The Boy from Castlebay Down
A Picture of Me
I walked into the lounge smiling having just got back from the boat yard, eyeing the whole of my family minus dad watching TV.
"Ah, Corbin, I left you a sandwich on the side in the kitchen… how did you get on?"
"Guess who's got a job?" I said, causing everyone to grin.
Leah got up and threw her arms round me. "Wow! See, I knew you would."
"Congratulations dear brother, my heart sings for you."
"Oh well done Corbin, that's wonderful news," Mum added.
"Yeah, I was really surprised; I didn't even have to ask!"
"So your boss is Troy's dad?" Leah asked.
"Uh, well I presume so, I didn't actually get round to asking I was a little shocked. Plus the fact my interview… if you can call it that was instant and involved some strange questions."
"So when do you start?" Asked mum.
"Tomorrow at 7. He wants me to bring a painting too."
"A painting? What for?"
I shrugged. "Dunno, maybe he likes art."
Leah went and sat down again. "Well for someone who said they wouldn't be caught dead working with anything to do with trawling you certainly changed your tune."
"Leah, look around, there is not a lot else I can see out there work wise."
"Hey, I'm not criticising you, I'm just surprised that's all."
"I'm gonna go grab that sandwich, does anyone want anything?"
The three of them shook their heads and I wandered out to the kitchen. On the side was a thick cut sandwich covered with cling wrap. Pulling off the thin material I picked up half and took a healthy bite now feeling hungry. "Hmm, ham and pickle," I mumbled to myself.
With my plate in hand I walked back into the lounge and took a seat. "So where is dad?"
"Gone down to the warehouse." Mum answered.
"Yeah. He's gone to inspect the nets and trawling equipment that came as part of the deal."
I laughed. "Inspect the nets? Does he actually know what he's inspecting?"
"Probably not, but it keeps him happy. I think he'll be pleased you got a little job though. Do you know what you'll be doing?"
"Actually no, he just said turn up. I did meet a few of the other people working there, they seem nice."
"Did you see Troy?" Zoe asked, turning to face me.
I swallowed down another bite of my sandwich. "Nope, he wasn't there, maybe he was out on a boat somewhere. Apparently this guy… Jerry his name is, he has 3 boats."
"Yeah you told us," Leah said. "So his name is Jerry? Hmm, I like that name. Sounds like a name a nice person would have."
"Yeah he seemed pretty cool, we'll see. So mum?"
"This warehouse, what's it for exactly?"
"Your dad says it will house the caught fish and store the equipment. There is a large walk in fridge and freezer inside. When I went last, I saw lots of plastic containers, so I'm assuming fish will be stored in there."
"Mum I get the feeling dad has not exactly sold this new venture to you in much detail. Do you know if this thing is actually gonna make money? And also, how the hell is dad going to catch fish on his own… isn't trawling like a skilled job?"
"He's been taking online lessons. As for the business, we looked at the books and it did ok. The rent on the warehouse is £150 a week and we bought the boat. The two brothers who sold us it are due to retire as they are getting on a bit. One has shot knees and the other has arthritis in his wrists so it was time for them. I don't know much about the deal itself but your dad reckons we got a good one."
"So what happens then, does dad like, sell the fish he catches?"
"Yes, so you are allowed a patch to fish, it's large, and he can catch whatever he likes, as long as it sells. Apparently the fish have to be over a certain weight for him to bring them back. Once back ashore he will sell them via a broker who gets him the best deal."
I shook my head. "I really hope this works."
"It has to," mum replied.
I dumped the corner of my last crust onto the plate and got up before taking it to the kitchen. The door to my dad's new office was now set up and I peeked inside. On his desk was a framed picture of the family posing at a fairground park from many years ago when I was about six years old. It made me smile and wonder when my father turned into such an asshole.
He wasn't always like this, no. In fact, he was once a caring man and a good father. Looking at that picture reminded me how much slimmer he used to be. Mum says his job in the city was very stressful and it made him short tempered and into the person he is now. For me that stinks of an excuse, it goes much deeper and feels more complicated because I am always the focus of his anger. Not just because of the fact he is generally angry all the time, but because of who I am. His black and white view on life makes me, in his eyes, a weak failure. It doesn't matter to him whether I have a skill or not, or the fact I am a decent person overall. It matters to him… no angers him that I take an interest in something he does not.
