AwesomeDude 10th Anniversary

Turning Ten

by Bruin Fisher

Email Bruin

It all began with a phone call, I didn't recognize the woman's voice, but she told me my father was ill and in hospital. She didn't say she thought I ought to be there by his bedside, but I got the impression that's what she thought. It threw me, rather – I'd been estranged from the old man ever since he abandoned me and my mother a good fifteen years ago – but the little imp on my shoulder was shouting in my ear that it was the right thing to do and he usually gets his way. I had to ask the woman on the phone which hospital, I didn't even know which town he lived in.

So I found myself searching through the labyrinth that is the Royal United Hospital in Bath, looking for the man I used to call Father. Eventually I found him, in a green and cream painted room on his own. I hardly recognized him, he looked smaller, thinner, paler and a lot older. His hair had receded a lot, it was pepper-and-salt, not the glossy black I remembered, and his face was heavily lined and his forehead wrinkled. And he was coughing gobbets of phlegm into one of those kidney-shaped bowls. I remembered them made of enamelled metal, but this one appeared to be cardboard, or papier maché. My mind went wandering, I thought wouldn't the bowl dissolve when the moisture soaked through? Perhaps it was easier to worry about the bowl than to face up to my father looking like that.

His coughing fit subsided and he looked up and saw me, standing just inside the door. He squinted, reached for his spectacles on the bedside table and put them on. He squinted again, frowned, and then drove a metaphorical knife into my chest and twisted it. He said: “Who the hell are you?”

I thought of Philip Larkin and silently thanked him for warning me.

“It's me, Christopher.”


“Christopher. Your son, remember?”

“Chrissy? All grown up? What the bloody hell are you doing here?”

I'd always hated him calling me that. “Thank you. I'm so glad you're pleased to see me.”

He started coughing again. I picked up his disgusting cardboard bowl and held it for him while he added to its contents.

“I got a phone call, from some woman. She told me you were here.”

He grunted. “That would be Jo. Josephine. She said your mother ought to know I'm here. None of her business if you ask me.”

“Well she phoned, but I was the one who took the call. I haven't told Mother about it yet.”

“Ha! Still living at home, tied to your mother's apron strings, are you? Namby pamby brat. I knew you'd never amount to anything. How old are you now? Twenty?”

“I'm twenty-eight, Father, as you should know. It's fifteen years since you left. I was thirteen.”

“Fifteen years, is it? Doesn't time fly when you're enjoying yourself.”

I heard the pronounced wheeze in his voice. “Doesn't look like you're enjoying yourself all that much.”

“What would you know about it? You never kept in touch.”

The injustice of that stung me.

“How could I? I didn't know where you were – you just disappeared out of our lives!”

His coughing fit apparently over for the time being, he pushed the bowl away and I put it down on the bedside table. He lay back on the pillow and closed his eyes but somehow I couldn't just leave it at that, for Mother's sake I needed to say something more.

“What kind of a man would do that? You left Mother to bring me up on her own, she had to go back to work. The least you could have done was send her some money each month.”

He just turned his head away and ignored me so I left him to stew in his own juice. At the door I turned and told him “You can't get away with abusing me any more, old man. I'm a lot bigger and stronger than you now. It wouldn't do you any harm to remember that.” And I closed the door after me.

When I got back to his room after having a sandwich in the hospital's café they wouldn't let me in – apparently the consultant was in with him. So I waited in the corridor until the door opened and a middle-aged dumpy woman in twin set and pearls came out, followed by half a dozen young people in white coats looking scared. With admirable presence of mind in the circumstances, I called out “Excuse me!”

The woman at the head of the line stopped, turned and fixed me with a gimlet glare until I was probably looking just as scared as her retinue. “And you are?”

I gulped. “His son.”

“Ah, then, Mr Ferguson, you may go in to see him now, but five minutes only, if you please. He needs to rest.”

She turned away. I called her back. “Doctor?”

I had a sudden urge to put my hands up to shield my face as her laser stare bored through me.

“Mr Ferguson?”

