HOLY SPIRIT TOURS BY DORA GRAHAM When you are offering the possibility of a lifetime of perfect peace and serenity you need to run a tight ship. Maddie switched on the entrancing smile. "All provisioned Simon?" She asked, knowing full well that the guys were the soul of efficiency. Simon wiped big engineers hands on an oily rag and tossed it onto his left shoulder where it sat like a badge of office waiting for its next use. "All square and ready for sea skip." Sheepishly he hung his head to avoid looking into that open, beguiling, enchanting face. It made him feel...funny. Not bad. On the contrary, quite wonderful Like sponge cake, like fairy floss, like zippity doo dah. But you don't want to feel like that all day every day. Maddie should be available only on prescription. Once a day before meals. Just her looks could tear out a man's entrails...but coupled with that smile...OMG! "Good. Wonderful. We'll board the passengers and be underway in..." She barely glanced at her watch, "Half an hour. An hour and a half to the reef. The hole should start to blow at exactly five. I want you on station at precisely 4.58. The window is only three minutes maximum Simon, so I want perfect timing. Understand?" "Aye Aye skip. As usual." Maddie and her crew had learnt the blow times almost to the second, but she still gave precise orders. Discipline. And leadership. "Another full house Maddie!" Matthew called from halfway across the gangplank. "Tom's closing the ticket box and we'll be ready to board straight away. "Alright Matt. Bring them on!" Three trips a day seven days a week, running to a military timetable still added up to a twelve hour day and the queues just got longer. Still, if seven twelve hour days were what it took, then she...and the rest of them, would handle it with as much grace as they could muster for as long as it took. And if things continued as is, eternity would be too soon. The ropes came off, and 420 of humankind's many variants trooped aboard. Shuffling old men and women, all worn, some defeated by time and circumstance. Fiddling with rosary beads. Clutching at a hundred different bibles and scriptures, lips moving in prayer and/or the mumblings of the onset of dementia. Cynical yuppies with $30 and enough time to spare on an evening cruise and perhaps an interesting sojourn into How to Motivate and Influence People. Or something. Besides, it might be a good opportunity to break out the laptop and finish that spreadsheet with wine and cheese and biscuits included. Not to mention a Barrier Reef sunset on mirrorglass water. Way to go! A little girl clutching a young woman's hand gazed up at Maddie and bathed in that sunshine smile. "I'm going to see Jesus!" She said with all the innocence of a five year old. Maddie, as she always did with the really little ones, stretched out her hand and smoothed the child's hair. "We shall see what we shall see." She said, and continued to welcome aboard each and every one of the paying guests. Where a head was lowered, or a face downcast, she raised it up with a touch, or a gesture, and she smiled into each and every pair of eyes. Even the young man who tapped his way independently with his white stick. Two million dollars to buy the old ferry, and six crew members to feed. Not a good time now to feel sorry about taking a fellows money. And she would be recruiting another six in the near future...she touched a hunched old lady on the shoulder, and when the ancient gazed up, Maddie flashed that enchanting smile. "Welcome to Holy Spirit Tours." She said. "I sincerely hope you find what you seek." "Thank you dear." The old lady stretched out a hand twisted into gnarled roots by arthritis. "My friend told me to come on this one because of the sunset. They say the midnight one is so much nicer." The hand, as inflexible and hard as wood rested on Maddie's arm. "But I do get so tired these days. I'm 87 you know." Maddie beamed her best fifty billion candlepower lighthouse beam straight into the old woman's eyes. "Why, you'll live to be a hundred dear!" And she patted the claw gently. "A hundred and ten!" The old girl declared with certainty. " I wouldn't be dead for quids!" Like well oiled clockwork Maddie, Simon and Matt saw to the necessities. Tom remained ashore as usual to cast off fore and aft, and spend the next few hours 'counting the loot' as he thought of it, and sorting out the raft of shore-based chores. "A nice lad". People said of him. And he was. Polite, sincere. A young-headed blonde-haired blue-eyed boy of 23 in a scruffy Metallica T shirt that was almost half his own age. With engines astern the ship swung away from the wharf, churning up white froth, shuddering its old mahogany planks while Simon in the engine room took bell-clanging orders from Maddie in the wheelhouse. Matt patrolled the upper deck to ensure that all was well with the guests. "Half ahead Simon." She ordered. "Half ahead it is skip." Simon shouted into the shiny old talk pipe from down below, and Maddie swung hard on the big wooden wheel to bring the ship around. Ten degrees to the right of North, she leaned