Word on a Whim

What began as a blog about writing and publishing has become a blog of whatever I feel like writing. Jules Lucton.

Planting Christmas Trees in small back gardens

Christmas Trees

It’s an odd time to be talking about Christmas Trees but at this time of year I look at the postage-stamp sized back garden in the hope that they’ve finally stopped growing … but yet again there are new buds on the ends of all the branches.
More than fifteen years ago I moved here just before Christmas and bought a real tree, in a pot, with roots on. The next year I dug it up to use again and was surprised how well-established its roots had become in such a short time. I felt bad about wrenching it out of the ground, especially when it had looked so dead for ages before the first green buds of growth appeared. I promised the tree that if it survived I would never dig it up again. Yes, I know.
But it did survive. So naturally the next year I bought a new one … in a pot, with roots on …  There was even a third tree that I planted next to these two – so as not to uproot the second tree the next year – but the third one didn’t make it, thank goodness!
In more recent years we’ve had a small artificial Christmas Tree but didn’t even bother last Christmas as there was nowhere to put it other than on top of the printer and leaning at a funny angle – but we’d done that the year before and it was just a nuisance, apart from looking ridiculous.
I had somehow thought that Christmas trees were a special kind of fir tree that would never grow above ceiling height. I know nothing about gardening and have always lived in houses with established gardens. I never considered that previous residents had chosen and planted the stuff that was there and was amazed when I went round a garden centre with a friend who is a keen gardener and took a look at the price tags.
Given the space I could imagine the pleasure of planting something and seeing it grow – especially if it’s fruit or vegetables and I have great respect for trees; it has always upset me to see them cut down.
SO PLEASE STOP GROWING!

And the phone did ring…

The phone rang a few times – mostly about the same job. This sudden interest coincided with the media reports that we are coming out of recession; this was a “newly created” position that matched my CV very well – and also matched the CV of sixty other applicants. It particularly appealed because it was a small company where I felt I could make a positive difference and I was fairly sure that I could do the job well. It was me they were looking for!
I attended three interviews, at a cost of three days’ holiday and two hundred and seventy miles of petrol, with their final choice being between me and just one other. It seemed (according to the agency) that we both fitted the job description but had “different strengths”.
The Company was struggling to choose between the two of us. I told them I felt a bit gutted about this as I was sure the other guy was equally keen (managed not to say “desperate”) and I wished we could somehow share the job and our combined strengths to provide a solution that would be beneficial all round. They dismissed it, but kindly, saying that unfortunately there was only one available position. One of the interviewers remarked that I should not have been told it was between just two of us. I couldn’t agree more – even if I’d got the job it would have been difficult to celebrate knowing it was at someone else’s loss. But I didn’t get it. The feedback was that the other guy came across more “high profile” than me. I think that might mean he was more confident and self-assertive, but I’m not sure…
So now I must celebrate not having to do that bugger of a journey. The final interview was late afternoon and it took fifteen minutes just to get off the industrial estate. It was a typical new development; massive place, new construction but only two exit roads, and a good twenty minutes before I felt that I was heading home. Not that I had anything special planned for those particular twenty minutes – but there’s something about being stuck in traffic that makes minutes feel very precious. Other than that, there’s nothing to celebrate about not getting the job other than maybe the other guy might need it more than I do.
There was a good feeling about that place and the folks I met, and after three visits I had a sense of belonging. They did try to cushion the blow by saying (via the agent) something like “it’s only no for now but if another vacancy comes up we’ll be in touch”, which is a nice thing to say, I suppose, but I don’t envisage going back there ever again.
Such a cost attached to job hunting. It’s not only three days’ holiday/unpaid leave and two hundred and seventy miles of petrol it’s the massive amount of emotional investment; looking at new houses and cars, brushing up my IT skills and willing the phone to ring … and I bet it won’t cross their minds that it’s cost me anything.

Monday tomorrow so maybe I might get a call … ?

Nothing has happened that’s worth reporting and I did say I wouldn’t keep going on about care work but here I am having too long a weekend because I’ve said goodbye to the lovely old gent who was my weekend feature. Not only was he good company, sensitive and bright, but I was with him for a long block of hours rather than half an hour here and there – and regularly overnight – so it was financially viable as well as enjoyable. Now he has moved to a different agency – not of his own accord – it is to do with finance, but we have agreed to remain friends.
So what happens next? I could tell my agency I am now available for any other weekend work – but it would only be odd half hours throughout the day which might land anywhere between 7:00 and 23:00 with big gaps and unpaid travel time in between, meaning I could potentially be out all day but only have about four hours’ paid work. I would prefer to do something else at the weekend … anything really so long as it’s a job where they actually pay you for the hours you work. Despite what I said (in the previous post) about biting the bullet, I was quick to spit it out again and am feeling pathetically hopeful about the recent IT jobs I have applied for. That mild elation I felt from proving to myself that I actually can do care work was short lived. It does have its moments but mostly I am just spinning around with insufficient travel time between calls, apologising for being late and doing a bright and cheerful act – talking absolute rubbish because I am so bad at small talk and having the same conversations with the same people, day after day.
I yearn to be back in an IT team, or some similar team; behind the computer screen and in my inner world, where my incapacity to talk about nothing is appreciated by the majority, but where there is still a pervading yet varied and complex sense of humour. And it’s Monday tomorrow so I might get a call …
Anyway, here’s the end of a post about nothing – but it will serve to keep my blog alive … I see my blog as a cyber pet that might die if I don’t shake it about a bit.
Oh, I have something to leave you with – I do check my blog stats now and again and was pleased to see that this short story I posted a couple of years ago is still attracting a lot of traffic:

