We ended up singing in the fo’c’s’le of the old schooner most of that night.
We had Mac’s sweet, soaring Tenor, John and Nellie and their dates who had no fear of harmony at all, the boy, who knew all the choruses, and a lot of verses he shouldn’t have, and one lonesome mandolin-player off a yacht up the wharf. We’d heard him in a lull and chased him down with the shipyard skiff. He said that all our howling made him want to play.
We sang the moon up over the shipyard and across the spring-stay of the schooner, down between the ketch’s masts and gone with the rolling hump of tide down the bay.
It might not have been Art to some, but it was what we had and all we needed.
I lay in my berth in the warm fo’c’s’le, thinking about my friends in the islands. With the isolation and the scarcity of paying work, it’s not hard to get depressed and bitter. But wouldn’t that be true of any rural area in a harsh land where you can get a glimpse of the way more fortunate people live?
But that doesn’t turn people into beer-guzzling animals, like the preacher said. Casting around among the folks I knew, I couldn’t think of many that would fit that description.
Ah, the world is full of islands, oh my soul.
And we’re each a lonely island in a raving dread of sea,
Carrying our loneliness like a dark and windy hole
that the glory of creation cannot fill.
So each of us will fill it as we can,
With friends or music, dreams or work or beer
Or even God. There’s probably no single, perfect way.
I fell asleep, feeling grateful for the music, and for the boy on the settee across from me where the last chorus flung him, and for the schooner in the going tide, and the water round us all, and the water all around the world, always moving.
First thing I heard the next morning was the coffee pot, rolling above the mumble of the schooner’s big wood stove. Then I smelled the bacon, and I knew Mac was aboard, so I rolled out through the curtain.
Mac poured me coffee, nodded toward the sleeping boy, and we went up on deck.
We set our mugs down on the forward house and stood on the frosty deck-planks warming our hands at the stove-pipe.
The harbor was quiet around us.
He said: “Remember when I brought that sardine-carrier in here with the busted stem?”
“King Fisher,” I said.
“Yeah. You brought your little buddy aboard. And you brought him along when we made the first trip of fish after that… out of Sabbathday, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, that was a good time, Mac. He was about seven, then,”
“Remember what he always called the carrier after that?”
“Yeah – hah: he called her ‘the house of singing.’”
“Uh huh. You know, he and I had a big talk about you on my boat over supper last night.”
I didn’t say anything, and he went on:
“He told me that you and that preacher went thirteen rounds, and you got pretty stove up.”
I said: “Look, Mac, you and I know I’m a fool, but that bastard painted it all over me. And the boy saw all of it.”
“Ah, hell, we’re all fools in God’s garden. But he told me that he was worried about your immortal soul – did you know that?”
“Never,” I said. He turned and faced me.
“Well, he was afraid you’d lose it – your immortal soul –- if you ever stopped singing. Now, how about that?”
He watched me a moment, then he smiled and said “Let’s go down. I’m hungry.”
And we went down into the house of singing.