On Friday the 13th of January 1843, several fishing boats from Newcastle and Annalong set out for the day. They were soon caught in a freak storm. Seventy-six men died, leaving twenty-seven widows, one hundred and eighteen children, and twenty-one dependents. Widows’ Row is the row of cottages, built by the local community to house the widows and dependants who were left behind.
I thought Friday the 13th would be a good day to release the first chapter of my novel for young adults, Widows’ Row. Lila, the main character, lives in one of the cottages on Widows’ Row.
Widows’ Row – Chapter 1
Dad used to say that when I was young I liked to sleep in pitch darkness. So much so that I wouldn’t have a night-light or even a chink of light showing through a crack in the doorway. He told me that I used to say I was scared of the light. I guess that explains a lot.
I don’t know how Erin and I managed to get Jonathan out of the water. Sometimes you don’t have time to think about how impossible something is, you just know you have to do it. I climbed down the rusty steel ladder from the harbour wall. It was slippery and I could feel the rust trying to tear at my hands. I leant back, so far that I could feel the ladder lift off the wall slightly where it had come loose at the top. One hand gripped the ice-cold rung and the other reached, once, and again, and again. And this time I caught his collar and pulled his head out of the water and his face was this colour, like death was coming, white but nearly blue and it made me feel like I was going to throw up, but instead of screaming what came out was a kind of laughter. You never think you’ll laugh in awful, desperate circumstances, but sometimes your body takes over and you do anyway. That seems to be the way life is; it doesn’t make a lot of sense sometimes.
‘Erin! Grab my arm! Use both hands!’
Her grasp felt light, like a child’s grip.
‘Please Erin, try to hold on tighter. And pull!’
She was crying, but it was working. I could see Jonathan’s shoulders now. I tightened my grip on his collar. My arms were aching, my fingers were starting to go numb. One more heave. A gentle wave rolled underneath his body and lifted it towards me and I took the chance, dropped his collar and caught his arm.
‘OK Erin, I’m going to hang onto the steps again and I need to you get his other arm.’ He was so heavy. Erin was pulling with everything she had and I was pushing him. His head kept getting caught on the rungs of the ladder. The water was up to my waist and I couldn’t feel my feet any more. The rust was cutting into my hand as I tried to cling on. The waves kept coming, rolling underneath his body like they wanted to help us and every time they lifted him we got a better grip, an inch further along.
Erin was making so much noise, crying and groaning loudly every time we tried to heave him up. If I’d been thinking straight I might have cried out too, or screamed for help, but all I could think of was hauling him out, taking advantage of the rise and fall of the water, breathing when I could manage it and wrapping my arm around the steel rungs of the ladder when my hands started to slip. You save a life by doing everything you can think of and hoping that some of it will scare death away. It was working, and every tiny part of him that emerged from the sea made me feel stronger.
Finally we managed to drag him out. The salt water spilled off his heavy denim jacket as we rolled him onto his side on the stone harbour floor and he lay there, cold and still, like concrete.