“The Snow Cock.” – Flash fiction
https://wordonawhim.com/2012/11/18/the-snow-cock-flash-fiction/

The surprising popularity of this story prompted me to check out the search criteria that had led people to this post. Of course, I cannot see who is looking, but sometimes I am able to see what they have entered in the browser. Was it “Jules Lucton” or was it “The Rise of Serge and the Fall of Leo”? Or was it simply my reputation as a writer of modern fiction that was drawing them?
Unfortunately not … the search terms that bring folks to this post are …

“cock flash”
🙂

Biting the Bullet

I said I would change the subject, and I am, sort of. I am changing my negative attitude to one of gratitude for what I have, and I am embracing the work that I am currently being offered. I was doing nothing with my spare time other than searching and applying for other jobs. Hobbies had gone out of the window as my mind was unsettled – a butterfly brain and raised hopes followed by constant disappointments were not conducive to creativity. One job application I was particularly hopeful about was still in care work with people in their own homes but was a 37.5 hour contract as opposed to zero hours. It was one of those applications where CV’s are not accepted and you have to answer questions on an application form, making the answers relevant to the job description. I thought I had filled in the application form rather well! I believed I would be ideal for the job and was convinced that whoever read my application form would think so too – but two weeks went by and I heard nothing.

Keeping the deal I had made with myself, I emailed my manager, telling her I needed to boost my income and asking about the possibility of night work – as night work tends to be a block of hours rather than half an hour here and there. I was surprised and pleased but also scared when she replied that a ‘sleep-over’ was still uncovered for the following night, which happened to be Last Night, at the home of a lovely old gentleman with a heart condition. Emotionally his heart is lovely, but medically it isn’t too good. Luckily, I had visited him before. Whilst I love everyone I attend (and they are all so different) there are some that, after less than an hour, leave me feeling like my head is about to explode and the living blood has been drained from me … but not this one. The only problem here was my anxiety – mild phobia even, about sleeping in unfamiliar places.

So, we watched telly and then went to bed. Given that he had taken the trouble to brief me about his nocturnal habits, and knowing the details about his heart condition, I was worried because I couldn’t hear him moving about. But what I could hear, loud and clear, was a clock that chimes the hour … three chimes at three o’clock, four chimes at four, and so on, with a single chime to indicate the passing of each half hour in between. I was also worried because I was starting to do my daft breathing.

Daft breathing is what others might call hyperventilation, but to me it is breathing that isn’t going anywhere. It is when you yawn because you are tired, but the yawn doesn’t work properly, so you do it again and then again – but rather than having the satisfaction of a yawn, it simply feels that some air has gone in and out of your mouth or nose, without going anywhere beyond that. So you yawn again. On a couple of occasions, many years ago, it turned into a panic attack … the grip of imminent drowning that is only released in the nick of time. The memory of this did not help, considering that my current responsibility was to support a vulnerable person. But then this was only supposed to be a ‘sleep-over’ not a ‘waking-night’. I think that was the issue. I was there on duty, but I had nothing to actually do, other than listen to that bloody clock! I didn’t hear it strike five but then woke with a jump and sat up in horror – hearing wailing noises and sirens – but it was only the boiler. The noise stopped just after six and the radiator was still cold so I assume it came on to heat the water. But I still hadn’t heard any sound from my friend in the next room …

We had agreed I would take him a cup of tea at 8am in the morning. I tapped on his open door; called his name and said “Good Morning” before entering and seeing him curled on his side, only his face showing above the duvet, greyish-white, and looking so different without his large spectacles. I stood there for a while, trying to detect the rise and fall of his breathing – but there was nothing … no sign.
Oh shit. Not on my watch. Please …

I went to his bedside, put the tea down on the bedside table and touched his shoulder through the duvet. He reacted by flipping over onto his back, clutching his chest and panting a little. When he was able to speak, he said; “My word, you came in here quietly!”

He did recover, quite quickly, said he had slept well and asked me what the weather was doing outside and I asked what he would like for breakfast. Phew!

