Thursday, 22 August 2013


Time moves differently on the water, measured by tides that surge through the yawning mouth of the river and far out to sea. Amy runs her hand loosely over the side of her boat, feeling the tug of time’s wake on her fingers. 

Beneath her the surface swells to crinoline edged peaks, their heads knocked flat by the wind. She watches as they scurry past, each closely chasing the tail of the last; bearing the boat out on their backs toward the headland. She is alone. News of an approaching squall kept everyone safely holed up in harbour. 

 The storm has begun to gather weight. It groans through the channel of the valley, scoops past the cliffs and cracks at the backs of her sails and speeds the shallow hull through the air. Amy cocoons herself in a roll of thick canvas, comforted by the cloth’s familiar damp smell and listens to the wash move around the thin walls of the boat; to the restless murmurs of the rigging; the spar that creaks and shifts impatiently in its holdings, russet sails bound tightly along its length. She dreams of an open walnut shell floating lightly along in the direction of the sea. The shell skips over the waves, protected from the wind that thickens in the sky and twists and coils itself around outside like a frantic animal. The shell’s noduled case conceals a secret: a girl curled within its wooden heart, safe and warm she sleeps as the rain beats over the Roseland. 
Whilst Amy sleeps a long inky shadow slips silent beneath the boat, ripples of moonlight shiver over his mottled back. He is hunting in the idlest sense: prowling the valley for a man with a net and a silver fish flapping from a bucket. He has mistaken Amy’s sail boat for those he trails into the float each day to gorge on the day’s catch. He swims playfully around the shell and its dreaming girl, snorts and dives, lifts his flippers: a dog rolling onto its back or offering a paw. There is no movement from above. The shadow trails around the stern and discovers a hand dragging over the water. Determined, he rolls his head against the numb reach of her fingers. Amy stirs. The shadow repeats his dive, curves his back against her palms. She is awake. Amy holds herself awkwardly up on one elbow and squints out over the lip of the boat. 
There, staring back over the hump of a wave, she finds herself reflected in a pair of dark marbled eyes. The seal sits up expectantly. Fat droplets drift along and hang from the ends of a set of whiskers, almost close enough to touch. Amy uncoils her frozen fingers. With one hand open she reaches across. She leans so far over that the bow lists down under her weight. The seal snuffs at Amy’s hand through wide wet nostrils. Their breath billows white over the still black surface and mingles in the space between. Amy wonders what it is he makes of her, of this strange pale animal posited in the middle of his river.

 He blinks; a translucent lid glides over his mirror like eyes. Softly, as unexpectedly as he appeared, the seal dives and with a flick of his great broad tail behind him he is gone, dissolved back to a shadow in the murky green below.
They told her she ought not to have survived the night; that the cold or the muscle of the river should have reached up and taken hold of the tiny vessel, dragged them down to its silty bed. There were endless questions. What had she been thinking? Where was she going? Fifty years have passed  and still the answers elude her. 

Yet, despite the decades that lie silent between them, she remembers with perfect sight the marvellous black eyes of the shadow peering through the moonlight, as though illuminated all the more intensely for the dark mire that surround them. The glitter of a smile dances over her face as she thinks of him, her seal, her shadow and a hand reaches instinctively out before her, plays in the air, responding to its own memory. 

She was not foolish enough to think it was anything but coincidence that bought him to her, but then “what is life if not a set of glorious little coincidences known only to you,” she smiles and withdraws her hand.

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