I’d like to share one of my short stories with you this week.
The Troubled Waters
The waves are relentless at battering the coastal cliffs. Water, soft as taffeta, reduces the shoreline to chunks of broken rock and diminished stature. Nathan Hall ponders the damage to the edge of his property and curses the wind and the rain. He raises his fist at the breakers that are bashing their heads against the bluff marking the peripheral of his land.
“Damn you Mother Nature! Will you continue to steal the very sod my ancestors gave to me?”
Over a hundred years have passed since Nathan’s great grandfather fished from the very waters destined to destroy his only legacy. Chewing up on the edges, little by little, the earth gives way to the authority of the sea. He built a home on ground solid enough to withstand the ferocity of northern gales, the sun’s hottest days, winter’s temper. The sea though, is a different story. Nathan will be the last of the Halls to inhabit the property of his ancestors.
The rain pelts the wrinkled skin of the man, plastering his hair upon his forehead. It does nothing however to soften his features as he holds his face up in defiance. Nor does it wash away the torment he carries. Like the diminishing shore, his spirit has eroded with the pounding of the years. Between his body and his left arm, he clutches a photo album. Tears escape across his cheeks, impossible to distinguish from the raindrops, except for the salt of his sorrow. He drops to his knees, his head hanging. As the album falls to the damp ground on its spine, the wind flips the cardboard edges until it rests open with pictures tinting the wet verdancy with a square of black and white.
As if to taunt him, the album falls to images of his son, his only child. Blurry eyed, he ignores them until the photos become indistinguishable. He doesn’t want to see them anymore. Not enough years have gone by for him to forget the haunting memory of an anguished sea claiming his son’s body and his future. Ripping the photos out one by one he throws them into the wind. They tumble, and flitter like birds as they drift out to sea. He yells into the storm.
“Take them you selfish whores. The same as you took my Davey forty years ago. Like you took my Helen.”
Frustrated with anger at not being able to get them out fast enough, he begins tearing whole pages out, flipping them into the air, watching them twirl and spiral away. When he starts to tear out the last page, the wind suddenly dies. The rain stops. Fierce clouds, warriors of the sky, split apart to reveal a brilliant ray of gold that sweeps across the waves, as if admonishing them to calm down. The immediate stillness astonishes Nathan. He’s stunned into inaction as he watches the seascape change dramatically from rage to pacifist. He’s never witnessed such a phenomenon.
He wipes the moisture from his face, pushes the hood covering his head onto his shoulders and fingers the unruly locks from his forehead. Gaping at the whitecaps on the horizon as they dissolve, he rises and steps closer to the precipice. As he gazes down the rocky incline, he almost slips and steps back, unsure of the soft ground. The shredded album hangs by his side. It slips from his wet fingers and lands at his feet, pulling his attention away from the vista. Only one picture was left pasted on the last page. An eight by ten of him, his wife and baby David. On the other side are four photos. All of Helen.
Despite his anger to rid himself of all reminders, his shoulders sag at the thought of losing these last few images. Tearing the page from the binder, he hurls the empty album into the air and without the wind, it plunges into the sand at the base of the cliff. Hugging the last page to his chest, he studies the skyline, his features at rest, a calm after the storm. The troubled clouds have had enough of each other and break up into meaningless clumps. The morning sun sprinkles its warming glow where it can. A warm zephyr whispers to the water close to shore causing small ripples to lick the sand. Feeling somewhat weightless and tired, he looks for a spot to sit.
An old tree trunk lies close to the cliff edge. Once mighty and tall, it now lies dead and fading into the future one splinter at a time. He doesn’t care that it’s wet. He rests his butt on a smooth patch and flips the page over to the four pictures of Helen. The top left is one of her at a dance when she was a teenager. Her and her sister Martha are jiving together, their skirts flying and their ponytails swinging, glee evident in their large smiles. It was the night he met her. He can still recall the pink sweater and navy skirt, the enthusiasm in her eyes and how easily she blushed. It was the last dance of the night, a waltz and a lady’s tag. It had been the first dance he’d attended. He was thirteen. Too shy to venture onto the floor or ask someone to dance, he’d been a wallflower all night. He can still feel how his heart began beating faster when he watched her approach. Part of him wanted her to keep on walking, not center him out. Another side wanted to hear her voice. It was soft, melodic, like the last song.
“Would you like to dance with me?”
The second photo on the top is her walking away from the photographer. Her head is down exploring the beach she strolls on, always looking for washed up glass pieces. The shoreline curves to the left to go around a bend, the water to her right. Her legs are bare to the knees where they meet rolled-up denim shorts. A short sleeveless blouse, with frills around the neck and the bottom show off her slim waist. A broad smile crosses Nathan’s face. He was the photographer.
