Nova Scotia, 1995
Eddie unscrewed the door, took it right off the hinges leaving room for his body to swing freely, relaxed and loose. The noose was ready, strapped over and around the door frame to make sure it was secure. This is where it had to be, exactly where he knew she’d find him.
Less than twenty-four hours had passed since Eddie discovered his wife having an affair. He was angry with himself for being caught unaware, allowing something so intrinsically wrong to escape his notice, but his rage was directed at Rachel. He’d stayed awake all night drinking and raging until he finally unlocked a plan that would change Rachel’s world forever.
He spoke to her on the phone that morning, her voice smooth and patronizing. As she spoke, pinpricks of pain exploded across Eddie’s chest. The sound of her voice, that business-as-usual tone, stoked his anger even more. She talked about money and bank accounts, lawyers and assets. The sanitation of her betrayal overwhelmed him and his face hardened; he tightened his grip on the phone.
“I really need to pick up the rest of my clothes,” she said carefully. “So I thought I’d stop in around ten.”
“Would that be okay?”
“Sure,” Eddie said evenly. He glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall and hung up. Eddie drank straight from the bottle as he worked, bypassing his normal warm-up of mixed drinks and civilized pacing. He drank until everything in his periphery blackened, until all he saw was the thick rope in his hands, until all he felt was a deep agony that had to end.
He used an old halyard sheet for the noose, thick rope he’d taken from an abandoned ship twelve years earlier. He sailed back then, crewing for people with money, people who needed skilled sailors. It wasn’t steady work so when his friend Pete offered him full-time work, he accepted. Pete captained his own lobster boat and he needed a hand. Eddie loved the long hours at sea, nothing but the boat and the horizon for comfort.
When they first met they joked that Rachel was the brain of the marriage, the steady one. Rachel was the sensible one who handled the money, the one who took care of things, got things done. It was a narrative that implied Eddie was the antithesis of these traits. So when Rachel didn’t become pregnant in those earlier years, Eddie felt the sting of accusation. He wasn’t falling in step with her arbitrary timeline of when things were supposed to happen and it created tension.
The rope was perfect. High quality synthetic with very little stretch. Eddie pulled himself onto the wooden platform and sunk into a crouch. He steadied himself with one hand and grabbed the noose with the other. He put the thick rope to his nose and inhaled the smell of dank ocean brine, years of ocean spray stagnant within the halyard’s fibres. Suddenly another level of drunkenness settled over him. Darkness sealed away his peripheral vision until all he could see from the pinpricks of his eyes was the rope in his hand.
He closed his eyes. Pulled the rope over his head. His heart pounded and his brain rapid-fired adrenalin into his bloodstream. He moved himself closer to the edge. Opened his eyes. The hood of Pete’s car flashed in his vision. Then darkness.
“JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!” Pete screamed and ran to the staging where he grabbed Eddie and held him up, creating enough slack to yank the rope from his head. He dropped Eddie flat on the staging. No pulse. Pete began CPR. His mind raced with panic and the next thing he knew there was another set of hands helping him. Rachel was screaming something into his ear but everything was blocked, everything but saving his friend. Later, Pete would remember the flashing lights, the sound of muted sirens as if howling from the depths of the sea.
“I shoulda been there for ya,” he said to Eddie who rested comfortably in a hospital bed. Pete’s thick, gnarled fingers gripped the metal bar on the side of the bed.
“It’s not your fault,” Eddie whispered, unable to speak clearly because of the damage he’d done to his windpipe.
“I’m too old for this,” Pete said. “You’re like a son to me. What would Ido if I lost ya? We coulda fished that day. I don’t know why I was in such a hurry to call it quits. If we had stayed at sea you wouldn’t have…”
“Pete,” Eddie whispered painfully. He wanted to say more to reassure his friend but couldn’t speak. He shook his head instead, pinched his lips together.
On the day in question, nor’easter was forecast, near hurricane-force winds and a tight mixture of freezing rain and snow that would have incapacitated the boat.
