I knew her as Mrs Wraith. Winsome Wraith was her name. She came in the night while I slept and saw to it that I knew of her distress. It seemed to me that her great sorrow defined her existence rather more than her Nantucket provinciality. Living on an island that the native Algonquian people called ‘a faraway place’ was one thing – but mourning for a man, a mysterious man, who had sacrificed himself to Mishibijiw, the Water Panther, was quite another.
Walter Wraith had courted and married Winsome Coffin in the summer of 1830. Walter was a newcomer and Winsome was old money. Her ancestor, Tristram Coffin, was one of the island’s original owners. A friend of John Smith’s. But Walter had a shaman’s ways and soon convinced his bride to fund the building from live oak of a 300 ton whaler, ‘The Starbuck’ – of which he would be the master.
How do I know this? Winsome has told me of it on those many occasions while I stared up at her from my narrow bed. Stared into those spectral, eternal eyes, framed by a glowing yellow moon. Listened as she paces around the belvedere at the top of the harbourside mansion where I have been transported in my dreams. Listened as she beats her breast and cries Walter’s name. Watched as she arches her body, thrusts back her head and entreats the moon, the unforgiving sea, the dissembling breeze to return her errant husband; restore him to her arms, to her cold bed.
And then she returns. Implores me. Holds out those wasted, pitiful hands. The anguish in her voice cannot be borne. She recounts once more the story of her lost child, William. She describes Walter’s despair. His rage. How he took ‘The Starbuck’ out into the fury of a New England storm. And how she is consigned now to stand duty each night, hopelessly staring at an unyielding horizon, waiting for her love’s return. Her only companion, her dead son, William.
Puffing and staggering my uncertain way through 20 or so lengths at the Hydrotherapy Pool this morning, a couple of fellow travellers, thrashing around, caught my eye. ‘I can’t keep my balance,’ one of them said to me, winsomely I thought. I smiled at her, wolfishly I thought. ‘Then you should put more water in it’, I countered. Given our location and the 8am showing on the Pool clock, I estimated this piece of wry irony might elicit a smile – or possibly a chuckle. The singular absence of such a reaction, I took as either a sign of no sense of humour or a sign of a very well-developed sense of humour. My equanimity, at least, was firmly in place.
And that’s what I’ve been working on. Balance. For the last month or so, I’ve been turning up at the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre in Kilbirnie, 3 or 4 times a week, and doing things in water that I can’t do on land. That sounds a bit Benny Hillish, I know – but what I mean is walking, running on the spot, star jumps and a range of other movements not possible for me to achieve out of the water. I have a condition called peripheral neuropathy and my legs contain only the fond memory of full mobility. I’m trying to help my body recover those memories and maybe, just maybe, be able to take a few steps without sticks, or a handrail, or a helping hand. To do, even if only for a few seconds, what I did, thoughtlessly, just 10 years ago. If I can do that, who knows where it may lead? A walk around an art exhibition and then back here to write a damning review perhaps? A walk over to the Lighthouse to see a movie and then back here to write a damning review perhaps? A walk through to Cuba Street for a meal in a posh restaurant and then back here to…no wait. Just a walk will do, thanks. That would be okay.
I’m getting lots of help and encouragement getting to, in and from the Pool. Pat, Josh and Hannah are all involved and one of them is always with me to ensure I don’t do a Mr Bean. There are many others at the Pool that succumb to its 34 degree pleasures, pursuing a sense, maybe a hope of well-being. It’s a community asset. A taonga. Certainly worth writing about.