by M F McAuliffe
Agamemnon left. Retired. Took his war-pension and went down the coast, remarried and set up as a fisherman. He wasn’t any great shakes at that; the boat was all stove in on the left-hand side, right where the frame swept up to form the bow. The thing was up on trestles in the shed next to a broken down Harley.
When they heard who he was all the local blokes offered to help with the repairs. He’d never been one to turn down a volunteer so there was a standing arrangement for them to come around whenever the weather was inclement.
It was frequently inclement.
The woman he’d married was the one he’d brought back from the war. Apparently she’d said the boat’d be the death of him. He used to tell ’em that, back in the shed, put on a face and show ’em how his eye had lit up and he’d roared that she was as big an idiot as she’d ever been, the only thing the boat had ever killed was fish, and not too many of them, either; and now even the fish were safe because he never went out in it.
Apparently she never spoke to him after that.
She never seemed to move or speak at all. Just sat at the kitchen table with that old mobile she never used, long red nails around a glass of beer, half-smoked cigarette in
her right hand. Not till the day of the funeral did anyone see her without a fag in her hand and a column of smoke at her shoulder.
Well, whenever it rained the friends’d arrive, sort of slouch past the picture-window; the wife’d just sit there, elbows on the laminex, grey and white random cross-stripe it was, jerk her head and nod for ’em to go along to the shed. Of course all they ever did was help Agamemnon with the keg and knock ’emselves silly on the bracing or the scaffolds while they guzzled and glugged and cackled at stories from his glory days as a general. The repairs never progressed at all.
And that’s what happened, of course.
One Saturday afternoon Agamemnon himself staggered against the boat one time too many. There were only two trestles holding the whole thing up, and the thing was fifteen feet long, solid oak, except for the hole. The momentum carried him to the front edge of the hole. He threw his arm out to save himself and the impact jostled the whole thing off balance. The front trestle tipped and fell; the whole front end fell. Splintered oak at the edge of the hole, long and sharp as a spear. Oak ribs adding to the weight.
The spear punctured a lung. He was dead in ten minutes.
It was still raining. Like all the others it was one of those grey coast days when it rained from dawn to dusk, dawn just a low black sky turning grey and dusk just a low grey sky turning black.
The back of the boat was still on its trestle. That was how they got it off him, eased in under until they could raise the front long enough to prise him loose. They laid him out and then told the wife.
She still didn’t move. The smoke from the cigarette just ascended, steadily.
She must’ve moved sometime. She buried him.
The friends all turned up at the funeral, sober for the first sunny day in years.
The wife quit smoking, sold the place, gave the Harley to one of the friends, and moved away.
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M. F. McAuliffe is the co-author of the poetry collection Fighting Monsters (1998) and the limited-edition artist’s book Golems Waiting Redux (2011).
Her short fiction has appeared in Overland, siglo, Australian Short Stories, The Adelaide Review, The Clarion Awards, and Eye-Rhyme. Her poetry has appeared in Famous Reporter, Poezija (Zagreb), and Prairie Schooner, among other venues; her long poem “Orpheus” was staged by the experimental La Mama Courthouse Theatre in Carlton, Victoria, in May, 2000.
In 2002 she co-founded the multilingual magazine Gobshite Quarterly with R. V. Branham, and she continues there as contributing editor.