During lobster season, the men worked long days of fourteen, fifteen, sometimes sixteen hours. With a storm on the horizon, Pete had them out long enough to pull the first set of traps then back to the wharf to batten down. If you weren’t fishing, you weren’t making money, but there were times after a long season when an early day was a welcome reprieve.
Eddie was happy to be heading home that day. His wife, a nurse, worked four 12-hour shifts and then had four days off. This was her off-time.
“Hello!” Eddie said from the back porch. He opened the kitchen door, but only wide enough to stick his head inside. “Hello! Rachel?” he said again. Silence. He ducked back into the porch and peeled off layers of clothing saturated with the stench of fish bait and tossed them into the old second-hand washer he’d rigged up. Its sole purpose was to wash fishing gear. Nothing else. Wearing only his long-johns and a t-shirt now, Eddie stepped into the kitchen and called for Rachel again. The old linoleum on the kitchen floor was cold on his bare feet. The floors squeaked under Eddie’s footsteps. A man’s winter jacket was draped over the back of a kitchen chair. Eddie ducked his head into the living room but found it empty. The wood stove had burned down to embers. Eddie shivered and opened the draft, stuffed a small log into the chamber and waited for the fire to take hold before adding more wood.
The muffled sound of laughter got his attention and he stood up, his legs sore and tired from weeks of hard fishing.
He heard a man’s voice and more laughter. Eddie followed the sound to the foot of the staircase and froze at the bottom step. Curiosity quickly morphed into disbelief and then shock.
“Eddie!” Rachel gasped as she emerged from the bedroom. With her right hand she clutched a fistful of fabric to hold her robe closed. The man with her took a few steps back as if to hide.
“What’s going on Rach?” There had to be a reasonable explanation; that’s all he wanted. Rachel had no answer. Her expression said it all. And while Eddie’s mind converted disbelief into reality, Rachel’s lover fled .
“You’re CHEATING on me?”
Rachel sat at the top landing and dropped her head in her hands. Eddie stood at the bottom of the staircase looking up, his neck tight from strain.
“Answer me.” Eddie’s voice was even and cool. The wash of intense pain he felt was quickly metabolized, reborn in the form of rage.
“Yes,” she said quietly. When she looked up, her face was wet with tears. Shame.
“I don’t understand,” Eddie said. “Why? What did I do?”
Rachel shook her head but couldn’t find any words.
“Are you in love with that guy?”
Still, she had no words.
“Rachel you owe me a fucking explanation!”
“I know Eddie. I know. We’ve just….we’ve been going our separate ways for so long that it doesn’t feel like we belong together anymore.”
Eddie sat on the floor, his back against the wall, his legs stretched out before him.
“I didn’t know you felt that way Rach,” he said. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“I didn’t want to hurt you,” she said.
Eddie laughed softly at the irony.
“Where’re you going?” he asked as she walked down the stairs. Without a word, she took her coat and her purse, slipped the keys from the kitchen table, and walked out.
Eddie sat at the bottom of the staircase long after she’d left, his grief muted by disbelief. He listened to the soft tumble of embers from the fireplace. Cold seeped from the wooden floor. An hour went by, and Eddie sat. He closed his eyes against waves of pain, concentrated on taming the emotion that threatened to rip through his constricted throat. Finally, cold and uncomfortable, Eddie pulled himself up. He tried sleeping, but sleep wouldn’t come. He turned the television on but his mind refused to settle. The only thing his body would allow was the wash of vodka from bottle to belly, the slow and steady decline of cognition until his mind finally focused on one thing: revenge.
Eddie came-to in a hospital bed, rope burn around his neck and cracked ribs were they’d performed CPR. Rachel stood crying on one side of the bed while Pete stood pale and distraught on the other. Eddie tried to speak but his throat burned.
“You’re in the hospital,” Pete said. A nurse quickly stepped in. She reassured Eddie that he was okay but that his guests would need to leave soon. “You need your rest,” she said. Pete and Rachel took the hint. “I’ll see you later,” Pete said. He cupped Rachel’s arm and guided her roughly away from the hospital door, down the elevator and out to the parking lot where he told her never to visit Eddie again. For any reason.
