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In the Crow's Nest
"I don't know what to do," Delilah wrote in the leatherbound diary that Ma Bertie had left her and that she was continuing. "I'm supposed to be mother and father to Noah and somehow a big sister to our poor and wealthy lonely Cousin Minnie who's almost twice my age. Daddy Mac and Ma Bertie, they left me with this. Now I'm the one who's supposed to be able to see everything, see it clearly and take care of business. But I'm all in a fog.
"They've got other friends now, Noah and Minnie, and I know that's a good thing. I know it ought to be good. But if it is, why won't they talk to me about it? I ask Noah about this King boy, that he met while he was out with Sir Barksalot, wandering, and he says it's a secret. I ask Minnie about this woman named Cloud, that she met through an ad from someone seeking a 'living assistant' and all she'll say is it's a job.
"They told Mac and Bertie everything, spent all the time with them they could. Me, I'm just the one ... I make the beds, I feed the dog, I fix the meals. And sometimes they sleep in the beds, and sometimes the dog eats his food, and sometimes we all sit together at table. Silent and separate as dust motes in a moonbeam."
They were in Cloud's kitchen by a window that was draft-proofed on the inside with a sheet of scuffed polyethylene and freezing rain was slapping the panes of the window and Minnie was shaving Cloud's head. The wisps of hair that drifted down, onto the worn wooden floor, over Cloud's skinny shoulders, across the old fish-patterned shower curtain that covered her narrow lap, they were so very few, they were like little spills of salt and pepper.
Minnie worked slowly. There wasn't much to get, but she was very careful in the getting of what she got. She treated Cloud's head as if it were balloon fragile, or as precious as that of the queen of the universe.
When finally she put down the clippers, she took several deep breaths. "You know," she said, "I think you see a lot. I think you have the bird's-eye view. And yet you don't say much. And I have all these questions I'm afraid to ask."
Cloud ran a hand over her head. "Oh, there's nothing like that first smoothness," she said. "It gives me such a thrill. You should try it sometime."
Minnie picked her small companion up and carried her into the bathroom and proceeded to give her a hot bath. The room smelled of the rosemary that Cloud had asked Minnie to scent the bath with and it was very soothing. Feeling somewhat calmer, Minnie ventured again.
"Like, why do I carry you into the bath and why do you want me to bathe you when you could do all that yourself? And why keep shaving your head? I think you would be very pretty if you let your hair grow. And why don't we go out? I mean into town, to the movies, to the theatre, to concerts, to restaurants. You don't have to economize. I have plenty of money. And I could help fix up your house if you'd let me."
"Okay, okay," Cloud replied. She had her eyes closed as she lay luxuriating in the hot sudsy water. "You're just like a child. So I will tell you a children's tale. So. I was in Yellowknife once. Do you know Yellowknife? Of course not. You got taken down to Hollywood for all those years. Well, it's cold in Yellowknife. Much much colder than here, and much farther north. And on that day, the day the tale takes place, or rather night, it was the kind of cold that's hard to understand. It was sixty below. I was at a party. We were all drunk. My husband was never a gentleman and when he was drinking he was even worse. So when he told a joke about my being a dental assistant, a very demeaning joke, I got angry and left.
"It was only a block to our house. But I stormed out in high heels and a skimpy party dress. And even though I started out in a hurry, I got slowed right down. That cold, it's like somebody grabs you. Suddenly you're in slow motion and you don't know how you got there. And then it gets even slower. Like a film going frame by frame so you lose even the illusion of motion. You're just jerked from one place to the next. There was a snowbank by the sidewalk. In one frame I thought it was a fluffy cloud, and in the next a down comforter. I thought how nice to just lie down and pull that comforter over me and off I'd go. To sleep. To dream forever.
"Yes. Stop tapping my shoulder. Yes, I made it. And didn't lose anything, as you can see, though it was touch and go with the toes. But I died on that walk home, Minnie, even though I made it. So my life now is different. Will you hand me a towel, please?"
"I'll stop asking. I will. I will leave you alone. Moon Island is all yours again. You can be king all by yourself."
The two boys sat in Noah's dinghy in the shallows just below the abandoned bungalow that served as the palace of the kingdom. The king wore his pie tin crown and Noah the blue knitted tea cosy that had once been his thinking cap but now that he was in the King's navy had become his captain's cap. Behind them were clearly visible against the offshore fog the steeple of their village's church and some of the colorful frame houses on the mainland that were nearest the little wooded and hump-backed rock island in the back bay.
Neither boy looked pleased with their conversation and neither looked at the other. Both stared frowning into the ripples alongside as if an answer to their dilemma might present itself there.
"I just don't get why you don't see my reasoning," said the king.
"I get it," said Noah. "But there's only one house. I mean only one palace. So it stands to reason I should have a room in it."
"Well dang it," said the king. "Dang it! There ain't only one house! But it's top secret and you ain't supposed to know."
"I ain't?" said Noah. "Why not?"
"Because. Because, goldang! Because a king is not a king without he's got some secrets no one knows but him!"
"Well, you can keep your secrets. And you can get out of my boat. I'm going home."
The king made no move to get out. Instead he took off his crown. He turned it back and forth in his hand as if examining all its crudely fashioned points. Then he dropped it in the water.
"What you doin'?" said Noah. "That's your crown."
"Aw, I don't want it no more," said the king. "Why don't you take me home too?"
For his part, Noah made no move to ship the dinghy's oars. "Ain't there no other answer?" he said at length.
"There is," said the king. "But I don't know."
"You don't know what?"
"If you would want the 'sponsibility."
"What 'sponsibility is that?"
"Well, I would have to make you admiral. 'Cause that there other house, it's right on top of the island. It's the crow's nest, and if you live there you're in charge of all the defense. You see everything that's coming. Invader comes, it's you as has to stop him. Storm comes, it's you as gives warnin'. All else fails, it's you as has to get us home. That's a lot of 'sponsibility."
While they sat, the fog had rolled in toward them from the open sea. Noah looked up at the advance and then down at the crown where it floated.
"Guess you better show me this nest," he allowed ruefully, "while it's still there to see." He reached over the side and plucked up the crown and set it down dripping back on the king's head.
At that moment, the very moment the fog shut out the sun and set them in shadow, the king smiled a radiant smile and said, "Well, all right, then." And he turned Noah's cosy around backwards and declared, "There, that's how an admiral wears it," and off they went along the rocky shore in the little dinghy as gleeful as if a major victory had been won and was theirs forever.
3 March 2020
Prospect, Nova Scotia
Category:Architecture and Structures
Subcategory:Places of Interest
Keywords:atlantic, bay, canada, coast, colors, fall, granite, hidden, house, island, mystery, north, nova, ocean, prospect, rocks, rocky, scotia, sea, shack, steep, sundown, sunset, winter