The Irish trawler Maureen off the northern coast of Wales
“Something in the water ahead, Brádach, I can barely make it out,” the mate called down the hatch to him by his first name though he was owner and captain. But then he and Dougal had known each other for 30 years since young lads roaming the streets and wharf of Clifden. Only he was brighter and had been more ambitious than Dougal.
Coming into the pilothouse made tinier by his bulk, Brádach lifted the one thing he had kept from his Royal Navy service. The Barr & Stroud CF41 7×50 binoculars hung on a lanyard around his neck. A seaman with always a weather-eye, he glassed the landward fogbank that loomed beyond the open span of water ahead of his boat. It winked oddly in the lingering light of the coimheascair, what his Nan said was the struggle when day lets go and night and moon come over the sea. Pea-tinged in the waning light, the vapor writhed in coils over the water toward them. The space was shrinking as he shifted to study what appeared to be wood scraps strapped together beneath an unconscious figure awash and barely above water. Not big enough for a man, though, maybe a boy. “Slow us, Dougal….” he picked up the handset of the main comm circuit above the wheel. The device was navy surplus issue he had installed when he bought the boat. He spoke to the deck crew, “we’ve someone on a makeshift raft ten points off the port bow, we’ll come alongside and bring them aboard. Rig a climbing net midship portside.” He released the handset and stepped to the wheel, “I’ll take her, Dougal, go down on deck and signal when we’re close enough to drift to them, and I’ll halt us.” He wanted to slow more now, but the shroud of fog was closing fast, and his seaman’s sense told him he should not let Maureen enter it.
* * *
Engine at all stop, Brádach, with a gauging study of the approaching fog, let Maureen idle and joined Dougal on the deck as two men brought up the figure of a young boy. He seemed unhurt but for six slashes found on his left forearm from wrist to below the elbow. Discovered when they stripped off sodden clothes and bundled him barely conscious in a dry blanket.
“Can’t have been out here long,” Brádach noted and held in one large hand what they’d found on the boy, “not a mark of sun-blistered skin and no salt-caked eyes or cracked lips.” Something he knew of and did not relish the memory. “Get him below to a bunk and have a man sit with him. Call me when he wakes.” His eyes went to the bow, that murky thickness was only two boat lengths off. Brádach moved quickly for the pilothouse to turn Maureen back and away from it.
* * *
Captain and mate watched as the boy emptied his second plate and third glass of water. In between chewing and swallowing, he had just begun telling his story. With the last wipe of his plate with a slice of bread gone in three bites, the boy continued.
“She kept me…. was keeping me for something… I don’t know what.”
“She… who?” Brádach asked.
“The woman who found me—she never told me her name—when I washed ashore after my ship sank.”
“The Grania… were any others found from it?”
Brádach glanced at Dougal, who nodded at the boy, tapped his forehead, and shrugged shoulders. With a narrowing of eyes and a slight shake of his head, he warned the mate. He had survived the sinking of his light-cruiser, HMS Hermione off Crete by a German submarine ten years ago, come five more days. And would never treat lightly what the boy had gone through. “I don’t know, Derek, and we’ve found no one else. How long did this woman keep you?”
“Almost seven weeks, at the end of each one, she marked me,” the boy held out his arm.
Brádach had noted the wounds on the boy’s arm were not all the same age. The one closest the elbow though healed seemed newest. Each preceding one had more of the seamed look scars acquire with age and were distinct by the puckered width that only comes from the healing of a wound requiring stitches but did not receive them. “Derek, you say your ship sank, when?”
“April 24th. What date is it now?” the boy asked.
The boy’s wits had recovered quickly, “Tomorrow would’ve been seven weeks… she said seven was special, the timing.”
Dougal looked agitated, “But in that log–”
Brádach cut off his mate, “You should rest now, Derek. We’ll enter Llandudno on morning high-tide.”
The boy nodded, “Yes, sir,” and left the room.
“You saw the logbook the boy carried, Brádach, the date, it’s–”
“Yes, and I gave it back to him.”
“Then you know the boy’s a liar or sun-crazed; a bheith droch-ádh. We should make for Llandudno tonight.”
“Dougal, I shouldn’t have to tell you it’s too treacherous to sail this coast at night, much less into a heavy fog. I’ll not have Maureen end up on some rock because you think the boy is bad luck and want him off soonest. As for his story… we’ll turn him and his logbook over to the authorities, and they can puzzle it out.”
Brádach watched the mate shake his head and leave the small room where they all ate. The lantern above swayed with the boat’s roll and pitch. He thought about what he had read in the ship’s logbook they had found strapped to the boy’s torso beneath a worn messboy’s jacket he hadn’t seen the likes of in years. The Grania’s master’s last entry had been about a strange, heavy mist they had encountered. In different handwriting—the boy had told him was his—the logbook continued with entries about the torpedoing and then of 48 days of being held under the sway of some cruel woman.
Opening his own log, Brádach began the day’s entry as he had learned in the navy:
11 June 1952
Blackpool, England to Llandruo, Wales
53° 4’ N, 3° 8’ W, 7 nm due north of Llandudno, Wales
Picked up survivor of British Steamship merchant vessel, Grania sunk 24 April 1945. Will deliver to authorities in the nearest port, Llandudno, and continue to our destination, Bangor, Wales.
Part 3 | The Namesake (available now).
NOTE FROM DENNIS
What you just read is a draft–not edited beyond my self-edit–so bear in mind it’s not had that final polish. But please do share your thoughts about this piece. Comments and feedback are always welcome.
Brádach’s family had just served as extras in the filming of The Quiet Man at locations in Connemara, and his mother suggested naming his newly acquired fishing boat after a true Irish beauty, Maureen O’Hara. Coimheascair (pronounced kwiv ashkur) refers to twilight, but it also means struggle.