Once again the online and real life response to the continuing tale of Ellen Fisher has been remarkable and encouraging and so it’s with great pleasure that Ellen has decided to grace us with another chapter of her story. For those of you who are new to the Intellectual Plane, the earlier chapters of the Girl from the Paper-Mill can be found here.
I’m hoping that all of you are well on your continuing journey through this crazy world!
May 22nd 2017
THE GIRL FROM THE PAPER-MILL
I spend the night tossing and turning on my bunk. The memory of Bradshaw’s fingers on mine conjures images of the foreman’s leering face. The noise of the outside world looms large in my consciousness. The pitch and yaw of the ship. The wash of the waves against the hull. The squeak of pulleys in the rigging and the groan of the sail-ropes. All intrusive, all accusing. There is the girl from the paper-mill! they scream. The escapee! The harlot!…the liar…!</
I feel unclean and loathsome and desperate for air, but it’s hard to breathe through the tears. When sleep comes it is fleeting. My eyes close and when I open them after what seems like only a few moments, sunlight is streaming through the porthole and the ships bell is ringing signalling the start of the morning meal.
Breakfast is warm toast and tasteless scrambled eggs washed down with black coffee. The coffee is bitter but its heat goes some way to washing away the cold feeling in the pit of my stomach. There’s no sign of Bradshaw this morning which is a blessing. The idea of making small-talk is too much to bear.
I’m about to rise from the table when the mess-room doors open and he appears. At his arm is a woman. She is almost as tall as he is and dressed in clothes and shoes ill-suited for the rolling motions of the ship. A long pink velvet dress and pointed high-heeled black leather shoes. Her dark hair is coiled under a pink lace hat. The ship pitches suddenly and she grips the door-frame for support. An alarmed Bradshaw reaches to steady her but she shoots him a reproachful look. “I’m fine Tom!”
Bradshaw purses his lips. “Well you don’t seem fine darling! Perhaps you’d prefer to go back to the room-“
“Nonsense! I’ve been cooped up there for days! If I hide away much longer people will think I’m a recluse. And you know how people like to talk.”
Bradshaw opens his mouth to reply but then he notices me. “Mr Fisher! Good morning!”
Grimly I move towards them on my way out the door. Bradshaw extends his hand. “Mr Fisher, allow me to introduce my wife Beth. Beth, this is Mr Fisher, the gentleman I met on deck last night. He’s in-“
He glances at me for a second “-what did you say your line of work was again?”
“Paper” I reply.
“That’s right! Paper!”
Beth Bradshaw takes in my frumpy clothes and arches an eyebrow. “And clearly business is booming!”
Ignoring her sarcasm I say, “Well I really must be going.”
“So soon?” Bradshaw frowns. “Please! Join us for breakfast. Point in fact I have a business proposition for you.”
“Oh how dull!” Beth exclaims and rolls her eyes. “Honestly Tom you’re incorrigible. Everything about you is business! Frankly I’m surprised you brought me along on this trip at all!”
“Darling we talked about this!” Bradshaw stutters. “You know why! Especially with your health as it is-“
“Oh save it Tom!” Beth snaps.
“Come now Beth, let’s not make a scene!”
“You’re the one making a scene darling” Beth Bradshaw says through clenched teeth.
I force an apologetic smile. “Well I really must be going…but perhaps another time?”
“Of course!” Bradshaw smiles weakly.
I give Beth a hurried nod and then quickly exit the mess-room.
As I push through the doors I hear Beth Bradshaw snort with disapproval.
“What an incredibly odd man!”
The waves are spraying the ship’s foredeck with flecks of white foam so I retreat to the stern. Clouds are scudding across the sky overhead and churning the sky to a pale grey.
At the stern-deck, two uniformed crew members are gazing out to east and towards a swirling blot of black forming in the distance. As I approach, the taller of the two men raises a pair of binoculars.
“Maybe it will move to the south and avoid us entirely” his comrade says with no small amount of hope.
“Doubtful!” the taller man says. “Those are flat-tops on them clouds. I figure we got maybe two hours afore that thing’s on top of us!”
“I’ll go tell the captain!”
“You’d better. And best be telling him we’re in for a rough ride if we don’t get battened down right quick!”
The shorter man hurries away and gives me a worried look. I move up to the railing. The taller sailor lowers his binoculars and frowns. “Good morning sir. If I were you I’d be thinking about getting inside soon as. That there’s a storm heading this way and the way the wind’s blowing it’ll be blowing harder than a Dutch prostitute. Pardon my French if you’re a religious man!”
I shake my head. Even if I was religious I wouldn’t care. It’s hard to believe in a loving God when there’s so much coldness and cruelty in the world. Moving to the railing I look down at the wash of the ship. If the sailor weren’t there all I’d have to do is slip over the railing and into the green water below. The wash is so strong that no one would notice that I am gone. Disappeared. Vanished like a breath on the wind.
I feel the sailor’s disconcerting gaze linger on my cheek like a bead of sweat rolling down my skin and I grip the railing tight. “I’m fine!” I say a little louder than intended.
He blinks then nods curtly. “Right you are sir” he mutters and moves away from the stern.
I look out over the water and towards the gathering storm clouds and breath in the coming fury of the storm.
By mid-afternoon the squall reaches out from the east and sweeps a wide sheet of rain over the ship. Visibility around the vessel declines from miles to metres. The world is wet and grey and violent with thunder, cracking lightning and the roar of the waves.
I cling to the railing unsure if I should let go and jump overboard. Then a wave crashes over the stern…and for a single horrific moment I lose my breath. The water piles down on me like an icy, smothering quilt and only my frozen fingers keep me secured to the railing.
And then the water passes and I draw in a deep, sputtering gasp of air… and it occurs to me that I want to live. As fearful as I am, I want to survive. To reach the end of this journey.
I turn away from the ocean then and stumble across the deck. The wind whips at my face and blows my hat away. My hair comes loose and cascades over my face and clings to my brow. The dripping water blinds me and I stumble and fall forward onto the rain-soaked deck. The ship lurches and I find myself sliding down the slippery deck-boards. For several seconds the mast grows large in my vision and then I strike the hard wood and then there is only darkness.
Copyright Chris O’Connell 2012- 2017