I stare at that picture and wonder where it all went wrong. The change in him for me was subtle, slow and intermittent. When I was 13 my parents were invited to my school which was hosting a regional art contest. I remember seeing him in the audience as I stood up and explained what my painting reflected. I saw the disappointment on his face as I talked about my passion and my dream to be a professional artist. At the end, after I had won second prize, I ran up to both my parents excited… a trophy in my hand, telling them how I had beaten so many good artists. My mum was wrapped, smiling, crying. I hugged her and then looked at my dad, wanting his approval, his attention. I wanted him to say well done, congratulations… anything! Instead there was just this frown that wouldn't go.
What hurt the most was the fact that from the moment I ran to them with my trophy all the way to the moment we got home, the only words he had said to me was, 'why couldn't you have done something more manly and worthwhile with your time, son?' Looking back, that was probably the start of it… the start of his declining respect for who I was. I was no longer his son, instead I was someone he had just created and lived with. We didn't do anything together like father and son should. He never took me out after that contest, never took an interest in anything I did or said. To him I was just there, part of the furniture, a resource consuming object that meant nothing to him.
I'd cried so many times. Yeah, I was a tall strong boy from an early age and my features and mannerisms were masculine in every sense, but he saw me as weak… weak… weak! 'A boy never cries!' he'd once said, finding me on my bed one day when the emotion of not being loved by him over spilled. In the end I learned to lock up that emotion as I approached 15.
Locking my own life into a box (as it felt) was making the leap from boyhood to adolescence seem like a colossal chasm to cross. My friends always seemed to have great supporting dads, like Danny for instance with his father Bill. I dreamed of that and was envious of it. And while I watched, in my early teens, those relationships grow closer… where father bonded with son; I was left for dust and on the verge of slipping into a world of self-pity, with sadness becoming my oxygen.
Leah helped a lot back then. When we met I had just turned 15. She was having problems of her own at home and somehow it connected us. We would stay up all night just talking about our respective parents and who had the worst problem. I argued that a parent who ignored their child through drink was just ignorant but certain there was still love there. But a parent who ignored their child through disappointment was a different beast. The only positive thing both Leah and I got out of our situation was how it matured us as people. I grew up fast, grew up wanting to skip my teens because I couldn't do the normal stuff teens did with their dad's. Leah grew up fast because she had to take care of herself most of the time. While my problem WAS my father, her problem was she didn't have one after he'd scuttled the family ship long ago.
I guess I make it sound like my mum wasn't important through all this. She was… GOD she was, and still is, but her softer side played a role on taming my personality to the extent where I didn't have the steeliness to stand up to my father like a man. Even now I don't have that nerve and it bothers me. Some children are scared of their fathers because they respect them. Me? I'm just scared of him because… well, just because.
Through my early teens I was determined not to become a 'mummy's boy'. To facilitate this objective I rarely took up my mum's offers of company when she asked, preferring to be alone, or with Leah.
Zoe's role in my life was one of uncompromising support. She was pivotal to my sanity as I waded through the abyss of my mid teens. There were just some things I could never discuss with mum and later Leah through fearing they would think me weak. Honestly though? I was weak, weak like putty… weak like a puppy alone in a huge minefield. Zoe, with her natural talent of creating calmness was able to see me through those emotional times. She'd held me when I cried, settled me when I screamed and stopped me from breaking like a china doll as my father acted like a vice around my fragile psyche.
Yeah, so frustrating times!
"You've been staring at that picture for ages," mum said making me jump and snapping me out of my thoughts. I looked back and saw her standing there with her arms folded, leaning on the door frame to the kitchen.
"What? Oh, have I?"
"Do you remember that day?" she asked, walking past me and picking up the frame.
"Yeah, like it was yesterday," I replied, watching her holding it in her hands and smiling as if she was remembering the day it was taken.
She ran her finger across the glass. "God, your father was so slim back then, my, how the years just fly by. And you, awww, with your little beanie hat on."
"I remember having a bad tooth that day and when I chewed the candyfloss it went to the nerve."
"Yes, and I remember you screaming 2 days later in the dentist's chair," she scoffed. "He does still love you you know," mum remarked, looking up at me wearing a serious face.
"You both just need to reconnect somehow."
"I spent years trying to do that, now all I feel is bitterness towards him, in fact I wish he was dead mum."
"Corbin!" she blurted, not impressed.
"I know, that's a terrible thing to say, I know, I know. But I can't help it; he makes me despise him… him, with his ugly disapproving face and his ways, always knowing what's best. Always knowing what's best for me. I hate how he can have such power over the way I feel, not to mention his physical abuse against me."
"Mum! Don't act like you don't now. He hits me, even now. I'm like his stress ball when something goes wrong, a punch here, a slap there. I'm scared mum… scared that one day I will totally lose it and murder him."
