Port Louth

An excerpt from Port Louth, a novel in its first draft.

There are a pair of legs sticking out from behind a dumpster on Warbler Lane, in the fishing village of Port Louth. Juniper Maris Blythe stops a few paces from the dumpsters and tugs at the cord of her headphones, pulling them clear of her ears and the music spirals up into the damp morning air, a thin and reedy sound. Silence makes her skin prickle, and remembers St Patrick’s Day. One leg gone and crabs in his hair. That was by the bluff, that was when she was a little girl. She clears her throat, and zips up her waxed cotton jacket. Her thumb swipes over the volume control on her phone till the music’s no longer audible, and she walks around the side of the dumpster. There’s a man lying on his side, half eaten burger clutched in one hand. Heavy breathing that soon crescendos to a snore. It’s only Lloyd, sleeping soundly amongst cigarette butts, spread out like a halo all around his head. Juniper exhales, a short sharp sound that is bittersweet relief. No dead bodies today, no sir. It’s only a little part of her, but it’s there; feeling let down. Juniper pops her earphones back in and continues on her way, leaving Lloyd, who reeks of cheap beer, to sleep it off where he’s fallen. On another day she might have paused longer to try and wake him up, drag him to his feet as best she could before pushing him in the direction of home, like a wind up toy. As she’s running late for work, instead she crosses the road and turns up the volume so loud that passers by can hear the Rolling Stones. She’s loud over the music, shouting hellos as she goes. In Port Louth they make a habit of talking at each other; whether or not they can hear the other side of the conversation doesn’t matter so much as entering into spirit of things. Constant communication over local details. Weather conditions, council events, a little gossip here or there. They tangle together like knotted fishing line, impossible to seperate. The town is a seething mass, and Juniper is right at the centre. She is serving you coffee at her Mum’s cafe. Minding the pub in a casual role. Down at the docks in tough gloves, stacking fish on ice. Sitting hunched at her laptop writing trueish stories as an unofficial reporter for Port Louth’s local paper. She’s knitted in knitting bees, and climbed roofs to fix tiles, post-storm. She lives and breathes the place she was born, loves most of all the seaside. Friends left for University and Juniper deferred. Port Louth once made its money from seafood. You either owned a boat or worked for somebody that did. Exhausting work, but the village attracted a particular set of people suited to this life, who would perhaps never thrive as well somewhere else as they did in Port Louth. They threw themselves into the work, into the ocean, then back on land they would struggle to shape themselves back into the person they had to be at home. Drive a car, go to church, keep both feet on dry land till the work pulled them back out again. When the money was good it would burn a hole in their pockets, a treasure they often struggled to keep their hands on. It was a small community, a network of families long ago which spread but only so far. The town unfurled around the bay and over rolling grassy hills. And the world changed and the sea changed, till there were fewer boats and more fires. But Port Louth remains, squatted on the coast.