There I was, innocently scrubbing the grout in my bathroom, and what floats into my mind, but the sound of my old pal Joye, calling me Scarlett.

I’ve had a lot of nicknames. Part of that is that for some reason, my real name has never stuck with people much. But I’ve also been a lot of things to a lot of people.

My mother had a whole host of nicknames for me. Sometimes I was Gumdrop, usually shortened to ‘Gum’. For a while, I was Tigerlily. My brother, who was Tiger, kept that for longer. Tiger suited him. He roared and struck out. Me? I was not a passive enough lily to keep the name.

Mostly, to my mom, I was Biz. Short for Busy. My Dad still calls me Bitz. Bits of something, I don’t know what.

In school: Littlebit and French fry.

When I started working in Port Hardy, my cousin was already Liz, short for Lizard. In time, I saw that people differentiated us with slightly different tones of voice. For him, they used awed respect. For me, affectionate amusement. No problems, then.

But on the barge, hardly anyone called my Liz. One old guy started calling me ‘Smiler’. It stuck with the Older-troller-in-leather-elbow-patches set. Another called me Mademoiselle. He pronounced every syllable. I loved it. I was ‘darling’ to any number of these guys, but I can’t say that was a nickname. That was just their name for someone with breasts.

‘Scarlett’ was the best nickname. Although I was making fast friends with gillnetters and trollers, the seine boats held my attention. Specifically, the handsome, competent deckhands of the Joye fleet. Joye’s dad had about a dozen boats named after her, usually double-barreled with the skipper’s wife or daughter’s name. My first year on the barge, I used to recite them while going to sleep. There were so many, I always forgot at least one.

Bringing in boats in order on the barge was a challenge, because when they’re floating, there’s no line up. I developed a kind of full-body semaphore to indicate which boat should come in next. It was a very active job.
One time, indicating that it was the Island Joye’s turn to come in to the barge, the deckhand on watch gave a wide, sweeping bow to my go-ahead signal. Before I could stop myself, I’d given a wide, sweeping curtsey in return. Before long, I was fast friends with the guys on the boat, and then the other Joye boats.

That’s how I started being called Scarlett, my favourite nickname of all.

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