I hope I have now broken the habit of job searching, and I will try to be happy with what I already have, and maybe build upon it, with night work or whatever. If they ask me again to do a sleep over for this old gent I will say “Yes Please” and next time I will wonder why I made such a fuss about it this first time. I will also yell a bit louder when I enter his room in the morning!

I promise to change the subject soon …

You know how it is when a house has been on the market for such a time that you think there must be something wrong with it? My CV must be starting to look like that to the IT agencies. I adapt it depending on the role I am applying for; rearranging the layout to put more emphasis on those skills that seem most relevant to the role. It is a while now since I spoke to an IT agent, but in the early days of redundancy when I was new on the market and therefore interesting; no-one suggested there was anything wrong with my CV.

A couple of weeks ago, I thought I had been head-hunted, maybe for the wrong reasons but I was nonetheless excited and hopeful. An agency I had never heard of had picked out my CV – it seemed I was ideal for a particular role. He was choosing his words carefully; “The company has a person-centred ethos … they are not necessarily looking for whizz kids but for people who live locally and are likely to stay with them.” I said, “You mean they take old people? Cool!” But he phoned back two days later and said that the finance for the new role had not yet been signed off, but they were keen to meet me as soon as it had been. Since then I have heard nothing, and I think I have seen the job he was describing advertised on the internet.

Meanwhile, the care work goes on. I’m thinking of asking about doing ‘waking nights’ as this would boost the income – being in one place for a big chunk of paid hours. At the moment there is someone I visit twice daily who lives out in the sticks and has formed an attachment to me; phoning the office to ask if I could visit more often etc. This is flattering and makes me feel good, but the two half-hour visits (which always over-run unless I have another call booked soon after) entail one hour and forty minutes travel time, so the morning visit followed soon after by the lunch time visit earns me a grand total of £6.60 and takes up most of the morning.

So far, I have kept one week-day as a day off to be available for interviews, but I have only had two. The first was back when I was still working my redundancy notice. The job description was vague and I was interviewed by two guys who didn’t seem entirely sure of what they were looking for. I didn’t get the job, and subsequently saw it re-advertised with a more specific job description. The second was booked about a fortnight in advance and whilst it seemed to go well I found it a little odd that one of the guys seemed to want to chat about the AS/400 I used to work on, which was not part of the advertised role. Then, just as I thought we were getting warmed up, he said “Thank you for your time,” and that was it. I suspect they had already found the person they wanted and were just going through the motions. Or maybe I came over as a complete weirdo.
If you want to sell a house but there has been no interest for a while, you can wait a while and then try again. If you are trying to sell yourself then it’s not so easy to take your details off the market. If you’ve read as far as this, thanks and well done – and I promise to change the subject next time 🙂

Aside from that, my son and his girlfriend are here this weekend. They had planned to visit the local Beer, Cider & Perry Festival but looked it up on the internet prior to catching the bus and found it had run out of booze!
“Due to a very busy day on Friday the range of drinks that we have on offer may soon become very limited. Sorry to those of you in the queue last night.”

Only in England, eh? 😦

“And I’m trying hard to fit among your scheme of things”

The care work is going well and I feel I have bonded nicely with the people I care for, to the extent that if I ever do get back into IT I would still wish to keep in touch with some of them. I like being out and about instead of chained to a desk and I love the instant gratification of the job – knowing I have made a positive difference to someone’s day; although not every day is gratifying. There is a lane I drive up frequently where a young lad has been building a dry stone wall for the past few weeks. Sometimes I think how good it would be to be working with stones instead of people.
Yesterday, I applied for three IT jobs advertised by different agencies – although two of them looked remarkably similar so I suspect they are the same job. I asked one IT agent why jobs I had applied for ages ago were still being advertised; haven’t they found the right person yet? He explained that in quiet times some agencies tend to put the same jobs out repeatedly to attract as many CV’s as possible to add to their database.
So why do I want to return to IT? A regular income is the most obvious attraction. As a care worker I have a zero hours’ contract but also signed something to say I was prepared to work in excess of forty hours. I started the job at a busy time when carers were on holiday and off sick. Now the work seems to have dried up, in addition to students joining us for the summer break. Other carers I have met on ‘double-ups’ have said they have never known it so quiet. I guess it will even out again, as carers will move to other agencies if there is not enough work. Having less calls makes the job more enjoyable as you are not against the clock and therefore have time to do extra little tasks if required or time to simply sit and listen to them talking and learn more about the person, but it’s disheartening when you get home after a seven hour stint to work out that you’ve only done three and a quarter paid hours and earned a grand total of £21.45. On a couple of days I’ve only had one hour’s work; divided into two half-hour visits at different times of the day.
I also yearn to rejoin a workplace that is run with some competence. The care agency’s management and administration is shambolic and I seem to spend a lot of time phoning to query details or emailing to ask for records to be updated with the correct information. When I first met my boss, she said; “You look great for someone who’s nearly sixty!” It might have been a compliment if I hadn’t had to tell her she’d got my date of birth wrong (off my birth certificate, passport and driving licence – in addition to my application form) and when my first payslip finally arrived it was thanks to the post office folk that it reached me despite the random address on the envelope.
Writing novels seems to be a thing of the past now that my mind is unsettled – not just with work but with wondering whether or not to relocate, and of course each time I apply for a local job the relocation idea is set aside. I used to drive to work on autopilot, complete the day’s routine and then write for an hour or so most evenings. Back then, in an introverted job, I was on the outside of life and looking in. Now that I am part of the outside world, there is less inclination to write about it. I switch on the PC to write but end up just looking at jobs and houses. Maybe I should try to get a job in a care home, where I will actually get paid for the hours I work? I have a recurrent internal lament; “Life is a lemon and I want my old job back.” If I’m not lucky soon I will have to stop looking for IT work and fully commit to being a carer. I guess that’s the only way to eradicate the lament, but how long should I wait?

