By Chris Wilson
“…..Standing alone on the ancient breakwater Justine La Marche pulled her heavy black cloak around her and, fighting the salt spray that soaked and blinded her, she gazed out at the crashing breakers and the wind driven, spume smothered boiling seething sea. Night was falling, a north East gale was howling, the sea was churning, and her lovers boat was now three days overdue. Desperately she held up her lantern against the oncoming gloom. It’s faint and flickering light was fast fading, but she was in love, she felt that the gods were with her, and the lanterns faltering light might still guide her lover to safety. Soon, so soon, if the sea was merciful, he might guide his ship into the harbour, and rest within her arms!
Pierre, Pierre, where are you. It is I, Justine, who calls you, when are you coming home!”
But there came no answer, save the thunderous booming roar of the sea as it smashed into the old crumbling storm weary breakwater, and the savage banshee scream of the howling offshore wind……”
Robert Simmons, alias Claudette Perrigo, pressed the save button on his laptop computer, and bleakly gazed over the smooth grey rock pool landscape that lay in front of him, wet and steaming in the warm summer sun. A sensitive and reclusive, if shabby man by nature, he was tired of romance and the French revolution, and writing this drivel, but it was his meal on the table, and his bank roll; and if he stopped this writing then his publisher and his bank manager would start to email him, and the bailiffs might come knocking at his door. Soon, too soon he would have to resume writing, but he wished they would all just leave him and his casual scruffiness alone. He sometimes felt lonely though and, occasionally, he wondered if any other future, or any other inspiration, would ever come his way.
He had started writing this last book when he was back in his apartment; but nothing had really flowed, and so it was that he had come outside to seek some inspiration. The trouble was that, as often happened, there seemed to be nothing at all to see. It was a sunny day, but a mean breeze suddenly whipped around his ankles. He shivered, he swore, and after he took a nip of whisky from his hip flask, he thought of his simmering slow cooker hot pot, and his faded but comfy armchair; both of which he would enjoy once he got home. He stopped though and took one last look around him.
There was nothing but an old wind bleached cottage with its door open, a disorderly flock of cantankerous seagulls, a beached and battered old fishing boat, and a youngster in an oversized battered sun hat, poking around halfway towards the shore.
Casually he shrugged his shoulders, there’d be no inspiration or storyline for him today; but the breeze had dropped sharply, the sunshine was comforting, so sitting by the sea-shore seemed a good idea after all. He settled himself down securely, casually packed away his belongings, and allowed the summer sun to envelop him, before pulling his old hat down over his nose. Perhaps when he woke up later he would feel like writing, but now he was feeling warm and cosy, for the moment he felt like sleeping; so just for a moment, he would call it a day.
After jamming on her father’s old floppy fishing hat that he now never wore, flame haired Poppy Bridson briskly closed the poorly closing door of her family’s old salt caked, herring smoked, loosely shuttered seaside holiday cottage, and stuck out her tongue at a scruffy young wind whipped salty seagull that, head forward, insolently screamed at her from the edge of the lawn. She ran across, and then out of the garden, jumped over the once important but now redundant lichen stained sea wall, and then slid happily down the long grass bank that, baked by the hot summer sun, glassily shimmered on the other side.
Then she slowed down, and carefully stepped across the smooth grey low flat outcrops that incised and split by the deep cut channelled rock pools, she had come to love over so many summer seasons gone by. She was eleven now, red headed, inquisitive and imaginative, and looking deep into the rock pools, she was still amazed and astonished at everything that she could see.
“Where did all that life come from?”
“How had it all arrived there, she thought to herself, and if could talk, what stories might it tell?
In her mind she had heard some of the stories, but she could never seem to put pen to paper so, for the moment, she knew that she could only think and dream. She only wished she could share her thoughts with her parents, but her mother and father, though still happily married, virtually led separate lives now, so as ever she dreamt on alone. Her mother was away in Australia, setting up a big new business, and her father, was always too busy with his paint brushes to be with her by the shore. Sadly it seemed he never heard her, or if he did hear her, then, artists’ palate in hand, his mind, and his eyes, always seemed to be elsewhere. One day, she hoped, they might become a real family again.
The summer breeze and the sea shore were calling though, so she looked around to see what been brought in by the tide. Turning her back on the world behind her she lay on the polished slate outcrops, looked into the deep dark rock pools, and slipped into a magical subterranean world of her own. Then she heard a loud snore. Curious, but amused, she got up and began to look around her. In the rock pools, in her private kingdom, sea life was always on the menu; but snoring, even in the summer, was rarely to be found.
