Matthew Stephen Sirois
Of the dozen buildings slouched riverward in Near Haven shipyard, only Stearns Fiberglass let on that it might be occupied. The bait company, canvas supply, machine shops, and all else sat dark under their corrugated aluminum roofs, while at Stearns a floodlight watched the empty yard and a dull blue flicker lit the windows.
Tom paced the stained production floor, a beer can hanging from his arm like a clock weight. The motionless air of the boat shop still tasted of epoxy, though nothing had been built here in months. Abandoned hulls lay keel-up on scaffolds, soaking in the television glow with matte-grey flanks. A little black-and-white phased in and out of service, offering reflections, restatements, redactions—but just one story. Like everyone, Tom had come to imagine the forecast events of next May from his own solitary vantage. An abrupt flash in the eastern sky and the five-hour wait that would follow. Five hours to smoke, jerk off, tie one on for good. Five hours, and the few molecules known as Tom Beaumont would be ripped westward in the shockwave. Thrown in with the damned of every backwater shit-hole on the worried edge of Maine.
Tom fished another can from the Coleman chest and turned a chunky dial through the network channels. Most were out by now, folded. On 4 he got a signal, wafting up the coast from a carrier station in Portland and tracking badly. Tom worked a rude semaphore with the antennas until finally the picture gelled. He lit a cigarette and backed away from the set, watching it as a cat watches a dark crack in the wall.
“These are bold accusations,” said the television host, more to the camera than to his guest, “which you’re leveling at the executive office and its appointees.” He held his chin in his hand and spoke over thick, pale knuckles—eyelids hanging as if sedated. “You’ve essentially accused the United States of fraud, and now murder,” he said.
The interviewee sat stiff, facing him in her molded plastic chair, haloed with a glowing CBS logo. Three carpeted risers separated her from the cameramen, giving the impression of a studio audience somewhere. “Whether my colleagues were murdered is beside the point,” she began, clipped and acidic. Her hair and clothing were all clean lines and calm tones, but an insomniac’s worry shivered in her eyes.
“The science community is almost unilateral on the Fletcher issue. We have independent data from observation points all over the world showing a flyby.” She paused, swallowing as the camera tightened on her. “I don’t believe that you or the interests you represent can suppress that data.”
At this, the host pushed back his chair and raised his open palms, feigning surrender and letting her turnabout die in silence. He gathered some papers before him, never glancing at the text, and cracked them into alignment on the edge of his desk. The strike sounded through the microphones like a starting gun. “Ms. White, does it surprise you . . . having been labeled a shomee?”
“What’s surprising is that certain figures in the media are using such a childish term in the first place.” Her response gave the question no air, no time for a viewer to even parse the epithet. Show me.
“Yet,” his voice rose in pitch, “here you’ve implied that a commercial airplane was knocked down intentionally—without there being any evidence to that effect or any clear connection to Dr. Fletcher. How should we characterize these statements?”
“Some of the top minds in physics and cosmology died on that flight, and all were scheduled to testify against Mr. Fletcher’s claims. If that’s not a clear enough—” she let go of the bait, seeming to probe some space beyond the cameras for guidance. “For the last time: I did not come here to discuss the crash.”
“Of course. You’re here to deny findings corroborated by DARPA, the State Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency—this list goes on. But what I want, Ms. White, is for you to tell us just who and what brought down that plane.” He extended a hand, raising his eyebrows, to demonstrate the simplicity of this request for the camera lenses. “There’s a certain . . . demographic . . . who’d like us to think it was an inside job.”
She closed her eyes just for a moment, maybe to gauge the rhetorical checkmate she’d been backed into. Acquiesce or accept the brand of extremism. America is no cowardly assassin. She looked at the host. Her face pinched reflexively, as if his self-satisfaction had an odor. Lowly, from her throat: “I’m sure I wouldn’t know.”
He turned to the camera, again speaking to it rather than to her. “No. I’m sure you wouldn’t.” Having held the loose pages for those few seconds, he slapped them back on the desk. His grin, barely formed, evaporated the moment his interrogation began anew. “Ms. White . . .”
“ . . . You can’t pretend there’s only one possible outcome here,” she cut in. Whatever violence she’d pent up now surged along the conduit of her speech. “That’s not how science operates. Your network—these networks—are just cheerleading Fletcher’s doomsday narrative for ratings. You’re making reality itself a partisan issue—inciting the same panic you use to fill headlines. And to question any of this, you’ve decided, with these divisive little slurs,” she gestured toward her own person, “is treason.”
The host returned his hands to their position beneath his jaw, knitting the thick fingers together and frowning with theatrical patience. “The Fletcher Report is, of course, not the only source one must consider here.” He went quiet for an uncomfortable span, letting his next question appreciate in perceived worth. “Ms. White,” he asked, and the tone was punitive, magnanimous, fatherly, “do you believe in God?”
The response that came was only a whine of feedback and a confused jostling of the cameras. Calm as ever, the host looked on as his guest tore the microphone from her lapel, dropped it to the floor, and exited the frame.
An electric crackle sounded at the far end of the shop. Tom turned an ear toward the handheld ship-to-shore, but his eyes remained fixed on the television screen. They’d gone to a station ID.
“Tango, Oscar, Mike . . .” came a voice, shredded by the wire mesh of the radio speaker. “Time fa Yankee Whiskey, Foxtrot.”
