The boat rocked gently on the passing swell of water. Not a real wave, like on the sea, just a little movement. The wind playing on the surface of the canal. Joshua pulled the thick duvet up over his shoulders and wiggled down so as much of his body was tucked beneath it as possible. With a sideways shuffle he moved himself as close to the edge of the bunk as he could. Edging toward the oil lamp and the meagre warmth it gave off.
His mother smiled down at him and the lamp light twinkled across her dark blue eyes making them look almost like glazed gems. Her eyes had a depth to them that told of the wisdom and knowledge of a life truly lived. Her face was covered in trenches that took on deep shadows in the evenings twilight. Joshua remembered asking her once why she had so many lines in her face and why he had none. She had laughed at him like it was the silliest of questions and told him that one day he would have lines just like hers. They couldn’t be given, they had to be earned she had said. “Well now why aren’t you closing your eyes to sleep young man?” His mother asked in her warm and earthy tones. “Don’t you know you have a long day tomorrow?”
Joshua shook his head and shuffled even closer to the lamp and his mother. “I can’t sleep” he said with a shrug and a slight smile beginning to tug at the corners of his mouth.
His mother sighed and crossed her arms. She shook her head as though she were exasperated by him but still smiled back, bigger than Joshua’s own had been. “You just want to hear a story don’t you? Trying to trick me into letting you stay awake a little longer.”
“Please?” he asked making his eyes as big and round as possible. Joshua loved to listen to his mother’s stories. Each one was plucked from her past and no matter how many he would listen to there always seemed to be more. He knew other children whose parents told them stories, but most of those weren’t true. Somehow he knew that these stories all were, no matter how fantastical they might seem. Every one was as real as a grazed knee or a bump to the head.
She took a deep breath and settled down into her chair beside his bunk. “Ohh alright…but just one” she said with a wink. She leant forward and twisted the valve on the lamp to lower the light as she cleared her throat to begin. As the light dimmed the interior of the little narrow boat seemed to fade away to dark, soon to be replaced by vibrant and colourful memories of far off lands and fearsome villains. “Let me tell you about the time a Troll nearly had my own two legs from beneath me,” she began, reeling him in from the very first word. “I know, I know. You are thinking ‘but how could a poor washer woman and simple mother defeat a nasty, smelly troll’. I wasn’t always as you know me now though. Me and my friends, we were explorers once…”