Category Archives: Births, Deaths, Marriages

A Marriage on the Rocks

I owe my readers something of an apology. Without any explanation, I have, in recent tales, referred to Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs as being the husband of Betty Butterow, the barmaid of The Squid and Teapot.

“When did that happen?” you might well ask. Regular visitors will know that a great affection grew between the two and romance blossomed. My grandmother might have said that they were ‘courting’, however, given the intensity of their relationship, she would more likely have tutted and said that they were ‘carrying-on.’ I remember ‘carrying on’ as being a disapproving and euphemistic verdict passed on those conducting any liaison not compatible with her own rigid moral compass. In granny’s view Joseph and Betty’s moral compass would have been spinning around madly with no hope of ever finding north, either true or magnetic. Happily unaware of this, the couple joyously carried on ‘carrying-on’ with great gusto and enthusiasm at every opportunity until, at last, the day dawned when they both decided that it seemed only sensible to make their carrying-on respectable and official with the exchange of marriage vows.

The word ‘wedding’ conjures up visions of flouncy dresses that resemble fluffy white confections; blizzards of confetti and lucky horseshoes made of cardboard; giggling bridesmaids and awkward pageboys; a best man delivering an embarrassing speech and the wrong person catching a tossed bouquet.

Well, you can forget all of that. This is Hopeless, Maine and none of these things have any place in this tale. Remember also, Betty was a Selkie, a seal-woman and Selkies have their own ways of getting wed.

Every wedding needs a celebrant. This one was no exception. Neither Betty nor Joseph would have tolerated having their vows sanctified by a beaming minister or one of the stern, hard-faced Jesuits that Joseph had encountered in his youth. Instead, both decided that the one person who would understand them best (and not bat an eyelid at Betty’s shape-shifting predilection) would be a shaman from Joseph’s tribe, the Passamaquoddy. And so it was that the two lovers found themselves crossing the choppy channel to the mainland (he paddled, she swam) to exchange their vows on a windy outcrop overlooking the ocean on the rocky coast of Maine. The shaman had made it clear to Joseph that he was disinclined to travel. Perilous expeditions into the spirit world were one thing; going to Hopeless was a completely different teapot of squid that the elderly medicine-man had absolutely no intention of experiencing.

There are many legends surrounding selkies. Some say that the man who steals her skin possesses her. I have no idea if this is true. Even if it were, Joseph had no wish to possess Betty and, frankly, I would be amazed if any man ever could. Having said this, when a Selkie woman chooses to marry a landsman, it is customary for her to entrust her husband with her sealskin. This, you must understand, is purely symbolic, for without her skin she is unable to become a seal, something neither of them would have wished. So, having ceremoniously handed the still wet pelt to Joseph, Betty immediately took it back. After all, she needed to return home that evening and swimming was vastly more exhilarating and comfortable than riding in a cramped canoe that was loaded down with Passamaquoddy wedding gifts.

Joseph had regarded himself to be part of the Hopeless community for some time and the island was the only home Betty had ever known, so there was never any question that they might live anywhere else. They set up house in a cabin in Creepy Hollow, just a short distance and generally upwind of the Night-Soil Man’s cottage. It was a place close to Joseph’s heart, for it was there, some fifteen years earlier, that he and the apprentice, Randall Middlestreet, had disposed of the Wendigo, the creature that had killed Josephs’s mother and also his first wife. Randall not only took on the mantle of the Night-Soil Man that day but also became Joseph’s blood-brother.

Beneath the bar in The Squid and Teapot sits a battered leather journal. Within its covers are the histories and genealogies of many of the island’s dwellers. It is also the book in which many of these tales are recorded. If you could only look through its yellowing pages you would see that the story of Betty and Joseph is far from over.

Art by Tom Brown
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​Obituary-Sir Fromebridge Whitminster

I was saddened to learn, this week, of the sudden death of my old friend and sometime drinking companion Sir Fromebridge Whitminster, last of the great actor managers, tragedian and founder of the ill-fated theatre troupe The Hopeless Players.

Sir Fromebridge washed up¹ on to our shores many years ago from England, following a fall-out with the management of an esteemed London repertory company. He cited artistic differences as being the main reason for his leaving the land of his birth and that of his beloved Shakespeare.

From the moment he arrived in Hopeless he became convinced that the island had been The Bard’s inspiration for Prospero’s Isle in ‘The Tempest’, possibly gleaned from tales related by a sea captain who had ventured to the early colonies. On one occasion I challenged this assertion, quoting the words of Caliban:

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not…”

It hardly sounded like the Hopeless I knew.

