Chapter 10: Love at Last

The houseboat is peddling along a stretch of flooded shoreline that is rolling, grassy hills. Flocks of sheep can be seen here and there, grazing. Joey is at ease on the rooftop, sitting cross-legged, as few trees seem to be in the area and the hillocks can be readily seen under the water. On occasion he points to the right or the left, indicating which direction Finegan should steer the boat.

On shore is what looks like a group of people wrestling with a sheep. Two men are holding it down while a woman is sheering the wool off. Finegan stops peddling the houseboat, letting it drift closer to shore in the morning tide. Some in the group glance up, noticing the houseboat, but don't stop their task until the sheep has been sheered. They stand up suddenly, the sheep bounding to its feet and escaping.

The group continues to stand and stare, not waving or calling, piles of wool around their feet. Finally the woman leans over to bundle the loose wool, tying it with a cord and slinging it over her shoulder. She sets off up the hill.

Finegan decides he must either moor or peddle to open water and turns the boat toward shore, a spot where the shoreline elevates quickly and the rising tide won't run past his grappling hooks. He comes to the front and heaves the hooks high into some brush at the shoreline. Puts the plank at a sharp angle so that when the houseboat rises with the tide it will be level, and climbs up, Joey at his feet. They walk over to the two men, still standing like statues.

Finegan offers his hand.

Finegan Fine here, trader.

The deafmute comes to life and takes Finegan's outstretched hand, nodding. He signs, using sign language. Finegan looks momentarily stunned, trying to figure out how to communicate and not sure if they understood his words. He hands Joey a stick and picks up a leaf, then he and Joey exchange while Finegan mouths his word in an exaggerated fashion.

Trade.

The deafmute nods and motions toward the houseboat, taking off for the houseboat with Finegan in tow. They both clamor up the gangplank, with the deafmute poking through Finegan's goods. Finegan is at his elbow, looking a tad worried as he is not sure the man understands the nature of their business - an exchange.

The deafmute seizes on a folded tarp, and leaving his finger firmly on the tarp, stands and smiles at Finegan. Using the man's body language, Finegan motions dramatically toward the hill where the woman carted off the wool, and starts to step toward the gangplank, watching the deafmute closely. Seeing that he is following him, not carting off the tarp, Finegan is reassured and smiling, and raises his hands up slightly, shrugging to Joey.

We're using sign language.

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The roof of the old wool mill has been partially torn off, and the sign likewise torn apart. The word "Deaf" can still be seen on the sign, however. Some of the stones in the walls have been shaken loose and dropped into the yard, while other walls look relatively intact. The deafmute is leading them around to the side toward the mill where wool is combed and spun and large looms are worked by foot pedals.

A woman is working a loom, weaving wool cloth. There is a price list on the wall, listing sizes of blankets or fine woolen cloth by the yard. This posted paper is yellowed with age. Some gardens are seen in the distance, where men are hoeing the rows of vegetables.

The deafmute walks up to a pile of folded blankets and fine woolen cloth in a bolt. He gestures toward these, indicating this is what they are willing to barter. All the blankets and bolts of cloth are earth tones, not dyed.

Finegan nods, turning toward Joey and pulling him close. He is tugging on Joeys shirt, which has started to get tight as he is growing. His pants likewise are tight, the waist button undone so a cord around the waist is holding the pants up. The deafmute nods, understanding. He motions that they should follow him into another section of the mill.

Here there is a treadle sewing machine, and flexible body models. The models have sections that can be squeezed together to simulate a smaller man or woman or child, or pulled apart for a fatty. Any shape can be simulated - fat hips, big shoulders, etc. There is a model for each sex and several for children of various ages.

The deafmute takes Joey by the hand and takes him up to one of the models. He is using his hands to measure Joey's body and then squeezing or pulling apart the model sections accordingly.

A seamstress comes up with a tape measure and takes some measures of Joey - across his shoulders, around his chest, from neck to waist, and from waist to crotch. She brings up a swath of fine woolen cloth and holds it up to Finegan and Joey for approval.

