Our latest monthly theme was a nautical one, following the addition of a new member, Nick, who has worked as a yacht designer. Here are some samples of what we came up with.
Sequestered, by Richard Foreman
I am drawn to the shore, but it seems I cannot reach it. Sometimes I am so close I can hear the ever alternating ebb and crash, the crack of shoved, impacting pebbles, the hiss, the fizz… It’s just over this ridge, through this last field where sheep or cattle graze, beyond those thorny, scrawny, wind disfigured trees, that patch of tangled bramble or yellow blooming gorse. I only have to find a path. I only have to reach the edge of cliffs and find some track-way down.
I yearn to remove my shoes and socks, tread the slightly yielding sands and place my feet in the path of some cold, incoming surge of froth and water. I long to dance and splash and play the fool, there where land meets sea. To stride out ever deeper, throw my body forward and in that moment of immersion propel myself to swim.
I climb, I descend, I stride a line or zigzag through rougher terrain. I can hear the gulls, their sharp peals seem to echo around me as they circle and swoop above. I can smell the fresh, salty odour of the ocean that awaits me beyond these tangles and slopes that hinder my advance. Oh but the wind that blows it to me, it too pushes me back, making a labour of simple footsteps.
I keep pushing on. The sun, at its highest, seems to scorch my scalp. I am sweating, footsore, my muscles ache with effort. I have nothing to sustain me but the will to reach that ever-moving body of water, whose presence I desire. Surely I will see it soon, I only have find some gap or gate in this stark fence of barbed wire that stands before me now.
There must have been a path. That must be where I started. Others have reached the sea and returned to tell tales of clear waters, sheltered coves, bright and fascinating rock-pools, the passing of pleasurable hours. But, if path there was, it has disappeared, or I have turned away from it in some moment of careless distraction. The fence stretches either way, as far as I can see, the barbed wire new and too taut to manipulate a gap through which I could clamber. And then it turns a corner and I am forced to retreat from my destination. I have no memory of the gate or means by which I entered this enclosure, but if this impedance continues, I will find myself back at that point.
At least then I might find some other route, or perhaps the path I guess I lost – this time to lead me with greater certainty. But the sound I heard so seeming close is fading. The gulls too keep distant, circle higher, their cries drifting out of range. It is blackbird and song-thrush I’m hearing now, in the woodland from which the fence now divides me. Another corner and surely soon I will find the gateway out.
My weariness is now bone deep, each lift of a leg an effort. My spine is a long, dull ache; my stomach a void; my throat coarse with thirst. I don’t know how long I’ve been walking for, pressing myself on in isolation, but I know that soon I can walk no more. Perhaps the way back to wherever I came from will be easier. Perhaps there will be food and shelter there, someone to advise me, to show me the way.
Rest and a good night’s sleep are what I need.
Tomorrow I will surely find the shore.
The Old Man of The Sea, by Alex Chase
Waves broke against the crumbling, grey green stones of the ancient dock, gulls cried as they circled and wind whipped the hair of infrequent passers by. Under these glowering grey skies, the dark water held a threatening, angry look. The rain had stopped though, and the stonework was shiny and slick, puddles scattered across uneven paving. In the harbour, a few old fishing boats rode at anchor; the men who owned them could no longer afford to earn their living like this and many families had already moved inland to try and find work.
Only one person paid attention to these relics of a bygone age, he sat on the same bollard on which he always sat, smoke curling up from an ancient pipe clenched between yellow teeth. His grey beard was neatly trimmed, though somewhat stained now from decades of pipe smoke. His weathered, brown face spoke of many years at sea, both from time in the navy and later, on his own yacht; real sailing, not like the noisy diesel engines he’d tolerated on Her Majesty’s Ships. The old man (nobody could tell how old, was he seventy? Eighty? More?) was dressed like a sailor still, a dirty but thick turtleneck sweater on top of heavy duty trousers and some sea boots that had seen more of the world than most people.
As he gazed at the peaceful harbour, isolated from the maelstrom outside the sea wall, the old man allowed his mind to wander. How many years had he sat on this same bollard? Since moving down here after Nancy died; well that was at least ten years ago now. He smiled at her memory. No one had known why he always called her that when her real name was Ruth, no one but their closest families anyway. Of course these days it wasn’t something anyone ever asked either; their daughter Margaret knew, no one else really cared anymore. He shook off these maudlin thoughts and cast his mind further back in time.
He’d grown up with the sea, had been taught to sail by his father, another naval officer. He’d graduated from dinghies in the Lake District to yachts at sea before he’d reached adulthood. When the war came round, of course he’d joined the navy. Even with those foul diesels it was better than being stuck on land. He’d certainly fallen on his feet, as soon as they found out about his background he’d been sent off to officer training at the double.
In those dark early days of war it wasn’t long though before he was back out on the sea. Dunkirk meant that every able bodied man with any kind of sailing ability had been pressed into operation. He hadn’t been assigned to a ship yet, so he was given an old fishing boat whose owner was bed ridden and sent to France.
Tears rolled down the old man’s face as he remembered that day. At the time it had been grand, a great day to be a sailor. The landings, keeping the boat steady as the exhausted Tommies piled in, then off and dodging the strafing from above. Tacking away from the beach and up to one of the bigger transports just off the coast. He’d made several trips and had been proud of the work he’d done. It was only on arriving back in England and seeing the stretchers lined up on the harbour that he realised quite how terrible that beach had been and how lucky he was to have escaped unharmed. The next five years had been a blur of oceans across the world. Barely stopping for breath as successive tours had taken him from the North Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Long periods of boredom, punctuated by terror as enemy ships pursued them or aircraft dropped bombs and torpedoes all around.