It didn’t take her long to trace the sound, and when she found out where it came from Poppy first began giggling, and then her joyous laughter filled the air. She knew it as rude to laugh at her elders, but she had found a fat man snoring, and he looked, and smelled like her dad one morning after a Christmas office party, or a heavy night on the beer, but it wasn’t the festive season; she couldn’t sees any bottles, glasses or party poppers, and his feet were pointing directly towards the sea. Maybe, she thought, he was a hung over king Neptune who had somehow been left behind after an all night undersea party, and then been cruelly left out on the shoreline to sober up before his watery return. Even at her age he had an eye for detail, as well as the ridiculous, so, with meticulous care and attention, she mentally recorded everything that she could see and smell.
If he was an aquamarine ruler he certainly didn’t look as though he was wearing his robes, as all Poppy could see was a stock of clothing which, even to her untutored eyes, had seen better days. Once she had found a tramp sleeping by the shore line, and though this man was a little smarter, she still wondered what had gone wrong.
Silently she looked at him all over, and wondered how he might have been in happier times. Where the cloths and the wearer come from; she wondered, what was their history; and why had they fallen quite so far? She sat down on the rock bedside him, and carefully looked and listened to him sleeping, maybe if she waited long enough an answer might come her way. Then as she looked at him she once more began giggling, and then her face broke into a broad grin.
She had always imagined that if she were to meet King Neptune he would he riding the waves or, in her imaginary world, he would be holding court in a rock pool and wearing a set of glorious multicoloured robes. Now, if she had found him, he was scruffily dressed, pot bellied, and flat on his back on a rock shelf, with his crown; an old broad rimmed stained battered sun hat; precariously balanced over his eyes and nose. As he snored his crown quivered gently, while his weeping grey and nicotine stained moustache lifted and fell, as if carried along by an incoming and then receding tide.
“This was no king Neptune”
“This is an ancient whiskered walrus that, along with a carpenter, has been eating too many young oysters by the shore!!”
At least some of the oysters had been cooked in garlic though, for as the man lay sleeping a heavy buttery smell of the vegetable crept out from the man’s part open mouth and skin. She recoiled slightly, as she didn’t really like garlic; nor did his sour smell of whisky; and in doing so her foot kicked over a small open top carrying case that had been quietly lying by his side. The bag fell over, and with a loud clunk and then a rattle a lap top fell out onto the rock ledge. For a second, it spun around wildly and flashed like a rainbow trout twisting in the sun.
Poppy looked at in silence, and then frowned. She could accept that King Neptune’s crown might be less than golden, his clothes did not need to shine in the sun, and his personal hygiene certainly left much to be desired, but the lap top really disappointed her, she had always imagined he would hold a carved stone tablet, or giant clam shell in his hand. She was however prepared to forgive him, as the laptop, in falling, now lay partially open. Clearly he had left it up and running and, as she looked closely, an intriguing file name leapt out at her from the screen.
Though, through past experience, she knew it was wrong to look at or play with other people’s property, her natural impish curiosity overwhelmed her, and she cautiously clicked on the file open button to see what might lie inside. Carefully she moved in closer, and slowly began to read the text that rapidly appeared on the screen. She had always enjoyed reading a good story, but this one soon puzzled her as somehow something seemed to be wrong. Soon though she was in a world of her own, and completely absorbed in what lay on the screen.
“Excuse me young lady, what do you think you’re doing?”
Waking up from a deep sleep Robert looked around him, and was both surprised and highly amused at what he saw. He had been dreaming of mermaids while , but he never expected to wake up and see one by his side, and he never knew they had bright red hair. In his dream they had all been drinking champagne, and they’d been laughing and dancing around him, but now a different one was reading his manuscript; and if that as the standard he’d be judged by than he felt very ashamed. Looking at her he tried to be stern and imposing, but it was of no use; for all she did as to look at him, put out her tongue, grin cheekily, and then point towards the screen.
“What do you think I’m doing? I’m reading the story; is it yours?
He nodded and pulled himself up so he could see the screen. He rested his back on a smooth rock face. It was warm from the sun, and he felt he could stay there for hours.
“Yes, that’s a new book I’m writing, what do you think of it so far?
She looked back at the screen, paused, scratched herself behind her ear, and then shook her head emphatically.
“I’m sorry, but I think it’s daft, and the lady with the lamp, she doesn’t seem to be very sensible!”
Shocked by her words Robert first looked at the screen and then back towards the girl. Normally his agent, publisher, and his fans loved this kind of writing; especially when he introduced his fictional heroines; but the girl was right. Maybe, just for once, he has found a true critic after all. Eagerly he wanted to find out more.
She looked at Robert curiously, and then she began to look back at the screen.
“Well, look at that bit at the beginning, it simply doesn’t work. There is woman standing on a breakwater, and that’s OK, as people do that all the time; but then it all goes wrong. It’s getting dark, there’s loads of sea spray, and what you first call a howling and then a screaming gale. Then there’s no sign of any ship, but she is holding a little lantern that nobody will ever see. Not only that she is also standing on a dangerous breakwater, and calling out to lover who can never hear her. I like the words, I like the storm, but it’s still very silly. We all like to dream about places we can go to, but if the story is meant to be in the real world, then why don’t you write about people as if they were really there?”
