Photo by: Alistair Forbes
The Edward Campbell
Mr. Potsdam sat on bench beside the memorial, sea-grey eyes staring out across the water. The black pea-coat he wore dated back to old sailing days. A battered, black watch cap rested upon long strands of gray hair. In his hands, he worked whalebone into a sculpture of a mermaid with an ancient but keen knife.
Traffic had stopped in Meersville during the fog. Most of the residents knew how to drive in it, but this day was different. They stood by radios tuned to the Coast Guard channel, waiting for news of the survivors.
Janie was still sobbing as she walked by Pattington’s fish market. She walked to avoid pacing at home, preferring to glare and curse the interminable fog directly. “Why are you crying?” she heard someone say. She squinted before she found Mr. Potsdam in the haze.
“Oh! Mr. Potsdam,” sniffled Janie. “I couldn’t see you.”
“It’s that blasted fog,” he rumbled. His voice sounded like scraping barnacles and too much rum. “Why the crying, Janie?”
Janie sat beside him, choked with tears. “It’s my brother, Gerry. His ship got lost in the fog and broke up on the reef this morning. The Coast Guard can’t go out in this damned fog and pickup the survivors. They say you can hear them calling. Somewhere out there, Gerry’s waiting for rescue and we can’t do a damned thing about it!” She burst into fresh sobs.
Potsdam patted her leg. “Never you worry. He’ll be back safe when the fog clears.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Easy.” Potsdam pointed his worn knife out to sea. “The Edward Campbell is out there, watching over them.”
“What ship is that? Coast Guard?”
“No girlie,” grunted Potsdam, shaving off a sliver of ivory. “During ww2, the Edward Campbell was an old destroyer. We were sending convoys over to England to help them fight the Nazis, and the Steady Eddy filled out the escorts on the first leg of the journey.
“Edward Campbell wasn’t with Convoy UT319 when it left on a cold day in March 1942. One of the supply ships had engine trouble early on and turned back. One hundred twenty Meersville men got within sight of home when two Nazi U-boats found them and attacked. She was going down, but German deck guns still fired even as sailors abandoned ship.
“They say the Edward Campbell wasn’t supposed to be there. She’d gotten lost in the fog. But as men were dying and drowning, the Steady Eddy roared out of a fog bank, 5-inch guns blazing. She sank one of the U-boats quick with an expert salvo. The other U-boat turned on her and fired torpedoes. The Steady Eddy should’ve sank after the first torpedo hit her, but she took more and still fought on.
“The Edward Campbell was wrecked and listing hard when she blew up that second sub. She limped back into the fog bank and was never heard from again. All they ever found was her anchors.” He pointed behind him at the twin anchors of the memorial. “The Navy says she was lost at sea, but that ain’t true. She’s still out there watching for sailors in peril.” His eyes stared intently out to sea. “Back in ’72 she pulled me out of the water. I never saw what happened. Just found myself on the pier, safe and sound. I’ve been looking for her, to thank her ever since. I’ll get the chance, you know. When my time comes, I’m gonna join that crew.”
He patted Janie’s leg. “She’ll rescue your brother too. You’ll know he’s safe when the fog clears.”
“Nice story,” Janie, staring sullenly at the ground. “I wish it were true.” She looked up and to her surprise, she realized the fog slowly pulled away. A figure wandered aimlessly, seemingly lost as he stepped out of the fog.
“Gerry!” She ran into her brother’s arms. “Ohmigod, you’re safe!”
“I made it,” he grunted as she squeezed him hard. “I still don’t know how.”
“Didn’t the Coast Guard pick you up?”
“No. All I remember was treading water in the cold, and suddenly I was standing on the pier.”
“Ohmigod, that’s what Mr. Potsdam just told me!”
“You remember. Mr Potsdam. He was just telling me about the Edward Campbell.”
Gerry grimaced. “Janie. Mr. Potsdam died three years ago.”
“No! He was just here on the bench.” She turned and pointed, but the bench was empty.
All that remained was a battered pea-coat and a carved ivory mermaid resting upon it.
Written for the Sunday Photo Fiction writing challenge. Look here for more stories based upon this week’s photo above: https://sundayphotofictioner.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/sunday-photo-fiction-may-24th-2015/