17, Number 99, October/November 2014 Ebenezerís Party by Lawrence E. Collins
Lydia Williams, from the wharf, in the coastal community on the Southern Shore, looks out across the water, at the fog holding onto the headland with thin, misty fingers, lest it be blown out to sea on the rising wind.
She feels her stomach muscles tighten with that old familiar clutch of bowel, a mix of bile and scorching blood formed of fearsome longing.
When overwrought, beset with thoughts of seamen and the sea, she remembers Ebenezer’s Party. She had gone to the wake and saw Eli Moss’ handiwork. She knows it would be improper to imply that somehow Eli Moss, the undertaker, was ever a professional. He learned his craft by the doing, and made his share of mishaps along the way.
She had listened without making a sound, tucked in a corner of the front room, running her hand along the smooth, silk coffin-lining, as Hilda Murphy excitedly related the story to Lydia, and many more people before and since, for she loved the telling. The words flowed off her tongue like a witch’s brew, and one’s face stung as if burning as the odd spot of spittle landed on crimson skin.
Hilda explained the bag of trick-or-treat candy hanging from the wooden leg, resting over the edge of the coffin of her deceased husband, Ebenezer, who, lying cold, gray and dead in bed beside her when she awoke, had gone to his just rewards that very morning.
She had been in the kitchen fixing a mug of coffee for the undertaker, who was going about his work preparing for the home wake, when she heard Eli call to her from the front parlour.
Rounding the edge of the doorway, she walked in to the parlour to find Ebenezer sitting up in his coffin, a fine pine box, with his arms folded forward within his oilskins as if leaning into a gale. His smoking pipe was gripped firmly between his teeth and the peak of his captain’s hat was turned down over his right eye in a rakish fashion.
Hilda’s heart jumped a beat for Ebenezer looked just the way she had first seen him when he’d arrived on a stormy Saturday night bursting through the doors of the dance-hall with his crew from coming off the water for safe harbour from his home port down the Shore.
“Eli, what have you done!” she had cried, nearly swooning from the shock of Ebenezer’s appearance as though alive.
“It is Halloween,” said Eli, with a mischievous grin, “and this evening all your friends, the ghosts, goblins and monsters will be coming to visit.”
Hilda, having consumed the previous evening with her now late husband the better part of a twentyouncer, fortified herself with another ounce, as she gazed at Ebenezer. She smiled, unfastened her clip, and her long, black hair cascaded over her slender shoulders to the middle of her back. She reached to the side cupboard for her witch’s costume, pointed hat and broom. Ebenezer had one good party left in him, she reckoned.
Eli sat that evening at the Murphy’s kitchen table amongst the houseful of revelers. He listened, his tendrillike fingers slithering along the sides of a glass of rum, as Maisy Smyth bemoaned her own loss, a widow whose whole family he had put beneath the sod, save for one, her father. Thomas, lost at sea when she was twelve, when his fishing boat, caught in a nor’easter gale, was capsized by storm force winds and powerful, heavy, foam-cresting, towering waves.
In his day, back when fish were plenty, Thomas, when he drove up the steep hill leading from the cove to the fish-plant, had men from the community stand on the frontbumper to keep the front wheels from lifting from the pavement with the weight of the fish boxes loaded down with fish in the back of his pickup. Every three years he went to the dealership in St. John’s and bought a new truck, always the latest model and with cash.
On her seventh birthday, he brought a passenger home in the cab of his pick-up, a doll as big as she was, with black curls and red, rosy cheeks. Her name is Gwendolyn, and Maisy’s mother, Alice, dressed them both in the same clothes.
Every Sunday in the warm, summer months, Thomas brought her and Gwendolyn, appearing as twins with identical outfits, to the confectionary store, and bought two, chocolate covered custard cones, which she affectionately named choc’y cus’, for his ‘two little girls’ as he called them, though Maisy ate both as Gwendolyn was on a diet.
Gwendolyn enjoyed pride of place on the chesterfield with Maisy’s children, in the sunlight streaming through the living-room window of the family home, as Maisy and her husband Charlie had moved in with her mother when they married.
“My late husband was a good man. Sadly, we out-lived our five children!” Maisy wrung her hands on her lap. “Buried in the graveyard on the hill they are.” A broken sob emitted from her lips. “My husband Charlie went to join them!”
“Isn’t she pretty,” said Lydia’s mother, Rita, pointing at Lydia from across the room and tapping Frankenstein on the shoulder with the bread-knife.
“Yes, most definitely,” he moaned, the whites of his eyes enlarged with mock fear around diminishing, glossy pupils melting into his head, afraid to see one of his many costumed appendages, said to be, for the benefit of those foolish enough to believe it, borrowed from the graveyard on the hill and stitched in place with bloodied twine, loosed from his quivering body encased within this make-believe with an adept, quick flick of Rita’s wrist, a woman who had spent her youth splitting innards, backbones and entrails from fish in the fish-plant.
Maisy, not one for reading and unschooled in classic horror tales, eyed Frankenstein through blurred and failing sight and considered with alarm the source of his seemingly real cadaver bodily parts; something appeared familiar about that hairy leg... her Charlie had hairy legs...
Lydia had gone on from fifteen to later marry at eighteen a nose-less, Wolfman masked man, who, considering the rubber nose was Wolfman’s most prominent feature, appeared before her at the wake as two, drooping, sorrowful wolfish eyes.
Her mother had somehow overlooked this potential suitor. He came over with two lemonades and, when Lydia peeked through the hole in the mask, she was pleased to discover he was none other than James, a boy in the community two years her elder, upon whom she had had her eye for several years.
A fisher he is, and, as she looks out to sea, she prays she will soon see the bow of his dory cutting back through the waves to bring her husband safely into the lee of the distant shore.