"Oh Corbin, stop being so dramatic," she said, dismissing what I felt was a possibility.
"I pity you sometimes mum. Even when you aren't defending him directly you still are indirectly and I ask myself why?"
"Why? Why Corbin is because without your father we have nothing!"
She suddenly walked over to the kitchen door and closed it.
"And I will not have this discussion in earshot of your sister. You hate your father, fine, but while you are here you need to accept his rule, not because I think it's justified or right…I don't, but because if you don't he will throw you out and I'm not sure I will be able to stop him."
"Zoe is more clued up and aware of this than you think, we share everything because sometimes mum, you just turn a blind eye and each other is all we have!"
Mum started to tear up and wiped her cheek with a finger. "Corbin where has all this come from… is that how you both see me?"
"I think you have become used to this, used to him. Your heart knows what's going on but your mind is closed. And where has all this come from? That picture, that's where. Because it reminds me of everything that I have lost mentally and what a weak person I am. It reminds me of how different things could have been if I hadn't taken up painting and that makes me so sad because I enjoy it so much. I feel like I've had to choose between losing a father or fulfilling a passion… a passion I know will still be there long after he has gone."
I had mum in tears now and the sight of her upset was bringing a lump to my throat. I tried to stave off the emotion that was now boiling to the surface. I wanted to cry myself but that 'mechanism' kicked in that always stopped me doing it in front of her. I was weak remember and she wasn't to know. But who was I kidding? She did know, in fact I think she always knew, but never revealed that she did.
"I need to take a walk, can you tell Leah I'll be back soon? I'll go out the back door, cause I don't want any questions."
Before waiting for a response and without thinking I might need a coat I took off out of the yard door and made my way down the side of the house and onto the cobble street. I jogged across the road before heaving myself up on top of the sea wall and started to walk along on top of it, taking a huge deep breath and letting it go again.
I'd been slowly walking for about 10 minutes, hopping off the wall when there was an opening and climbing back up again. I'd passed the pub, the boat yard, and a few houses before ending up at a rock face I'd never noticed before. There was a little path that led down towards a stony surface that ran around the edge of the rocks. The wall seemed to end here with the cliff being more than enough protection for the land on top. It continued round, blocking my view to what lay beyond but with my mind frazzled and a gentle curiosity telling me to go on I began walking down the path towards the bottom of the rock face.
"I wouldn't go down there if I were you. The tide is due in 40 minutes, you'll get cut off, the sea can be very unforgiving" came a familiar voice.
I turned around seeing him standing there in a black and orange Superdry JPN jacket done up tightly against his upper body.
It looked warm.
"Have you been following me or something?" I asked, frustrated my solitary time had come to an end.
Troy looked behind him and pointed. "See that house?"
"What of it?" I answered, slowly walking back towards him.
"I live there."
"That really didn't answer my question," I said, nudging a stone on the floor with my foot.
"I think I did… I saw you from my bedroom window. Since I was not moving at the time suggests I was not following you."
"Smartass! So what do you want?"
"Corbin, why are you so desperate not to be friends?"
"Why are you so desperate TO be?" I shot back, irritated. "We don't even really know each other!"
"There are two answers to that question, both truths."
"You first, since I asked first." He said, not giving me a lot of choice but to answer.
"Ok you wanna know? You talk too much, I don't need any friends and I don't plan on staying around here long enough to make any. Probably less important to you is the fact I hate this place, it's depressing, too quiet and reminds me of some horror TV movie about a serial killer who murders everyone."
"Whoa! I mean sure it's quiet but damn, you really think that?"
I sighed. "No, and… and I'm sorry, it's just…"
"Hey, it's cool; you don't have to talk about it."
"Pfft, yeah. So anyway, your turn."
Troy walked over to the wall and leaned against it as a strong breeze blew past us making me shiver. "Corbin, as you rightly pointed out… albeit in a harsh way, this village is small but friends are important. You can feel really isolated here and-"
"Can you get to the point?" I asked, rolling my eyes.
Troy lifted a finger and pointed it at me. "I was like you once, alone, angry and sad. I moved here from America, I knew no one. Stuck here in a small village, no friends… no one to hang out with. That's my first reason for wanting to be your friend… or at least trying to be."
"And the other?"
"The other is that I don't have anyone my age around here to beee friends with. Corbin, this place… this village, it's filled with retirees and working men. You are one of the few families that have moved here. Sure, there is Mr and Mrs Tilly up the hill who's kid James is 9. There is also Mr and Mrs Whittle who have a 13 year old daughter but apart from that I don't know anyone my age or even close. Well, apart from Billy Saunders, but we won't go into him."
