Josiah and the river (Chapter 01)

3 Conversations

The river looked bad. Something upstream must have burst and leaked into the water. Josiah sipped his tea and watched the dull yellow mist rise from the surface. Sulphur? Chlorine? Who knows? There's so much stuff in that river he's ceased to be surprised at what he sees every day.

"Bit nasty today, eh Luv?"

Josiah turned and saw Marta pouring herself some tea from the pot and squinting through her glasses at the river.

"I don't suppose you'll enjoy yourself today," she said.

"Hm." said Josiah.

"'Hm.' he says. Sometimes I wonder if you ever learned to speak proper" said Marta shaking her head.

She shuffled out onto the porch and squinted at the river some more. Josiah looked at her out of the side of his eye. She must have been a stunner as a young woman. Josiah had no idea how old she really was and Marta wasn't telling. Not that Josiah asked much.

She was slightly bent and she rarely walked without her stick. Josiah had seen her skip from the dock to a dinghy as nimbly as a girl and suspected the stick was for show. Her hair was the most noticeable thing about her and the most striking. Brilliant silver waves of hair cascaded from her head to her waist. She often wore it up to keep it out of her way but when she slept, she let it down. She hadn't put it up yet this morning. Her face was wrinkled and pinched as if from squinting all the time. She seemed to do that a lot. Her glasses were thicker than any Josiah had ever seen and she often scrunched up her face to get a look at things.

How an old woman from what was England ended up here was beyond Josiah to fathom. She fished him out of the river 5 years before and he's been staying ever since.

"Big lad like you keeps the Uglies off me doorstep. I suppose you'll have to stay, eh?" She had said when he finally woke up

"Hm." said Josiah.

The porch faced west to the river so they rarely saw the sun come up. That was a good thing. the sun, when visible, was an ugly thing in the morning. Ochre, red, sometimes purple but never in the colors that were pretty. Josiah remembered pretty sunrises. "Hm."

With the rise of the sun, the breeze picked up. It was from the northwest that morning. A good wind to clear the fumes. Josiah didn't go out when the wind was from the south. That wind brought up the bad air from the old navy base and made the river choppy. The mountains to the northwest were relatively clean and the air that came down off them was refreshing, especially in the hot season.

The sound of footsteps on the path drew Josiah's attention. Coming along the narrow berm of dirt that hadn't been flooded by the river was a scrawny and nervous man. His bald pate was decorated with intricate designs that appeared to be made with permanent marker. He wore an old American flag like a poncho folded over with a hole cut for the head and a mismatched pair of loafers. He called himself "Goser, The Priest of the New Truth" but Josiah's name for him was Captain America because he always wore the flag poncho.

Captain America was one of the only people who lived nearby who managed to avoid being killed by the Uglies. Marta thought the Uglies were afraid of him because he was so crazy.

"Child of the truth, Goser greets you and blesses you with the vision of the truth!" he said as he approached the gate. He waved a bent spatula in the air as if giving a benediction to the house and all in it and he finished by looking at Josiah throught the slats of the spatula and whispering, "Truth in my eye, truth in your mind!"

Josiah sipped his tea and watched Captain America open the gate and let himself in. Marta threw a sideways look at Josiah and said, "Oh, Lovely! We have guests come calling!".

"Hm!" grunted Josiah. He finished his tea with a gulp and took the mug inside to the kitchen.

"Good morning, Gerald. Would you care for some tea?" Said Marta as the old man came up the porch steps.

"Bless you, child." he said, waving the spatula, "Goser would enjoy a small cup of refreshment. With sugar if you have it!"

"I'm sorry, Gene, we haven't seen sugar for a few years now." replied Marta.

"Well, Goser, finds your offer most welcome all the same." Grimaced the old man.

Josiah knew that Marta was sharp and nothing escaped her notice. Most people saw a half blind, dotty old woman when they looked at her. Marta never went out of her way to disabuse people of this notion. She once told Josiah with a wink and a smile, "It's better to keep your yap shut and let people think you're stupid than to open your mouth and prove them right. Besides, some folks will say anything around a dotty old woman."

Josiah knew she was having fun with Goser/Captain America by playing the dotty old woman. When they were alone, she referred to him as "The Captain" in conversation.
Josiah washed and put away his mug while Marta and The Captain were talking. He left them on the porch and went out the side door. Marta waved at him as he shouldered his kayak and headed through the gate. As he walked away, he could hear the Captain talking of plots, conspiracy and imminent doom.

Down at the pier, Josiah stopped to look around. The heavy yellow mist was clearing from the river pushed by the wind from the northwest and the river was moving well. It was about 4 hours after high tide. About 50 yards offshore lay his sailboat at anchor. Josiah anchored it overnight to keep anyone from tampering with it. Nobody swam in this river, It was too toxic. Other boaters either respected or were too afraid of Josiah to steal his boat. There were tales of Josiah chasing someone in his kayak, overtaking them and punching holes in their boat to sink it.

While it was true that he was a strong paddler in his kayak, and he had overtaken the would-be thief trying to escape in a gaff rigged skiff, Josiah only rocked the skiff by the gunwales until the thief, afraid because he couldn't swim, returned the lantern he stole from Josiah. Josiah let the tales stand. The stories were much more useful in their embellished state.

The boat looked fine. There was a spit of land that jutted into the river upstream from his anchorage. This protected the anchorage from debris and strong currents. It really was the best spot for his boat. It was a sort of basin that was calm and deep. She was tied to a mooring buoy josiah had made. The anchor was a 55 gallon drum full of dirt and the buoy was a plastic drum with an eye hook on each end. It worked well enough in the little basin where the boat was kept and it kept Josiah from having to handle wet anchor line and, often, an oily, sludge-clogged anchor.

He covered his hands, arms, neck and exposed areas of his face with a protective lotion. Marta made it from vegetable oils, white ash and peppermint. It served as a sunblock and to keep the water from lingering on the exposed parts of his skin. Some days the water could be very caustic and a splash could be painful. Having finished his preparations, he laid his kayak on the muddy bank, sat in it, took up his paddle and scooted into the river. He paddled out to his boat and made a turn around it to check it from all sides. He eyed the trim, the lay of the rigging, how it was riding in the water and he just liked looking at it.

Satisfied that the boat was not tampered with or about to sink, he paddled himself to the stern. He tied off the kayak to a waiting line and, with a powerful pull of his arms, hauled himself dry onto the deck. The boat rocked under his weight as if it came alive the moment he stepped on deck. Josiah ran his eye over the deck and rigging. All looked well. He hauled in the kayak and stowed it on deck.

Josiah unmoored from the drum and let the wind push the boat downstream. He raised the big gaff-rigged mainsail and steered out of the anchorage with the wind on his beam. As he pulled the mainsheet taut the boat surged forward and came alive. Water gurgled along her side as she quickly picked up speed. This was why Josiah got up every morning.

Josiah heaved the halyard that brought up the jib. Once in place he shortened the port jibsheet and the jib filled with wind. With sails forward and aft of the mast exposed to the good, steady breeze, the boat began to race along even faster. Josiah shifted to the starboard rail to help balance the heeling that she was exhibiting under such a press of sail. Confident that no one was around to see it, Josiah smiled.

Copyright (c) 2003 Michael D. Cooney

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