The Ghost Barge

A young father, Gabriel, returns with his small daughter Margaret to the barge of his childhood adventures. Does she have the imagination and insight required to sense this vessel? Set in Victorian London, this dual perspective narrative explains the hopes, fears and fascination of the past and how the significance of our dearest relationships never cease to amaze.

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1. The Beginning

Gabriel

A sombre, silence filled the carriage, reflecting the weather outside. It was another dreary November day; one where morning and evening would become entwined, neither knowing where the one started and the other ended. Gabriel and his small daughter were venturing into the belittling city in a vain attempt to purchase a small yet meaningful gift for his wife. Something which said ‘I love you, you mean the world to me. Another year is cause for celebration not dismay.’ He was to be unsuccessful in his first endeavour however, and knew he would fail in his second.

Looking down at the ever untwining plaits of the small head which lay trustingly on his lap he felt a surge of paternal pride peppered with regret. What would life hold for her ? There was only so long that he could keep her within the fold, keep the wolves from carrying her off. All too soon the magical bond that separated them from the mundane everyday would snap and they would be left like frayed rope, disconnected and weak. Surely they deserved one last adventure, one last chance at immortality before she came to trust barren reality more than the mystical world in which they so often took refuge?

As he watched the train become consumed by the cavernous mouth of the tunnel, before disappearing into someone else’s narrative, Gabriel knew it was now or never.

Marching through the sea of legs, all marching with aimless purpose, Gabriel increased in speed, leading his little daughter behind him. It was as if he half expected his daughter to become a surly matron before his very eyes and needed to reach his destination before she confronted adulthood.

‘It has to be there,’ he half mumbled, half prayed. He had never trusted enough to see, but knew many a less worldly individual had been welcomed aboard its decaying deck. Perhaps Margaret had what his boyish materialism had prevented him from experiencing ?

As their mounting footsteps took them round the next corner, Gabriel knew they were nearing the focal point of his mind’s eye. It was at least two decades and a war since he had last entered the chasms of this dishevelled landscape, yet the beating in his chest and coursing of blood through his now eager limbs, awakened a hope he thought the trenches had long claimed.

Eagerly he reached for Margaret’s small hand, gently pulling her thoughts towards his. Her small face turned towards his, eyes looking up expectantly, pools of possibility without the jagged rocks of doubt. She must be the answer surely?

Underneath the bridge, fog clung to the ever widening river like final layers of undergarments protecting the modesty of whatever lay under those murky depths. The crowds were far behind them and Gabriel was glad of Margaret’s presence, as now she led him toward the unknown.

 

Margaret

It seemed like that road would never end. My feet were weary and my arms ached from ever reaching up to him for guidance and reassurance. Although I had never been into the big city before, it felt like I was navigating charted territory, traversing paths along which I had been destined to tread from the moment He pronounced everything as ‘very good’. Urgency seemed to hang in the air like tendrils, encapsulating the two of us and drawing us closer together, gilding our union. He paused as we crossed the bridge, and looked down into its gloomy depths. I tried to follow his gaze, but my outlook was curtailed by thick iron rails. What my eyes would not see my imagination embellished. It was at this point I noticed the barge, emerging out of the mist.

 

Gabriel

His reconsideration of events best left in the safekeeping of the past, caused him to feel impoverished and morose. What if he had stayed longer, fought harder, given more of his courage, would he have a clearer perspective than at present?

She had stirred at his side hadn’t she ? Gabriel pulled himself from the past with an almighty wrench. It was too soon surely? They had only covered a mile or two and he knew that they were very much steeped in reality. Still she continued to tighten her grip on his hand as they circumnavigated feasibility.

The grey waters gnawed at the muddy banks like a savage dog. Gabriel watched as lap after lap of muddy tide claimed its small part of eternity, before continuing on its way, as it had done since the beginning of time. Even this seemingly mundane act of nature held new promise for him now however. With Margaret at his side anything was possible. Gabriel felt the return of that sentiment which had encompassed his heart only once before as he waited in a decrepit church one bitter February morning for his bride.

There was not a sunset that passed without Gabriel wondering what might have come from that forbidden union, but families were cruel and the war even crueller. Had right prevailed in this case? Love had certainly not had a fair trial.

 

Margaret

Before we ascended the cast iron stairs, stained with the green mould of lovers’ tears and children’s dreams, he paused and looked out towards the past. Distant yearning filled the deep dark abyss of his heart and I knew he was gone; I had lost him to the sprites of yore, that mystical place wherein I was an alien.

My own thoughts called me raucously back to the present as I caught yet another glimpse of the weatherbeaten tarpaulin which concealed parts of its deck; parts of it disappeared into the dismal water beneath. Why hadn’t Father noticed it ? I had heard how his sharp intuitive gaze and unfathomable perception of imminent danger had protected his comrade many a time in the trenches and yet this wonderful anomaly passed him by. Why, a sea-faring vessel of any sorts had not traversed these waters for over twenty years, not since that fateful February morning.

 

Gabriel

Although theirs was a course traversed many times before, to their young, foolish souls they were pioneers in the new world, chartering latitudes previously undiscovered.  

They had trusted their love to eternity, etching their love on the eroding surface of the world.

They lost.  

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