"What's up with Bill Saunders," I asked, intrigued.
"Doesn't matter, look, I heard you were given some part time work by my dad today so you and I will be seeing a lot more of each other. If we can be friends, for the reasons I have mentioned and just because we'll be working together, I'd really like that."
"Yeah, well… we'll see ok?"
"Guess I'll take that, now you wanna tell me why you were heading down to Manners Cliff, alone?"
"Because I wanted to be alone for a bit maybe?" I said in a sarcastic tone but then sort of regretted once again giving Troy a hard time.
"Tough time adjusting huh?"
"You could say that."
"Anything I can do to help?"
"Pfft, kill my father would be a great start, but somehow I think that would be asking a little too much."
All of a sudden Troy started to unbutton his coat just as I finished my answer. Then taking down the inner zip he pulled it off and walked over to me before placing it on my shoulders.
"You look cold," he remarked, stepping backwards and looking at my shirt. I just stood there perplexed, letting his jacket hang over my torso making no attempts to either do it up or remove it. I suddenly found myself fascinated by his kind act, maybe even a little embarrassed.
"Thanks, but aren't you cold?"
"Nah, this sweater is double lined," he replied, twisting up the bottom so I could see the inside. "You wanna come back to my place? My dad is at work and I'm pretty bored."
"Don't you work in the day?"
"Usually, but our dog is not well so dad asked me to stay home and keep an eye on him."
"I guess I have nothing else to do, and I don't really feel like going home just yet… sure, why not."
Troy smiled and led off back up the road a little until we reached his front gate. It was a nice house, large and detached. It had white timber framed facia that complimented the cement washed walls. Troy looked back to make sure I was behind him before leading me down the side of his house and into the back yard. The garden was on an incline with a workshop that sat up the back. It was small but tidy.
Troy grabbed the sliding door and threw it open before walking in."Come in," he said, moving the full length vertical blinds out of the way so I could step through.
"You have a nice house, ours is a shit- hole."
"You moved into Mr Timmins's place, he was taken to a hospice some time ago and his son put the house on the market."
"Oh yeah, maybe ninety! Had major health problems and couldn't look after himself. He was also a heavy smoker if I remember."
"Yeah he was, the place stinks of it."
"I'm sure your folks will fix it up… here take a seat, would you like a drink?"
"Anything is fine, I can't believe how cold it is in September," I commented taking his coat off and laying it on the arm of the sofa. "So where is your mum?" I called.
"She died," he called back from the kitchen. "Breast Cancer… when I was 12."
While Troy was in the kitchen I go up and took a walk over to the TV where a picture stood. It was a family photo by the look of it, with Troy and his dad Jerry sitting on a couple of plastic white chairs, hot dogs in their hands. They both looked happy, but then the times I had met Troy, he always looked happy. It reminded me of my own picture back at home… or rather dad's picture. Or did it just remind me of happier times?
Looking round the rest of the room you could see that there was a lack of feminine touches. The art on the walls were quite masculine and abstract and the scattered around ornaments were of fishing and seaside related stuff. In one corner of the room hung an air rifle and I immediately wondered if Troy's mum had still been alive whether most of the items in the room would have ever made it in.
I heard Troy walking back and turned around seeing he was carrying a can of Dr Pepper in one hand and a mug in the other. I sat back down and he handed me the cup which was steaming.
"I made you hot chocolate thought it might warm you up."
"Thanks," I replied, smiling. "Smells like Cadbury?"
"So your mum passed away huh? I'm sorry, that must be tough not having a mum."
Troy shrugged. "Of course, I remember her, but much of it is hazy. To be honest I don't get upset because I don't think my brain was fully geared up when she went. It's like I just remember this person in my life who was there all the time."
I nodded, trying to understand as he sat next to me.
"I'm a member of a site called 'Life Without Mom.' I'm sure the name explains what its purpose is but I go on there quite a lot to talk to people. Although young when I lost mine, I've heard that your mum is the hardest person to be without, and it's something most people don't get over. So I just talk to people who need someone to talk to… someone that maybe understands."
"Wow, that's really commendable."
Troy shrugged. "It's good to help others; you never know when you might need help yourself, right?"
"Which is why I made the comment about your dad. He might need help from the folk in this town one day and him treating them bad? Well that ain't good. The fishing industry is hard work and things can go mighty wrong, which is why we all help each other down here in our little corner of the world. Your dad will not make it on his own, no one can in such a small community."
