Friday, 8 January 2010

To Warm the Fishermen

The salt wind sent the clouds scudding across the sky in a joyful dance that belied the greyness of the March morning, the seagull’s cries adding to the impression of a lively highland fling or a manic ceilidh, their whoops and calls seeming to encourage the fluffy cumulus in their journey to goodness knew where.

Every now and again the sun would attempt to peep our between the layers of mist and for a few moments it’s rays would be a welcome warmth upon the fishermen in the harbour and the schoolchildren in the playground for their morning break.

All of this was, of course, completely lost on Beth, who had parted from her lover the month before. She did not notice the clouds, or the gull’s cry. The sun was wasting his efforts upon her, she would never be warm again, she thought.

Rob had been so loved. Was still loved. It was not something which could be switched off like a light that was no longer required. And he had loved her. He had. She had known that for a certainty.

What she could not understand was why it all had to change. She was still the same person, she had not changed, so why? For the millionth time she asked herself why, not knowing how to cut the question from her brain.

As she sat on her capstan on the harbour wall, she looked out to sea, watching the subtle changes of hue but not really seeing. Seeing only his face, the sea-grey of his eyes in the water and the hue of his hair in the dark sand in front of the rock-pools. Everything reminded her of him.

Well, now she was going to have to try and forget him, although for the life of her, she didn’t know how to. She couldn’t even begin to imagine her life without him, such an integral part was he. The tears welled up in her eyes again. She was mildly surprised - she thought she’d wept all her allotted personal brine. Her misery was absolute and terrible.

All her memories of her life with Rob now played over again in her mind, like some faulty video. Not all of her memories were ecstatically happy - nobody’s were – but the majority she could honestly say were the best times of her life.

The times they went to the mainland, perhaps to a bowling alley, the time Rob had been fooling around and got his finger stuck in the bowling-ball and fell full stretch along the lane, the ball still firmly attached to his finger! Her smile was involuntary.

She remembered frequent trips into the surrounding countryside to watch the birds through binoculars from a hide. She personally didn’t know a plover from a wagtail but treasured these times because she was with Rob and he loved to regale her with the differing character of each species.

There were sad times too. When Rob’s grandmother had died, it was Beth who had comforted and supported him through his grief, she who had visited the grave with flowers every Sunday. She had thought it had brought them closer.

“How wrong could a person be?” she thought.

They had holidayed together, walked together, swum together, made love. The list was endless, to the point where Beth no longer knew where she finished and he began. There had been no seams.

There were now. He had become distant and restless very gradually, so she had difficulty in pinpointing where it had begun. There was nothing to latch onto, just a niggling change in attitude, something she could neither describe or define. An almost imperceptible detachment.

Then one day, he just left. He just said he was sorry, left the village, the island to go, she knew not where or why or for how long.

And here she was, just over a month later, and still no more resigned to his leaving than the day he left. She could not imagine a time when she would be. He had been - was - the love of her life and now he was gone.

She had considered ending it all one dark, desperate hour before dawn, but she was not of a theatrical temperament and even in the depths of her despair, still had some thought for her parents.

A few drops of rain were trying to fall, without much success, but Beth was unaware. So engrossed in her thoughts she was that she didn’t notice the ginger tom from the post-office stalk off in a huff when she did not respond to his insistent miaowing and rubbing against her legs which usually brought him affection and ear-rubs if not food.

The white horses were becoming wilder out on the surf, a sure sign that a storm was imminent, the gulls giving their agreement by disappearing somewhere one by one to shelter.

Soon Beth was alone, still sitting on her capstan on the sea wall, appearing to watch the sea whilst actually seeing nothing but her memories.

The sun finally gave up the ghost and went home, leaving centre stage to the rising wind and growing squall, whipping and spraying, blowing and pounding the little boats in the harbour about like corks.

The sky glowered darkly behind the purplish clouds as if to match Beth’s mood and her duffle-coat was starting to lose the fight with the, by now, heavy rain.

Beth still did not notice.

So immersed in her misery was Beth that when the hand came upon her shoulder, she very nearly ended up in the harbour and when she realised it was Rob’s hand she was not sure whether to finish the job off and take them both in.

Her hesitation took the moment and she allowed him to take her by the hand and lead her away from the now raging waves.

He led her to her home and her mother, taking in her condition instantly, marched her upstairs to be dried and changed.

Much later, in the cosy front room of her mother’s cottage, steaming mug of hot chocolate in hand, they talked.

The firelight was warm and friendly, glinting off her grandmother’s brasses, the coals occasionally hissing and sending a spark into the waiting arms of the fireguard.

As a child, she had loved to look into the heart of the fire, seeing pictures therein. She could remain engrossed for hours, her grandmother bringing her out of her reverie to set the table or go on an errand. So it was now.

She looked into the coals as Rob talked, tried to explain why he had done what he had. She had listened to how he had become stifled, suffocated, very gradually and, like her he had no description for the feeling, just an increasing certainty that he had to get away, right away.

He was sorry that he could give her no explanation at the time but he didn’t have one himself to give. It was only in retrospect, in his self-imposed banishment that it gradually came to him what had caused his need to be apart from her.

They had both been born and brought up in the confines of this small village on the island , had gone to the same village school and neither of them had ever left the island except for the odd holiday and once Rob had had to stay as a patient in the hospital on the mainland when his appendix wound became infected.

They had been ‘going out’ since they knew not when as, like everything else, the transition from friend to more had been virtually seamless; they had been as good as married practically all their lives. And it had got to the point where the next step was marriage proper and he had realised that they had never really been apart.

He had become confused and had had to get away from the island, from the village, from Beth.

He had thought and pondered and been thoroughly miserable. He loved her, he had never doubted that for a moment, but was that enough? Or was it the right kind of love? Or was it just habit? He had to go away to find out. He had found out. He could not live without her. A month had been too long. Could she understand and forgive him? He’d had to be sure for her sake as much as his.

Beth watched the fire-pictures with a peaceful detachment. She heard Rob’s words. She understood now what he had felt and why he had gone and she would gratefully sink into his arms as she knew he would reach for her soon.

But forgive? She did not know. Yes she did. She would forgive this man anything, she had always known that, but not yet. Not yet.

She knew what she must do. And when she came back, they would start again. She looked away from the fire and out of the window to see the storm was abating and a timid sun was once again trying to wrestle his way between the clouds. To warm the fishermen.

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