Arachne. No. 3
[Happiness to Mrs Flanagan]
Father to Son the Flanagans were fishers. Their hands brown and stub fingered knew the salt heaviness of lines and nets, and the congealed-lard smoothness of dead schnapper, tera-kehi, kahawai, gurnet, and the tuna-slim bodies of mullet. They lived in a rough shanty by the waters' edge, and knew nothing of land life, nor store food, preferring to fish heaped gunwell high on the boats. And as they lived on fish, in their turn the fish lived on them, for the Flanagans went down with their boats with punctual conventionality.
So in the end there was only Jess Flanagan and young Michael living there in the shanty, and all the rest were somewhere beyond the gulf with the 'Peregrinethe', Petre', and the 'Mary Lucy'. Being Flanagans neither of them thought of moving inland, and Michael served his sea-apprenticeship with an O'Shea, and bought a boat of his own.
His feet grew splay with the bare footed grasping of rocks, his fingers stub and salt calloused. Michael grew to the sea as all the Flanagans before him, and Jess walked proudly among the shore women.
All storms on the coast are sudden, springing from a feather ruffling of the grey sea to a gale within an hour, keeling the boats rail under in one burst; Jess saw the shiver run up the estuary, heard the first white smother hit the rocks, almost as the fishers saw the sails fill, and the long wall of roused sea bear down. With the nets out the boats were unable to swing bow breasting the waves, to tread the wind whorl of water. Only the 'Seagull', close under the bluff, escaped and fled half-laden to harbour.
So once more men in seaboots, or barefoot, with salt on their beards, and the empty handedness of the grief-heavy, went up the cocklepage 32
path to the shanty, unnoticing how the sea water trailed in an ambling path behind them. But Jess at the sight of them did not wail with the departed Flanagan women, but welcomed them with smiles, and tea, and the best seed cake cut thick in buttery slices.
She moved easily among them, their talk and their mutterings, not seeing the averted eyes, and the puzzle of the red faces. 'He was the last', she said, as though she exulted, 'the last of the Flanagans. There are no more to wait for in the sunset of the evenings, or see depart in the blackness before dawn. And now I can be happy and feel no more the lift of anxiety in the heart, or the fear clutch in a sally of wind. Jess Flanagan is a happy woman'.
As the men went home, they left no keen of death in the shanty, but the shrill joy of Jess's singing in the fire warm kitchen.
Only . . . that night she slept her way out of the friendly world in which she was to be without fear nor anxiety, and in which she was to be at last a happy woman.