“What is wrong with my father? Why is he coughing like that?”

“He has pneumonia, has nobody told you? Both lungs. A complication of the cancer. We're doing what we can for him, but he's in poor shape.”

“But he'll get better?”

“We really don't know, at this stage. I'm sorry. Heavy smoking has taken its toll and his immune system is weakened. We're not sure he'll be able to fight off the infection, and we can't begin treating the cancer while he has pneumonia.”

Had I known he was a smoker? I dredged my memory and couldn't remember him smoking at home. But it was a long time ago, maybe I'd forgotten.

“Thank you.”

“You're welcome.” Her expression belied her words. As she and her gaggle of disciples disappeared down the corridor I took a deep breath and opened the door into Father's room.

He was lying flat, his arms out of the bedclothes along his sides and his eyes closed. I approached the bed, pulling a plastic chair with me to sit on. His lips moved.


“Yes, it's me, Father.”

“Listen to me.”

“I'm listening.”

“My boat has to be moved. Go find Jo. She'll tell you what to do.”


“You heard me. Find Jo and do as she tells you.”

“You have a boat?”

“I have a boat.”

“Why do I have to move it?”

“Don't ask stupid questions. Jo will tell you.”

I swallowed my annoyance. “Where will I find her?”

He went quiet for a while. His face twisted up, perhaps in pain, and I was about to call for a nurse when it eased and he relaxed and spoke again.

“Where's my wallet?”

I looked around the room. Apart from the bedside cabinet there was nothing that might contain personal possessions, so I looked in there, and found a pile of neatly folded clothes and, on top, a small collection of items perhaps removed from the trousers pocket. There was a penknife, a cigarette lighter, a grubby hankie, some loose change and a black leather wallet that had seen better days. No cigarettes, I noticed – but perhaps they'd have been taken away in case he smoked them.

“Here it is.” I gave it to him, and he opened it, fumbled around and handed me a dog-eared scrap of paper. “Jo's phone number. Call her.”

“Okay. Do you need anything? Grapes? Newspaper?”

“You can get me a packet of fags.”

“I don't think so. The doctor I just met would take me apart. Is there anything you want that won't kill you?”

“So a bottle of whisky's out, I suppose. No, just go and find Jo and get my boat moved before Saturday.”

It was Wednesday, so I thought there was plenty of time. “I'll phone her tomorrow.”

“Bloody hell, boy, do as you're told – go phone her now before it's too late!” He said more, but he was mumbling to himself. I thought I caught something like “I'd have taught him better discipline, at the end of a belt. His mother's let him run wild”. I chose to ignore that, but I left the room without saying goodbye.

All through the latter half of my childhood I'd carried a chip on my shoulder, resentment that my father had walked out on me. School friends had fathers who did things with them, not often but they were at least there. I had a mother who was far too busy to take time out to go camping with me, or take me to football matches. I went with other boys and their fathers, so I guess I didn't really miss out, but it wasn't the same. Now I began to see that maybe I'd been wrong all along. Maybe I, and my mother, had been better off without the old sourpuss.

I walked back to the car in the car park where I'd left my phone and phoned the number on my father's bit of paper. It rang for a while and I was about to kill the call when it was answered. “Who's this and what do you want?”

Just the sort of woman, I thought, who would be a friend of my father's.

“Hello. Josephine? I'm Christopher Ferguson, Hilary's son. He asked me to phone you about his boat.”

“Oh, hello Christopher. I prefer Jo. Sorry – you caught me at a bad time – the dog's just knocked over a flower pot. How is your father?”

“He's got pneumonia and they're worried about him. He doesn't look well at all, not that I know what he looks like when he's well.”

“I'm sorry to hear that. Good of you to come, though. You'll have had quite a journey.”

My opinion of her began to change. “Yes, well, I thought I should. Did you know I haven't seen him in fifteen years?”

“As long as that? Bloody hell! I knew there was a wife and son somewhere but I didn't know it was that long. He doesn't talk about it – actually he's pretty anti-social all round. He's had everyone's back up at one time or another on the water. We keep our distance.”

