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Authors: Paul Rowe

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Silent Time

silent time

Paul Rowe

© 2007, Paul Rowe

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of The Canada Council for the Arts, The Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP), and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador through the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation for our publishing program.

All rights reserved. No part of this work covered by the copyrights hereon may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means—graphic, electronic or mechanical— without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any requests for photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems of any part of this book shall be directed in writing to the Canadian Reprography Collective, One Yonge Street, Suite 1900, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1E5.

Cover design by Sarah Hansen
Layout by Todd Manning
Author photo by Paul Daly

Printed on acid-free paper

Published by
a division of Transcontinental Media
P.O. Box 1815, Stn. C, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador A1C 5P9

First Edition
Printed in Canada by:

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Rowe, Paul, 1954-

The silent time / Paul Rowe.

ISBN 978-1-897174-17-3

I. Title.

PS8635.O885S45 2007 C813'.6 C2007-904577-4

the silent

Paul Rowe

For Bessie

part one

The fair time had come and gone in Three Brooks, Newfoundland.

It was three o'clock in the morning, late September of the year 1900, and seventeen-year-old Leona Walsh lay in bed furiously awake. Not a single visitor had come to their house on Windy Point again this year. There hadn't been any music or dancing; not one story told; not a single voice raised in song. Instead, Leona endured the rude confusion of voices ascending through the floorboards as her old man and four brothers celebrated the fair time in their own ridiculous way: getting drunk, arguing pointlessly, cursing loudly and banging their fists on the table. Last year, the whole thing had ended up with the boys squared off in the yard punching each other as the old man cackled with delight and egged them on.

It was all the old man's fault. The fair time was meant to give everyone a break between the summer and fall fisheries, but the old man always kept the boys at the fish longer than anyone else and refused to celebrate with the rest of the community. Every year, this turned what could be a rare bit of pleasure for Leona into a wearisome bout of anger and frustration.

The old man had warned Leona that he and the boys would be heading out for one last catch at daybreak, so after a few hours of fitful sleep, she watched with one eye barely open as he appeared, as he always did at dawn, in her bedroom doorway. He shaved thin curls of tobacco from a dark brown plug with a silver-handled pocket knife. He snapped the knife blade shut, took the pipe from his jaw and gave it a sharp tap on the door to loosen the ashes. The noise was meant to wake her, so she obediently raised her head from the pillow as he, with a quick turn of his hand, transferred the tobacco scrapings into the bowl of the pipe. She could tell by the expert way he did this that he wasn't drunk. His steel-grey eyes were sharp and clear. He preferred to see the boys get loaded instead so he could torment them when they were throwing up over the side of the
boat. He struck a match, lit the pipe and, in his low mean voice, spoke the usual morning greeting: “Get up out of it, you, and get to work.”

Later, after breakfast, she watched the boys stumble bleary-eyed down the laneway and follow the old man onto the stagehead. He was hard on them, too, but they needn't have minded so much since they had her to wait on them hand and foot. Leona cooked and washed and cleaned and cured and gardened every day that her brothers spent on the water or in the woods, yet she had to surrender her seat at the table without a word if one of them so much as waved a hand to dismiss her. There was no way to stand up to them. Her mother was dead since before she could remember, and all her mother's people were across the bay. The only solution was to get away from this house. That meant getting married and Leona, even at the tender age of seventeen, knew that a good husband would be hard to find.

She turned her plight over and over in her mind all day and into the evening until, with supper waiting on the stove, she spotted the old man and the boys rowing across the pond in the dory. She had just enough time to make tea and have it steeped strong and black by the time they got to the house. She went to the pantry to get the tea from its fragrant wooden box and was about to put a couple of tablespoons into the teapot when she discovered that the lid was stuck.

This pot was new, bought in Placentia during the summer after the thin handle on her mother's curvaceous white porcelain teapot, a thing too delicate for this household – much as she imagined her mother to have been – broke off in her hand one day completely full and smashed to bits on the floor.

“You're gonna have to pick the bones out of that before I drinks it,” laughed Cyril, the oldest.

“Butterfingers,” smirked Vincy, who was younger than her but still thought nothing of mocking her when the occasion arose.

“Wipe it up,” grumbled the old man.

None of them made a move to help as she got to her knees with a worn tea towel and a washpan and tried to contain the expanding brown pool. She wiped up the entire mess, then made and served them their tea in a saucepan.

The next time she went to the Trading Company in Placentia she got this short, sturdy-looking pot with a small button-like handle on the lid. It looked as if it should last a generation, but it had turned on her already.

She looked quickly out the window again and saw the boat pulled up to the stagehead. In a few minutes, they'd enter the house by the back
linney, toss their work shirts in a pile, wash their hands in the basin by the pump, and then stroll into the kitchen wordlessly expecting to be fed. They would not want to be kept waiting on their tea.

Getting a little frantic, she wound a piece of butcher's twine around the button handle and pulled hard on it. The twine snapped. She dared not double it and pull harder for fear of breaking yet another pot. There would be worse hell to pay if she did that. She poured hot water over it, as she might do to loosen a jam jar lid, and almost burned the hand off herself. It occurred to her as she spread butter on the burn that a bit smeared on the teapot lid might help. That was also a bad idea for the pot nearly flew to the floor from her slippery hands. Finally, stinging with the memory of Vincy's name-calling, she removed every trace of the butter and prepared to face the mockery.

Then she heard a tap on the door. “Come in,” she said, and turned as Paddy Merrigan from Knock Harbour, a short, stout, impish man with a peculiar tilt to his bearing, not unlike the teapot she still held in her hands, stepped carefully into the kitchen. Paddy had been hired by the old man to replace the windows in the stable. She'd spoken with him a couple of times this week and had caught the hint of merriment in his blue eyes and the trace of a shy smile whenever she'd approached. She was amused at how he shifted his gaze between the sky and the ground as they talked and looked at her only when he thought she wouldn't notice. There was, she suddenly realized, as he stood there shyly fingering the worn brim of his cap, something nice about this fellow with the slight mischievous grin and the deep-blue eyes.

“Is your father here?” he said, keeping by the door.

“They're at the stagehead there now,” she said, an obvious agitation in her voice. “They'll be coming up the hill in a minute.”

“Something wrong?” he said.

She let out a frustrated sigh and shook the stubby teapot at him with both hands. “The lid on this cursed thing is stuck, so I can't make them their tea.”

He laughed and cocked his head to one side. “That's a queer thing.” He stepped further into the kitchen. “Here, let me see it.” He laid his hand over it.

“Why?” she said, pulling it from his grasp. “What are you going to do about it?”

He left his open hand extended, wiggling his fingers, asking for the pot. He said, shyly looking at the floor, “Well, I can put a leg on a hen or an arse in a cat, you know. Why do you think your father hired me to put the windows in the stable?”

“I don't know why he hired you, to tell the truth.” She secured the pot under her arm and his outstretched hand disappeared into a pocket. “He could do the work himself only he thinks he got to catch every last fish that's in the bay.”

“Yes, girl. He do stay at it too long, don't he? An' ‘tis a rainy fall, too. Hard to get a good cure.”

“It's me, not the weather, he's going to blame for the bad cure,” she said, enjoying the chance to sound off. “But how can I do it right when there's a shower every other day?”

“Goin' to be hard to get a price for it,” he agreed, pointlessly wiping the toe of his boot on the floor.

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