If you had three guesses you’d still never get Edmund’s job. Not because he looks nothing like a sailor, but because he looks so exactly like a sailor you’d think it must be something else. He has the muscled, tattooed forearms, folded across a substantial torso; he has the neatly-clipped, Newfoundland-approved, snowy-white beard and moustache; he has one eye glaring and one partly closed, like he’s on the bridge scowling as the deckhands cast-off, and he has a Roaring Forties grade of voice, a voice so penetrating it could stop a polar bear, a bar fight, or maybe even both.
‘Ammonia. That’s your real bitch of a cargo,’ he says, pinning me to the wall with his eye. ‘Hydroscopic, you see. It’ll suck the juice right out of you.’
He snaps his fingers, to demonstrate either the speed or the sound you’d make, I’m not sure.
‘Mind you, LPG ‘ain’t such a walk in the park, neither. That was one time I was almost a letter home. There ‘ain’t any room for error when you’re loading and unloading them cargoes. We was sailing giant thermos flasks when it came down to it. You did your calculations right, though, you focused – and you’d make it through. And the living was good. Must’ve been. I did it fifty year or more.’
Edmund’s lost his sea legs today, though – not through rum or cannon shot or crashing spar, as you might think, but by other, less exotic means.
‘Damn ticker. Buckin’ useless,’ he says, struggling to maintain his weight on his arms. ‘Ask the wife, she’ll tell you. I’m not good for nothing no more but chumming overboard.’
His wife Jean oversees the whole operation, telling him to be quiet, putting his medication and other necessaries neatly into bags, making arrangements for the next few days, giving instructions.
‘Now don’t go upsetting anyone,’ she says, kissing him on the head. ‘They’re doing their best. Don’t go annoying anyone with your endless stories. And don’t forget your reading glasses.’‘No dear,’ he says. ‘Yes, dear.’ Then: ‘I tell yer what, mate. I’ve seen a typhoon chew up a ship and spit it out again in the South China Sea, but I’d rather stand on the deck of that with nuthin’ but me thumb up me arse than get on the wrong side of Jean.’