April 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
Sean looked out gloomily at the churning waters of the Hudson. It heaved and undulated like a great turquoise beast, like a rug lousy with cockroaches, breaking wetly against the dirty white hull of the Lady Liberty with the regularity of a war drum –slap-slap-slap!
The morning had broken grey and drizzly, last week’s out-of-season warmth forgotten already. Sean wished he had brought a jacket; his voyage aboard the ferry had been buffeted by off-shore winds the moment he had stepped aboard, scything through his bones like an icy knife. Thank God for small mercies; he had remembered his hat, at least.
He crossed his arms on the railing before him and hunched forward. He peered down and watched the Hudson slough past in a choppy blur as the ferry picked up speed, its destination – the towering Statue of Liberty – reaching for the sky, cloaked in a chilly embrace from the morning fog. His day’s work weighed heavily in his mind. A knot was forming in his stomach, cold and hard like chipped flint. A gull pinwheeled above him, emitting a plaintive shriek that echoed his own mood. “Couldn’t have put it better myself,” he muttered, to no-one in particular.
The coach journey south from Maine had been a strange one, a mixture of warm nostalgia and cold regret. The landmarks that signposted this journey from his youth were dilapidated and fading, long-neglected tombstones falling into disrepair. His fellow passengers had chattered noisily, excited by maiden trips to the Big Apple, conversations pregnant with promises and plans to catch a show on Broadway, perhaps, or stroll through Central Park. Or ascend the Statue of Liberty. Sean glanced across at her, and shivered. He had rarely given much thought to her before – he wasn’t one for the more obvious tourist attractions – but now she was his whole world.
Sean turned away from the river, sank down to the deck, and leaned back against the railing. He missed her terribly. Whenever it felt like his attention was elsewhere, that he had managed a moment of distraction, her face began forming in his mind, creased with her customary smile. He had always been close to his mother, but more so now that she was gone; her death had broken that hardened shell of daily detachment that forms over strong bonds. But his love for her was now exposed and raw, and it hurt him like hell.
It was his cousin, Jennifer, that had found her, and Sean was thankful for that; if it had been himself, he did not know how he would have reacted. The windows of her bedroom had been flung wide open to the elements, but Jennifer hadn’t gotten any response when she had knocked on her door. Jennifer had called the police and the fire brigade, who had broken down the door. They found her on her bed, curled up as if sleeping, her face resting lightly on her hand. She had slipped away in her sleep, they said. There was very little pain.
It was rare that he heard from his cousin – even though she visited his mother often – and when she called, he was immediately concerned when her name flashed up on his caller ID. A chill swirled round his heart as he answered. On hearing the news, he had remained silent for a moment, deaf to Jennifer’s questions, to her muffled sobs. He felt the blood in his face drain away, felt a numbness seep through his hands. He hung up the call without a word and dropped his phone on the desk. It skittered away noisily. Then he caught the first coach out of Maine, with only the clothes on his back and the money in his wallet.
Lady Liberty began to approach the dock, and the noise from Sean’s fellow passengers began to grow louder in excitement. The hull bumped softly into the wooden harbour, and the ramp gave a harsh metallic bark as it was lowered. Sean fell in line and set foot on Liberty Island. He followed an elderly lady in front of him as she ambled her way up the jetty and out through the gate, looking up at the American flag snapping aggressively in the wind. Beyond the stars and stripes, the towering green bulk of the Statue of Liberty emerged from the mist like a kraken, torch proudly held aloft.
Sean skirted around the lawn surrounding the pedastal, not yet bringing himself to tackle the climb within the edifice. Instead he turned back to New York, barely making out the skyline across the water, splintered shadows in the morning gloom rising from the shoreline like a collection of broken teeth. Around him, disposable cameras clicked and whirred, children exclaimed at the statue, cheerful fathers requested sons and daughters to say “Cheese!” He turned to his right to watch a mother kneeling before her son, buttoning up his duffel coat with care, ruffling his hair affectionately once she was done. The little boy grinned happily and instinctively wrapped his arms around her, in a spontaneous expression of love that nearly cleaved his heart. He felt his eyes brim with tears and turned away hastily, not wanting to draw attention to himself. Not now, not yet.
Again the seagulls banked and glided above him, singing their mournful songs, occasionally swooping down to snatch some unattended morsel from a bewildered tourist before veering off again with its prize. Sean watched one fly up into the expansive grey sky, following the curve of the statue’s copper robes, and perching itself at the very tip of one of the blades of her crown. He watched it open its beak to scream once more, but Sean couldn’t hear it from way down below.
It was time, he decided at last. He began to walk, his legs filled with lead, towards the stairs that led up to the statue, to the line that had formed at the base, to the death that awaited him far above.
Image is for illustration purposes only. Photo credit: Amy Massey.
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