“But you're a friend?”

She snickered. “I wouldn't say that. But we all look out for each other, even a curmudgeon like your father. Sorry, I shouldn't talk about him like that to you. You must have been a child when he left. “

“Thirteen. He's in a bit of a lather about his boat. He says it has to be moved and you'll explain.”

“You'd best come and see. You'll be needing somewhere to sleep anyway, no point booking into a hotel. Have you got a car?”

“Yes. Can you give me a postcode, I'll find you with SatNav.”

“Er, no... the canal berths don't have postcodes. Look, I'll meet you in the Dog and Blanket, you'll find that on your SatNav easy enough. Half an hour?”

“I'll be there.”

The pub was easy to find, she was right. Google didn't turn up too many with that name. It occurred to me as I walked through the door into the cheery interior that I didn't know what Jo looked like and she didn't know me either. I needn't have worried, I was immediately accosted by a petite young woman with sparkling mischievous eyes, a bright captivating smile and what I can best describe as wild hair. Not exactly dreadlocks, it was nevertheless more bird's nest than coiffure, and it suited her perfectly. She wasn't at all what I'd expected.

“You're Christopher, aren't you? You look just like your father.”

That hurt, I must admit, I'd only just left him and what he looked like I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. “I hope not! I'm a year or two younger for one thing.”

“Oh, you know what I mean – there's a strong family resemblance. Your father's old before his time, I think. He can't be sixty yet, but he does look older, doesn't he? He hasn't looked after himself.”

“He hasn't, has he. Can I get you a drink?”

She shook her head. “No sorry, can't stop. My dog's at home with his legs crossed.”

“Okay. So, where's this boat and why does it need to be moved?”

“It's his home. He lives on a narrowboat. So do I.”

She paused, glanced at me and continued “not the same boat, of course. CART, that's the Canal and River Trust, sets rules for mooring and without an agreed permit you can't stay in one place for more than fourteen days. Your father's boat has been where it is for eleven days now. You'll have to take her to his new berth. It's not far, just the other side of Bath.”

“The other side of... but that's miles! I couldn't possibly... I don't know anything about narrowboats. Can't I pay someone to do it? Would you do it?”

She smirked at me. “No, do it yourself. There's nothing to it. Even the greenest grockle picks it up in no time, ask the holiday operators. Come on, I'll take you down to the boat. Bring your things, you can settle yourself in.”

I didn't think I'd be settling in, so didn't collect my bag from my car, just followed as she led the way, out of the pub and down a footpath through some allotments and onto the towpath of a canal that I hadn't even noticed before. All along the near bank of the canal were long narrow boats, moored nose to stern as far as the eye could see. Most were beautifully and brightly painted in greens and blues, gold outlined decorative panels with intricate scenes painted on them.

So, my father lived on a narrowboat. Wonders never cease. I couldn't think of anything I'd like less than living in cramped conditions like a caravan, but with added damp. Yuck. Still if it was too awful I could always fall back on plan B and book into a hotel.

Jo came to a halt beside one of the longer boats. It looked to be in fairly good nick, with nice paintwork in brown and red, but without much in the way of ornament. She stepped across the gap onto the rear deck and took a key out of her pocket to unlock the door to the interior – the companionway she called it. By the time I had joined her inside she had lights on and I was amazed to find how much space there was inside. Plenty of headroom, and although it was narrow the length made up for it – it seemed to go on forever. She dropped the key in my hand and ran back up the companionway. “Got to let the dog out. Come over to me in two hours and I'll feed you. I'm the next boat along. The Mary Rose.”

“The Mary Rose?”

“Yes. Tempting fate, isn't it?” And she gave me a wave and was gone.

I spent the two hours exploring the boat which was much more comfortable than I was expecting. I took a walk back through the allotments to where I'd parked the car on the street beside the pub, and collected my overnight bag, and lugged it back to the boat. Then I changed my shirt and gave my face a splash in the bathroom before heading along the towpath to the Mary Rose and Jo.