Domiciliary Care Work

After attending an excellent training course and going out for a couple of days with an experienced carer, I was keen to get started as a Domiciliary Care Worker. I was called by the office to collect my company mobile that tells me where I should be at whatever time, and also serves as a tracking device so that the office knows where I am. The woman who is my line manager switched it on and was about to show me through the app but the battery immediately ran out. “Take it home, charge it up and have a play with it,” she said. Having been told I must not charge the phone in clients’ houses, I asked if a car charger was available. “I’ll put one in the post tonight,” she said, and whilst I wanted to say “Please go and get one now, whilst I’m here. It will save the postage and packing, and we’ll both know I’ve got it,” I thought she must have her reasons and simply said, “Okay, thanks.”
Suddenly it all took off; I got home and had a call to say there were some visits that same evening if I could please take them – and so it went on. I had told them I was flexible about availability but was nervous about starting something so new and we agreed I would be eased in gently with just a few visits at first. I believed this was best for the clients as well as for me. As it turned out, I was plunged in at the deep end over a weekend, starting early and finishing late and being sent to addresses that were difficult to find even with a SatNav. Houses in villages often have names rather than numbers. I was running late and going into the homes of people I had never met before and trying to befriend them whilst also locating and reading the Care Plan so that I had some clue as to why I was there – as well as plugging my phone into a spare socket to charge it enough to tell me where to go next. One night I arrived, apologising, expecting to be told off for being late, only to be made to sit and wait until a TV programme had finished. This was the last visit of the evening, so it was okay. I settled in a comfy armchair and told myself it could only get easier. Next time I would know where to find the addresses and I would know the people a bit better and understand what was expected of me.

Half an hour is not enough time to meet a frail old lady for the first time; read her Care Plan (to learn that she has anything from dementia to a colostomy bag) get her out of bed, washed, cream applied to her legs, dressed, bed made, commode emptied and cleaned, stair-lift downstairs, meds and breakfast given and forms to fill in to say that I have done so. Some require a cocktail of medications to be administered. Never have I had so much responsibility, and never such low pay. It takes me at least an hour to get myself ready in the morning. There is no time to chat – you are in and out as quickly as possible; especially when the next call is a ‘double-up’ with another carer because a hoist is required.

Fresh from the training course, there was one visit where what I saw left me particularly worried. Following procedure, I phoned and told the office, and then again the next day after re-visiting and still being worried. On my next visit to this place I found my new friend in distress and awaiting transport to hospital. I phoned the office and asked them to reallocate my evening visits as I was staying here as long as necessary so that this person was not left alone. I told them this was nothing to with the Company and their half-hour visit because I had QUIT and I was staying here with this person BECAUSE I CARE! Whilst that might sound like I was being assertive, it was more of an incoherent blubbering. I was overwhelmed, you see. The days had started early and ended late. My phone would not hold its charge, so any gaps that were long enough to pop home were spent charging the phone and looking at Google maps to see where I was going next. I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t switch off from worrying about the folks I had just left (this one in particular), whilst still being anxious about the ones I was to attend in a just a few hours time. I couldn’t eat either, at first. The monkey in my mind would present the memory of the choicest smells and sights of the day in the space between my mouth and the food – but I think I have overcome that barrier now 🙂

They talked me into staying. “It’s because you care that you are exactly the sort of person we need – blah, blah, blah.” They agreed I could take the next day off to reflect and they would call me to renegotiate my hours. Taking a step back I was able to look at my schedule and realise that a twelve hour day only amounted to six hours paid work – an hour’s pay in this job being about as much as I’d get for going for a pee and making the coffee in my last job. Some of the visits are only fifteen minutes; most are half an hour, and some are forty-five minutes. Where the allocated time is clearly too short, they give you more travel time before the next visit – so you work voluntarily to make sure you have done the essentials in the time allowed before the next call. Mileage is paid, but not travel time. I really wish I did not have to think about the money. I have bonded already with some lovely people, and I wish that my connection with them was nothing to do with paying the monthly bills. I think many of the carers are youngsters still living with parents or young mums doing a few hours around child care or else women my age earning a bit of holiday money. I really couldn’t see it paying a mortgage, and I’ve yet to work out whether or not this will make ends meet.

