turn of the tide
It had started out as such a beautiful day. The tangerine sun above glistened down unknowingly on the little boat that bobbed on the waves like a cork. The vast expanse of ocean to one side of him shimmered into the distance, being pulled into a far-off string that he knew led to anywhere. The steep cliffs on his other side gleamed, the enamel of the sea that burst forth and up high like teeth of a sleeping beast. The occasional rocks would tumble down into the unusually calm waters beneath, kicked over the edge by the people, families and dog walkers he saw now wandering along the cliff edges. He watched as they called out to him, their faces blurred in the distance of separation, but their jolly waving arms and outstretched hope of the children’s excitement did nothing for his mood.
He returned those waves of course. The friendly little sailor off on his boat on the Elysian morning, dropping all troubles in his wake as he sailed towards the sun.
But they didn’t know.
The day betrayed his thoughts. The sun that stared down at him seemed to mock his melancholy. He didn’t begrudge the happiness he saw that day. The happy families walking, the smiling people on the beach who skimmed some stones and took in the fresh salty air. The woman with the flowers at the water’s edge. He wasn’t even jealous of their carefree attitude that warm August day.
He wanted to forget. He wanted to forget that he’d been that happy. That each day by day moment, of making a cup of tea or driving to the store was now riddled with the memory of them. The happiness clung to him like a terrible oil, never washing off. Reminding him each second, he would never have it again.
Now that they were gone.
He tried to shut the world out at first. Keeping to himself and the shuffling of the indoors life like a caged bird. Wallowing in his own droppings of depression. Nothing had helped. No conversation to make him make sense of it. No well-intentioned trip somewhere to change his environment or to talk to someone who had been through it before. His world had been darkened, as if someone had placed a veil over his source of light, and now he stumbled around just surviving.
But what for, he’d begun to wonder.
They were no longer there to share the happy times. The little moments that string together for a life. The Sunday morning lay-ins while you run your fingers through their hair. Disappearing into each other’s minds and being lost forever in the eyes that had always drawn him in. Beckoning him like a sea siren that he’d eagerly given himself up to. The beauty in their heart that he longed to only touch for a moment.
And now, each day was a collection of those little moments. But turned ghastly. Like a kebab of mud and dog shit skewed into a new day.
But not today. Today, he taken out that little boat of theirs and set out to sea with the intention of never returning.
[Oh please God. Please, let someone come. Let them come by.]
He began to drift further out to sea now. The tide pulling him on that cord to the horizon. He cursed the sun, its blazing intensity itching his neck and blinding him as it caught the waves. The beach behind him began to melt away, and he felt the creeping peace of the detached. He wasn’t sentimental, but he had brought the ring. The ring they wore, and his own of course. He’d put it on this morning. It didn’t fit comfortably on any of his fingers, they were just so different. Thrown together in a cosmic joke of opposites. Like orange juice to his toothpaste. Oh, the fights they’d had. He twisted the little silver thing now on his finger, turning it round and picturing the last time he’d seen it on their hand. That angry day. He shook his head and found a nicer memory. But this made him more restless, remembering again that it had vanished, never to be seen again.
It was then that a plump grey cloud floated across the sun above him. He looked up curiously, then he felt it. The wind had changed, and a fierce breeze had picked up. He looked out to sea further and he could see it now, the billowing thick black clouds that threatened a storm.
[The waves crashed and swallowed him over again. Spinning him around and throwing him back up to the surface where he gulped in the air and heavy rain which pounded down. He knew these were the last moments, but inside a fire kindled still. Please God. Please, let there be a way.]
He smiled then. Perfect, what a way to go. He wasn’t ashamed of what he was doing, but this way it will look like tragic accident. Less people hurt. Less questions. Less self-analysing on every interaction people had had with him. Could they have done more, should they? What was he doing out at sea in the first place? Of course, they’d ask that. ‘Oh, don’t you remember, they had that boat. Oh Yes, they both loved those little adventures. Oh dear, how terribly sad’.
He could hear it all now, playing out like the end of a film. He didn’t really want to die. But he had nothing left to live for. They weren’t coming back, and he’d built a life around that. He couldn’t change things; they grew into a horrible thorny bush that refused to be cut back; and for that he’d given up. He watched how fast the storm blew his way, his little sailboat rocking heavily in the building surge. He knew there were terrible currents in this area. It seemed nearly every week in the busy season swimmers were dragged out to sea, like invisible seadogs pulling them out and down to meet Poseidon. Hidden riptides were a real killer in this stretch of the coast, and too many people found this out the hard way. He watched the swells and waited for the rain which began almost instantly as the clouds took hold and choked out the sun.
It fit his mood. The rain, the darkness. He imagined some slumbering monster to come up from the deep and seize his boat. A great leviathan that he could stare into the eye of and succumb to as it tore him to shreds. The sweet relief of death.
[Gasping. Aching. Lungs heavy. He struggled to open his eyes as the salt water washed through them like an unabated flood. Time to shut off. Time to shut down. You cannot go on, the tiny voice in his head said. That opponent who always brought the worst. God, why won’t you help me? It spluttered…. Wait. I will not end it like this. There is a way. Someone will come. Hope in hope. He told himself, and pictured a boat drifting hauntingly towards him, outstretched arms to come and rescue his weary bones.]