When I stepped aboard her boat, I rather expected that she would hear my footfall and come to the door – or was it hatch? – to greet me, but instead I was welcomed on board by the most beautiful border collie I'd ever seen, with an almost pure-white head and chest and paws, and glossy black back and upper legs, and light blue eyes that looked almost ghostly on a dog. I was enchanted and made a bit of a fuss of the dog, so that Jo found me crouched down petting the dog and unaware of her presence until she spoke.

“If you're going to flirt with my dog I'll have to break up with you.”

“He's beautiful. What's his name?”

“Napoleon. He likes you, not everyone gets a welcome like that. But your spag bol will be overcooked if you don't come down this instant.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

Jo's boat was very different inside than Father's. Chintzy, with a lot of gingham, bows and ribbons, and soft toys and ornaments everywhere. Feminine décor. Like Father's, though, the boat felt spacious, homely and not at all damp. I was going to have to revise my prejudices.

The spaghetti bolognese was delicious. It wasn't until after the meal was over and cleared away and we were sitting comfortably on her sofa with cups of coffee that I asked her to tell me about moving Father's boat.

She fetched a map. “We're here, and you need to get to there. It'll take you about two hours and you'll get to see Bath from an unusual viewpoint. You'll love it.”

She went on to tell me and show me, how to work a narrowboat. It all looked pretty simple the way she explained it. Operating locks sounded a bit more complicated and she spent some time explaining what you do until I thought I'd got the idea. I did ask if she would do it for me, or at least come with me, but she poo-poohed the suggestion and promised me it would be easy. She lent me the map, so I knew she expected to see me again, and I returned to Father's boat a bit easier in my mind about the task ahead.

You can't turn a sixty foot narrowboat around on a twenty foot wide canal so there are turning pools at various points, big circular basins for turning the boats. Father's boat was pointing the wrong way so I was going to have to head off in the wrong direction till I came to one of these pools, turn, and then come back and onwards to the new berth.

I slept surprisingly soundly. I don't usually do well the first night away from home, but I suppose I must have been pretty tired after a long and emotionally draining day. So I awoke on the Thursday morning to bright sunshine streaming through the window, I'd forgotten to pull the curtains the night before.

I found cereal and in the fridge a bottle of milk that hadn't passed its sell-by date, and then clambered up the companionway and found the boat's controls, which were very similar to those on Jo's boat. I tried starting the engine. It fired immediately and settled to a muted rumble. I noticed the exhaust outlet low on the side of the hull spitting water. I hoped that was normal.

I phoned the hospital, they said Father'd had a bad night, they'd given him something to help him rest. I decided I'd leave him to rest, I thought it'd be better if next time I visited him I could tell him I'd moved his boat.

Casting off was going to be a challenge. I ran along the towpath to the bow rope and untied it, throwing it aboard, and then gave the boat a gentle shove to set it slowly poking its nose into the middle of the canal. Then I ran back, all sixty feet back, to the stern, untied the rope there and jumped back aboard complete with rope before the boat drifted away from the bank. Now I had to engage gear and get the boat moving, because the rudder wouldn't work until the boat had some headway. I felt proud of myself for getting this far without mishap, and also for knowing the word headway. But it would have been a lot easier with someone to help.

It was a different matter when I arrived at the turning pool – I realised I had no idea how to turn such a long boat in its own length. When the boat's moving forward, you can use the tiller to turn the rudder which in turn changes the boat's direction. But to turn the boat at a standstill, I had no idea how to go about it. Maybe you go forwards a little and then backwards a little, turning the rudder this way and that until you've made your turn? That's what I tried, but I rather magnificently failed.

I hadn't taken into consideration the current. In the canal the flow of water was very slow and easy to miss. By the time I'd got the boat broadside on to the current, it began moving sideways downstream. And the area wide enough to turn the boat in was quite short, a roughly circular pool, so it wasn't long before the boat was jammed between the two banks, her bow dug in on one side and her stern dug in on the other. I was trying to shift it with the engine, going from full ahead to full astern and back, but I was only making things worse, when a knight on a white charger rode up and offered to help me out.

