pillows behind him. There was large white plaster on the cut above his eye that was now closed. He was looking at her with his one good eye and even that looked tired. ‘Thanks,’ he said, his voice quiet and thicker now. ‘You saved my life.’
Shelly waited for a few seconds before sitting on the edge of the bed. ‘I’m just so happy that we’re talking, that’s all I wanted.’
Andrew understood. ‘They told me that you dived in…that was a very brave thing to do, especially as you can barely swim.’
Shelly steepled her hands, fingertips touching her nose. ‘I had to…there was nobody else around.’
‘Mmmm.’
She shook her head slowly. ‘I told you that I could barely swim, but when I saw you in the water I had this powerful feeling that I had to do something. My leg was hurting like hell and from somewhere inside I heard this voice screaming.’ She took a deep breath. ‘It said GO, GO, GO and I knew what I had to do. And that’s when I jumped in.’
Andrew leaned his head into the pillow and was silent for a while. ‘That’s crazy.’
‘In the book that I bought in your shop one of the positive thoughts was ‘Let go, and go’. And that’s what I did.’
Andrew managed a crooked smile and Shelly saw a tear roll down his cheek. ‘Thanks. I’m sorry that this happened,’ he said ‘it was meant to be…’
‘There’s plenty of time for that,’ Shelly said, as she leaned close and kissed him.
Andrew exhaled loudly. ‘I was saved by the book, eh.’
Shelly smiled.
Andrew’s head began to hang to the side and his breathing slowed.
Shelly sat with him, holding his hand until he was asleep. Her one-eyed seafarer with the plaster across his damaged brow almost made her laugh. She would laugh later with Rachel, and now couldn’t wait to tell Andrew what she was thinking. She had saved his life and, maybe she had saved her own, too. It was a positive thought and one she knew the Captain would understand.

The Beacon

The Beacon

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Filed under Art, Dublin, Ireland, short stories