Her dream life of living on the river was in tatters. Carol found herself sitting on the bulk head of the old empty barge wondering how it had all gone so wrong; her dream life shattered by the departure of her husband who couldn’t cope with this massive restoration project. Maybe the cracks had already been there in their relationship and she had been too busy papering over the fissures to see what was happening between them and that she just kept papering over them hoping that the glue would keep them stuck together. Now all she had was this heap of junk, a partially built home for her and the two kids. There was no time to feel sorry for herself she had to keep going, get the project back on track and finish it. This was their home. Gritting her teeth she looked at the barge; she had to complete the refit and make it a home. There was no other choice. Going back home to live with her mum was out of the question, not with the kids in tow.
Undaunted by the vast task that lay ahead of her she took her anger out on the hull of the barge, each blow she repeated her mantra “Damn you, how dare you leave.” Carol was determined beyond measure—somehow she held on and got the kids to school, made meals, and worked as the unpaid navy on the wreck they called their domicile. It was a permanent building site and funds were dwindling faster than she liked, or could control as it consumed great vast chunks of cash, faster than a sinking ship. Needing help of all sorts of tradespeople, both professional and pure grunt, she was taciturn about approaching and asking strangers for support and she kept silent about letting on how tough life had become for her and the kids. Bravely—or foolishly—she ploughed on alone, single-handedly, until she got to a point where she had no choice but to ask for help. She took books out from the library and accepted her limits; she did not have the tools or the cash. This job wasn’t one that she could not tackle, she was capable of doing all the dirty heavy work but technical jobs like electrics and carpentry were out of her range.
Venturing out in to the boatyard that formed their community she began to talk to some of the boat owners to ask for advice and was genuinely surprised at their warmth and generosity. Only too pleased to give her a hand and help her out; she found another boat owner who was happy to complete her electrics. He offered her a favorable hourly rate if she in return would do some child-minding for him—his wife was giving him a hard time that they had no social life and his kids were about the same age as hers. Understanding his predicament completely, Carol laughed loudly; she knew what no social life felt like and was happy to help out seeing as he was about to save her life.
John had been openly shocked and surprised when he first saw the mess Carol and her kids were living in, but slowly the barge progressed as he enlisted more support from other locals and told Carol that all she had to do was feed them in return for their labor. So weekends became more sociable, as helpers arrived and got jobs done with no cash changing hands—it was the biggest boost she could have had at this point in her project.
Cooking up a storm she fed her willing army of workers who transformed the former hovel into her residence. Eking out her limited reserves was paramount if she was to succeed in this madness called adventure. As the weeks flew by John came to like Carol hugely, she was a spunky woman, who deserved better and he wondered how or why her husband had left, ditching her with the kids. It wasn’t his usual game to interfere in people’s lives but he felt she could benefit from some male company and he thought his mate Lawrence would be a good companion for her; Lawrence was a good guy—shy, quiet, and retiring—who would benefit from her enthusiasm for life. Setting about match-making was dangerous but John felt impelled to encourage these two to meet up, and he hoped they would get on. Gingerly he began persuading Carol to think about asking Lawrence to lend a hand.
“Carol if you talk to Lawrence, he will be happy to do the carpentry that you need done to finish your kitchen.”
“Oh, why, where’s Lawrence based?”
“Down the bottom of the boatyard, ‘Class Act’ turn left at the end you will find him tucked away where the track terminates.” Winking at her, adding, “Take him a cup of tea.”
“Are you sure about this?” She was hesitant to ask yet another person, an unknown guy for a favor, “Why would he help?”
“I’ve mentioned you to him,” he said, grinning at her, winking again.
Hesitantly Carol set off down the yard to find her carpenter. Entering his workshop she found a slim, shortish guy with graying hair scraped back into a tight thin ponytail at the nape of his neck, wearing one earring and a bandana. Walking in, the air was pine-scented and she breathed in deeply, she loved the smell of the freshly shaved wood, proffering her cup of tea. “Hi. John sent me, I need your help. I’m Carol my boat is ‘Rainbows End.’ Getting tongue-tied she lost her nerve and started to stumble over her words it was harder enlisting his support than she had imagined. Out of practice and finding that Lawrence was painfully shy, with his arms folded firmly across his chest he nodded at the bench, where Carol placed the cup. She wasn’t sure he was pleased to see her.
“What do you need done?”
“Everything,” laughing nervously.
“Can you be more specific?” he asked pointedly.
“Kitchen, paneling. I’ve got some drawings, just rough outlines.”
“Well leave them with me and I’ll see what I can do to help.”
Retracing her steps back to her barge she felt foolish and doubted she would hear from him in a hurry. She had not put forward a convincing request for anything. Hanging her head and ramming her hands deep into her jean pockets she felt all forlorn.
John was packing up ready to go home. “How’d it go?”
“Not well. I got tongue-tied … didn’t explain anything properly.”
“Lawrence is a good guy; he’ll be fine, just wait and see. Besides I’ll put a good word in for you.”
A few days later Carol ventured out to see Lawrence armed with another cup of tea. This time the encounter was a little easier, John was in the workshop so conversation was less stilted than her initial introduction. So the game continued and each time she took Lawrence a cup of tea their chats lasted longer. He grew easier more comfortable around her and unfolded his arms, until Carol got brave enough to ask him to come on board her boat and have a look at her project. He was as shocked as John at the disarray that she and the kids lived in; how they had survived in the Heath Robinson set-up was beyond him. Like John he felt impelled to help her out. It was the least he could do.
Watching him work on her barge was fascinating, she loved to just sit and watch, which was probably unnerving for him, but his quiet resolute attitude grew on her; he was a true craftsman. Taking care over every joint and cut and ensuring that everything fitted perfectly helped Carol to finally fall in love with her home after all the hardship she had endured.
Over the summer months they spent time together and she worked hard around him finishing the barge off to a very high standard, until finally in early September all the work was completed, it had been a long hard journey but worth every second. She had grown in so many ways, Carol had discovered new skills, grown in stature and made new friends, it had turned around in away that she could not have imagined nine months earlier. The community she lived among respected her drive and determination because she was a grafter and she developed and made a fantastic new support network returning favors where they were owed.
When her husband had left she had not really believed it would turn out this well. Especially as unexpectedly once all the work was done Lawrence had told her he was going to miss working alongside her and seeing her every day. Beaming at him she knew he was the one for her as she slipped her hand into his, “Let’s go for a walk.” With his defenses down they set off for their initial late-evening walk along the estuary, the first of many to come, hand in hand.