“But…” she said.
“You got no right bein’ here,” Pete said. “You made your decision so leave him alone.”
Rachel cried and said she wished things could have been different.
“Go home,” Pete said. “Go look after your new man.” It stung and it was meant to. Rachel’s neck reddened and spread to her cheeks and the tips of her ears. Pete held her car door open for her and she climbed in.
“Will you let me know how he’s doing?” she asked.
Pete would not.
His only concern was the health of his friend, the man he treated like a son. Pete felt an obligation to look out for Eddie. He was much more than an employee to Pete; he was a friend.
Pete moved Eddie right out of the house and into an ocean-front cottage. The cottage, formerly a summer home for some of Pete’s American cousins, now sat empty. Pete would be thrilled to have Eddie living in, close by where he could keep an eye on his friend.
“You need a fresh start,” Pete told him and while Eddie settled into the cottage, Pete went back to the house and fixed the door. He cleaned away wood chips and threw the halyard sheet into a bonfire. He made sure Rachel removed all of her belongings and picked up Eddie’s mail; anything to keep him from having to visit the house. The only thing Pete had failed to consider was the speed at which gossip spread in the small town. Each community had its own set of newsmakers and it wasn’t long before word spread about Eddie’s failed marriage and his ultimate breakdown.
The cottage was built into a hill facing the ocean. It was well within shouting distance from other homes, yet hidden from the main road by a thick forest of trees. The driveway, which extended down from the main road, was single-lane only. It was partially grown-over and pitted with rocks. Eddie could hear dogs barking at the neighbours house. He could hear children playing down by the water and fisherman working on the wharf. The sounds were like wind chimes, always on the breeze, different whichever way the wind blew.
On this night, Eddie had retreated to the cottage to get away from the swarm of pests thick in the early summer air. It was dusk and he was enjoying a drink of vodka and a book. Suddenly, the hair on the back of Eddie’s neck stood up. Someone was coming; he recognized the sound of rubber tires on loose gravel. It wasn’t Pete, he always walked the short distance from his house. He had no other visitors.
Curious, Eddie stepped outside and craned his neck over the patio, trying to get a glimpse of the car that carefully wound its way toward him.
The sun was too low, the light too dim for him to make out who it was. The driveway was long and the car hadn’t rounded the bend yet, hadn’t made its way over some of the deepest ruts. Tormented by the frenzied flies, Eddie ducked inside to wait. He sat down, lit a cigarette, and waited.
At last, the car made it to the cottage. A single car door slammed shut and Eddie waited. “Hello?” he called through the screen door.
“Eddie?” he heard. It was Rachel. His lungs and heart felt pierced by a poisonous decoction and he debated whether to shut her out. But she was already at the latch. She let herself just inside the door, but no farther. Eddie straightened his back. His face hardened.
“I know you don’t want to see me but I had to come make sure you’re okay because I do care you know and I don’t want you to hate me…” She spoke quickly and without pause, sensing Eddie would kick her out before she had time to say all she wanted.
Eddie jumped roughly from the chair and Rachel stepped back, afraid. She pushed the screen door open and straddled the threshold between patio and cottage.
“Get out,” Eddie said evenly.
Rachel pleaded with her eyes, tears smeared her black mascara.
“Eddie please. You weren’t around much and you wouldn’t listen when I tried to tell you I needed more.”
Eddie opened his mini-fridge and slid out a bottle of vodka.
“It’s not all my fault Eddie but I feel so sick. I didn’t think you’d have a nervous breakdown over it.”
Eddie whipped around, his fist tightly wound around the neck of the bottle.
“I was willing to die so you could have my shell of a body. You took everything else, why not the skin and bones? You did it, Rachel. You took away everything that was good inside of me. You took all the trust I had and shit on it. You gutted me. All I wanted to do was hang this body in the door so you could have it all. If you’re gonna kill an animal at least have the decency to take the carcass.”