Tom smoked and considered the radio. Its squelch circuit opened again, the same rough voice saying, “C’mon, Tommy. I know ya jus’ drinkin’ alone in there. I can see ya lights.” He finally picked up the rubberized black box with its waggling antenna, digging a thumb and forefinger into his eye sockets and releasing a lungful of anxiety. He pressed the transmit button. “Hey, Nev. Be there in a minute.”
Tom walked back to the TV and flipped it off. The black-and-white picture went—zap— as it collapsed into itself. He fed his cigarette to the beer can’s mouth, hearing it sodden with a hiss.
Muscle memory guided him over the iron marine rails; fixed him to each foothold across the wet concrete slabs of the boat launch. Threading a shortcut through the marina, he loped down gangways and over gaps between pontoon docks, past a floating trailer park of cruising yachts in low-rent slips. Tom emerged on the far side of this wharf-rat’s maze, damp and winded, only to double back for two more cans and to kill the forever hum of his generator.
Neville Bradford sat on the old tavern pier, a fifth of Allen’s beside him, watching as a half-dozen drunks shuffled out the tavern door. The restaurant hands were closing shop, carrying black garbage cans down and spilling their contents over the beach. Here, where the St. George River met the sea, its half-salt water licked indifferently at the refuse. A hand-painted sign recently nailed over the tavern entrance said, “Normal Day Pub—Come As You Are.” The place was a soup kitchen, plus booze. The cooks hauled back the empty cans and took them dripping into the gaslit building. They’d been running it this way since whenever the last garbage truck rolled through, each morning’s sun finding new breadth in the rotting piles.
The gulls loved it.
The tavern would be a ruin eventually, gull-shat and windowless. The town’s sewage pumps had already chugged to a stop, a reeking backflow flooding the streets and creeping toward the river, killing off a season’s worth of hatchling fish. Snow would pile eight feet high on sunporches and dormers and gables and just crush them. The river itself would gnaw at every seawall, every pier and pylon, bringing them down in roughly the same order they’d been put up. The roads would freeze and buckle, and saplings would root themselves in the cracks, drilling like maggots into a wound. The human labor of centuries would fall to nature’s reclamation in a matter of years.
“Was jus’ talkin’ with Dexter Hannah inside,” said Bradford, not wasting a hello.
Tom took his customary seat and handed over a beer. “Yeah?”
“Course, Dex is the fucker who’d finally get me jittery ‘bout this thing.” Bradford didn’t identify it by name because there was only one “thing,” and any pains they now suffered in their waning lives here were collateral to it. Radiated from it like sunlight. He stared at the night sky with a slack, stoned look on his face. A big man sitting kid-like on the pier’s edge, broad shoulders slouched and work boots dangling over the water. His belly strained at the snaps of a flannel shirt, and a mesh ballcap hovered perpetually about his ursine head. “Told me a diesel driver come through town on ‘is way north. The rig was all shot through with bullet holes. He come up 95 from Hartford, an’ the pike was one big warzone.”
“You think that’s true?”
“Ya think Dexter Hannah’s a liar?” Bradford challenged, coughing and indignant after he’d hit his spliff. “Goddamn Feds a been seizin’ gas all ovah. No imports since, when, March?”
Tom sniffed the coffee brandy and then took a quick pull. He’d known the auto-garage owner his whole life. “I need to talk to Dexter about that backup generator. Tried feeding it cut methanol, and it won’t start.”
“Y’oughta stick ta oil lamps an’ wood heat. Them lights’ll draw the wrong crowd.”
“I’m not concerned with lights, just need power for the tools. I want this boat in the water by next summer.”
“Right. ‘Cept, yer supposed ta be dead by next spring.”
“I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.”
Bradford laughed and tried to pass Tom the brown roach, stuck there to his big, gnarled thumb. Tom wouldn’t take it from him, never had, but felt a bit of the tension in him shift and dislodge.
“This shomee attitude a yours might make ya feel smart,” Bradford said in a fraternal whisper, “but if ya get shot for a couple gallons gas, it won’t make ya any less dead.” He looked pleased with having tied this rhetorical sheepshank. “Same dif’rence if Fletcher’s rock spreads ya bony ass from here ta Detroit.”
Tom hit the bottle again. “Did I show you this?” he said and offered Bradford his middle finger.
The foghorn at Osprey Head Light brayed its wide, flat tone, somewhere out there in the soup. They’d gotten their generator up.
“Well, Dexter’s probably holed up at the garage with a shotgun in ‘is hands. Them underground tanks are right full, an’ fuck knows who might come up the pike lookin’ for fuel.” Bradford took two parting puffs and flicked his roach into the dark. “Gonna tell me that don’t make ya nervous, Tommy?”
Tom rolled a cigarette and lit it. He spat at the water below, where it lapped at the pylons. He thought he saw a bass come up and gulp at the phlegm bubbles riding the surface, but it was dark and he was drunk.
“I just want to finish out my contract,” Tom said.
The reflection of his cigarette cherry shone in the oily, black water. Its red glow could have been a traffic light at the far end of a dark road—miles away, down under the George. It was like his own damned ghost, winking back from the great whatever beyond.
Matthew Stephen Sirois' fiction and essays have appeared in The New Guard Review, The Ghost Story, Necessary Fiction, and others. NEAR HAVEN, his first novel, is available September 1st from Belle Lutte Press. Matthew lives in rural Massachusetts with his wife and daughter, where he earns his keep as a metal fabricator. Find him online here or on Twitter here.