Francesco

– Stephen McGurk

“Si! Si! Tomorrow the catch comes!” Francesco shouted to the dock.

“Si! Si! “Tomorrow” always “Tomorrow” you say.  Today is already tomorrow.  Then you bring me what you owe.  You understand?”

Everyone knew Francesco had the cheapest berth in the harbour.  And that he’d had it for years.  Signori had squeezed him in between two much larger boats in the corner of the quay after his wife had died, hoping to give Francesco some breathing space while he mourned her.  She had been his everything.

Strangely, as a foreigner to the area, she and Francesco had immediately bonded through their shared passions.  She had a strong grasp of the language when she first arrived and it only improved through conversations with Francesco.  Often you could encounter them walking alongside each other through the narrow streets of the village with their voices raised, hammering out the finer points of whichever topic they felt strongly about on that particular day.  Each would throw their arms aloft with indignation at the others point-of-view, or storm off and stare through a shop window with false interest as they processed some contradictory information to their point and collected their thoughts for more discussion further down the street.  Then once they concluded they would embrace one another in mutual admiration and continue on into another conversation; melding their thoughts and ideas until more collisions occurred.
She was fiery and confident with strong opinions, but also reasonable and attentive to others.  It was clear to everyone who encountered her that she came from a learned background, although it wasn’t flaunted.  Her hair was cut fashionably short, helping her stand out from the locals, making her a point of interest whenever she walked by.

He had known her better than anyone in town from the outset; spending more time with her than his own family and always seeking her out when he wasn’t busy with the boats, even if it meant disturbing her and the other girls in the local bakery where she had taken a job baking cakes.  He would spend hours of his week propped up against their counter telling stories and making them all laugh and eating some extra cake they gave him.  But everyone who worked there knew that the sweetest thing he saw in the shop was her.

Signori now thought long enough had passed for Francesco since her death and wouldn’t allow him to take advantage of his charity and sympathy any longer.  He had known them both after they had gotten married, having feelings for her and great respect for him, but he now felt Francesco was trying to gain from her death.
Each afternoon he saw the man walk to buy a bottle from the store before tinkering with something on his boat and then set off out of the harbour hours before sunset and into the ocean.  From the dock he would watch his light drift all night atop the mast wondering what Francesco was doing out there.  He rarely brought in enough fish to sell at the next day’s market and he had become increasingly withdrawn from the other men and spent most of his time below deck on his boat.

With Francesco less involved around the port many of the others began to worry and many rumours started.  Signori told the other men that he would tow Francesco out of his berth when he got the chance, but the other men always distracted him with more important business and never let Signori know when Francesco was off his boat.
Anyway, they knew that Signori had been having ideas about Francesco’s wife before she passed away and that Signori would never follow through on his threat out of fear and respect for Francesco’s educated and bladed tongue.


Neither would they stand by and watch if such a thing did occur due to their fellowship with Francesco in the old days.
Signori knew this also.

To keep her company back when Francesco was working at sea with the boats, Francesco’s wife had wanted to have a dog. He reluctantly agreed; making himself clear that it was to be hers alone and he wouldn’t care for it whatsoever.  His wife loved the dog and was never seen around the village without the pup at her heel.  He feigned scorn for the dog as part of a game he played with her, but would never see harm come to it.
It had been assumed that Francesco banished the dog after her funeral to rid himself of a constant painful reminder, but instead, each evening as he exited the harbour he would open up the door to the interior of the boat and the hidden dog would bound out and sit beside the man for the rest of the night.  They had been connected through her love and Francesco could never mistreat something that his wife cared for as much as that dog.  The hound only served as an outlet for his love and in return her love seeped back into him.

The love overcame him completely and each evening he would paint wildly the setting Sun and the rising moon.  He attacked the canvas passionately as he looked back to the shore making strokes to signify the harbour and the boats and the houses on the land. By morning time he would be exhausted and deranged, not remembering the night before or what he had created, always checking to be sure his canvas contained something. A few gutted fish would be strewn on the deck and her dog asleep amongst discarded paint pots and finished canvases.

The process started slowly, as originally he sailed out to fish, but soon found himself more interested in capturing the landscape than anything else.  He sketched most of the evening while the float of his rod bobbed in the darkening sea; all the while sipping from his bottle.
After a few weeks he arranged a deal for paints and made his own canvases, owing a finished painting to the store owner who lent him the material.
He now only caught the few fish he needed to feed himself and the dog with the rest of his time devoted to his craft.

This morning Francesco sailed slowly back into the port, mooring up as usual and waiting for the now regular visit from Signori.
He let the dog out from below and it leapt onto the top of the canopy where it preferred to lie.
Signori approached and was so amazed at the sight of the long forgotten white poodle atop the boat that he lost his train of thought.

“Where did…”
“I’ve got something for you” Francesco sternly cut him off.
He clawed through his large canvas bag and drew out a painting of the coastline showing Signori’s home near the lighthouse and the large stone quay wall of the port.

“You think this is payment? You owe me money, not a painting Francesco!”
“I had thought as much. This afternoon you will have your payment in full. Now I have people to see.”

Francesco went directly to the store, with Signori cursing him from the dock, to give the owner the painting he had promised long ago.
Then he had a meeting with a man from the nearby city who his wife had been acquainted with in her youth.
He owned a gallery and had actually helped coerce Francesco to begin painting.
Back at dinner parties he & Francesco would have long conversations over some wine; covering art, politics, love, the human condition or anything they found interesting.  He realised from Francesco’s knowledge and opinions that he was naturally artistic and yearned for him to create, wanting to see everything.
Now, after waiting, he was there to bring the paintings to his gallery and to the rich aristocrats of the city.
He paid Francesco a little for his time, promising more when the paintings sold saying “you will be a very wealthy man”.
“No” thought Francesco. “I lost all wealth from my life when my wife died”.

Francesco returned to the store, picked up his favourite bottle, paid, then went to pay Signori his money.
“Here it is. Everything you wanted; and I am grateful for your generosity to me during my hard times.  But I want you to know the painting you declined is worth fifty times as much as what is in your hand. Farewell my friend.”

He walked onto his boat and taking a drink from his bottle began to ready the boat for the night.

Stephen McGurk

Stephen McGurk, an Irish author, has been travelling Europe for the past 6 years collecting stories, experiences and pain.  He is currently residing in Ireland where he is developing his first novella.