from A Squandered Life / Portugal Cove Road '70
....with the sky so close upon me and the light so splattered about me that I knew I would only have to reach up to pull myself out of the earthly atmosphere.
In the course of wandering around I bumped into my old second year Doyle roomie, Cal, his booming voice and character intact and unchanged. He was in the company of Anne, his loyal companion through blunder and buss, who years later became his wife. They actually had transport, a rusting Ford van, and were looking for accommodation so we decided to team up. We eventually found a ground floor flat in a two story house out on the Portugal Cove Road, five or six miles out of town. It was all we could afford but as we had the van and my motorcycle was due in from England at any moment we decided to go for it.
It was completely unfurnished but for the ubiquitous formica table and chrome chairs in the kitchen. It was technically a 1.5 bedroom flat but Cal and Anne took the large living room and I took the small bedroom at the back, leaving the .5 bedroom empty and unloved. We scrounged mattresses from somewhere and threw them on the floor, piled up some books and clothes, plugged in a stereo and that was that. Home.
Above us lived a charming couple called Fred and Mary and their kids. Fred drove a school bus first thing in the morning and last thing in the afternoon. Between times he drove a small oil tanker, delivering heating oil to households throughout the area. I spent a couple of days with him on his route as an exercise in participant anthropology for my course at the university. Best piece of work I ever did. "We're off," he would say, "like a whore's drawers."
Fred was a relatively small man but with plenty of presence. If anybody got rowdy on the school bus, he would just stop the bus, turn around and look at the lead protagonist. No words, and then we would resume more quietly. He used to get the oil truck up and into impossible places on unpaved and slippery tracks and between small wooden houses clustered together without a thought for vehicular access. He was also a singer and kept a tune going most of his working day.
In those days I lived on baloney and relish sandwiches and even developed a taste for tinned milk (no fresh milk out there). The local “shop” was really just somebody's front room in a small cluster of houses about a mile away down one of the gravel side roads. Sometimes I would head out to that shop at night. There were no street lights in that part of the world. If it was a cloudy night I would have to rely on memory and touch to find my way. I would start off boldly enough but as I reached the limits of the light cast from Fred and Mary's upstairs I would slow down and step into a black so pitch, so claustrophobic that I could almost feel it wrap itself around my face, like a blind man's scarf. I could feel the surface of the road and snow piled up to the side, but that was it. Nor a sound. It was like being entombed but with fresh air so bracing you couldn't panic. I'd feel my way along the main road until the edging snow gave way to the right hander going up the hill to the baloney shop. I would ascend through complete blind darkness until the light of the shop would begin to glimmer in the distance.
Inside the sparse front room was a small display counter and a few shelves with no fresh produce of any kind. Only the bare tinned essentials were available here. Into the bright artificial light the plump woman would step from her television room behind and say “Hello my duck.” The only piece of modern technology in the shop was a large slanting electric slicing machine. She would slap the baloney unceremoniously on to the tray and slide the cutting wheel back and forth until my meagre rations lay flaccid and helpless on the wax paper below.
The return journey would be the same, like insensate, sombre space travel between two small planets of light. When it wasn't cloudy, it was a whole different story. The stars would cover the sky like a multitude of intimate friends vying for my attention and illuminating my path. And if the moon was out it was even more like a dream of heaven, with the sky so close upon me and the light so splattered about me that I knew I would only have to reach up to pull myself out of the earthly atmosphere and launch myself into the great emptiness of space in whatever direction I might wish.
© 2013 Deacon Martin