It's possible I was a little affected by the drama, but a very good-looking man certainly did appear, and he certainly did drop his white bicycle on the towpath and leap aboard my boat, barked at me to cut off the engine, and carried on along the gunwale to the bow, where he found a long rope in a locker and tied it to the bow mooring rope as an extension. Then he paid it out as he carried it back with him to the stern of the boat, and jumped back onto the towpath with the end of the rope and fed it through a steel ring I hadn't noticed, set into a big concrete block at the water's edge. Then he began heaving on the rope and yelled at me to come and help.

Between us we managed to pull the bow of the narrowboat off the far bank and little by little swung it around until eventually we had it neatly moored and pointing in the right direction. Exhausted, I turned to my rescuer.

“Thank you. Don't know what I'd have done without you.” I was out of breath, couldn't say any more. I bent and supported my weight with my arms on my thighs and panted for a minute.

He was not so puffed, but politely stood waiting for me to catch my breath. While I couldn't talk, I could look up at him and grin. It wasn't difficult, he was easy to grin at. Tall, lean, broad-shouldered, ginger, freckled and with a narrow strip of beard defining a square chin he was gorgeous to look at. I looked. He was wearing white shorts and a navy t-shirt, and open sandals. No socks. His elegant legs had a fine coat of that blond hair that disappears against fair skin and so tempts you to stroke it.

When I could speak I introduced myself as Christopher, and I found out his name in return. Marcus, which seemed wrong, somehow, but he assured me that was his name. I invited him on board for a beer, thinking Father was bound to have a supply in the fridge, but then I couldn't find any alcohol on the boat at all, so he had to settle for a cup of tea. I managed bourbon biscuits.

Once I'd poured the tea and offered a biscuit we sat and chatted. “I've been wondering what's happened to Hilary Ferguson? This is his boat, and now you've got it? He hasn't sold it has he?”

“No the boat still belongs to him, but he's in hospital with pneumonia. I'm looking after it till he's better. I'm his son.”

“His son? Didn't know he had any family. I've never seen you around?”

“Until yesterday I didn't know where he was. Never knew he was living on a boat. He left when I was a child, and we lost touch.”

“I see. Well, far be it from me to speak ill of the ill, but he's a grumpy old goat, and you were probably better off without him.”

“I've been forming that conclusion myself.”

I liked Marcus, and was very attracted to him. It turned out he had his own boat moored near my berth and was as much a part of the waterside community as Jo. After downing his tea he made his excuses and left, and I watched him pedalling along the towpath until he rounded the corner. The back view of him on his bicycle was somehow fascinating.

Despite my plan to move Father's boat to its new berth before visiting him in hospital again, I decided to moor for the night back at my original berth, where my car was parked, so I could nip off to the hospital in the evening, and then I could get the boat to its new home the following day, and leave myself time to retrieve my car afterwards. It was easy enough, after Marcus' help with the turn, to chug along the canal back to the berth next to the Mary Rose, and I managed it without further mishap.

I made myself a sandwich and sat out on the foredeck to eat it. Jo poked her head through her companionway and hailed me.

“You made the turn okay, then? Not pressing on to the new berth?”

“Actually I didn't make the turn. I ballsed it up pretty badly and was rescued. Guy called Marcus, very helpful.”

She looked knowingly at me. “You've met Marcus, then? What did you think?”

I wasn't sure what she was getting at. “What was I supposed to think? I was, I hope, appropriately grateful. He got me out of a fix.”

“He would. He's one of the good guys.”

“Yes, that's what I thought.”

“How's your father?”

“I phoned this morning, they said he's had a bad night. I thought I'd go see him this evening.”

“Would you mind if I come too? Can I get a lift with you?”

“Sure, no problem, I'll be glad of the company. About half past six?”

“I'll be ready.” And her head disappeared again down the hatch.

When we got to the hospital just before seven, the room Father'd been in was empty, they'd clearly moved him so we went back to reception to ask where to find him. At first I thought the receptionist was being unnecessarily unhelpful when she replied to my question with “If you'd just like to wait in the seating area over there, Mr Ferguson, one of the medical staff will be out to see you shortly.” - but I had Jo with me, so I decided meekly to do as I was told.

