Beyond the Western
The Sunken Shadow in the River
Tom Sheehan

Beyond the Western

I had seen it first, years after the site was dedicated, renewed. Nothing of its kind, so historic, so deeply placed and centuries hidden, had ruptured this peaceful town of Saugus, mere miles from the heart of Boston, and near lost to time in the river beside the Frist Iron Works in America, newly dedicated and renovated, to become part of the National Park system. Now, the uproarious news was afoot and some folks wished I had kept my mouth shut. Now, there came the threat of undiscovered riches, a cargo laden with gold, jewelry, silver in rough shape, all beckoning their fingers to the populace. The devastation would begin, the search enhanced by the deep shadow oblivious for close to four centuries at the deepest curve of the river, at the widest sweep of its waters, most likely the deepest part of the river since its run from the Atlantic Ocean, a place where history hid itself for four centuries or more.

What more inconspicuous place to hide a ship, regardless of its condition, topside or lower decks, where there were quarters for sailors, passengers, prisoners if need be, time and tide making their own demands of the hour, the last minute of a day.

Rowboats, canoes, odd baroques, came a flotilla on the river, each toting at least one dreamer, odd gear envisioned as needed below the river’s surface, depth yet unknown to all, dangers waived aside on a river once calm as continued deference. The pestilence was a hideous touch on the river, the Park, the town, nearby neighbors, afraid of land damage, holdings messed up to a fare-thee-well.

I watched it engulf the area for the length of the river, both banks littered with on-lookers, non-swimmers, curious, uproarious at a tipped craft swallowing water as the craftsman tried to salvage gear he’d spent money on just a day past, the hungry at quick dreams, where just a handful of dream findings would do, to change a life, a lifetime, a place in the crowd elevated to its intense desires.

One man roused his whole family, seven members including himself, and sent them along the river to humiliate as many searchers as they could, calling them foul names and sending curses on the very air, swearing if they had weapons, there would be some corpses afloat on the river only Time could clear up, provide final resting sites, burial stones formless and forgotten, the nameless attended to.

When a single shot was fired from a hidden hilly place thick with trees and brush, the scramble was electric, havoc, chaos, upset boats and canoes, nothing sea-worthy it seemed, the sudden swimmers were caught between their own flotation craft and the odd mess of floats, dinghies, catamarans, gondolas, crude rafts and homemade craft, barks, ketches and you-name-it watercraft, some bottom-heavy and staying in place, but some top-heavy spilled their company, their singular sailors, their cargoes, into the briny.

There was no blood spilled, but police raced into the hills seeking the shooter, screaming out threats and promises of quick arrests and trials before a judge and jury, leaving the turmoil behind them, mostly on top of the river, surface scratchers, overhand swimmers, frog-type water-propellants, the fears of crowded death coming down atop them as they tried to gain a nearby banking, saving their very asses, forgetting their crafts, their special newly-purchased under-water equipment destined for one try at new history.

One bride-to-be, afraid the nuptials might be lost to underwater perils, kept screaming, “Has anybody seen my Harry? Has anybody seen my Harry? You know what he looks like. He learned to swim at The Pit on Main Street, I think. At least, that’s what he told me. Has anybody seen him? He’s the clerk at the hardware store, his father’s store. Has anybody seen him? My Harry!”

Her eyes were flooded with tears, as though she had been taking a dip in the river, her own search underway, but for a separate and most singular discovery.

“Has anybody seen my Harry?”

One wet speaker, clinging to the crudest raft ever to float on the river, answered her question: “I saw him, Maude, when he went past me holding onto the new rig he bought at his father’s store, an underwater breathing device. I hope the darned rig works!”

He was being an honest sort, as he continued; “He was only a few feet away from me, but he was headed down, deeper in the river, like he had seen the ship itself, lying down there at the bottom of the river, but I haven’t seen a single bit of that shadow, like the river’s playing games on all of us, especially on your Harry, on his way down.” He clapped his hands as if saying, “Well, that job’s down to satisfaction.”

It appeared that his statement was a revelation of some sort, but not a celebration, like it didn’t make any difference, at least to wedding plans, of any kind, any time, in or out of the river.

One woman, a bit gray early in her time, like gray having a say in matters, said in a melodious voice, “Well, if people here can look for Harry, the suitor, boyfriend or whatever he’s being called, you can all look for my husband Osborne who made the fanciest floater in a hurry, as he’s been a finish furniture maker for practically his whole life, and he doesn’t know how to swim, if you want to know the truth.”

She didn’t clap her hands at her delivery, but shaded her eyes with one hand as if she was really looking for Christopher Columbus, and hadn’t seen him as yet, not even on this historic river and in front of all these people looking for an unseen old ship in the image of a shadow, history making a dim report on the matter, and his vessel of choice, or hers, could have been la Santa Clara (Niña), la Pinta or la Santa Gallega (Santa Maria).

Reports began to surface: the police shot the shooter out hunting out of season, and with no proper license on hand, or in his wallet, as one cop commented, “You wouldn’t believe what he carried in his wallet,” with the old rise in the eyes and shake of the head, that old condemnation of the guilty by the innocent.

A couple of canoes collided and spilled their occupants, both swimmers, as was noted, but one raft split into two parts, a dory, good enough for the sea, was not good enough for the river, and sunk, as if damned from the very beginning of its existence after being stolen from the Coast Guard station two towns away and rowed here all the previous night to the supposed historic river, which you can imagine has happened without anyone hardly trying, after these commotions and misgivings of one sort or another, of those to be married and secretly blessed in their union, or the long-wedded, grayed-heads taking their own turn at history, all for naught.