I laughed. "You're accent is pretty cool. I've never met an American before… I mean, on TV and all that of course, but not in real life."
"I lost most of it now… I've been here since I was twelve."
"Nah, it's still there," I scoffed. Troy smiled bashfully. "So, where were you from?"
"Austin in Texas… a little place called Northwest Hills."
"Has your dad always been a fisherman?" I asked.
"Nah, there ain't much sea near Austin," Troy said chuckling. "My daddy was a mechanic who worked on cars until moving on to boats. After that we briefly moved to Houston where he trained to be a Trawlerman and then when mom died he just came home one day and announced we were going to England."
"Wow, big move," I said, a little shocked.
"Soooo Corbin, I know what you're feeling, just movin' here an all!"
"Yeah Troy, I guess you do," I replied, taking big sip of my hot chocolate.
There was a brief silence that immediately felt a little awkward. It was probably because we had been in such a flowing conversation it just seemed really really quiet, like we had run out of things to talk about. I know that sounds stupid because we had just met, but I felt strange sitting next to him. It was like he was staring into my soul, even though, as I turned to glance at him, he was just staring straight ahead.
He caught my glance and smiled. "You ok there?"
I cleared my throat. "Uh yeah, fine," I replied, taking another sip of my drink.
"So has your sister forgotten about me yet?"
I laughed. "Nope, you are now officially known as The Boy from Castlebay Down.
Troy fell back into the sofa and laughed hard. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't make fun, I just never been worshipped before."
"You probably have, it's just my sister isn't shy about revealing her feelings."
"Maybe," he winked, which was an odd response. " So how long have you been with your girlfriend… you mentioned you had one?"
"Uh, yeah Leah. Oh, I guess about 2 years?"
"Wow, and you're 17 right?"
"and a bit, yeah… why do you ask?"
"Just a long time for such a young age." Troy said, looking reflective.
"I guess, but we have similar backgrounds so a lot of what we have is just because of that… and you?"
"A girlfriend? Uh, no… no I don't."
"Nah I guess around here the pickings are slim."
"No uh, it's not that, it's just…"
"Ahh, always working, I get it."
Troy gave a chuckle I could have sworn was almost false. "Yeah that's it, always working," he repeated, immediately looking regretful.
I knocked his knee with my knuckles. "Hey don't look so sad, you'll find someone. And anyway come to think of it, having a girlfriend can be a chore at times," I said before laughing. Troy was still serious and it quickly made my face straighten up.
He turned his head to look at me, as I stared into his deep brown eyes. He was ever so still but I could swear his face was drawing nearer to mine. Maybe I was imagining it.
"You ok?" I asked. "Did I say something wrong?"
His eyes looked glazed over and then, without warning he seemed to come back. "Uh, yeah I'm fine, look erm, I need to go check on my dog, are you ok to…"
"Oh shit, uh, sure… sorry I have been going on. Look thanks yeah, I feel like I got to know you today and sorry if I have been a complete ass since we first met. It's actually been great to talk to someone other than my damn family."
"You're welcome," he replied getting up. I quickly got up too and waited for him to lead me to an exit which happened to be the front door this time. I handed him my cup.
"Thanks for the drink yeah… are you sure you're ok?"
He opened the door and smiled. "Yeah, I'm dandy, just reading things wrong lately," he replied cryptically, I frowned and stepped out onto the garden path thinking it best not to ask.
"Well, will I see you tomorrow?"
"Yeah Corbin, you'll see me tomorrow."
"Cool, ok well see you soon then," I said smiling before turning and walking back onto the cobbled road.
Walking back home I felt happy, but also a little concerned. I was trying to think of why Troy got a little weird with me before I left. I mean, it wasn't my imagination that he practically told me to leave; I'm not that naïve to think this was all about his dog. Just then I stopped in the middle of the road and banged my forehead with my hand.
"Corbin you fucking idiot, you probably upset him talking about his mother!" I quietly mumbled to myself, before walking on.
As I strode against the wind I shivered. It occurred to me that what happened with mum in the kitchen today had been thrown out of my mind and everything prior to that too, especially the thoughts about my dad. It had all been replaced by hanging with Troy. Already I was starting to think that maybe accepting his friendship was a good idea. It had been ages since I felt free from the garbled shit that churned in my mind of late. Just a simple chat about normal stuff, brief yes, heavy no… it had worked wonders. I even smiled to myself as I strolled home. In a small way it felt like I had been cleansed.
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