Taking a step back and laying down some rules regarding my available hours, I have realised I can be assertive if needs be. I do have a home life and still want to be able to cook for my fellas sometimes and walk the dog in the evening. I had a call from my manager’s manager – another bossy woman – who tried various strategies and tones of voice to reel me back in on her terms, but by now I had realised they were desperate for carers so I stood my ground and told her what hours I was prepared to work. She agreed and promised to send me a car charger for the phone, and a spare battery. Still, I am getting texts to my personal mobile asking if I can help out by doing some outstanding calls, and I guess the women in the office trying to get the calls covered must be equally as stressed as the carers. The company appears to have taken on more clients than it can care for.
Taking another step back, and after sleeping well last night, I have also realised how much I am enjoying care work. I am looking forward to revisiting my new friends – now that I know how and where to find them. Of course, I have started at the best time of year and trying to do the rounds in winter weather might be a different matter – but I must try to stay in the moment.

Still haven’t received battery or charger for the phone, so I suppose I’ll have to buy them off ebay.

Going against the flow

On the front page of the weekly admag is an article about a woman who fears her children’s lives are being put at risk by careless drivers speeding past as they travel to school. How terrible, I thought; there is nothing that makes me angrier than cars speeding by, too close, when I am walking the dog and have to use lanes where there are no pavements. Then I read that she takes her children to school in a small cart, pulled by a Shetland pony. What?! Has it not occurred to her that she might be the one putting her children’s lives at risk? Will those children grow up respecting their mother for standing her ground over this eccentric but eco-friendly mode of transport, or will they shudder to think what might have happened? This is her choice, not theirs, whilst their schoolmates’ parents probably select vehicles for their safety data. If she smokes, does she share cigarettes with her children? Unlikely, I think.

I have occasionally used a bike around country lanes and felt nervous when someone drives round a bend too fast. It’s not so bad on foot – you can jump on the verge or press against the hedge, but on a bike you feel at the mercy of drivers who are under pressure to achieve timed deliveries and have been stuck behind a tractor for the last couple of miles. Of course, there are safety measures you can employ, such as wearing protective clothing – and I think those plastic flags are a good idea – you know, the ones that stick out at the side to make the bike wider and more visible. At this time of year when verges and hedgerows are overgrown, cyclists are particularly vulnerable, and so I was amazed last week to drive (slowly and carefully) round a bend in a lane to see a cyclist in front of me towing a little carriage with a baby in it. What a cock!

Chelsea the Cat

Chelsea was the cat we adopted some years ago (before Gandalf’s time) and cared for during the last couple of years of her life.  I just read a post about a cat on a favourite blog, and it sent me looking for photos of our special cat, and I decided to post them here, to record her in history; and to bridge a gap in this blog.  No-one seemed to know where she had come from, and I have no idea why she was known as “Chelsea”, but that’s what the local kids called her.

We brought her home on a cold February night after hearing reports that she had been sleeping in a plant pot on someone’s doorstep but the plant pot had been turned upside down as the resident feared finding the cat dead in it each morning.  She had a large, pendulous cyst hanging from her neck that was easily removed with surgery – but yet she never did hold her head up – as if she had become used to the weight of it pulling her down.  On the first visit, the vet scanned her in case she was micro-chipped and gave her a general check-up.  Considering how she put away hard biscuit kibbles as well as soft meat, it was a surprise to learn that she had no teeth – they had all been extracted except the two canines.  The vet’s verdict was that she was an old cat who had been well cared for until recently, so we could only assume that her owner had passed away and the poor cat had been made homeless.

 Despite being elderly herself, in true feline style, she moved on and found herself a new home; with us.  She loved being held and stroked and rarely stopped purring. Too arthritic to leave the garden, and on steroids that sent her doolally tap; she would clamber out through the cat flap, walk a few yards to the patio doors and knock to be let back in.  I think she must also have been deaf as the pounding on the glass was accompanied by a loud “BRRRWOWWW!!!!”  Then, once indoors, she would saunter through to the kitchen and back out through the cat flap again – and then “BRRRWOWWW!!!!” … you get the picture?  In case not, here she is, bless her:

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“The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury – a lost treasure rediscovered.

I have always been a lover of lighthouses and, as a kid, had a romantic idea of being a live-in lighthouse keeper.  In the last year at middle school we studied a short story and then had to write a poem on the theme of loneliness.   The short story was set in a lighthouse and I loved it so much and was so moved by it that I kept the printed handout it was typed on, instead of giving it back.

Some years later I looked for it amongst my junk – it was only about five pages and must have been inserted in a book that got charity-shopped, because I never found it again.  I tried, a couple of years ago, to find it on the internet with no luck.  I hadn’t taken any notice of the name of the author, and I thought the story was called “The Sea Monster”.  Today, having an hour or two to spare, I looked again on the internet; typing in snippets and phrases from the story that were still stuck in my mind after thirty-seven years and I found it!  “The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury.

