I circled the Labrador Straits in biro. For years I would lift maps from a bottom drawer, sniff old adventures, until I could bear it no longer. Rain is anathema to hitchhikers. Cars, Winnebagos, trucks, swished through the quayside, drenching me while I huddled, sodden pack leaning against my legs like a wet faithful mutt, probably smelling like one. The Shipping News, that wild Turner painting, night-long foghorns, were all wishes in my heart crossing Cabot Strait. In Port aux Basques disembarking drivers stared but none stopped.
The teacher who impressed me most steamed to war by ship. An uneducated young soldier, wounded by what he saw, but not by places of antiquity, their half-hidden songs, stories, he rode his luck on return, exchanging war service for tuition. Recalling his yearning for tantalising knowledge beyond the docklands’ reach, he urged us to breathe the real world if chance danced our way.
Hopes of a ride flapping off with my attendant gulls, ferry’s vehicle bay nearly emptied, nagged by hitchhikers’ doubt, a pitiful tableau vivant, I mind-joked like a movie character down on his luck in the austere beauty of the Maritimes when a streaming Canada Post truck slowed, then stopped, air brakes exhaling like a weary giant creature’s lungs. In his Gaelic-tinted Canadian accent the driver called me a drowned rat. I agreed, gushing thanks, running shoes squelching, hauling myself, my pack, high, crowding his warm refuge with damp. Euphoric.
That teacher loved literature’s truthful freight opening magical gates, said borrowing books was bliss, access to fine minds better than winning the lottery. Amidst tertiary education’s privileged he aired his socialist slant; poetry, plays, philosophy, securing him. Rolling his own smokes, he dubbed our politicians The Hollow Men, loathing callous double-speak, his evening classes free theatre passes, students discussing artists from many fields, Brecht, Copland, Francis Bacon, whose work he opened up with clarity.
Visibility dystopian, the rule-breaking postal worker drove me to his Newfoundland home while I succumbed to dreams in his fuggy cabin, exhausted after sleeping on the wharf at Sydney, Nova Scotia, then fitfully on the rolling deck during the crossing. Miles swished by, rain, wind, relentless, multiple wheels humming a hymn. Bearing news, and a visitor, from far-off places, he watched over me, like the gifted teacher I thought of when my new friend introduced his welcoming wife in their house by the Humber where Cook’s ghost explores, Gulf of St Lawrence, Labrador, ahead.
Ian C Smith’s work has been published in Antipodes, BBC Radio 4 Sounds,The Dalhousie Review, Griffith Review, San Pedro River Review , Southword, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island.