Conversation in the Fog 1 w sig
Episode 57. The Tanning Salon Up the Road
They were in the boathouse. Little Mac had opened up the double doors to the cove to give him light enough to work on the outboard of Big Bertha's boat. While he worked, his grandson Noah sat in the big doorway with his legs dangling over the side. The fog was very thick and Noah was staring out into the cove to try to see what he could see.
"The fog is very mysterious," Noah said.
"What's that?" said Little Mac. "You've got your back turned and I haven't got my hearing aids in."
Noah got up and went to his grandfather. "Will you tell me a story?" he said.
Mac was on his knees with a pair of vise grips in one hand and a wrench in the other. He had oil on his hands and his face and his shirt and his pants and he was not being successful. "I don't understand. How can a motor not like a man?" he said. "But this one sure doesn't like me."
"Maybe it came here from another world," said his grandson, "and you just don't know its language."
"Maybe you're right," said Little Mac. He got Noah to give him a hand standing up, and then he turned and growled at the engine. "You reckon it understands that? No, I tell you what, Noah. Let's be our own story. I got a hankerin' to go out in the dinghy. You know? With no motor. Nor no oil nor gasoline nor noise nor bother. Just the waves and the breeze and the creak of the oars in the oarlocks and the plash of the strokes in the water. Are you with me?"
"Course I am, Granddad. But won't we get lost in the fog? I can't see the boats in the harbour from here, nor out to sea at all."
Little Mac wiped the oil from his face and his hands and tossed the rag in a corner and spat after it and said, "It is a mite obscure. But then that's where you get the most valuable stories. You got to dig 'em out like they was buried treasure. And anyway, we'll be all right. We'll just follow our noses."
"It isn't just the fog. The village is always a little otherworldly to me. An island on the end of a peninsula stuck out in the ocean. And it's quiet, and there are no stores, and you villagers don't even lock your doors. You don't have city water. You're all on wells or cisterns and you let visitors like me know that so we don't use too much water. And if you want lobster you just walk over to the boathouse of the only fisherman left in the village and get them plucked straight from the sea. Well, all that by itself is as different from Halifax as can be, and that's why I come out here a lot. It's like therapy. But with the fog! Especially during that time every year, like right now, when it's heated up in the city and the women have their summer clothes on and the road repairs are loud and smelly and all over the place so there's traffic back-ups everywhere and the sidewalks are flush with flesh and the buskers are back at it down on the boardwalk and I come home all sweaty and so busy in my head...that's when the village is like something out of another dimension. Like Oz. I roll out of the trees and the road is sloping down but there instead of the sea and the village, there's this white wall. And I drive into the wall and the world disappears. And I roll up the windows because it's suddenly chilly and I'm not dressed for that. I'm in my shorts and tee shirt maybe. And now appearances aren't just there laid out and lasting. They come and go. A house, a little bridge, a woman pushing a baby carriage, now you see them now you don't. You get no warning what you're going to see, and you don't get to see it for long. And it's even more quiet. It's like silence with a muffler. I can't resist it. It takes me out of myself. That's why I came out to take your walking tour when no one else did. Because it's healing for me. Maybe other folks just find it boring."
They were at the rock called Shipwreck Rock where the letters painted on the granite with tar tell of a British man of war that long ago was driven ashore there and lost with all hands. It was the walking tour's turnaround point and they were sitting and eating sandwiches on a shelf of stone that resembled a a frozen wave. There were only three of them. Delilah, on a day off from her job as a coroner's cosmetician, was leading the group on a volunteer basis. Big Bertha, her mother, was there just to add to the company, because she felt bad for her daughter that only one person had shown up for the tour. Sidney was a Dalhousie student. Sidney had a nervous condition that required him to stand up and walk around and sit down again over and over as he talked. Now that he seemed to have finished his story, Delilah put a hand on his knee so he would stay seated and finish his sandwich and they all could go home.
"Oh, you don't have to wait up for me," Sidney said, divining her intention. "You two go on. I'd like to sit here for a while and just marinate in the fog and the sound of the surf I can't see. I'll go back to class a man of mystery that way. Though I suppose I could get lost and end up wandering the sea cliffs forever. They'd make up songs about me. The Sightseer Who Never Returned."
"Oh no," said Delilah. "There's a path. Remember? You just have to stay on the path."
"I know," Sidney said. "But sometimes my feet leave a path on their own, without even asking. I'm just like that. A little crazy, I guess."
"Well," Delilah said as she got up and brushed crumbs off her sweater, "I want to thank you for coming out. At least somebody came. And thank you for your story. If you do manage to get lost and wander forever, at least we'll have something to remember you by."
They had followed their noses and their noses had misled them. All the clues Mac relied on were absent. There was neither wave action nor wind nor any hint of sun to tell direction by. And his phone and his compass were lying forgotten on the floor of the boathouse. To his grandson, he said they were meditating, and that when the time was right they would see what they needed to see, and that until then, out of respect for infinity, they should keep silent. So for an hour they rowed back and forth, hither and yon, with no reference point at all, as if the world had been erased, and not a word shared between them.
Then Noah, who believed in his granddad but had begun to doubt his omniscience, said, "Is it okay to tell you if I think I hear something?"
"If you'll pass me a beer."
"You only brought the one beer, Granddad, and you drank it already."
"In that case," said Mac, "even better. Goodness, I'm thirsty. Aren't you thirsty? So, what do you hear? Voice of God? Angels gossiping? Your mom and your grandmom out calling our names? A whale leaping? The sky falling? Another boat? Oh, let it be another boat. Let it be Billy Christian, and let him have beer."
"It may not be anything. Maybe we ought to respeck the infinity some more."
"All right, all right. So I'm the blabbermouth. I just didn't want you to worry or be scared."
"Are you worried, Granddad?"
"I am. A little. Worried your grandmom's going to skin my hide. Or that she'll start to wonder if I'm blanking out again. Which would be even worse. Or that we'll drift out to sea. But why am I telling you all this? You're just a boy."
"It was two people talking, I think."
"The sound I heard."
"Oh, right! Lord help me. Where away?"
"It's hard to tell, but I think over there."
In the event, it was two cormorants talking, perched on a seaweed-shaggy rock that was part of the little islands protecting the village harbour. "A sight for sore eyes," said Mac, shipping the oars with a sigh of relief. "Instead of halfway to the moon, we're almost home. Thank goodness for those birds and your young ears."
"I wonder what they're saying," Noah said.
"Oh, that's easy," Mac replied. "I know cormorant, see?"
"Granddad, why are you lying down?"
"Just need to...feeling a little...oh, that's rich. The one wants to know if the other has been to the tanning salon up the road.
Big Bertha and Delilah were waiting on the dock in the chairs that were bolted to the timber facing. For a while they had talked about Sidney and how preoccupied students in college could be with themselves. Then Delilah remarked that working to make corpses look like who they had been made her feel like Sidney said he felt about the village in the fog. Like she was out of herself. Out of her world. And then they sat without talking while they waited and waited. And then Noah rowed up with his granddad. And when they started talking he shushed them with his finger to his lips.
"He's just resting," the boy said up to them. "Just having respeck. He said to tell you that. And ask you if we all could have some too. Just for a while."
"Respect for what?" Bertha said. She thought she should be up and seeing to her man, but the boy's words held her.
"For infinity, he says."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" said Delilah, who thought she should be up and seeing to her father, but was likewise held.
Noah shook his head as if dealing with something beyond his capacity. "He said that there's no end to get to, so there's no need to worry."
Keywords:atlantic, calm, coast, conversation, cormorants, fog, granite, north, ocean, rocks, rocky, sea, seaweed, talking