Then one day, as they were in Melbourne for a refit, his eye was caught by a group of WRENs chatting outside a café. One of them looked familiar, and as he stared (rather gormlessly perhaps), she glanced his way. Tears flowed once again down that rugged face as he recalled the spark of recognition that jumped both ways across the road between them. He’d nearly got himself run over by an army truck as he rushed across to engulf her in his arms and she’d been cursed roundly by a motorcycle messenger going the other way. But when they met midway it hardly mattered, the years since they’d first met on an island in a lake in the north melted away and the friendship they’d shared had grown into that tender and glorious love that only ever comes from being in another’s heart for many years.
The rest of the war had dragged terribly as they were assigned to seemingly opposite sides of the globe with nothing but letters to read and re-read as they waited for the day they could be united.
The old man’s features relaxed softly as he remembered those blissful days when they could finally be together. The decades of chasing round the world after his postings and then on their own little ship made the brown face glow as the years passed across his brows. The stormy weather that surrounded him disappeared and the sunlight of history shone around him. The present no longer mattered. The uncertainties of life scattered and faded away and sweet recollections folded that old man of the sea in their warm embrace.
Siren, by Becky Bye
The sun beat mercilessly down on the little whitewashed boat. The wood creaked as it expanded in the sun, bleached, made brittle by the heat.
Samuel closed his eyes and raised his face to the electric blue sky. Not a cloud, nor a whisper of breeze. He raked a dry tongue over cracked swollen lips and attempted to swallow, his throat as coarse as sandpaper. He looked down at his hands, the skin stretched tight over the protruding bones, browned by the sun and blistered by the wind.
When was the last time he had eaten? Yesterday? A week ago? He couldn’t remember. His stomach clenched as he thought briefly of food and quickly moved his mind onwards.
From a small leather flask, he allowed himself one very meagre mouthful of water. He toyed with it in his mouth, permitting his tongue to bath in the droplets, before he let his throat enjoy the brief cascade. His stomach gurgled as the water fell within the emptiness.
Then, that sound he had been waiting to hear once again. That voice. That sweet, haunting melody. Echoing somewhere far off, and yet sauntering somewhere closer. It was very quiet at first, so that he had to strain his ears to hear it, and it would come at him louder and louder, before disappearing altogether.
It made his skin prickle with cooling sweat, and his hair stand on end.
His knuckles protested as he gripped the side of the boat, peering down into the water, hoping for just one more glimpse of the face that the voice belonged to, the face that had lured him from the ship that night. Was it a month ago? More? He didn’t know.
His whole body protested as he craned his neck down towards the water and was surprised at the face looking back at him. He was someone he no longer recognised; a stranger with wild straggly hair and hollow cheek bones. He forced himself to look deeper, to find that face which had bewitched him; the pale face, with the ruby red lips and waves of fiery hair.
A subtle stream of bubbles meandered their way to the surface, bursting the contours of his reflection. A sharp intake of breath made his head spin as he saw her smile, just below the surface.
He didn’t know for how long he stared at her, it might only have been a few seconds, it could easily have been minutes, hours.
The sun had started to set, spitting shards of pink across the skin of the water. The temperature was cooler now, and goose bumps scattered themselves over Samuel’s parched skin.
He dared not break his gaze with the woman beneath the water and as she whispered something to him, another stream of bubbles rushed to the surface.
With a trembling hand, Samuel reached into the water, entangling his fingers with hers.
Without a word, she gently tugged him from the boat and the two of them slipped into the depths.
The little boat bobbed silently on the water, with only the rising moon for company.
Amazing Gaze, by Monica D’Amico
She was probably the most beautiful creature that had never been in front of him. Either kissed by the Sun or lighten by the Moon, her curves, her brownish colours were simply a joy for everyone’s eyes.
She stood, majestic and powerful by the sea, shining with the glittering waves, waiting, ready to hold who was coming into her arms.
They were condemned to share this beautiful fate: every day they looked one each other from the two edges of the sea. Travelling toward her, he couldn’t stop staring at her; moment by moment she became bigger and stronger, as if the dream became more real, as if Beauty could be solid. Her taste, her smell grew in the sound of the moving salty water underneath. And getting closer and closer the warmth of her ginger heart could be felt heating the water and his own cold body.
Travelling toward her, she could feel he coming closer, she could recognise one by one her children, safely taken home under his care. His iron strength, either proved by the violent winter wind or the proud summer sun, was the most gently touch she could receive. Their hug, eventually, was the prize for their departure.
They could share few moments, closer than ever, but still unable to embrace each other, stealing whispered looks to keep in mind during their mutual distance; like a mild taste to breathe all along their farewell. But before the breath was full enough, it was already time to go. He, tired and strong, could never look back and quickly run away from her, who female, mother and gorgeous kept her warm earthy gaze on his metallic nape.
She was the only one.
If everyone could be amazed by her spectacular view, who else, apart from her, could then look back to a simple ferryboat. But she was mother: her passionate flaming heart, boiling water and growing love, could not forget one only journey of her faithful lover, she waited once more, he to come back home.