Home was not an option for Meredith.
She knew that even as she boarded the flight out of Honduras that would take her home, back to Berninski. She knew it the moment she came back, back to the streets and the places she’d known since she was a child.
Guilt, shame, and self-loathing swirled through her, cutting at her from the inside, inciting sharp twinges of the Wildness. Sleep was an impossibility, to say nothing of peace. She tossed and turned, often jerking awake, remembrances flooding through her before she opened her eyes. Tyler. The look on his face when the psychic pronounced her a Wild One. His body, lying in a pool of blood. The psychic’s hesitation when Meredith asked if he would be all right. She began to eschew sleep, spending most of her nights prowling the house, prowling the streets.
One morning, perhaps some two weeks after she’d come home, she woke up from yet another restless night and knew at once that something was wrong. Leaping out of bed, she hurtled through the house, the Wildness bursting out of her just as she reached the back door, blowing the screen door off its hinges. She leapt into the pool at the back of the house just in time to quench the explosion.
She stayed underwater for a long time and when she surfaced, she was shivering violently – and not just from the temperature of the water.
Her uncle’s property backed onto three other yards, separated only by tall, thin sheets of aluminium fencing. She could hear children squealing and laughing, playing only metres from where she treaded water.
Meredith left town within the next hour.
She hadn’t much money on her, but one night at a bar, she met a woman who worked as chief cook on a cargo ship heading out to Spain. They struck up a friendship, and Carly offered Meredith work and passage aboard her ship. “You can help me with the cooking and cleaning,” she said. “Not afraid of hard work, are you? No, you didn’t strike me that way. Well, we don’t usually take on workaways, not these days anyway, but we’re a couple of hands short, a pair of brothers contracted meningococcal on their stopover, poor things. Danny, the steward, and I will look after you and make sure none of the crew bully you. They’re mostly good, hardworking boys, and there are a couple of other women on board as well. Anna’s German, and she’s our second officer. And Daphne’s one of the engineers. She comes from a merchant marine family, and let me tell you, none of the men dare push her around. I’ll talk to Danny and the captain, and if they like the look of you, we’ll send you for a physical and get you some papers. Got your ID on you?”
Meredith did. Her ID, which still proclaimed her a human, not a Wild One, thanks to the psychic’s intervention. She wasn’t so sure about the physical, but it wasn’t as bad as she feared – no drawing of blood, nothing which might send the Wildness flaring up within her. She also had her doubts about working a cargo ship in the middle of the ocean for days on end, where there was nowhere else to go, in spite of Carly’s reassurances about “the boys”. But the moment she and Carly got to the docks and Meredith spotted the MV Mercado among the other cargo ships, she knew she was in.
Her contract would last her until they got to Spain. The crew consisted of one mild-mannered British captain, some German officers and engineers, Carly and her assistant chef, a Brazilian named Pablo, and an assortment of Filipino deckhands. No one gave her trouble, as Carly had promised. “You’re on my team now, and no one pisses off the cooks, not unless they want to eat shit for the rest of the trip,” she told Meredith with a twinkle in her eye as she showed her around the galley.
Meredith didn’t mind the sparse accommodation, or the constant noise and fumes that came with living on a freighter. The ship was so large that their journey at sea went smoothly for the most part, with none of the rolling and bobbing she remembered from her time on a sloop – don’t think about that, don’t think about that now. The British captain allowed her access to the bridge and showed her how to navigate at sea. Pablo, the other cook, taught her capoeira when he realised he couldn’t teach her how to bake. (Meredith was delegated most of the cleaning duties on this account). She played dominoes with the Filipino crewmen and table tennis with the Germans. The Filipinos taught her how to cheat at poker and they cleaned out the Germans for most of the trip until they finally caught on. Then they switched to rummy.
Sleep still eluded her, so she spent most of her nights with Carly, who suffered from insomnia. They drank their strictly allocated beers, talked endlessly about nothing, and watched the stars, so bright and white out in the middle of the ocean, their light reflected upon the dark waters.
Leisure time was hard to come by on cargo ships at sea, but Meredith liked it that way. Everyone was busy with their tasks, and the days went by swiftly. But even a freighter in the middle of a vast ocean could not hold the Wildness at bay for long and when the ship sailed into the Port of Algeciras in Cadiz, Meredith disembarked for good, wishing her crewmates good luck and goodbye, hugging Carly and promising to keep in touch. She took a bus into the countryside of Andalusia in time for the grape harvest season, and was hired as a picker almost at once.
And that was where Tyler found her.
Go on to: Chapter Twelve
Go back to: Chapter Ten
New to A Reason for Being? Start from: Chapter One.