Sunday, 16 January 2011

My Life and the Sea: chapter 1

Yesterday I started another story, this time a short novella. I don’t really intend to finish it, but I’ll try to post a few more chapters over the next week or so.

Chapter 1. My Debut

I was born on the sea, in the teeth of a storm. That’s where all the trouble started, at least that’s what my mother used to say. She was a fierce stern-faced woman who read a lot of books and grew the hair in her armpits and never owned a bra in all her life. One night she was riding the ferry back to the island – she’d been at another meeting on the mainland, plotting to bring down the System – when a storm blew in, one of those wild ones that swell the sea and send the boat pitching so hard that the side railing looms beneath you like the edge of a cliff, and you know at any moment you could slip directly from your seat into the abyss. When I call it a ferry, you mustn’t think of one of these newer types, a luxury vessel with padded seats and a roof and glass windows – no fancy catamaran for my mother. Instead you must picture a charming, cheerful old rustbucket named Paluma, painted orange once upon a time but now the colour of old nails, cruising at eight knots while the six or seven passengers perch on plastic chairs bolted to the deck, with nothing between them and the wrath of God but a single low handrail and a strip of canvas overhead for shade. That was the noble vessel that pitched so wildly on the waves that night, while the captain wrestled with the wheel and the passengers clung to their seats for dear life, looking out with horror at the great black rolling hills each time the lightning lit the sea as bright as day.

Then halfway to the island, my mother went down on the floor and gave a startled cry that you could hear even above the howling tempest, and that was when I made my grand debut, slipping out onto the wet wooden planks, the warm amniotic fluids mingling with the cold white spray of the sea that swept the deck. Thank God for umbilical cords or I would have shot overboard in an instant, but as the ferry pitched me towards the starboard railing my mother caught me midair, clutching my slippery little self under one arm the way Americans hold the football as they’re running flat-out down the field. Then she put me on the breast and wrapped her knees around the chair legs, securing us both to the deck. That is how we made our safe passage home to the island, my white-faced mother sliding wetly side to side across the deck, the other passengers crossing themselves and vomiting and looking on in disbelief, the captain’s one good eye wild with panic, and me grinning from ear to ear, happy as a lark, slurping my mother’s milk and farting blissfully and looking up at her with my black adoring eyes, watching in joy and wonder as each new crash of lightning lit her face up like a beacon on a dark sea.

I was never baptised in a Christian church, and some have blamed my later troubles, my crimes and triumphs, on that omission. But what need had I for a second baptism? I, who was christened the hour of my birth not by any priest or by the rites of younger gods, but by gods or devils more ancient than earth and sky. And not by some paltry liturgic sprinkling, bland and saltless, but by the full-faced salty spray of the boundless deep. It was the baptism of the sea that washed my mother’s blood from off my face before I’d ever drawn a breath.

So it was that, when the ferry docked at the grey and barnacled Magnetic Island jetty, my mother wiped the seaweed from my brow, cursed me under her breath, and named me Dylan Jackson Jones.

Why she invoked the name of Jackson, after my father, that mongrel dog (as she often said) who’d knocked her up then run off back to Lismore, well, that’s another story. But I received the holy name of Dylan because of an American folksinger whose records my mother knew by heart (the Voice of the People, she used to call him), and because someone once told her that the word meant sea, and she reckoned a name like that was just the thing for a little bastard born as I was, in the maternity ward of the Magnetic Island Ferry during a storm at night at sea.

6 Comments:

besideourselves said...

"Christened the hour of my birth not by any priest or by the rites of younger gods, but by gods or devils more ancient than earth and sky. And not by some paltry liturgic sprinkling, bland and saltless, but by the full-faced salty spray of the boundless deep".

Superb.

I thank the ancient God that I was baptised (fittingly enough) in the waters of Doubtless Bay. It's always seemed right to me that a man should go down into that vast graveyard the ocean, which tastes of blood, to return anew to the world of light.

Strangely, my mormon friends couldn't surf with me on the 'sabbath' because the ocean was, apparently, 'the devil's kingdom'. I would laugh at them and go anyway thinking that they were perhaps somehow right to be afraid.

And I'm only sorry that my wife didn't also venerate that "Voice of the People", or else I'd have a son with a name to match his sea-grey eyes.

More please.

Daniel said...

Forget ‘theology’ the world has enough Barthians for now (egads, if only you were Catholic...). Still, I reckon all your study has taken you long past any questions you once thought you needed answered, and now your writing will help us with the questions there are no answers for, that and maybe a measure of pain, God forbid, blessings.

p.s. a novella won’t do, put aside clever short stories, I think this opening chapter invokes 5 or 6 hundred pages at least!

Pamela said...

Whatever else you are, Ben, you are a writer. And I'm one of the people who need you - I'm a reader.

Justin Ireland said...

Yes I enjoyed it too. Magnetic Island and Dylan - sounds like my weekend a couple of months ago.

Anonymous said...

My father was a ship,
my mother was the sea.
I drink the waves whipped up
by a tempest ocean breeze.

Don't let me feel the ocean rise
without a call.
If I'm not there
then I'm not really here at all.

The sea it beckons me
with wind and sail and breeze.
My heart it follows it
it draws me to my knees.

The sea's my home my wife
my children and my friend.
And when I die the sea will
greet me at the end.

When death with closed eyes shut
comes forth to pull me down.
I'll lie beneath the sea
cradled in her gown.

Don't let me feel the ocean rise
without a call
If I'm not there
then I'm not really here at all.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, where would we be without startled cries and howling tempests? Sure there's no need to read it at all beyond one random look at one random line to see that this is where it all ends for those who spent more time in the barth than in the confessional attending to holy day oblations.

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