Perched on a hillside, high above the heaving, cold sea, there used to be a ramshackle wooden hut with a rusty water tank on the roof. It belonged to an old farmer who had used it to store hay for his cows, till his herd caught ill and he started growing crops instead.
One dark and stormy night a man came upon the hut in the driving rain. His name was William O’Donoghue. His wife had died in a fire that had consumed their house and all their belongings, less than a year after they were married. Will stayed in the hut one night, and then another. He liked it. At night, the farmer’s house was a tiny speck of light in the distance. Nobody else was in sight.
Will managed to procure a small boat and some fishing gear. Every few days he took his catch to the local fishmonger, who paid him poorly. Then he bought bread, sausages and eggs. He grew herbs, potatoes and carrots on the edge of the cliffs, lest the farmer see them and try to drive him away. He had no possessions beyond the bare necessities, not even a photo of his wife.
Somehow everyone in the village came to know that Will was living in the hut, but they left him alone — even the farmer. And Will came to understand that they all knew where he was, and why he was there, and he didn’t care, as long as they left him alone.
I am a bit wrong in the head, thought Will. But that’s alright. I will push on.
Years passed. Will scrounged bits of wood and plastic and what-not to make his life more bearable, and the hut became a home.
One day a great storm came. The wind and rain was harsh. Will could not go fishing for over two weeks. He was hungry. He went to see the fishmonger and asked to be paid in advance, so he could buy some food.
“No,” said the fishmonger. “In fact I do not need your fish any more. I am now getting my fish from a company with five big ships that can guarantee me fresh fish every day. So please do not come back here again.”
Will walked across the road and stared at the window of the bakery. There were fresh hot loaves and pastries and pies. The smell made his stomach growl. He went inside.
“Please,” he said, “can I have some bread. I will pay you back with fresh fish as soon as the storm passes.”
The baker looked at Will’s poor wet clothes and took pity on him.
“I will give you two pies and a loaf of bread every day if you teach my son to fish,” she said. “He is a lazy boy and he needs to get out of the house.”
“Done,” said Will.
Timmy had a bad attitude. Will was soon tired of him.
“You smell bad,” said Timmy. “Even your crappy house smells like fish.”
“Well I don’t smell it myself any more. Don’t you like fishing?”
“I don’t mind catching the fish but I don’t like killing them.”
“You need to learn to kill them quickly and cleanly, so they feel no pain.”
After a long and tiring week, Will told Timmy it was time to go home.
“Tell your mother I have taught you how to fish. Tell her thank you for the bread. I won’t be needing it any more.”
“But you said you would take me out to the deep sea, to catch some tuna.”
“That won’t be necessary. I can teach you to fish, but I cannot turn you into a fisherman.”
The next two days it rained hard. Will could not go fishing. He wondered how he would survive. Perhaps it was time to leave the hut and move elsewhere. But on the third day Timmy turned up again, with two loaves of bread in his backpack.
“Will you please take me out to sea again?” he asked. “I really want to catch a tuna.”
They had been out to sea for a few hours when Will suddenly had a thought.
“What does your father do?” he asked.
“He’s dead,” said Timmy. “He drank himself to death.”
“Oh. That’s very sad.”
I might have done that myself, Will thought. If only I could afford it.
“There are worse ways to die,” ventured Timmy. “And also better ways.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you don’t have a gun, you can tie a rope around your neck and jump from a tree. Or you can cut your wrists with a knife in the bathtub.”
Will tried not to think about his wife, dying in the fire. He never left shore without the thought of sailing out to sea, forever. But he was disturbed by Timmy’s attitude.
“I hope you never do that.”
What else was there to say? There was no point tormenting a young boy with morbid thoughts.
There was a thin line on the horizon that marked the point between life and death. Will knew exactly where it was, and thus far he had stayed on the earthly side of it.
One night Will looked up at the full moon.
“I still can’t see your face,” he thought.
That was a game they used to play. Before she died.
That night, he dreamed that Timmy was drowning. Will had to jump out of his boat and swim with Timmy’s unconscious body all the way to shore. He woke up before the sun, feeling exhausted but also strangely alive. He was surprised to realise how sad he would be if something happened to Timmy. Then he fell back to sleep.
Two hours later he was woken again by a shout from outside the door of the hut. The farmer had come to speak with him.
“I am sorry, Will,” the farmer said. “But yesterday I sold the property. The new owner means to level and plow this whole field. He won’t allow you to stay here.”
Will had one week to find a new home.
“You can come and live with us,” said Timmy.
“Sure. My father used to sleep in the shed because Mum wouldn’t let him drink in the house. You could stay there and help Mum in the bakery. She’s always complaining that it’s too hard for her on her own.”
Will waited a few days till the invitation was confirmed by Timmy’s mother.
“Well,” he said. “Maybe just for a short time.”
Two days after Will left, the new farmer dispatched a team of men to pull down the hut. They loaded the debris onto the back of a truck and carried it to the tip.