The following is an excerpt from Pretty Blue, wherein Faye recalls learning of her father, Kermit Cage.


From Juliette’s office I go downtown and find a comfortable chair by a large window in the university café. Outside, office lights begin to brighten the skyline, as the fading expanse of dark purple sky is obscured in silvery blackness. I buy a dry, buttermilk biscuit and slowly wash it down with hot tea. I am an hour early for class and I wish I were content to doze in public places. My coat is beneath me, draped over my shoulders, and I cradle an open book in my lap. Heat escapes from the long row of hidden radiators beneath the window, warming my right shoulder. Black ink rises from the white page and a slight spastic jolt of my head forces me awake.

I stare up and out of my cocoon, into the vast sea of life which surrounds me. People and objects seem to revolve slowly in the densely heated atmosphere; the warm air like a plasma cushion that warps when it’s indented.

In the distance a magazine stand is still adorned with tattered Christmas ornaments; others ready hopefully for Valentine’s Day. It is a loud, bustling café, but I am just an observer not a participant. I see a young father bend to help his daughter don orange mittens. Then he pays for a chocolate bar and guides her to the street. It chills me to think of my own birth father. For a long time Annie dismissed my questions as if I were a child who would eventually stop asking. I thought the subject may have caused her grief. I even assumed she may have been jealous of my curiosity for him.

One night, when Annie was in an unusually attentive mood, I asked her pointed questions about the man who is my father. We were sitting at an outdoor clam bar, having Little Necks and Chardonnay. It was our second, face-to-face meeting.

"Well, you don’t give up, do ya’ imp? Okay," she took a deep breath, "his name was Kermit--"

"--Kermit Cage?" I say.

"No–Kermit the frog–of course Kermit Cage. Whadaya think?" She said. "He was a fisherman, like the rest of them. I was working on the docks doin’ the books for a charter company–I got a gift for numbers–and that’s where I met him."

"Where–what docks?"

"This was, ah, Cape Cod, Wellfleet."

"I didn’t know you lived on Cape Cod. How long were you there? "

"Calm down imp, let me talk." Annie paused. "I had an acquaintance of mine living up there. She put us up and got me the work."

"Who’d she put up–you and him?"

"No! Would you let me talk already."

"I’m sorry."

"Where was I? Oh. My friend. She paid the rent for us–me and her–for the first few months. I was young then, you know–and pretty like you. I didn’t have no one else with me. Anyway . . . I met him--Kermit, your father. He was a commercial fisherman. He was used to going out on the big rigs and staying out, oh, sometimes months at a clip. I guess you could say we were going kinda steady. He was on shore–or close to shore–for some months then. He knew I was pregnant–with you, whadaya know–when he left. I was about five or six months gone. He said he’d be back in time. But he wasn’t. End of story."

"But I was born in New York, right?"

"Yeah, you were. When he didn’t come back I hitched a ride on a schooner. Came down to a . . . a cousin I guess you could say, on Long Island. She arranged for the whole adoption thing."

"Were you waiting for him to come back? Was that why you didn’t have an abortion?" I asked.

"I suppose I was waiting. But I didn’t have the money for an abortion anyway."

"And you never heard from him again?"

"Oh, I heard from him all right. Too late–what good was that? That bastard never made me any promises or gave me any help. And then he calls screaming that I gave his child away. Too bad, sucker. Where the hell was he? I’ll tell you where--off sailing the seven seas and me eating scrap fish and tomatoes twenty-four-seven."

"He did come back for us then?"

"Us? What are you talking about imp? Me and him were done for then. He may have screamed about his child and all--his blood--but what could he do with you? Nothing. He woulda’ never taken you with him. A lot of talk is what you got from him. Talk and trouble. He was always talking about himself. Free man. He would say it over and over--all because that’s the meaning of his name, Kermit. Free man. He bitched when I gave you away, but, like I said, he never made any promises to me or to you. Kermit the Viking, or some-such-shit. Oh he had a good line of bull, just like the rest of them."

"I’m sorry for what you went through, Annie, really. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for you."

"Ha-ha! Listen to you saying you’re sorry. You’re a piece a’ work, imp, you are."

"Annie . . . what was he like?" I asked.

"Well, he wasn’t so tall--just about six foot--but he was sturdy. Like, he could hold himself steady on a deck when it was rough. He bragged a lot too. I guess you’d wanna know about that. You’d wanna know he used to brag about his people being fishermen in the North Sea. I had to look it up. That’s up around Norway. He talked about a grandfather from Oslo and another from France, but he didn’t call it that. He used to call it something else . . . with a letter G I think . . ."

"Gaul? The Gauls from France?"

"Yeah, that’s it. So . . . there you have it. Your life history."

"But where did he live? Did he live on Cape Cod?"

"No, he was from way up in Canada someplace. Oh, yeah . . . he lived on the gulf of the Saint Lawrence–least that’s what he said. And that’s all I can tell ya."

After that conversation with Annie, the spirit of a soul I never knew I had was awakened within me. I imagined Annie a naive girl of nineteen, with hopes and dreams she was still afraid of losing. If Annie were tough, by necessity, Kermit Cage saw raw beauty; hard fear entombed in formidable prey. He was delayed–I imagined–on an unseaworthy vessel, but he struggled to return to his expectant young love. When he finally made landfall he went knocking on doors and he found, to his horror, his watery hallucinations were true.

I searched out Kermit Cage in phone books, online, and on the maps in my Atlas, but the only place he came alive was in the fantasies in my head. Now I know every village and town that borders the Saint Lawrence. From Quebec City, Charlottetown, Halifax and Glace Bay, to Hauterive, Ile D’Anticosti, Iles De La Madeleine, and Corner Brook. I plan to go abroad and see the North Sea for myself. That sea which surrounds Oslo, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Esbjerg is where I may feel an ancestral connection.

Standing at the rugged shoreline where the dull gray sky crushes courage and demands awe, I will think of my father, and my father’s father, and his father before. I will wonder how many of my clan have drowned in the deep. I imagine I’ll feel them in every sea-wind and shadow; these voyagers, these Vikings, these brave descendants of Gaul.

I can practically taste the warm whiskey that’s placed at my table; see the blue-painted cottage serving spirits by the windy sea. The floor boards are weathered from the boots of old sailors. The salt air corrodes the blue-wash to a light, copper-green. A small turf fire in the hearth will enliven my spirits. The deep, musty smell of the peat and the yellow-gold flame. White sheets beneath eiderdown, sea-spray at the window, a warm bath on a pale afternoon could take me out of harm’s way.

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