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Finegan is loading a couple tarps onto the rusty child's wagon he uses to cart goods. The gangplank is now level with the shore, the tide having risen. He sets out toward the hilltop, toward the mill complex. As Finegan is coming up over the top of the hill he pauses to catch his breath and looks out over the hills. The deafmute is coming to meet him.

There is smoke rising from the mainland here and there. The deafmute glances at Finegan, slicing his hand under his chin indicating much danger there. The deafmute points at the water, then pats his hand down, indicating the time when the water was low, then pulls his hand under his chin again.

He motions to Finegan to follow him, and goes to a cleft in the rock nearby, showing Finegan a hidden bunker with a metal door. The door is in the shadows so blends in with the rock. Pulling this door open, the deafmute steps in, Finegan following.

Finegan nods, indicating he understands what the man is saying. The group hid here if any danger from looters was a threat. They emerge from the bunker and return to the hilltop where they stare at the fires on the mainland. Finegan suddenly remembers he has a pair of binoculars at the houseboat, and raises his hand to the deafmute, pushing against him, indicating "wait here", then takes off running toward the houseboat.

Moments later, Finegan is returning with the binoculars, puffing up the hill. He holds them high so the deafmute can see what he was after. Finegan stands at the crest of the hill, holding the binoculars to his eyes, scanning. There are fires in the background, people dashing back and forth, throwing rocks at each other.

Finegan hands the binoculars to the deafmute who takes a look. When the deafmute tries to return them to Finegan he pushes his palm in the direction of the deafmute, indicating he should keep them. The deafmute looks at Finegan's face for a moment, then nods and returns to using them, not arguing and accepting the gift. They need to know when danger is approaching.

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Finegan has brought Joey to the fitting room of the Mill complex, where the models and sewing machine are housed. They are standing in the dimming light. Joey has the new pants and shirt on, and they fit perfectly. The pants are of heavier material than the shirt, and a lighter color of brown.

The seamstress has squatted down while she checks her work. She tugs at the shoulder and waist, and is satisfied with the fit. She has her yellow cloth tape measure around her neck. She rises and faces Finegan, then pulling her tape measure from around her neck moves as though to measure Finegan's shoulders. Pressing against him, and taking his face in her hands, she suddenly gives him a long, lingering kiss.

Finegan stands shock still, not expecting this. As she pulls back, looking into his eyes, he raises an eyebrow, indicating something else has arisen. Giving up the booze has its benefits. Then with a smile, he folds her in his arms, leans her backwards, and gives her a long passionate kiss.

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Joey is sitting forlornly in the door of the house on the houseboat with Barney. Both are missing Finegan, who has not yet returned. Joey takes the picture of his parents from his pocket and looks at it in the dim light, then tucks the photo back into his pocket. He puts his arm around Barney, who is leaning against him, and sighs. Finegan comes into view in the dim light, dragging his rusty wagon.

Joey has scrambled to his feet, trying to act nonchalant by fussing with some rope at the side, as though Finegan's whereabouts had been the last thing on his mind.

What did they trade for the binoculars?

Finegan replies,

Honey. Something sweeter than honey, in fact. . . You know, as good as that seamstress is, we should try to bring her some business now and then. . . Not sure how to arrange that, though.

Finegan is lively and smiling. He gazes up toward the mill complex hill, reflecting.

Maybe I'll need a new set of clothes.

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Finegan and Joey have just finished breakfast and are cleaning up. They have their backs to the hillside. Finegan tips the coals in the portable grill overboard and they fall sizzling into the water. Joey is bent over the other side of the houseboat, rinsing the plates and cups. They are too busy with their tasks to notice the seamstress coming down the hill, holding a folded woolen blanket, until her wooden shoes clop on the gangplank.

Finegan looks up, stands, and comes to accept the blanket. The seamstress smiles warmly and pushes the blanket into his arms, holding her rounded fingers up over her eyes, saying "for the binoculars". She holds his face between her two hands and gives him a big kiss on the mouth. She turns with a wave to Joey, and walks back up the hill. Finegan is looking after her with a lingering, dewy-eyed gaze. Joey is looking at Finegan with his mouth slightly open and blinking, astonished, having never seen this side of Finegan before.