I am promoting 12 books all over the place at the moment it seems.  Tonight I’m going to be chatting to Simon Fielding about how it’s all going live on Leith FM between 8.30 and 10pm, so please tune in online if you have the time.

I also did an interview with Milo at The Clear Minded Creative in which I gave out advice that I should probably follow myself…

And I wrote a story about a haunted house for Howl-o-ween 2011 at Books, Biscuits and Tea, a book blog by Vicky Torzsok.

Having clicked all those, you may now read a short story I wrote for my sister, who is currently road tripping across Canada and texted me the quote in italics from the Maritime Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

This fisherman was no stranger to hardship – he lost all his fingers and toes in a winter fishing tragedy, yet recovered to prosper as a saloon keeper. 

© Chloe Barcelou (ChloeBarcelou.com)

We survey the mannequin doubtfully.

He stares back, silent and baleful.  A chip of grey paint flakes off his right eye, leaving him half blind as well as fingerless.

“How did he hold the glasses?” Matt wonders aloud, trying to picture drinking in a saloon owned by such a gloomy individual.

“Carefully.”

I’m transfixed by the stumpy hands; black and calloused where the fingers used to be.  I imagine the pain of it travelling up my arms and into my shoulders, neck, back and my skull.  All the nerve endings in my body feeling like they are on fire, shouting at me to do something, to make it stop. 

I shut my eyes and I can hear him screaming, this grubby, nameless fisherman, losing his livelihood on what was almost certainly a dark, stormy night… 

“Do you think he fell in the water?” Matt asks, leaning over the red rope and stroking the model’s wiry beard curiously.   “They might have taken ages getting him out, and all the blood went to protect the vital organs.”

I shrug, like I don’t care.

“That seems the most likely explanation.”

After all, the winter part of the placard suggests cold, and the nature of the man’s injuries imply frostbite… but tragedy feels like more than that. 

Tragedy should be something terrible and predestined, impossible to escape however hard you try, the sort of thing they write plays and films and books about. 

So here’s how I imagine it went.

Once Upon A Time there was a fisherman – we’ll call him Aaron, I can’t just refer to him as ‘the fisherman’ all the time – who was young and strong and good looking in an outdoorsy sort of way.

He became a fisherman to impress a girl, which is not the most traditional route to take but this girl – Grace – came from a fishing family and she loved the sea over all things. 

Grace wasn’t allowed to go out on the boat with her father and brother because she was a girl, and in those days girls weren’t allowed to do anything much.  But that didn’t stop her from sneaking out every morning and hiding herself under the nets, so that by the time they realised she was on board it was too late to turn back.  Truth be told they didn’t mind much, because Grace made a good fisherman.

One winter morning Grace snuck out early to her hiding place as she always did, but it was much colder and darker than usual and she didn’t realise she had got into her neighbour’s boat by accident.  As she nestled underneath the oily ropes and the boat put out to sea she thought her brother strangely quiet this morning, but then remembered he had a sore throat the night before and thought no more of it – he must be resting his voice.

The first she knew of her mistake was when she was suddenly scooped up in a tangle of nets and hit the icy water.  She didn’t even have time to suck in a deep breath before the cold swallowed her up, much less cry out for help.  Her poor neighbour never realised she was there; for Grace was a slight girl and he was a burly fellow.

Although she was a good swimmer the nets dragged her down, holding her under the water till her lungs were full and her lips were grey as the water.  Then, when all the life was out of her, the ropes released their grip and let her drift limply down to the sea bed.

By the time her family pieced together what had happened more than a day had passed, and the weather had taken a turn for the worse.  They were all distraught, but none more so than the burly neighbour, a man who took up fishing to impress a girl, then threw her overboard to sleep with the fishes. 

In their hearts they knew she must be dead, but still Aaron and Grace’s father went out on the boat in the bitter cold to try and retrieve her.  They searched every day for a month until one day, weak from hunger and sorrow and cold, Aaron saw a pale hand waving to him from the depths.  He jumped in after it without a moment’s hesitation. 

They told him later he was in the water for close to an hour – every time Grace’s father tried to haul him back into the boat Aaron pushed away, shouting he could almost reach her if he just went a little deeper. 

She must have been a hallucination, people said afterwards in hushed tones, a manifestation of his guilt.  Poor thing.

When they finally got him out of the water they couldn’t get him warm again, and Grace’s mother hypothesised it was because his heart had turned to ice.  He barely felt the frostbite, and when they removed the bandages to show him the blackened stumps where once he had fingers and toes, he shrugged and turned away. 

It’s true, what the placard said, at least up to a point.

This fisherman was no stranger to hardship – he lost all his fingers and toes in a winter fishing tragedy.

The saloon, on the other hand, is just a story they tell.  After all, people always prefer happy endings.

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