Other times Justin Schneider would have stayed in his warm, lighted cabin, or mingled in the bar, but he’d needed some real air. He wanted to breathe the sea breeze and feel alive. Out on the stern, it was cold, wet and misty, and his companion’s words were suddenly drowned out by the gargantuan blare of a foghorn. The ferry bucked in the heavy sea and he held onto the handrail tightly, gazing down nervously at the green-black waves crashing below.
Justin had recognised his companion from the television. Mike Murphy, some kind of political figure, seen occasionally on tedious news clips about Ireland. A tall man with receding hair and a lean face, wearing a heavy charcoal overcoat, he’d been gazing fixedly out to sea, as if seeking answers to unsurmountable problems.
In life, though, he seemed a different man, animated and imaginative. “Would you look at the waves now,” Murphy was saying. “The power of a wave, it’s something. Thirty-six kilowatts of power potential per meter of wave crest!”
“But how would you harness the power of these waves, for example?” Justin asked, gesticulating downwards.
“Well, that’s for the Good Lord to tell us and for the boffins to pay good heed to!” Murphy laughed. “But look how they’ve extracted gas and oil from the sea bed!” He winced as a spray of salty water splashed over them both. “And what, pray, brings you to this cold, damp spot, when you could be warm inside, watching the football on the big screen?”
“I don’t like football,” said Justin, “and … and there’s something else ….”
Murphy’s eyes gazed sympathetically at him, like a faithful dog’s. “Yes?”
He found himself opening up. “Well, it’s my dad, he always wanted to be buried at sea.” The ferry bucked again and Justin steadied himself. It was growing dark and starting to rain. “I have his ashes. Inside.” He gestured towards the lighted cabins.
“Now’s as good a time as any,” said Murphy.
“Well, I was hoping for some sunshine.”
Murphy pulled his overcoat tight against the wind. He had a persuasive, easy-going manner. “There’s no time like the present. Just wait for a lull in the wind.” He smiled.
Justin hesitated. Perhaps Murphy was right. He reasoned he could scatter the ashes in the presence of, well, a kind of celebrity. That would make a more memorable sending-off. Perhaps Murphy would even say a prayer?
He went down the deck, balancing carefully against the rocking of the ferry. Inside he caught sight of a television screen, stopping him dead in his tracks. A group of football fans sat watching a news bulletin featuring a shockingly familiar face. He opened the door and listened, stunned. “… and it’s been announced that councillor Michael Murphy is being sought for questioning into the murder of a catholic, Father Patrick O’Connor in 1975 ….”
The football match resumed to a cheer and the swill of beer. He retraced his steps to the deck. At least he owed it to Murphy to let him know, Justin thought. As he battled through the rain and the gloom towards the stern, he saw something dark on the deck. A heavy black overcoat, lying on the wet planks, empty sleeves blowing in the wind like a priest’s supplicating arms, but its occupant … gone.
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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