It was a surprise to discover that it was written by Ray Bradbury – I had pictured some old Cornish gent as the author.  I read it just now and I love it all the more – with a better understanding of the themes as an adult.  As a kid I only cried over the poor sea monster.  A link to a PDF is below.  Read it if you’ve got time – it won’t take too long and I think it will stay with you long after you’ve read it.

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28/05/16 – I see from my stats that this post is still of interest but the link to the .pdf no longer works.  Therefore I am pasting the story below.  I’m sure someone will let me know if I am breaching copyright:

THE FOG HORN
by Ray Bradbury

OUT there in the cold water, far from land, we waited every night for the coming of the fog, and it came, and we oiled the brass machinery and lit the fog light up in the stone tower. Feeling like two birds in the grey sky, McDunn and I sent the light touching out, red, then white, then red again, to eye the lonely ships. And if they did not see our light, then there was always our Voice, the great deep cry of our Fog Horn shuddering through the rags of mist to startle the gulls away like decks of scattered cards and make the waves turn high and foam.

“It’s a lonely life, but you’re used to it now, aren’t you?” asked McDunn.

“Yes,” I said. You’re a good talker, thank the Lord.”

“Well, it’s your turn on land tomorrow,” he said, smiling, “to dance the ladies and drink gin.”

“What do you think McDunn, when I leave you out here alone?”

“On the mysteries of the sea.” McDunn lit his pipe. It was a quarter past seven of a cold November evening, the heat on, the light switching it’s tail in two hundred directions, the Fog Horn bumbling in the high throat of the tower. There wasn’t a town for a hundred miles down the coast, just a road, which came lonely through the dead country to the sea, with few cars on it, a stretch of two miles of cold water out to our rock, and rare few ships.

The mysteries of the sea,” said McDunn thoughtfully. “You know, the ocean’s the biggest damned snowflake ever? It rolls and swells a thousand shapes and colours, no two alike. Strange. One night, years ago, I was here alone, when all of the fish of the sea surfaced out there. Something made them swim in and lie in the bay, sort of trembling and staring up at the tower light going red, white, red, white across them so I could see their funny eyes. I turned cold. They were like a big peacock’s tail, moving out there until midnight. Then, without so much as a sound, they slipped away, the million of them was gone. I kind of think maybe, in some sort of way, they came all those miles to worship, Strange, But think how the tower must look to them, standing seventy feet above the water, the God-light flashing out from it, and the tower declaring itself with a monster voice. They never came back, those fish, but don’t you think for a while they thought they were in the Presence?”

I shivered. I looked out at the long grey lawn of the sea stretching away into nothing and nowhere.

“Oh, the sea’s full.” McDunn puffed his pipe nervously, blinking. He had been nervous all day and hadn’t said why. “For all our engines and so-called submarines, it’ll be ten thousand centuries before we set foot on the real bottom of the sunken lands, in the fairy kingdoms there, and know real terror. Think of it, it’s still the year 300,000 Before Christ down under there. While we’ve paraded around with trumpets, lopping off each other’s countries and heads, they have been living beneath the sea twelve miles deep and cold in a time as old as the beard on a comet.

“Yes it’s an old world.”

“Come on. I got something special I’ve been saving up to tell you.”

We ascended the eighty steps, talking and taking our time. At the top, McDunn switched off the room lights so there’d be no reflection in the plate glass. The great eye of the light was humming, turning easily in its oiled socket. the Fog Horn was blowing steadily, once every fifteen seconds.

“Sounds like an animal, don’t it?” McDunn nodded to himself. “A big lonely animal crying in the night. Sitting here on the edge of ten million years calling out to the deeps. I’m here, I’m here, I’m here. And the Deeps do answer, yes, they do. You been here now for three months Johnny, so I better prepare you. About this time of year,” he said, studying the murk and fog, “something comes to visit the lighthouse.”

“The swarms of fish like you said?’

“No, this is something else. I’ve put off telling you because you might think I’m daft. But tonight’s the latest I can put it off, for if my calender’s marked right from last year, tonight’s the night it comes. I won’t go into detail, you’ll have to see it for yourself. Just sit down there. If you want, tomorrow you can pack your duffel and take the motorboat into land and get your car parked there at the dinghy pier on the cape and drive on back to some little inland town and keep your lights burning nights. I won’t question or blame you. It’s happened three years now, and this is the only time anyone’s been here with me to verify it. You wait and watch.”

Half an hour passed with only a few whispers between us. When we grew tired waiting, McDunn began describing some of his ideas to me. He had some theories about the Fog Horn itself.