He took off his shirt, letting the sea spray splash against his chest. He wanted to feel something, anything before the end. He wanted to curse the sea for what it was doing and embrace it all at the same time. The conflicting light and dark that was within him and shifted like a sand in a pot of water. Swirling in a confused state of inaction. He wanted to be brave and turn his boat around. He wanted to be strong and dive headfirst into the waves and drown a million deaths and be gone.
And then he spotted him. A tiny head, no bigger than that of a pebble, floating on the sea like it had been placed there by God.
He shook himself, trying to dislodge the image. The trickiness of life, trying to get him to reconsider. To go home, procreate. Settle down and carry on. He rubbed at his eyes, but the image didn’t change. Instead it now came with sound. The shouts of a boy calling for help.
In his head, he’d always wanted to be good. That he’d be a good person no matter what was thrown at him through life. That he would do the right thing when called for. But he was ashamed to say he did not move straight away. His first thoughts did not fly to steering his little boat over to the boy and rescuing him. It wasn’t fear, shock or any other rationale response. He simply watched the scene for a few minutes for the sheer disgusting beauty of it all. The tragedy at his hands and before his eyes like a great Greek scene played out on a canvas before him. The rolling waves, the heavy rain. The black clouds like a collapsed volcano above. He had no notion of being the hero, but there was something there. Like the beauty of a funeral in the ugly face of death that he savoured. Momentarily.
[There! Is it? Of course, it is, I knew they’d come. They just had to.]
He steered his little boat over to the boy and reached into the sea and helped him out. He was heavy and broken. Battered by the waves and exhausted by staying afloat for so long. The riptide of course that had ensnared him, pulverised him into the eyes of death. Plucked him away from the beach that he was swimming by, his dad napping under a sun umbrella the last time he saw him. It had felt like an age, and he couldn’t guess how long he’d been out to sea for. Safe inside the boat now, he smiled an exhausted smile and thanked the man before passing out, waking up later in the hospital with his dad by his side.
After pulling him into the boat, the boy had thanked him and collapsed into a heap. He rushed to get a blanket from down in the cabin, hurrying back and covering the boy. He must get back as quick as he could. But the wind and the rain, the sea and his early wishes of disaster were too strong. Ensnared in the thick of the storm, the boat was pulled out further and further. The land but a distant blur to him now. He watched as the waves crashed over his bow, the sleeping sea monster now fully awake, causing havoc.
He had set out that day with a simple wish. To disappear completely. But something inside him shifted, something he knew was there all along. He never wanted to live just to live. There was no reward to just surviving in a life. Too many people shuffled day to day, along the road of an unchanging existence. Being the same person when they die, to how they lived. His own God had died in him long ago. Swept out to sea in the sad goodbyes and people he could not keep close. He wasn’t swayed by the sentimental timely appearance of the boy in the boat. The young life so innocent and full of years ahead.
He would save him, yes. But it hadn’t melted his heart in the way that was expected. Instead, as he’d looked into the scared and thankful eyes of the boy, he saw a hope, a thirst; a need for something that he recognised. More than survival, but of a certainty of living and being. It was as if a layer had peeled off his heart, and just a crack of light had shone inside. This boy, who had everything before him, could be snuffed out on this sea, without the course of a life to change from what he had come to this planet as. He himself had sunk lower than the depths of those shipwrecks beneath him now. Not seeing the sun or the light. But a stirring within him whispered of change. Of a great reveal of something. He no longer wanted to die. He wanted to return to the coast, for reasons he now understood.
He swung the boat a hard turn to port and screwed his eyes in a determination towards the storm. He hoped to make it towards the inlet on the eastern side of the bay. He knew this to be better protected, and it might give him a chance. He hoped for a small break in the weather so he could get his bearings a little. His hand dug into his pocket, and he felt the ring inside there, strangely warm in his hand. He looked off into misty rain and he searched for a way, hoping for a change. And then, suddenly the rain halted.
He smiled. Not on his face which was soaked in spray and tears, but inside, feeling a little bit of the black melt away.
“So, did anyone catch his name?” the doctor said, scratching copious notes onto her clipboard. She struggled to believe much of what she had been told. The boy’s condition did not fit the events of the day. He was sleeping now, but what his body had been through, did not show on the tests or in appearance.
“No-one did, no. He just appeared, calling for an ambulance. I knew it was Michael there though, and I was just relieved to see him again.” His father said, sipping the black coffee that had appeared moments before from his daughter who had returned from the hospital canteen.
“Quite the mystery then. But it looks as though Michael is out of the woods.” She said, clicking her pen and putting it into her pocket. She wasn’t one for fairy tales, she was busy; and had no time to indulge in mystery angels or heroics. She saw heroes every day in her colleagues, she knew there was a reality to miracles they performed that went unnoticed. “We’ll monitor him overnight, but I would advise getting some rest yourself. The events of the day have probably taken a toll on you also.”
“I just hope we can find him is all. I want to thank him for saving my son’s life.” The man said, snuffling a little, not used to being emotional in front of strangers. She smiled a fraction, her heart always warmed by appreciation.
“Hope in hope.” she said, and turned to leave the little hospital room, which had a view of the sea from high up on Bartholomew hill. The waves now much calmer, the gods of the ocean pacified it seemed for the time being.