Eddie’s eyes bulged. He held the glass bottle in the air, hammering the air with it as he spoke. Rachel covered her mouth and sobbed. Her body shook. Eddie took great gulping breaths of air, restraining himself from throwing the bottle. Instead, he gripped tighter, willing himself to snap the bottleneck with his fingers.
After she left, Eddie swigged straight from the bottle. He threw the kitchen chair against the wall and cursed. Rachel’s visit had ignited his anger once again except this time he was ready, hardened after the initial shock of her infidelity. Restless, Eddie grabbed his keys and stumbled outside to escape. He missed the last step and nearly fell onto the ground. He caught himself and cursed when he dropped his keys in the grass.
Shit he muttered to himself. The sun had already set; it was too dark and he was too drunk to find them. I’ll walk he thought and as he made his way to the path that cut through the trees and led to the beach, he stopped long enough to lean the empty bottle against a rock. He made his way through the woods, to the craggy shoreline where he picked his way around mounds of seaweed and driftwood.
With no particular destination in mind, Eddie walked until the tide came in high enough to wet his ankles. Waves slapped against the boats tied at the wharf. The wind carried sounds reminiscence of spirits laughing at sea. Eddie stopped and squinted into the dark. Seagulls. It was time to go back to the cottage, to the screen door he’d left opened, to the broken chair he’d have to fix in the morning.
“What happened here?” Pete asked. In the light of day, Eddie was embarrassed and he apologized for breaking the chair.
“What were you mad at?”
Eddie told him about Rachel’s visit.
“I’m gonna put an end to that!” Pete declared.
“You don’t have to do anything. She’ll stop,” Eddie said. But Pete wasn’t convinced.
“Leave the chair,” said Pete. “I got about six more where that came from. Old things I made years ago.”
Eddie continued to work until Pete put a strong, fatherly hand on his shoulder.
“Stop,” he said. Eddie sat back on his haunches and looked up at the older man.
“You look tired,” Pete said.
Eddie shrugged. “I’m fine.”
Pete sat on the edge of the single bed that occupied the north-west corner and asked Eddie what his plans were for the summer.
“Thought I’d pick up where I left off last year,” Eddie said. “Lot a people I didn’t get to last summer who still want work done.” Eddie referred to the carpentry work he did every summer. “Keeps me busy.”
“It’s not about the money is it?” Pete asked.
“What?” Eddie said. “No, no. I mean, the extra cash helps but I do it to keep busy mostly.”
“What if you did something different this summer?” Pete asked. Eddie chuckled.
“Like what?” he asked.
“Look for your biological mother.”
Eddie poured himself a black coffee, offered a cup to Pete and sat in the remaining kitchen chair.
“Look for my mother?” Eddie repeated.
“You used to talk about it all the time.”
“That was a long time ago. I don’t even know if she’s still alive.”
Pete cursed at him and asked what he was thinking. “Jesus Christ you told me she was what…sixteen when she had you?”
Eddie shrugged. “Best guess.”
“And you’re how old?”
“Thirty-four,” Eddie said and quickly realized where he was going. “Alright, alright. She’d only be in her fifties now I guess.”
“She’d be younger than me,” Pete said. Eddie laughed sheepishly.
“Are you serious?” Eddie asked.
“I’m damned serious!” Pete dug around his front shirt pocket and pulled out an article clipping from the newspaper.
“Saw this and it got me thinking,” Pete said, passing the folded paper to Eddie.
Eddie read it aloud:
The Grand Banks Schooner will soon be making her final voyage from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland but from there her eventual fate remains uncertain. While some speculate Americans are poised to purchase the ship for commercial use, the tender is still out for local bids. The schooner, once a fishing vessel designed to transport dories to the treacherous Grand Banks, is about to retire her majestic sails and the public is invited to witness this historic event..” The rest of the article was missing, pieces of words split in half, torn from the newspaper.
Eddie looked at Pete quizzically.
“Didn’t you tell me you were born in Newfoundland?”
“Well?” Pete nodded at the paper Eddie held in his hand. “Let’s go to Newfoundland.”