On odd days, when the sun rose askance, and the birdsong croaked in the warm fastness of her room, and the bread – slipping out, she glimpsed through the heat glazed windows the looks of floury consternation upon the bakers’ faces – failed to prove, the boat would arrive. Under the morning shadow of the basalt cliffs she ran, passing silently through the town. Two dark streets traversed – less than streets, really, these dense, tortuous passages between the herded packs of cotters houses – and she was at the docks, the smooth, time-worn cobblestones cold, like stream-pebbles from the high reaches, beneath bare feet. Another hundred, hurried steps and she was on the spine of the breakwater, where she stopped, enveloped by the glowing sea-mist and the spray of broken waves.
There would be, every odd day, silence – blissful abandonment in the pale, wan ghostliness of this fog realm – and she seemed to be the only being alive – some days, of this she was even unsure – and, then…
A creak. A groan. The bite of ships timbers, ancient and salt rimed, as the boat hove into view, the coiling mists dispersed, with the oily shadows of the deep behind it. White crystal fur grew around the blind eyesockets of the figure head, which snarled and smiled all at once, and blew back across the deck toward the ornate wheelhouse – it’s struts and cross spars cut deep with beautiful grotesquery; harpooned narwhales, drowned sailors, kraken. A wave broke across the bow, and then subsided – silence returned… Then…
A Figure emerged from the wheelhouse. She capitalised the word to herself – a Figure – always the Figure, although she knew him to be called Anders.
“Hola,” she said, and then, “How are you, Anders?”
“As good as always – throw us that moorline,” and she obliged, her movements hapless beneath her ridiculous raiment, the greatcoat she’d hastily thrown over her nightclothes. Anders looked amused, his sunburnt wrinkles twisting upwards in a snarling smile, and then grasped the end of the thrown line, age-graceful in his oil-proofed overalls. He wore the same clothes every odd day, the overalls and sleeved shirt, stained and stencilled, across his bony spine, with the words ‘Callan’s Fishing Charters.’ She wondered how long he’d had it.
“What do you have for me today?” She asked, stepping closer to the precipitous edge of the breakwater, so that, even in this unnatural silence, the Figure might hear her better.
“Most certainly.” He moved forward, too, resting one foot on the smooth grained gunwale. “Regard…” and she noticed that he was clutching a teacup tightly in hand, his little finger extended so that he seemed to parody the cultured classes. He mimed a sipping motion, and then proffered the relic to her. Stretching out across the shadowy gulf, she accepted it.
‘A teacup… No saucer?’ She queried.
‘No saucer – it’s bone china, though…’
‘Bone china… Bone… I’ve always wondered about that. Did they ever make cups out of bone… fine bones, my mother says I have them, but never as fine as…’ she held the dainty, gold traced vessel up to the dewy sun, ‘this…’
‘The Norsermen used to make pitchers from the skulls of slain warriors…’ Anders offered, his face lighting up, silent laughter at some private joke.
‘I have one, if you want to see it…’
‘How old are you, Anders?’
And then he’d go – always. Look at the time, he’d say, as if the rising sun could dissipate him, and he’d leave, back into the depths of a mist that was already lifting, and she was left clutching whatever useless treasure he’d delivered, wondering.
On odd days she made tea.