Robert felt as though he had been affectionately ticked off by his old matronly schoolteacher, and he felt uncomfortable. It had been many years since he had left that stuffy little schoolroom; but the girl was quite right all the same.
“Oh you clever little mermaid, no-one has ever has ever told me off before, or at least not for many years now; but that’s what I’ve built my career on, so how can I change the stories I’m writing now?”
Then he smiled
“If you’re so brilliant, why don’t you show me how?
For a moment she hesitated, and then pointed towards the shore, and then all around
“OK, what can you see?”
He shrugged his shoulders; he had seen all this before.
“A boat, a cottage, and a bunch of noisy seagulls, what else is there to see?
She turned away from him and then, in silence, she drew her knees up under her chin.
“There’s nothing here really; but who lives in that cottage, why is the door open, how did the fishing boat get stranded, and why are the gulls swirling around? Did the boat run aground, was there a storm, or was it foggy. Did the fishermen reach the safety of the cottage, have they left in a hurry and is their dinner still on the table? Are the gulls just playing, have the found a dead crab or two; or are they fighting over the dead fisherman’s bleached and broken bones? There you go, you are the writer, and you say you write stories, so why can’t you put that into words?
For a moment Robert sat thinking, and then he slowly shook his head from side to side.
“Good try little lady, but that’s all been done before. I need something different, something original, something even from another world. You find me those things, and then I’ll show you what a writer can do!”
She looked at him carefully, cocked her head to one side, got up and then smiled.
“Come on then, I’ll show you a different world, and I’ll bet you’ve never seen it before!”
Gingerly getting to his feet, he slowly and painfully followed her as she lightly, but nimbly, skipped towards the shore. Moving with all he grace and assuredness of a mountain goat he had once seen in the Dolomite mountains, she seemed as thoroughly at home on this mid shoreline as the goat had been in the mountains; but he was old, his joints seemed even older, and, almost maliciously the sharp breeze once more spun around his heels. Grumbling at his infirmity, and swearing at the mocking breeze, he eventually caught up with her, and then began inwardly laughing as he saw her lying face down on a flat low rock outcrop, and gazing into a deep dark rock pool below.
Years ago he had gazed into rock pools, and he had fished for, or, in his daydreams, talked to mythical sea creatures, just as she as doing now, but now, such a world seemed to be no more than childhood fantasies, that he had regrettably thrown away. He was an adult now, an old adult, and he lived in a real world, with adult responsibilities, but out of sheer devilment he dropped, a fraction heavily and stiffly, down by her side. She looked at him quizzically, and then she quietly moved to one side.
“You wanted another world didn’t you; well go on, you’ll find there’s one down there”
Gingerly he looked over the edge of the rock shelf and instantly a whole new world swam before his eyes. He had seen such worlds when he was a youngster, but sadly he hadn’t taken it in, but now as the deep rock pool lay stretched out below him he began to see its glory, and its life and death struggles, with a very new set of eyes.
Before him lay a gently swaying forest of red seaweed, while on the underwater forest floor a deep bed of breadcrumb sponge lay smooth calm and serene. Not for long though as many animals were also to be found. Voracious lemon sea slugs grazed upon the supine sponges, hermit crabs scuttled by snakehead anemones, periwinkles gently waved to passing prawns, and all the while wrasse and suckers scoured the rock faces while Blennies and Goby fish kept a watchful patrol. There he lay as a writer, looking at a new world for him, but at an old world that had always been struggling, yet surviving, in the ever-changing tides close by its side. Suddenly he felt thoroughly ashamed and stupid, yet curiously excited at the same time.
This was a fantastic world worth writing about, a small world, yet one that was a full of life as any that he had seen. Now his lap top was calling him, his mind was racing, his fingers were twitching, and still, as he looked around him, his fame headed sun drenched mermaid sat quietly and patiently by his side. She shifted slightly, cleared her throat, and then pointed back words the shimmering yet cavernous rook pool in front of him.
“Now that’s what I call a real story; don’t you?
Quickly he got up, his old age and his aching limbs now forgotten, and looking at each other they both began laughing. They were both children now, the years had rolled away and now all he wanted was a bucket and spade, a pack of strawberry jam sandwiches, a bar of chocolate, a jam jar, a small shrimp net, and an outgoing tide. He somehow knew he would get to know her, and see her the next time he came down by the shore. She knew that next time she would bring her father, as maybe all three of them could then become friends. The artist, the writer, the flame headed mermaid, and a little known rock pool; even the wheeling and caterwauling seagulls seemed to agree with them, as they screamed out an unashamedly cacophonous refrain.