The Spike or Victoria College Review 1946
A sudden chilly breeze ruffled the black water, the deep black engulfing water, black with night. The lonely figure, huddled on the edge of the pier, stirred and was still again.
Hatchett had told him his work was unsatisfactory. "Not up to standard," he had murmured in apologetic tones. Blast him, why didn't he speak angrily, bitterly, sarcastically, any way but this confiding, almost pitying murmur?
"Not up to standard," he had said. "You know you're lucky to have secured this responsible position so young." Hatchett was right, of course... He was a failure. He had intelligence and ability in a position demanding the power to impress and control his fellow-workers... What did his juniors think of him? Despised him? Certainly. Hated him?
A little movement, less than the effort required to rise from a chair, and the black water would come rushing, swirling, bubbling above his head... . Half an hour and there would be no regrets.
Should he return to work to-morrow, Wednesday and determine that this time he would be more firm—if he had been less considerate, more obstinate from the first—but he had thought all this before many times. Always his Ienience would be interpreted as vacillating, his firmness was thought injustice... . Again there would be that undercurrent of petty annoyance, that defiant obedience. Hatchett coming in disapproving but saying nothing that continued sniping till he would claw his toes in his shoes and clench his fists helplessly. Wednesday to-morrow. Three more days before the week-end. Could he drag through them? And if he did then would come Monday, the first cleat in another turn of the treadmill.
Get another job? He'd thought of this before. He had been in several kinds of employment already and always he was discontented. He was a failure at everything he tried. And now if he left he would have no testimonials, he would be widely known as a failure.
The black water lapped against the pier and further off against the black sides of a ship. He had no living relatives and no friend. Jim Drake—but Jim would not miss him. There was no ethical objection. No more effort than that required to rise from a chair... .
"Fishin'?" The voice was startling. The huddled figure looked up, and saw a young seaman towering above him. "Or writin' poetry? You're late up, mate."
"What's the time?"
"Three o'clock, nearly."
The sailor seemed unhurried, however, for he drew out a pipe and tobacco and lit up, then sat down on the edge of the pier.
"I remember a young chap who used to look into the sea like that and he wrote poetry. Good stuff, too, you could tell what he meant."
"I haven't come to that yet." The natural sociability of the other lifted him above his mist of thought and he looked more closely at the young sailor, softly visible because of a distant wharf-light. There was a silence.
"Looks as though they're getting ready to go," remarked the sailor suddenly, rising and knocking out his pipe on his heel. "Gotta get on board—we're sailing for Brisbane at six. Short crew, this trip, too. Wouldn't like a job?"
A job on a boat. Brisbane. Why not? Why don't people accept suddenly-offered jobs as deckhands on boats going to Brisbane? Because they have parents or friends? He had neither. Because they have comfortable employment and ambition? He had to escape from the office. Because they feared danger, neglect, starvation? He was contemplating suicide.
* * *
As the shoreline, seen for the first time from the detached viewpoint of a departing sailor, receded beyond the churned foam and diverging wake of the boat, the new deckhand thought of Hatchett, the discontented staff, the impudent sour-faced office-boy, entering confining concrete walls. The sun glinted off the sea and gilded the distant narrowing hills. There was also a half-forgotten memory of a pier and black water. People dream when they're drowning, don't they?
But the seagulls and the feathered clouds and the sun-splintered unpainted rail under his hand were real. And even Brisbane was more real now than Hatchett and the office.
And beyond Brisbane? There was the whole world, places whose very names were poetry—Suva, Noumea, San Francisco, Liverpool... .