“One day many years ago a man walked along and stood in the sound of the ocean on a cold sunless shore and said “We need a voice to call across the water, to warn ships; I’ll make one. I’ll make a voice that is like an empty bed beside you all night long, and like an empty house when you open the door, and like the trees in autumn with no leaves. A sound like the birds flying south, crying, and a sound like November wind and the sea on the hard, cold shore. I’ll make a sound that’s so alone that no one can miss it, that whoever hears it will weep in their souls, and to all who hear it in the distant towns. I’ll make me a sound and an apparatus and they’ll call it a Fog Horn and whoever hears it will know the sadness of eternity and the briefness of life.””

The Fog Horn blew.

“I made up that story,” said McDunn quietly, “to try to explain why this thing keeps coming back to the lighthouse every year. The fog horn calls, I think, it comes…”

“But-” I said.

“Sssst!” said McDunn. “There!” He nodded out to the Deeps.

Something was swimming towards the lighthouse tower.

It was a cold night, as I said; the high tower was cold, the light coming and going, and the Fog Horn calling and calling through the ravelling mist. You couldn’t see far and you couldn’t see plain, but there was the deep sea moving on it’s way about the night earth, flat and quiet, to colour of grey mud, and here were the two of us alone in the high tower, and there, far out at first, was a ripple, followed by a wave, a rising, a bubble, a bit of froth/ And then, from the surface of the cold sea came a head, a large head, dark-coloured, with immense eyes, and then a neck And then-not a body-but more neck and more! The head rose a full forty feet above the water ona slender and beautiful neck. Only then did the body, like a little island of black coral and shells and crayfish, drip up from the subterranean. There was a flicker of tail. In all, from head to tip of tail, I estimated the monster at ninety or a hundred feet.

I don’t know what I said. I said something.

“Steady, bot, steady,” whispered McDunn.

“It’s impossible!” I said.

“No, Johnny, we’re impossible. It’s like it always was ten million years ago. It hasn’t changed.. It’s us and the land that’ve changed, become impossible. Us!”

It swam slowly and with a great majesty out in the icy waters, far away. the fog came and went about it, momentarily erasing its shape. One of the monster eyes caught and held and flashed back our immense light, red, white, red, white, like a disc held high and sending a message in primaeval code. It was as silent as the fog through which it swam.

“It’s a dinosaur of some sort!” I crouched down, holding to the stair rail.

“Yes, one of the tribe.”

“But they died out!”

“No, only hid away in the Deeps, Deep, deep down in the deepest Deeps. Isn’t that a word now, Johnny, a real word, it says so much: the Deeps. There’s all the coldness and darkness and deepness in the worldin a word like that.”

“What” we do?”

“Do? We got our job, we can’t leave. besides, we’re safer here than in any boat trying to get to land. That thing’s as big as a destroyer and almost as swift.”

“But here, why does it come here?”

The next moment I has my answer.

The Fog Horn blew.

And the monster answered.

A cry came across a million years of water and mist. A cry so anguished and alone it shuddered in my head and my body. The monster cried out at the tower. The Fog Horn blew. The monster roared again. The Fog Horn blew. The monster opened its great toothed mouth and the sound that came from it was the sound of the Fog Horn itself. Lonely and vast and far away. The sound of isolation, a viewless sea, a cold night, apartness. That was the sound.

“Now,” whispered McDunn, “do you know why it comes here?”

I nodded.

“All year long, Johnny, that poor monster there lying far out, a thousand miles at sea, and twenty miles deep maybe, biding its time, perhaps a million years old, this one creature. Think of it, waiting a million years; could you wait that long? Maybe it’s the last of its kind. I sort of think that’s true. Anyway, here come men on land and build this lighthouse, five years agao. And set up their Fog Horn and sound it and sound it out towards the place where you bury yourself in sleep and sea memories of a world where there were thousands like yourself, but now you’re alone, all alone in a world that’s not made for you, a world where you have to hide.

“But the sound of the Fog Horn comes and goes, comes and goes, and you stir from the muddy bottom of the Deeps, and your eyes open like the lenses of two-foot cameras and you move, slow, slow, for you have the ocean sea on your shoulders, heavy. But that Fog Horn comes through a thousand miles of water, faint and familiar, and the furnace in your belly stokes up, and you begin to rise, slow, slow. You feed yourself on minnows, on rivers of jellyfish, and you rise slow through the autumn months, through September when the fogs started, through October with more fog and the horn still calling you on, and then, late in November, after pressurizing yourself day by day, a few feet higher every hour, you are near the surface and still alive. You’ve got to go slow; if you surfaced all at once you’d explode. So it takes you all of three months to surface, and then a number of days to swim through the cold waters to the lighthouse. And there you are, out there, in the night, Johnny, the biggest damned monster in creation. And here’s the lighthouse calling to you, with a long neck like your neck sticking way up out of the water, and a body like your body, and most important of all, a voice like your voice. Do you understand now, Johnny, do you understand?”

The Fog Horn blew.

The monster answered.

