2.Ferryman Robert Sheridan was in a pensive mood today as he hit the alarm buzzing repetitively on his wooden bedside table.
Robert awoke this morning at 7:30am next to his wife, Sheryl. It was recently the couple’s fortieth anniversary; sometime earlier in the year although neither of the two had wanted to celebrate it, both had been through a lot during the long years and every day had been hard enough as it already was without the need for unnecessary acknowledgement of the past.
Sheryl worked as a beautician when she had a less considerable amount of wiry wrinkles around her light cheeks, but gave that career up to stay at home when the couple decided after much deliberation to adopt a young boy some twenty-five years ago.
Today was no different than any other day; Robert woke up and had a shower. Sheryl was fast asleep as she was not prone to waking up so early. Robert kept the noise down, creeping around the edge of their bed and into the bathroom oafishly, still half-asleep and in dire need to rinse his tiredness away with a cool splash followed by some coffee.
Since their boy had left home and went off to live in London to pursue a lucrative business opportunity, their days were filled with normalcy, well for Robert things had preceded as usual, his schedule relatively unchanged, but Sheryl missed her son each day that he was not there with her. Life continued on for the old couple nevertheless, it was a plain existence, plain as life could get with each passing day as they grew older, biding their time for the eventuality of death.
The time was well due for him to retire like the rest of his peers, but Robert had insisted that he continue to work each and every day for no other reason than being so enamoured with boats, the modest amount of money that had accumulated from this daily routine provided just enough for him to live comfortably on, granted when his son had been growing up times were much harder and the family’s money would run thin at times, they had persevered nevertheless.
“You woke me up with all that noise.” A sleepy Sheryl bickered annoyingly, hearing her husband come out of the bathroom. She opened her tightly closed eyes, rubbing them uneasily - they were glued together with that yellow junk which often accumulated after a long and pleasant sleep - to see Robert drying off his short grey hair with a bath-towel.
“I’m making some breakfast and then out to work, you get some rest. It’s a bit early for you to be up isn’t it, love?” Robert replied with a hint of malice in his voice as he threw his soggy towel back into the bathroom and made his way to the kitchen via the little open living room. Robert let the blinds from the kitchen window up and smiled as bright, hot sunlight came through radiantly onto his clean shaven face.
Changing the filter and setting the coffee machine sitting beneath the window to the ‘on’ position almost out of habit, Robert lent back on the bench and reminisced briefly. Following the events of World War II, Roberts’s appreciation for boats increased even further. He was amazed at the applications and different ways that the boats could be used for during the war and how remarkable boats could really be. His father had died during the war while on one of these boats, completely obliterated by one of the German U-Boats which they had never seen coming as it propelled a torpedo into his father’s craft at top speed from under the water. It was possibly in a way to avenge or provide a sense of honour to his father’s death that Robert decided to become a ferryman. Every day he would wake up, go to work and wish his father a pleasant rest under that deep grave of his: the open sea.
Having considered enrolling in the armed forces many times when he was younger, Robert decided against it, the navy would have provided ample opportunity to get acquainted with many different types of watercraft, but just the thought of a boat being damaged could bring him into major emotional turmoil, it was perhaps an odd thing to be distraught over such minor incident but it was just how Robert was and he accepted this without question.
The coffee machine ticked down, indicating that the concoction was ready to drink; a plume of light smoke emitted from the top of the machine, covering the window above in a foggy sheen of frost. Pouring the pick-me-up into a large mug, Robert took a hearty sip and laid the cup onto the dining table, he could feel the liquid traveling down his body soothingly, warming his cold insides. Still trying to fully wake up, Robert gave his tired self a shake and went sluggishly over to the small white fridge in the kitchen.
He leant over the open fridge, dropped a weary head onto the arm he was leaning on and sighed so quietly that it could be said it almost never happened. Robert was terribly exhausted, but needed to push on and get to work, because it was really the only thing in his life that kept him going each day, the one thing that made him become energised at just the thought of.
His coffee cooled slightly as it sat on the table, not wanting to waste any of the marvellous drink, Robert quickly hurried back and took another brief sip before returning to the cooking food. Robert cooked his eggs plaintively while thinking of a better time, yellow strips of light poured in from the kitchen window to his left, shining onto the white fridge, shining onto an old, happy picture of husband and wife.
While thinking deeply over the previous night, in which Robert had been entangled in a fairly confrontational row about the proper way to stack kitchen plates in the bottom cupboard, Robert jumped at the abrupt knock at the door, followed by another, and another which was louder than the previous two.
Putting down his spatula and looking at the source of the knocking with an unequivocally confused look, Robert walked to the front door, wondering who could be knocking at such an early hour in the day.
