Along the coast she-oaks and salt gums were interspersed with honeysuckle and clumps of blade grass. (a deleted phrase from ‘What the Tide Brings’ after the location was moved from Australia to Scotland)
Here’s the beginning…
Alfred untied the clinker, pushing it across the sandy beach until it bobbed in the waves. As the water reached his shins he threw the rope in, climbing after it and taking hold of the oars.
In no time, he’d moved beyond the breakers, and with only a few more strokes familiar faces bobbed above the waves; long whiskers on trembling noses, enormous dark eyes that always looked on the verge of tears despite the creatures’ joyful high-pitched barks.
“Ready for another day?” Alfred asked.
They responded by rolling and twisting in the water, their joyful chattering almost blocking the wash of waves upon the shore.
The creatures slipped below the waves, leaving only the sound of oars slapping the water, and seagulls calling overhead.
Alfred relaxed into a steady pace, watching the beach recede and then vanish as his boat travelled around the point. The coast was an array of colour, the last of the yellow of coltsfoot and celandine mingling with the fresh red and pink of thrift, campion and orchids. Above it all, wisps of cloud streaked a pale sky, and below it the sea was dark and deep.
A distant splash woke Alfred out of his reverie and he drew in the oars, stowing them safely along either side of the boat. He lifted the net, and at the signal from another splash, cast it out.
The sea rippled as a school of fish headed straight for his trap, the salt water churning as they fought to be free of the net. Alfred hauled it in, allowing the catch to spill open in his boat. He scoured through the pile, tossing the good-sized fish into a small wooden cask half-filled with sea water, and throwing the too-small fish back into the sea.
“Done well.” Alfred flipped the biggest of the fish to the seals now floating on their backs around his boat, clapping their flippers in celebration of their effort.
“That’s enough for today.”
In the past, Alfred would have stayed on to bring in two or three chests full of fish. But time had passed since he was a lone fisherman fishing for the entire village, and now he needed only enough to feed himself and to barter with others.
He sat for a moment, watching the seals frolic, not yet ready to return to solid ground.
“Tis almost a shame I can’t join you.” He lifted the oars, slotting them back into the thole. “Except I think I’d rather be on the sea, than in it. Anyway. Can’t be sittin’ out here all day, not when there’s work to be done.”
The seals swam alongside his boat on the return journey, leaping and chattering. All but one slipped beneath the waves before Alfred drew in line with the farthest point of the rocky outcrop.
“You coming ashore later, Oulde?”
A single bark gave him his answer.
A nod and a splash and she was gone.
Alfred pulled the boat well above the high tide line, secured it to a tree and hauled his catch out onto the sand and back along the path to his hut. Here, he cleaned his fish; gutting and scaling – keeping the waste to bury in his garden to fertilise his vegetables. He packed the fillets in salt and hauled the cask up onto his back for the three mile walk into town.
It was dark as Alfred made his way back to the shore, back aching from an afternoon’s woodcutting, stomach satisfied with his supper of fried fish and buttery mashed potatoes from his garden.
A sharp bark alerted him to Oulde’s presence.
“I know, I know, running late as usual.” He dropped the pack from his shoulder and removed an oversized woollen cardigan. He squeezed his eyes shut as he held it between outstretched arms. In moments an arm slipped into one sleeve and then the other, and he opened his eyes.
“You can look, you know.” Oulde smiled at him, wisps of grey hair tickling the laugh lines around her eyes.
“I was taught it was rude to watch a lady undress.” Alfred leaned in close and kissed her cheek.
“Still, after all this time….”
Alfred rummaged around in his pack, pulling out the hunk of goats’ cheese and bread, and the flasks; fresh water for her, whisky for himself.
Oulde took the blanket and spread it out on the sand, helping Alfred to sit.
“These old bones are seizing up on me, Oulde. Won’t be long’n I’ll have to move closer to the village – find someone younger to help care for me.”
“Oh hush! You’ve years in you yet.” Oulde accepted the flask of water.
“Tis your fish keeping me young,” he said, holding his own flask up to tap against Oulde’s for a ‘cheers’. “How are things with the colony?”
“Wayanna’s grown into quite the rebel. Such a stubborn streak; she always wants to be on the beach. Wants to find her parents, she says. Wants to bring her mother back.”
Alfred lay back on the sand to look at the stars.
“What do you tell her?”
Oulde shrugged. “What can I say? We haven’t spoken to her mother since her birth. How can we? The girl needs to give up on this foolish notion.” Oulde shook her head. “You know I long for her mother’s return, but if the woman doesn’t know her heritage, how can she come back to it?”
Alfred nodded. “If she was going to return, it would have been when Dyllis died. She didn’t.”
“And the old man?”
Alfred shook his head. “Duncan doesn’t know.”
Oulde sighed. “It’s too long to hold onto such pain.” Her voice cracked. Alfred shifted closer and wrapped an arm around his dearest friend.
“What’s done is done. Ain’t no changing the past, only making the best of what the tide brings.”
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