When a male doctor in a white coat, and with a stethoscope around his neck, walked up to us we stood up, and he ushered us into an interview room before telling us that Father had died this morning.

There were chairs, and a table. I sat down. Jo came up and put her hand on my shoulder, and the medic was telling me he was sorry for my loss and would I like to see the hospital chaplain, but I'd gone sort of numb.

Eventually I pulled myself together enough to ask about the death certificate, which apparently would be available for me or the undertaker to collect the next day. So the next thing to do was to find an undertaker. I could google it, but I had no idea where I'd put my phone.

Jo got me back to the car, put me in the passenger seat and she drove back to the canal. I hardly noticed, but her driving style was... unusual. More enthusiasm than skill. I'm not complaining – she got me back to the boat, and sent me straight to bed with a mug of hot chocolate laced with whisky.

I slept soundly until the sun woke me. Jo came in and made breakfast for both of us and I found my phone and then used it to find an undertaker and gave them the details. It was a relief to feel I'd done what I could and could leave the rest to the professionals.

I told Jo I would move the boat, just as I'd planned to do when Father was alive. His fourteen days would run out just the same, alive or dead. She didn't argue, perhaps she thought it would give me something to take my mind off the tragedy. I thought so too, and I hadn't yet worked out how I felt about it. He was my father, but I didn't know him.

Once Jo had returned to her own boat I started the engine and then ran along the towpath to cast off the forward rope, and then ran back and leaped aboard before the boat drifted away from the bank too far. I put the gear into reverse, and then once the bow was sufficiently far away from the bank that it was clear of the Mary Rose, I put the gear into forward and the boat began to go forward, only to come to a jarring halt accompanied by a tinkling noise. I spun around to the source of the noise just in time to see a shiny yellow object fall from the boat behind mine into the water with a distinct plop. Only then did I realise that I had forgotten to cast off my rear rope, and it had slipped over the stern of the boat behind mine, over its tiller, and then when I'd gone into forward gear it had neatly flipped the tiller pin out of its hole in the tiller extension and sent it spinning down against the gunwale of the boat, making the sound I'd heard, and bounced from there into the water.

My state of mind wasn't anywhere near normal, and I just mechanically did what had to be done. I did at least have the presence of mind to realise I had to re-moor the bow of the boat if I didn't want her to swing broadside across the canal, and did so. Then I got the grappling hook and began prodding about on the bed of the canal, hoping to feel the tiller pin and retrieve it. I stopped when a voice behind me commanded “Stop that!”

It was Marcus, again, who appeared bleary-eyed and in only a pair of cut-off jeans up the companionway of the boat whose tiller pin I'd just lost.

“Marcus. This is your boat? Look, your tiller pin's gone in the canal. I'll buy you a new one, I'm sorry but I seem to have hooked it with my mooring rope, and it's dropped in the water. I was just trying to see if I could retrieve it, but it's my fault and I'll buy you a new one. Sorry.” I tailed off.

“If you prod around on the bottom it'll sink into the mud. It's a very soft bottom. Better to feel for it with your hands.”

“With my hands?”

He climbed out of his boat and got down on his stomach on the towpath. “Hold onto my ankles so I don't slip right in.”

He inched forwards until I had to hold his ankles down to prevent him pivoting into the canal, and then he plunged head-first into the muddy water, down to his waist while I clung on to his slim ankles for dear life and admired the shape of his calves and and the way his gluteus maximus muscles worked under their denim covering. He came up for air twice empty-handed before the third time waving the brass and steel object, and with a tremendous effort which rippled his stomach muscles he swung himself and his prize back up onto the grassy slope, and sat there triumphantly smiling, wet and muddy.

“Can I use your shower?”

“Sure, of course. And thank you. I'm sorry you had to do that. Don't you have a shower on your boat?”

