Fiction: SHORE LEAVE by Jay Lewis Taylor

On 28 December 1908, an earthquake devastated Messina and Reggio in Italy, with a horrific number of casualties. If you wish more detail, you can read about it on Wikipedia.

Jay Lewis Taylor has written a story set at that time, in acknowledgement of the anniversary of the earthquake. The story is offered in memory of those who were killed, injured or bereaved in this disaster, and also to honour and respect those men and women of all nations who contributed to the relief effort, reminding us of the perennial importance of hope, love and service in difficult times.

Shore Leave

by Jay Lewis Taylor

There is a street called Strait in Valletta that a man can walk down with his finger-tips on the wall either side, if he so chooses. It’s easier when you’re sober, which I was, late in the evening of Boxing Day, 1908. Not what I’d planned, not at all.

HMS Scinde being at anchor in the Grand Harbour, and the crew (except for the poor bastards who dipped out with harbour watch) granted leave ashore, my thoughts had been bent entirely on the pleasures of the flesh. Beginning, you understand, with enough booze to get drunk on, but not enough to put a damper on things, and going on to – well, never mind that now. As they say, the best-laid schemes of mice and men can take a wrong turn, and my plans went overboard when Chief Peters got it into his head that I had looked at him with dumb insolence. By the time I’d peeled a few buckets of potatoes all my mess-mates were well out of earshot, and the best places were full to bursting.

Which is how I came to be walking, sober as a sea-judge but not quite as bright, down the middle of the Gut, as we call it in the Navy, with my arms out sideways, touching the walls, looking for a port of call that would solve the sobriety problem. Something made me swing in to the doorway of the Egyptian Queen. Out the back, or down below, the place sounded as if it was heaving, but the front room, open to the night air, was deserted except for one man and one flickering candle. The man was holding a pewter mug in both hands and staring straight ahead as if there was a magic lantern show in the air between him and me. I recognised him too; Scinde‘s newest surgeon, Dr Amery, fresh out from the hospital at Stonehouse two weeks ago and still wet behind the ears.

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