Summer 2007, North Florida
The old man rubbed his leathery forearm. A mannerism hardened over the years though the ache was more ghost than physical. But he had learned when very young… things most people thought were ghosts, old-wives-tales, myths and legends sometimes were seated in reality. He studied his namesake, his only grandchild, who kept asking and asking. “Derek, I’ve said afore… I’ll not tell you, boyo. Tis not a story I’ll ever tell again. But when the time comes, you can read it.” He ruffled the boy’s dark hair and beckoned him closer to whisper: “And fy ŵyr, my grandson… when you do… understand every word is true. Now, hug your bamps and off you go to play in all that sunshine.”
* * *
Spring 2020, North Florida
Every time Derek had asked his grandfather about his life before coming to America, and why he never wanted to return to Wales, the answer had been the same: “When the time comes, you’ll get to read it.” And the time had come, his grandfather had passed away. He held the ‘it’ his father had brought to him the week after bamps’s death with the comment: “It’s an imaginative tale. My dad’s storytelling gift leapfrogged me to come to you.” The bequest that contained the answers to his questions was a worn leather-bound, water-stained logbook, the one he had heard about but never seen. A bookmark with his name and ‘Read First’ written in neat block printing marked the last page with an entry. It began with a Welsh saying he would not even attempt to speak and would have had to look up if his grandfather had not included the translation.
‘Gall pechod mawr ddyfod trwy ddrws bychan… a great sin can enter through a small door.’
Then continued in his precise handwriting:
There is such a small door in northern Wales, I had the misfortune to discover. Or rather through it, a thing filled with cruel sin found me. She held me for seven years in a place that is and isn’t… was and wasn’t. A professor I talked to explained what I described as asynchronicity; when something does not occur or exist at the same time or have the same period or phase. After escaping her, I—stupidly—spent another seven years trying to find it and her again to prove my story.
What I’ve written—after Captain Albert’s entries—is what I told authorities in June 1952. A record after the Grania went down up to the Maureen lifting me from the sea seven years later (but not for me). And then what I did on through when I turned 26 and decided to let go of the past. For years they—the locals—thought I was daft, and the Grania’s sinking had rattled my wits. Or my story was made up, a figment of a delusional imagination. Later, in America, where I went to begin a new life, with a family of my own… I shared the story too, but no one believed. So, I stopped telling it and got on with things. Now my life draws to a close, and the story ends with me. But I made a promise to the one who always asked… the one who wanted to know. The only one who remained interested in my story. You, Derek. And then you grew up to be a writer too. So, who better to leave this to but my grandson and namesake? Now go to my beginning: 24 April 1945. Your answers start there.
The entry’s date and time was the evening before his grandfather died.
* * *
American Airlines flight AA6192L IAD—LHR
“Don’t you have it memorized by now?” Anne teased; her eyes—emerald facets—sparkled with excitement.
Derek smiled, closed the logbook, and put it into the Pratt leather dispatch satchel she had given him on his last birthday set between his feet. Anne was right; he knew every entry. From the first one made New Year’s Day 1945 by Captain Albert Standen to the last one in the log written by his grandfather the night before he died. Between that last entry and the preceding made by his grandfather, 61 years had passed. But what bamps had written from the time the Grania was sunk by a Nazi submarine in 1945 until he left for America in 1959, had gripped him with interest. One year after his death, it still held him. His father’s dismissal of the story seemed to mock his grandfather’s truth, at least as bamps believed it to be. And that rankled his investigative journalist’s soul. He had wanted to begin then and go to Wales to see what his grandfather wrote about. To connect with a part of his past, do the research and digging to prove it true. But the pandemic had not yet reached its peak, and so many things were beginning to shut down. The outside world shrank as the online one expanded.
But now, a year later, life and travel had returned to almost pre-coronavirus levels, aside from the new health inspection clearance stamps on his passport and delays for TMC swabbing. The traveler medical checkpoints had become the first stage of the TSA lines at all airports and were the new normal. Some positives came from the trauma and tragedy of the pandemic. It had ripped away the facade of government preparedness. Ended false belief all politicians would do the right things because they should and would not bow to political expediency. With that had come new accountability. And the presidential election had removed one blight from American politics and replaced with someone far superior.
The recovery of the American spirit as much as the rebounding economy—a tide lifting all boats—had created new opportunities for his writing gift. There were so many stories to write. Now he and Anne were about to land at London’s Heathrow Airport to pursue what had stoked him a year ago. Three nights in London, then a 10-day driving tour of northern Wales. To find… he tried to pronounce it to himself then gave up. He lifted the satchel to his lap, pulled out the logbook to see the entry from 1956 about his grandfather’s search for ffang y diafol. What his grandfather had discovered the locals called the Devil’s Fang; the spire marking the cove where the woman who had given him those scars liv—.
Derek looked up at the flight attendant, who had interrupted his thoughts.
“You need to stow your bag under the seat in front of you.” The attendant glanced up at the double-blink of the cabin lights, followed by the pilot’s announcement to prepare for landing, “Now, please.”
He put it away and gripped Anne’s hand, smiling at the way she craned her neck, eager to get a glimpse of London. This was her first international trip, their first of any together since the pandemic. Her grin lighted a face framed by a golden halo of hair backlit by the day’s dawning through the window. He had been to London, BC—Before Coronavirus—but his heart trip-hammered at her touch. His free hand moved down to shift the seat belt and hips raised to reach into his front pocket. The jeweler’s case was still there. Once in Wales, he planned to propose. He leaned toward Anne: “Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths, enwrought with golden and silver light. The blue and the dim and the dark cloths of night and light and the half-light, I would spread the cloths under your feet. But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet….”
With a screech, the wheels touched, and the plane shuddered to match Derek’s tremor of anticipation. He would marry Anne, love her forever… and prove his grandfather had not made up his story.
* * *
Part 4 | The Discovery Begins (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.
The lines Derek recites to Anne are from W. B. Yeats’s poem, Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.