is an excerpt from Pretty Blue, wherein Faye recalls learning of
her father, Kermit Cage.
From Juliettes office I go downtown and find a comfortable
chair by a large window in the university café. Outside,
office lights begin to brighten the skyline, as the fading expanse
of dark purple sky is obscured in silvery blackness. I buy a dry,
buttermilk biscuit and slowly wash it down with hot tea. I am an
hour early for class and I wish I were content to doze in public
places. My coat is beneath me, draped over my shoulders, and I cradle
an open book in my lap. Heat escapes from the long row of hidden
radiators beneath the window, warming my right shoulder. Black ink
rises from the white page and a slight spastic jolt of my head forces
I stare up and
out of my cocoon, into the vast sea of life which surrounds me.
People and objects seem to revolve slowly in the densely heated
atmosphere; the warm air like a plasma cushion that warps when its
In the distance
a magazine stand is still adorned with tattered Christmas ornaments;
others ready hopefully for Valentines Day. It is a loud, bustling
café, but I am just an observer not a participant. I see
a young father bend to help his daughter don orange mittens. Then
he pays for a chocolate bar and guides her to the street. It chills
me to think of my own birth father. For a long time Annie dismissed
my questions as if I were a child who would eventually stop asking.
I thought the subject may have caused her grief. I even assumed
she may have been jealous of my curiosity for him.
One night, when
Annie was in an unusually attentive mood, I asked her pointed questions
about the man who is my father. We were sitting at an outdoor clam
bar, having Little Necks and Chardonnay. It was our second, face-to-face
you dont give up, do ya imp? Okay," she took a
deep breath, "his name was Kermit--"
Cage?" I say.
the frogof course Kermit Cage. Whadaya think?" She said.
"He was a fisherman, like the rest of them. I was working on
the docks doin the books for a charter companyI got
a gift for numbersand thats where I met him."
ah, Cape Cod, Wellfleet."
know you lived on Cape Cod. How long were you there? "
imp, let me talk." Annie paused. "I had an acquaintance
of mine living up there. She put us up and got me the work."
she put upyou and him?"
you let me talk already."
was I? Oh. My friend. She paid the rent for usme and herfor
the first few months. I was young then, you knowand pretty
like you. I didnt have no one else with me. Anyway . . . I
met him--Kermit, your father. He was a commercial fisherman. He
was used to going out on the big rigs and staying out, oh, sometimes
months at a clip. I guess you could say we were going kinda steady.
He was on shoreor close to shorefor some months then.
He knew I was pregnantwith you, whadaya knowwhen he
left. I was about five or six months gone. He said hed be
back in time. But he wasnt. End of story."
was born in New York, right?"
you were. When he didnt come back I hitched a ride on a schooner.
Came down to a . . . a cousin I guess you could say, on Long Island.
She arranged for the whole adoption thing."
waiting for him to come back? Was that why you didnt have
an abortion?" I asked.
I was waiting. But I didnt have the money for an abortion
never heard from him again?"
heard from him all right. Too latewhat good was that? That
bastard never made me any promises or gave me any help. And then
he calls screaming that I gave his child away. Too bad, sucker.
Where the hell was he? Ill tell you where--off sailing the
seven seas and me eating scrap fish and tomatoes twenty-four-seven."
come back for us then?"
are you talking about imp? Me and him were done for then. He may
have screamed about his child and all--his blood--but what could
he do with you? Nothing. He woulda never taken you with him.
A lot of talk is what you got from him. Talk and trouble. He was
always talking about himself. Free man. He would say it over and
over--all because thats the meaning of his name, Kermit. Free
man. He bitched when I gave you away, but, like I said, he never
made any promises to me or to you. Kermit the Viking, or some-such-shit.
Oh he had a good line of bull, just like the rest of them."
sorry for what you went through, Annie, really. Im sure it
wasnt easy for you."
Listen to you saying youre sorry. Youre a piece a
work, imp, you are."
. . . what was he like?" I asked.
he wasnt so tall--just about six foot--but he was sturdy.
Like, he could hold himself steady on a deck when it was rough.
He bragged a lot too. I guess youd wanna know about that.
Youd wanna know he used to brag about his people being fishermen
in the North Sea. I had to look it up. Thats up around Norway.
He talked about a grandfather from Oslo and another from France,
but he didnt call it that. He used to call it something else
. . . with a letter G I think . . ."
The Gauls from France?"
thats it. So . . . there you have it. Your life history."
did he live? Did he live on Cape Cod?"
was from way up in Canada someplace. Oh, yeah . . . he lived on
the gulf of the Saint Lawrenceleast thats what he said.
And thats all I can tell ya."
After that conversation
with Annie, the spirit of a soul I never knew I had was awakened
within me. I imagined Annie a naive girl of nineteen, with hopes
and dreams she was still afraid of losing. If Annie were tough,
by necessity, Kermit Cage saw raw beauty; hard fear entombed in
formidable prey. He was delayedI imaginedon an unseaworthy
vessel, but he struggled to return to his expectant young love.
When he finally made landfall he went knocking on doors and he found,
to his horror, his watery hallucinations were true.
I searched out
Kermit Cage in phone books, online, and on the maps in my Atlas,
but the only place he came alive was in the fantasies in my head.
Now I know every village and town that borders the Saint Lawrence.
From Quebec City, Charlottetown, Halifax and Glace Bay, to Hauterive,
Ile DAnticosti, Iles De La Madeleine, and Corner Brook. I
plan to go abroad and see the North Sea for myself. That sea which
surrounds Oslo, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Esbjerg is where I may
feel an ancestral connection.
the rugged shoreline where the dull gray sky crushes courage and
demands awe, I will think of my father, and my fathers father,
and his father before. I will wonder how many of my clan have drowned
in the deep. I imagine Ill feel them in every sea-wind and
shadow; these voyagers, these Vikings, these brave descendants of
I can practically
taste the warm whiskey thats placed at my table; see the blue-painted
cottage serving spirits by the windy sea. The floor boards are weathered
from the boots of old sailors. The salt air corrodes the blue-wash
to a light, copper-green. A small turf fire in the hearth will enliven
my spirits. The deep, musty smell of the peat and the yellow-gold
flame. White sheets beneath eiderdown, sea-spray at the window,
a warm bath on a pale afternoon could take me out of harms
THE BOOK TO DISCOVER THE SHOCKING TRUTH