into the voice pipe again. "Alright Simon, engines full ahead." "Full ahead skip." Came the satisfied reply. "Let's go visit the Holy Spirit." Maddie said quietly, her eye fixed on a spot on the horizon. The boys had been playing on The Drummoyne again, kicking cans at makeshift goals drawn on the brick wall. That's what the policemen had said. Playing with some Protestant boys "Like Rangers and Celtic," the policemen said. Like Tottenham and Arsenal. Like Manchester United and Real Madrid. Like Catholic boys kicking cans with Protestant boys. "Maddie! Sure to put on your topcoat, and mind you don't catch your death!" Catch your death. Like the Catholic boys had caught their death kicking cans. Like the Protestant boys might have done if they hadna run like the wind back to their ma's. And ma still telling her to be sure to put on her topcoat and mind not to catch her death on the lonely trudge to mass. "Maddie. It's a long time ago. A long way away. Put your thoughts aside now and let's feed the passengers". Matthew, on rubber-soled shoes never so much as squeaked on the polished timber deck. "What would you know what I'm thinking anyway?" It was not so much a question as a statement, delivered with defiant toss of red hair. "Have I not been with you on every scam you've pulled from Belfast to Venezuela? You think I can't tell?" He said softly. "Aye," she said. "But you're no more a priest and you'll get no confession from me." "So shall I wheel out the tea and bickies skipper?" Maddie turned and laughed, and planted a kiss on the old man's forehead. "Tea and bickies then it is. But do you mind answering me a question now?" She did not wait for the invitation. "All those years ago you gave up the church to follow a young rogue half your age. You've never said why." It was Matt's turn to laugh. "I think I liked your potential." He said. "And what potential might that be?" "I'll know that when I see it. It's getting harder to keep up with you now. Don't you disappoint me." With his full head of silver hair, and door-filling bulk, he looked more like a priest now than he had all those years ago. Solid, trustworthy, dependable and built like the Rock of Gibraltar. Perhaps Matt himself had never been able to acknowledge the whole truth. 'Potential' was a good fallback when the words could not come. It was Maddie's face. She was born with a fortunate face. People fell into it. At supermarket checkouts she would smile, and somehow they would forget to charge her. Not once. Regularly. Then Matt was gone. Half a conversation was all they ever seemed to have. Nothing ever brought to a conclusion. But in the dark days, when his heart questioned the institution he worked for, when his broad shoulders dropped and he looked more like a defeated bull in the ring, Maddie would duck under his bulk, tilt up her head and smile for all she was worth. "You looking for the shilling you dropped?" She would say, which was exactly what her mother would have said to anyone whose head hung so low to their boots. "Cheer up Father, the crucifixion's come and gone. It's no good skitin' about it now is there?" Any other youth, and Matt might have considered a clip around the ears. She was cheeky, bordering on blasphemous, and she lifted him up like a visit from the Bishop never could. To the corner shop they would walk, under lowering skies, in a place where the rain itself left dark stains on newly washed clothes. Water under the bridge. She thought, correcting the wheel and ringing down to the engine room. "Half engines Simon." "Half it is Skipper." On the upper deck the breeze dropped. People wandered between the closed 'weather deck' and the upper deck, taking in the eye candy that constitutes the Great Barrier Reef. Engines shuddered once again, to slow ahead, and the Magdalene, flanked at the stem by a platoon of Dolphins, slid through the water with barely a whisper. Deckhands Johnno and Lucas, directed and aided by Matt, manhandled tables on which was spread the ironic 'Tea and Bickies'. Tea, coffee, and biscuits you could have for free, or there was the two-dollar dinner. An 'all you can eat' cold buffet to match any RSL or Leagues club and in surroundings to beat the living daylights out of any other. "Wouldn't be dead for quids." The sweet old thing was declaring voluminously to all and sundry. "Not for all the tea in China I wouldn't!" The cold buffet more than covered its cost to the enterprise. It settled the passengers. Socialized them. They broke bread together, talked about their hopes and expectations, who they were, where they had been, and where they hoped to be going tomorrow...or one day. These minutes would be the very genesis of a new life experience. Each would remember a magnificent fiery ball, still high in the sky now, dipping into the sea in the west, filling their already bursting hearts with the absolute splendour of it. Now the Magdalene drifted in waters so clear and pure and polished that the sea life below seemed almost touchable, and her reflection hardly wavered in its perfection.
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