“Poetic licence, dear boy,” he said. “But the bit about the place being full of noise is deadly accurate.”

It would be impossible to celebrate the life of this man without mentioning the short-lived Hopeless Players; their history is not a particularly happy one. The troupe toured the island several times, aiming to bring Shakespeare to the people. The problem was that, by and large, not only the people but the the island itself were hostile to this intrusion of, what they regarded as being, largely incomprehensible language and convoluted plots.²

The tragedies which occurred within The Tragedies are too numerous to recall, but certain ones stand out. There was the memorable occasion on the North of the island when the profusion of ghosts on the stage made it impossible for an uncharacteristically elderly Hamlet to pick out which one was supposed to be his father. As it happened none of them were, as the actor assigned to the job was, at the time, being seduced in his dressing room by a passing succubus.

The following year saw the King Lear incident. In a less than salubrious town-hall the cry of “Out vile jelly” had a swarm of timid, diminutive and generally shapeless life-forms climbing out of the woodwork in the mistaken belief that they were being evicted from their homes. The final straw came during a production of MacBeth, or The Scottish Shambles, as the company came to call it. Sir Fromebridge had completely underestimated the potency of the witches’ spells when cast on this particular island, especially beneath a full moon. The sight of Birnham Wood being transformed into a window-box, Banquo’s sporran spontaneously combusting and Lady MacDuff sprouting bat wings and a tail was unforgettable. Any rapidly diminishing chances of the show going on were scuppered completely when a set of bagpipes scampered around the stage viciously attacking the surviving members of the cast. On the plus side, this was the only time any of their performances received a standing ovation. The applause was deafening and enough to waken the dead, had they not already been enthusiastically joining in from the second row of the balcony.

After that what remained of the troupe quickly disbanded and Sir Fromebridge spent his twilight years holding court in the snug of The Squid and Teapot, a quayside hostelry frequented by mainly British exiles. He was a familiar sight in his trademark flop-brimmed fedora and billowing black cape, sharing anecdotes of a flamboyant theatrical past and gossiping about his various leading ladies.³

To keep himself occupied he attempted to teach the local people the correct pronunciation of certain words, such as tomato, schedule, lieutenant and aluminium. Sadly, none of these really featured much in the vocabulary of the average Hopeless resident so all was to no avail. However, while his efforts to anglicise the natives came to nothing, the culture of the island managed to reach him in its various ways. In fact, the very last time I saw him he was lurching out of The Squid singing, almost in tune, a popular island ditty:

” You can bring Rose with the grotesque nose
But don’t bring Cthulu…”

To my knowledge he passed away soon after, slipping quietly away in his sleep. (4) He will be sorely missed.

Editor’s notes:
1) Many believed him to be washed up long before he came to Hopeless.

2) And also unaccountable financial discrepancies concerning ticket receipts.

3) The chances are that he didn’t mention the critic who observed that
‘Whitminster believes himself to be elevating the stage, when in reality he is only depressing the audience’

4) This is not completely true. Eye-witnesses relate that he staggered out of The Squid and Teapot, following a particularly agreeable liquid lunch, to settle down to sleep upon, what he seemed to believe to be, a large smooth rock. This was in fact the belly of a juvenile aboo-dom-k’n, basking in the thin, greasy light of some unaccustomed sunshine. This sudden burden disturbed the beast which, hardly believing its luck, slipped quietly into the sea, taking its lunch ( that is, the artiste previously known as Fromebridge Whitminster) with it.

 

This post written by the esteemed Martin Pearson, proving that it does indeed run (or slither) in the family.

Seasonal Events

 

 
I trust that you all enjoyed a merry Christmas. The midnight mass was especially atmospheric this year, the wind around the church producing a sound uncannily like a child crying. Twenty graves have been dug to see us through the winter – a conservative estimate I fear. For the wellbeing of your community, do not undertake to die before the thaw, if you can possibly help it!

No Marriages

There was a peculiar scene at the Church last Wednesday when Balthazar Lemon appeared with a very large and dead cod that he demanded to be formally married to. The union did not take place, Reverend Davies having carefully explained that the sacrament of marriage involves one man and one woman, not one man and one expired fish. Mister Lemon’s longstanding and well known fish obsession has caused some speculation as to whether he is the one using them as a writing medium.

 

Arrivals and departures

Births – Solidarity Jones, born to Cadence and Integrity Jones last Tuesday.

Deaths – The body of Vortigern Frog was discovered on the Library steps on Thursday morning. However, the ghost of Vortigern Frog remains very much a presence in the Memorial Library and will clearly be continuing as librarian. The fates of those returning books late may be too terrible to describe.