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BOOKS ....... FREE STORIES ....... TALES OF TAM YS ....... ARCHIVE ....... EDITING ....... SARAH


Trawling on a wintered shore

Here's one of the stories from Tam Ys for you. I can't remember if I've shared it here before or not.


After the rain, they go down to the long white tide. There, the shore is bruise-coloured and broken, and rocks dwindle away into the ocean like regretted words. Through a cold damp wind, amongst drownings, they search for necessities and dreams.

She has a wooden bucket banded with rope. He has the wicker baskets his grandfather made, still strong after all this time. The children drag sacks behind them as they run. Some seasons, he brings down a barrow, hauling it over stones and driftwood. But the sky is too faint this time, the winter too long. She has said three words to him that morning, after a night untouched. So he takes baskets because that’s how his heart feels: cloistered, old, something that needs to be held close. 

She bashes the bucket against her leg as she walks - not intentionally, probably. And she drags the windswept hair again and again from her face. When she gets halfway down the beach she stops, ankle-deep in sea-debris, and stares out to the horizon, where fog makes an endless silence. Her eyes are darker than the water, but just as eerie. She’s looking like that incase he looks at her. 

Look at me, she thinks. Like a moon at a tide: tugging, tugging. He doesn’t - but she can feel him carefully not looking, and that’s almost the same thing. The sea coils around his ankles as if it would love him, take him, and she hates it for that. But then, hasn’t he always been the one to say, let’s go north, make a shop, or have a farm, and she’s said she couldn’t breathe, away from the ocean? I hate it, she has always told him, but I have to stay.

She wonders some times if he’s thinking the same about her. Winter times, anyway, when they’ve been rattling around like bones in the silence, hungry for food, for light, for running laughing on the dunes and then falling sighing holding as the children go on running, trying to fly, around them. Winter times when they drag their hearts like they drag the sea after storms.

Seems, these past couple of years, every season has been a wintering.

The children have found cockles. They squat down to gouge them from the mud. Half will be empty, he thinks. My fingers will be ravaged, trying to open them, she thinks. They glance towards each other, then away before their eyes meet. He stabs the tide for its little fish. She guts the beach of its seaweed.

They’d married here, eleven years ago. Low tide, sunshine, flowers in their hair. The children had been only lines on her smallest finger when she made a fist. Two, she said, showing him, and he’d laughed. Not a mean laugh, more like the sound of water rustling amongst stones. She’d been the one laughing when the superstition came true. It hadn’t seemed funny, though, the year they dug the little grave for their third baby, and she’d fallen out of enchantment with the lines on her hands, the old magical stories. There were a hundred of them now, lines, scars, little burns. And no more children. She’d become a realist. And he, asking about north over and again since then, dreamed more. He dreamed of apple trees, sheep, fat red roses growing around the door. She did not laugh at him. She was a tide gone out. 

Stars lay under the seaweed - chipped, brownish, edible enough to put in the bucket. We have come to this, she thinks as she gathers them: eating stars. He finds four fish, an empty bottle, a scrap of net with two good hooks in it. He is smiling, she is almost crying, when their eyes finally, accidentally, longingly, connect.

He draws her down wordless, smiling like that. He crooks an arm around her. Sea swarms their feet, sucks the sand away around them. They waver, then held on to each other, like they used to, as if not even the sea could beat them. She can feel the bones beneath his shirt. She has a hundred words clattering like stones in her throat: love, hunger, flowers, apples, stars that made her hands bleed, the cold ocean, winter, wishes, bones, bones. 

Don’t say them, his mouth urges, kissing her silent. 

But when her words have melted and there’s nothing left of value in the sea, so they’re walking up the beach again, he turns to her, and he says what she really had to say, beneath all those stones, but has never been able to put into words: the true reason she can not bear to leave this aching, starving place.

They look away from each other, up the shore past where the children are hauling sacks behind their thin, weathered bodies, laughing, swallowing sea-salted wind. They let their gazes settle finally on what she has never truly looked away from, and what he’s refused to see, these two years passed: that bit of land beyond the house where a third child sleeps.

She drops her bucket of weeds and stars, relinquishes silence finally. He holds her while sound like a winter sea crashes through to his heart. Then they take a deep breath and go home. They eat tiny fish, star hearts, five cockles in seaweed broth. All the frail dreams of the ocean. Still hungry, they chew on words until they get their marrow. And they laugh, and sing their children songs.

Spring comes three weeks later. But they have gone north. They took an old cart piled with furniture, fishing gear, two children, and a box of blessed earth that they buried again three months later on a little farm, beneath a tree that will drop star-hearted apples onto that earth, apples for sheep and children and grandchildren to eat all the years to come.

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