Peering through the door’s bronze peephole he saw a grey haired, tall man dressed in a leather jacket and denim jeans. Despite his age which was almost the same as Robert’s, the man had a devilish looking face, a long sharp jaw and almost concrete barrelled torso had not yet faded over the years, he still could pull off that charming look.
“Yes, who is it?” This was a masquerade of a question as he knew exactly who was knocking; Robert was unwilling to open the door without information first on why such a person would be at his house.
“Am I that unrecognizable to you?” A husky voice came from the other side of the door with a resoundingly hard boom through the cracks.
Robert thought for a moment on this reply, contemplating what he should do. In any case the person he least wanted to see was now knocking at his door, this person was unfortunately back, not for long hopefully…
Taking a long exhaled breath and doubling back into the bedroom to make sure Sheryl was now asleep - which she was – Robert took a final look through the peephole, one last time with disdain, and opened the door.
A much taller man than Robert stood on top of the brown woven ‘Welcome’ mat. He wore a knitted red tunic underneath the leather jacket and very tight denim jeans. The black hair he once had now streaked with large portions of grey through it.
“Robert! Robert is that really you?” exclaimed the man with a now exceedingly large smile on his face. Coupled with his grey streaked hair and murky green eyes he looked like a dog ready to receive its master.
It was time to put on one of the fake smiles that Robert had learned how to pull off during his marriage, once he had grasped this it was easy to feign enjoyment over anything, even a forgotten friend whom he never wanted to see again. In fact, the last time they had seen each other, Robert made it pretty clear this was the case.
The smile came on like the drop of a hat; Robert had used it so many times it almost become habitual during any unpleasant situation. “Aye it’s me. What do you want, Dennis?” The smile up and ready to deflect, but there was a definite twinge of uncontrollable hostility to his innocent question.
Before he answered, Dennis hesitated, it wasn’t very long or easy to notice, but there was the slightest glimpse of doubt in his eyes before Dennis continued, as if debating to himself whether he should have really made such an unexpected visit. “How have you been holding up? I can’t remember the last time we actually saw each other. Must have been at least, seven years ago right?”
Robert shrugged his shoulders indifferently, not wanting to think back on the previous years “I actually don’t know how long it’s been...”
“Well surely,” Dennis scratched his streaked hair uncomfortably. “It must have been close to a decade now, seven years I’m sure of it.”
A chilling silence followed, Dennis waiting expectantly for his friend to respond, but he didn’t. Bad thoughts that wanted desperately to surface battled inside Robert for domination. He stood at the door, still smiling, still acting.
Suddenly, as if by some divine chance of the gods, still smiling, Robert jerked his neck to the side a little and stepped back to allow Dennis inside the house.
“You want to come in? I was just about to eat some breakfast and head off to work.” Robert said casually as he walked back into the house.
At a slight delay, a stunned Dennis was clearly running through the situation that had just occurred moments earlier, wondering why such a silence had filled the air between such old friends as themselves. “Got any coffee?” Dennis finally asked as he followed Robert inside.
In the kitchen, a familiar click was heard. “I sure do, take a seat and let me get some for you.” Robert beamed affably, pointing to the chair facing the kitchen at the dining table.
Dennis sat at the dining chair facing Robert with no more hesitation in his stride; Robert had merely been shocked to see his friend after so long was all.
“So what brings you here, Dennis?” Robert inquired as he reached for a coffee mug. There was no doubt this had now woken him up, something the combined effort of the caffeine and the cool shower did not fully accomplish.
“Well, I just wanted to see you. After all these years, it’s been a long time you know?” A hoarse Dennis replied now stretching his long legs out.
“Right, it really has been” Robert said while pouring warm coffee into the mug.
“I just want you to know that you helped me through such a rough time in my life, and you really are my best friend, I’ll always be indebted to you.” Dennis said with conviction, holding back the urge to say any more.
Robert walked over to the table, coffee and eggs in hand “As I’ve said before, I would do it again. What happened to you was rough and no one should have to face that kind of hardship alone.” It took everything out of Robert not to break this façade.
Sitting down opposite Dennis, he took a scoop full of eggs and gave another fake smile to his friend. Dennis reflected this smile, perhaps in a more genuine manner.
“When I was diagnosed, I thought my life was over. Fired from my job, , the house was taken, my wife left, the kids refused to talk to me - how much worse could it get; and yet you let me stay here for months, paying for my medical bills and taking care of me.” Dennis wiped away a tear with his hand “My own mother wouldn’t do that!”
Robert thought back on the time when they had truly been great friends, how things change. “You would have done the same for me back then, Dennis.” Lied Robert.
Dennis took a long sip of coffee.
“You know, I’m not sure I could have.” Dennis said “It takes a much stronger person than me to stick around when things get that bad.”
‘I would have continued to do so, if you didn’t…’ Robert’s thoughts trailed off into a very dark and neglected place.
The two looked at each other, each with very different preconceptions of this meeting.