A short story written a while ago. About returning and separation, it was the first time I tried to write a long prose piece. I always find it difficult as when I write prose, I find my world shrinks to the story and I lose the ability to write other work. Hence the lack of poetry for the last few weeks. I am writing another short story for a competition. Does anyone else have similar problems?
Time and Tide
A voice out of the dark; lost in the waves and my thoughts I almost didn’t hear. The cry of the gulls joined the sea to hide other sounds.
“What are you doing? So far out, so lost, you didn’t see or hear, your eyes on a distant shore.”
It felt as though I knew the thoughts before they became words in the air. I knew the timbre of this voice with a deep recognition. I turned slowly from my vigil to look for the speaker, silently expecting a ghost. It could have been, for all I could see.
“How did you know I was here?” I replied with a question, not wanting the conversation. My visitor shifted uneasily before answering.
“We always know… we didn’t think you’d come, even for this.”
The sea occupied me again, its unforgiving power masked by its beauty, its danger tonight, palpable. “How did you know?” I repeated.
“You always came here, the foot of the sea wall where the tide approaches.”
Betrayed by my past – have I learnt nothing from history? Still I waited, silently stood my ground. They tried again, “How long has it been?”
Long years I thought, “Not long enough for memories to die.” I said harshly, my visitor turned at this and left, boots crunching noisily this time with no need for stealth.
“Don’t be late” came whispering to me from the top of the sea wall.
How long since last time, how much had happened? How many tides had rolled in, rolled out empty-handed? I stood here once before and believed I could change everything, break the cycle. In the end, I left. Defeated by the cold sea. Tomorrow maybe, something would change.
I woke suddenly, the waited for tomorrow arriving early. No alarm, no easy drift into a new day, it just was. Sleep – Awake, sudden and cold, rain on the windows and music downstairs with the smell of coffee drifting in. Dressing silently with only my thoughts I prepared mentally as well as physically. It was soon to be, a moment long in coming. I dressed in black, black for the day, for black times, for a black mind and dark memories. Paying in advance enabled me to slip out silently, avoiding questions, excuses and false condolences.
Heading for the church I braced myself, to face the curious, the hostile, and possibly worse, the indifferent. I still had no idea who was alive of those I left behind. Those who would, knowing of my silence, whisper to others. Telling my story in their words, giving no quarter, no mercy for me, deserved or not. I was to be the word, spoken with glances, furtive looks, alone at the front. Last nights visitor, of course, would be waiting, the only one to stand with me.
Driving towards the church I knew the path to take. Things didn’t change, not in places like this. Not the objects or the people, just a matter of survival. To become part of it, something I couldn’t do. I was change, it was me, what I fought for, what I left for. But now, that was lost, like the time and tides I watched as I grew, promising myself to turn them back, to somehow conquer. Others allowed me to believe, let me be the strength, let me crash against the sea wall time after time, falling back, defeated. But I never stopped, trying by action to wear away the walls around me. Unlike the sea, I didn’t have the years, nor the millennia to spend gently washing time away.
Street names long forgotten passed the windows of my car. Shops, many closed, boarded. Still with names I knew, spilt emptiness into me. As I neared the church I slowed, or time waited. I could see the other cars, a short black line, lead by death. The coffin was alone, I hadn’t thought of a wreath, I assumed… I was wrong, there were none. My visitor stood at the gates, looking, waiting. I watched a minute longer. Composing the scene. Then crossed from my car to stand with the small group. Their impassive faces, a brief acknowledgment.
I felt a body press close, to support, or be supported? Without looking, I knew who it was. No words now, it was time, time to do a necessary thing. Slowly drawn on we passed into the church. It was even colder in the dry, noisy under its roof, rain beating onto years. Running away into the ground, soaking into long forgotten people, loved ones, friends, family. I thought of myself, my silent partner beside me, it could be me, but this time not. There were some missing pieces, had they, like me, left for better, worse? Or worse, just left, to be outside, silent watchers of this, silent judges.
The service rang hollow, disappearing in the empty church, too much space, too little reality. Not much to say, not for all history, a joint, separate life, tied and twisted with so many. How much damage done? So many of us left wanting, even now.
As the echoes died out I followed the coffin, rising behind it to walk, head down, through the door into the rain, running silently in the open air. I separated myself, watching as the coffin was lowered. I imagined the ground as a door closing on a past, wondered about the others, felt them behind and around me but ignored them. Instead I let my thoughts run back, like the rain, into memories, remembered all the bitterness, would it, like the body, rot away with time, to be diluted into the soil.
I felt a hand on my elbow, looked up into sad eyes. “Will you join us?”
The idea was a revelation; I felt my distance from all and momentarily my confusion showed,
“I don’t know… I thought… ” I struggled for words.
He tried to help, “its ok, you haven’t been home a while.”
Home. The idea seemed alien, this was a strange place and my home was far from here, with others I had life with. Not here, in the past. He pressed on, “For a moment – for me.”
I realised he was waiting. Needing something, and I had very little. We arrived at my car,
“I know you checked out,” said looking down, not at me.
I had my car ready to leave; I only came to be sure. Now I was unsure again, as I had been about coming. When the phone call arrived late one night, just two simple words, “She’s dead” I knew who immediately. Now here I was, my judgment not enough. And the rain continued, adding to the drawing of time.
My quiet voice responded, breaking any chance to slip in and away quietly with no-one to question motives. Now I was being brought in, brought back. Even to the house, that house, the house she lived in, it was like a knot I couldn’t unpick.
“Get in” I unlocked the car, inside he looked at me,
“Do you know the way?”
I returned his look, started the engine and followed my childhood route home from school. The hearse, empty as me, left us. Streets flowed past, monochrome terraces, faceless and threatening. We arrived, too soon to talk, too long for comfort.
There was no one else waiting, no other family or friends, just the two of us, a small excuse for a solitary wake. He unlocked the door, let us in, cold damp air, I went to her room, not called the living room, it was always ‘her room’, ‘her chair’, still with her impression.
He stood behind me, in the doorway, “You never called.”
I left unsaid the fact she never called me.
“I still have the coin she gave me when I left,” my own attack.
He replied quietly, “She always waited… always worried.”
I turned back to him, turning my back on her, again.
Head down he continued, “She was your flesh.”
I had nothing left here, “I shouldn’t have come back… ”
“Perhaps” his reply as sad as he looked.
I brushed past him, said as I did, “You could’ve stopped her, you were her husband, my father” an accusation.
I left then, went out into the street, reeling, leaving again. As before he didn’t try to stop me, and I didn’t stop until several motorways later. I sat in the services drinking coffee. I had one more thing I needed to do. Crossing the corridor, I went to the phone, took the 10p, the one she gave me as I left. “When you need us,” she had said, as she thought I would. I used it now, made the call,
The line went dead.