I saw it all, I knew it all-the million years of waiting alone, for someone to come back who never came back. The million years of isolation at the bottom of the sea, the insanity of time there, while the skies cleared of reptile-birds, the swamps fried on the continental lands, the sloths and sabre-tooths had there day and sank in tar pits, and men ran like white ants upon the hills.

The Fog Horn Blew.

“Last year,” said McDunn, “that creature swam round and round, round and round, all night. Not coming to near, puzzled, I’d say. Afraid, maybe. And a bit angry after coming all this way. But the next day, unexpectedly, the fog lifted, the sun came out fresh, the sky was as blue as a painting. And the monster swam off away from the heat and the silence and didn’t come back. I suppose it’s been brooding on it for a year now, thinking it over from every which way.”

The monster was only a hundred yards off now, it and the Fog Horn crying at each other. As the lights hit them, the monster’s eyes were fire and ice, fire and ice.

“That’s life for you,” said McDunn. “Someone always waiting for someone who never comes home. Always someone loving some thing more than that thing loves them. And after a while you want to destroy whatever that thing is, so it can hurt you no more.”

The monster was rushing at the lighthouse.

The Fog Horn blew.

“Let’s see what happens,” said McDunn.

He switched the Fog Horn off.

The ensuing minute of silence was so intense that we could hear our hearts pounding in the glassed area of the tower, could hear the slow greased turn of the light.

The monster stopped and froze. It’s great lantern eyes blinked. Its mouth gaped. It gave a sort of rumble, like a volcano. It twitched its head this way and that, as if to seek the sounds now dwindled off in the fog. It peered at the lighthouse. It rumbled again. Then its eyes caught fire. It reared up, threshed the water, and rushed at the tower, its eyes filled with angry torment.

“McDunn!” I cried. “Switch on the horn!”

McDunn fumbled with the switch. But even as he switched it on, the monster was rearing up. I had a glimpse of its gigantic paws, fishskin glittering in webs between the finger-like projections, clawing at the tower. The huge eye on the right side of its anguished head glittered before me like a cauldron into which I might drop, screaming. The tower shook. The Fog Horn cried; the monster cried. It seized the tower and gnashed at the glass, which shattered in upon us.

McDunn seized my arm. “Downstairs!”

The tower rocked, trembled, and started to give. The Fog Horn and the monster roared. We stumbled and half fell down the stairs. “Quick!”

We reached the bottom as the tower buckled down towards us. We ducked under the stairs in the small stone cellar. There were a thousand concussions as the rocks rained down; the Fog Horn stopped abruptly. The monste crashed upon the tower. The tower fell. We knelt together, McDunn and I holding tight, while our world exploded.

Then it was over and there was nothing but darkness and the wask of the sea on the raw stones.

That and the other sound.

“Listen,” said McDunn quietly. “Listen.”

We waited a moment. And then I began to hear it. First a great vacuumed sucking of air, and then the lament, the bewilderment, the loneliness of the great monster, folded over upon us, above us, so that the sickening reek of its body filled the air, a stone’s thickness away from our cellar. The monster gasped and cried. The tower was gone. The light was gone. The thing that had called it across a million years was gone. And the monster was opening its mouth and sending out great sounds. the sounds of a Fog Horn, again and again. And ships far at sea, not finding the light, not seeing anything, but passing and hearing late that night must’ve thought: There it is, the lonely sound, the Lonesome Bay horn. All’s well. We’ve rounded the cape.

And so it went for the rest of that night.
The sun was hot and yellow the next afternoon when the rescuers came to dig us from our stoned-under cellar.

“It fell apart, is all,” said McDunn gravely. “We had a few bad knocks from the waves and it just crumbled.” He pinched my arm.

There was nothing to see. The ocean was calm, the sky blue. The only thing was a great algaic stink from the green matter that covered the fallen tower stones and the shore rocks. Flies buzzed about. The ocean washed empty on the shore.

The next year they built a new lighthouse, but by that time I had a job in the little town and a wife and a good small warm house that glowed yellow on autumn nights, the doors locked, the chimney puffing smoke. As for McDunn. he was master of the new lighthouse, built to his own specifications, out of steel-reinforced concrete. “Just in case,” he said.

The new lighthouse was ready in November. I drove down alone one evening late and parked my car and looked across the grey waters and listened to the new horn sounding, once, twice, three, four times a minute far out ther by itself.

The monster?

It never came back.

“It’s gone away,” said McDunn. “It’s gone back to the Deeps. It’s learned you can’t love anything too much in this world. It’s gone into the deepest Deeps to wait another million years. Ah, the poor thing! Waiting out there, and waiting out there, while man comes and goes on this pitiful little planet. Waiting and waiting.

I sat in my car, listening. I couldn’t see the lighthouse or the light standing out in Lonesome Bay. I could only hear the Horn, the Horn, the Horn. It sounded like the monster calling.

I sat there wishing there was something I could say.

 

 

 

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