This story has inhabited me for some time. I’ve sought, unsuccessfully over the years to take myself out of it, to no avail.In October of 1995 I was crossing on the Prince of Fundy between Saint John, New Brunswick and Digby Nova Scotia, en route to my home on Brier Island. I’d made this crossing at least sixty times in twenty-five years. The ferry itself earmarks for me either the beginning or end of a long commute. Each time there is something different about the crossing. It is my habit to take an early morning ferry and then go immediately to the cafeteria for breakfast – the first in line. This allows me to view the other passengers as they line up to be fed.This trip: what was initially unique, was myself. I was in the eighth month of recovering from a panopoly of events, not the least of which had been fusions of sections of my lower spine, requiring me to wear a canvas and steel corset. I’d lost my mother, (my last parent), and my dog, my companion of 13 years. The final blow; the woman I believed I loved most of all my relationships had left me, after five years. All these events had taken place within six weeks. In that eighth month of recovery, still heavy with it all, I was in physical and emotional transition from a residency in Quebec, now returning to Nova Scotia. I realized the concurrence of these events had far greater consequence than I would have imagined.I saw a tall man in a GEORGETOWN HOYA sweatshirt make his way through the food line, start down the aisle of the large, still-empty cafeteria, only to place his tray on the table next to me, sit, and commence to eat. In time he pulled out a ring-bound book, thirty pages or so. I glanced to his table and saw he appeared to be examining a peculiarly diagrammed nautical chart of Brier Island, so I asked: “What is that you’re reading?” and he replied: “It is a tide and current chart of a passage to a small island”.“I can see what it is. I live there, but I’ve never seen this book. May I ask? What are you doing with it?”He explained that he was currently a manager of a series of salmon and steelhead aquaculture operations on the New Brunswick side of the Bay of Fundy, and that a fish plant operation, in concert with the provincial government had asked him to survey prospective sites. We hunkered down over the charts and I advised him that most of the sites the government had noted contained too much current for the cages. Eventually he asked what had happened to me. I repeated the litany I have previously described, but certainly in more detail concerning my failed relationship: including at one point the still held belief that I had apparently and unconsciously come too close to the realization that I had lived with a woman that had perhaps been continually sexually abused as a child. His eyes narrowed as they fell upon me, then stayed there some time till he was moved to speak. And so began his story.He was a Quebecois from Matane who had fallen in love with an Anglaise from Ontario ten years before. Still man and wife to that day, they had three children and resided on Campobello Island. He had taken this additional work assignment because his wife’s father was due to be released from prison. They were in effect “on the run” again. His wife had been sexually abused as a child, indeed was terrorized by a father who went so far in his rage one night that he blew her left hand off at the wrist with a twelve-gauge shotgun. She spent almost two years as a teenager negotiating life with her stump forearm, sewn in hibernation into her left side, to prevent infection to her horribly mangled arm. Three times during the course of marriage, almost concurrent with the birth of each child, his wife would regress, accuse him of abuse, enter a shelter, take him to court, only to sheepishly leave the process and return home. He said he had never abused her, and I trusted his word and his eyes as he spoke. He always took her back. After years of therapy, following each episode, he’s learned not to speak of it; just take her back afterwards.Now, he confessed, he was worried again and so sought geographical distance from her father. He asked if Brier Island was a sufficient respite. I told him that, given the islands own history it would be a very inappropriate location to move to.In the week he was on the island we did not speak. He apparently heeded my advice, for he did not take the job, though I learned that he was offered a lucrative contract for his services.
Six weeks later I had returned to Washington, still clad in my corset, freshly seated at a bar with a shot of whiskey in my hand and a sudden realization that I distinctly did not want to be there. From my post both near and below the front door as it opened, I saw a man I recognized from years past and had the brief benefit of watching him scan the room before his eyes fell onto mine. His face lit up with a warm grin.“You must be the reason I found a god dammed parking space on U Street!” I rose, we shook hands, then sat down together. As a bartender I had served this man off and on for years, but it had been an equally long time since we’d seen each other. The usual query came regarding my corset. I added my descriptions of loss, though not specific as before, for I knew this man was an alcoholic. In the time it took him to throw his first beer he’d begun his own story. He too had lost a relationship only six months before, but his companion had died. As I offered my sincere condolences he pulled a wallet out of his back pocket and produced a photo of a bespectacled, plain-looking girl with mousy hair. I found this odd as I’d remembered him as always somewhat rough in behavior, and accompanying very attractive women. He said they were not in love, and that they had a loose arrangement. Six months ago they had hosted a party at their house which is located in a dangerous neighborhood. While he kept watch for guests at the front door, his companion was apparently drinking too much brandy in the kitchen. She was an epileptic and not supposed to drink alcohol. They went to bed late that night. She was quite tipsy, as was he. When he awoke in the morning she was lying beside him – dead.The second beer was on its way to be finished and I looked at his eyes. They were dry. In the midst of my condolences I asked him what happened then, and he stated he was arrested and charged with second degree murder, but was subsequently released with the case being thrown out of court. I asked where she was from, and he replied, here, Washington. I asked him if he’d contacted her family and he said no.I challenged him why not and he replied that his lawyer instructed him not to do so. Again I asked him why, as it seemed inconceivable to me not do such a thing and he replied: “New evidence”.He ordered a third beer. “She was blue, there were some bruises, but she was drunk. She had a seizure in bed, she asphyxiated. You always turn blue when you die that way”. I was silent. I watched his eyes – still dry. He then went on about another girl he dated briefly after that, and how good the sex was between them, and the conversation grew to include still another girl he was dating – and then the comparison between them. Their respective smells and how “one stinks and the other you couldn’t even tell you were down on her”. He burped, excused himself to pee. I paid for my drink. On returning he said that we should get together again sometime to share old stories and asked for my card which I gratefully did not have, so he proferred his – for photography – with a supine nude on it’s face.I walked to the street away from that encounter, chilled with the knowledge I had heard a tale of murder. Some weeks later I ate dinner with a woman friend of long-standing who happened at the time to be the Assistant Chief Prosecuting Attorney for Washinton’s homicides. I recounted the story and she told me she was aware of the case. She asked me point-blank if I thought he did it. “I know he did” I said and she agreed. There was not enough evidence to bring another indictment of the case.On the few occasions over the years in which I have seen this man, he has avoided me. He knows that I know. BETWEEN TWO MEN is about these encounters, but more importantly, it proved to be a gauge of myself in sadness and yes, in rage. I was precisely in the middle; between one man who had all the patience in the world, and another, who had none.
BETWEEN TWO MEN1999found wood, rubber and cork balls48” x 32” x 3”Private collection