“Well, I will have, but at the moment she's half-finished. I'm re-fitting her throughout and she's just a big open space with a bed at one end and a cooker at the other at the moment. Your father was letting me use his bathroom and as you can see I need to use it again now.”

“Be my guest. And I'm really sorry about the tiller pin.”

He grinned at me. “No harm done.”

We went below and he disappeared into the bathroom. Some minutes later he re-appeared, wet and with a towel around his waist, and I offered him a cup of tea. While I brewed it, he unselfconsciously pulled his towel from his waist and began to use it to dry himself, and then pulled his jeans back on. He really was stunningly beautiful and I nearly scalded myself with hot tea.

We sat and drank our tea at opposite ends of  my father's sofa. He put his feet up on the coffee table and we talked. He offered to come with me to help get the boat to its new berth, and I accepted, thinking how glad I'd be of his help, especially through the lock, and how much I would enjoy his company on the trip. By the time we'd finished our second cups I was feeling so comfortable that I was reminded of cosy evenings with mother. She liked me to take her feet into my lap and massage them while we watched TV, and I reached for Marcus' legs and swung them around into my lap, and idly massaged his feet for a while, and when I had an impulse to stroke the blond hairs on his calves I just did it, without thinking, and Marcus accepted my attentions, settling a little deeper into his seat and making little appreciative noises.

And then reality hit. I suddenly realised how intimate I was being with a virtual stranger, and the liberties I was taking, and the assumptions I'd made, and I reflexively pushed his feet off my lap. They landed on the floor, jolting him out of his relaxation and producing an sound from him that might have been “What?” but might equally well have been “Erk.”

“I'm so sorry,” I began, but by now it had all become too much, my father's death, the bloody tiller pin, Marcus, and my face screwed up. I couldn't help it, the misery swept through me and my shoulders began to shake, and then in a delayed reaction the tears came. I tried to turn away, to hide my emotional response from Marcus but he instantly slid along the sofa to my side and pulled me to him and hugged me. After fighting back an instinct to resist, I went with it and pushed my face against his naked shoulder and cried freely.

I bawled until the tears dried, and gradually came to realise he was talking to me, speaking softly into my ear, things like “There, there, you have a good cry. It's okay, let it all out, you'll feel better for it” - and I fell in love with him, I think, then and there. He had no idea what I was crying about but was saying all the right things anyway.

Once I got my voice back I did explain that my father had just died and it had only just hit me. It seemed important to tell him too that I thought I wasn't crying in grief for my father, but in grief for the relationship with him that I didn't have and now never would have. He seemed to know just the right thing to do – he kissed me. He's such a sweet man. Well, one thing led to another and we ended up in bed where we stayed until the next morning. That night, having his arms and legs wrapped around me was exactly what I needed.

He was wonderful, so supportive, he took charge, getting the boat moved, liaising with the funeral people, sorting out refreshments for afterwards at the Dog and Blanket, finding the will and getting all that side of it sorted out with a solicitor. I couldn't have done it without him. The funeral was very touching – a lot of the canal people were there including Jo of course, and Mother came down too, and met Marc. She likes him, she says, although it's quite a wrench for her, now that I've flown the nest at last.

It turned out I was the sole beneficiary in Father's will, I got everything he owned, which meant his overdraft – and the boat. According to the will she was called 'Tenby Princess' and Mother says they lived in Tenby when they first met, and that he used to call her his princess – so maybe the old man had some romance in him still. But the canal people just call the boat Ten, because Father never finished painting her name on her bows, and on one side she still has the three letters TEN painted in gold on a red background. Jo says Father had talked about painting her different colour schemes on one side and on the other, and giving her two different names, so he could stay longer in one place just by turning her around. I don't know if he was serious about that.

After Marcus came to my rescue we never really parted and have been together ever since. We smartened the Tenby Princess up a bit and now we hire her out by the week to grockles. Marc and I have finished the re-fit of his boat Bootle Bumtrinket (it's a literary reference) and she makes a perfect home for two.

So that, dear reader, is the story of how I first met my husband – it all began with turning Ten.

© Bruin Fisher March 2014

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