Gazing off into the sky, his vison blurs. A memory so vivid, it could’ve happened a few days ago. They were exploring the cliffs at the edge of the property. She loved the beach. The surf and ice had carved shallow caves from the sandstone and left a carpet of fine granular sand, soft as a kitten’s fur. Along with his camera, he carried a picnic basket and a blanket. They cuddled into the larger hollow, scrutinizing the sun rays dancing on the surface of the wavelets. The blanket bore witness to the union of their souls and the tiny drops of blood could never be washed out.
Nathan looks out at the water where they caves would’ve been all those years ago. Only a few large slabs of stone are all that’s left. During high tide, they disappear. He takes a deep breath, smelling the heady scent of wet earth and brine. Pausing, he uses all his will power not to blink. He’s cried enough. His attention turns to the bottom left photo.
It’s a close up of Helen when she graduated from Beauty School. It would’ve been in the school’s year book. Nathan touches the photo, his finger tracing her full lips, so red they look dark gray on the photo. Her light brown hair ends at her shoulders with a casual flip all around, a style popular in the seventies. The eyes. Nathan shakes his head with a smirk, reminding himself he could always read her looks. The eyes told him everything. When she was angry, her eyes said stay away. Or if she was excited, they said follow me. Or when she hugged him, they said I love you. Sliding the photo from its protective holder, he puts it in his coat pocket.
The fourth photo was taken the week before she died. She’s lying on the grass where she had been staring up at the clouds. Full of mirth, she was poking fun at the formations and how they reminded her of Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse or Bullwinkle the moose. He took the picture. He had to stand over her to get her photo and he remembers her gazing at the lens and him telling her how beautiful she was. When she turned her head to the side, cheeks rosy, he snapped the shot.
Even now, he feels the same way. Her beauty hasn’t dwindled in his mind. Several loose strands of hair fall on her cheek: her T-shirt off shoulder and her breasts like plump oranges, her navel showing and just the top section of her jeans. A lump in his throat makes him look away with pursed lips and a sad luster in his eyes. The memories so fierce. He removes this photo as well and adds it to the same pocket. Shoving it in deeper, he disturbs the letter he has in there. He removes it and places it on the log beside him, ignoring it while he flips the page of photos over to the eight by ten.
Davey was only a month old when the picture was taken. A professional image from Robertson’s Studio. He thinks the owner’s name was Ben or something like that, he can’t remember for sure. Silly enough, he recalls the man’s easy laughter and how he fussed over them to get the best light. The black and white photo has been colored by hand. The faces all have the same blush of rouge on their cheeks. The clothing has a soft tinge as if you’re looking at it through gauze. The jumper his mother gave them for the baby is an appropriate blue. Nathan’s suit, dark brown. Helen’s blouse a shy pink. He had a moustache then. Long twirly ends to make handlebars. Helen thought it quite dashing, called him her pirate. He laughs out loud at the absurdity of it now and almost falls off the log. The moment he falters and reaches to catch himself, the page of photos shoots in the air. Gasping at what happened, without thinking he lunges for it. His next step will take him over the cliff.
He catches himself right at the edge, his toes in thin air, the balls of his feet on firm rock, his heels an inch off the ground. He arches his back trying to arrest his fall forward. Arms start propelling to pull himself back as he totters on an edge like the tip of a knife. Glancing down at the jagged rock twenty feet below, a torrent of wounds flash through his head, with death close behind. Heart pounding, frightened, his back impossibly arched, he twirls his arms faster now, until he starts to regain his balance. Tipping back toward land, he falls on his side, panting and holding his chest. A tide of relief overwhelms him. He turns on his back and rests his forearm across his eyes. The sun is directly overhead and blazes with a gratifying warmth. He lies still for many moments before his heart becomes still and his breathing regular.
A wandering cloud, grey and spiteful on the bottom, pure fluff on the top, stirs in an upper wind and blots out the sun for a moment. During its snail’s pace, it mutates into a face-like shape, its features becoming distinct. With a long snout, a floppy ear, tongue hanging out, it looks like a dog. It reminds him of Helen in the grass seeing cartoon characters and it makes him think of Pluto, the dog. The laugh starts with a titter, then a hearty chuckle and a second later, full belly-holding guffaws. He’s laughing at the stupid dog and he’s laughing in reaction to coming close to dying. It goes on until his stomach hurts and he’s gasping for breath. Curled up in the damp grass, he realises how good it felt to laugh out loud. It seems like forever since anything’s been so amusing. He opens his eyes to the cloud now shaped like nothing recognizable, just an ordinary cloud. The sun flicks its edge around the sky wanderer and catches him in the eye.
Blinking, he shuffles backwards on his rump and palms until his back is against the log. Concentrating on the water, as motionless as the pictures he lost, he takes a deep breath, rethinking his original intentions at tearing into the storm. The strain on his brow makes him look like a man that has to choose between right or left, right or wrong. Looking out to where the land stretches away from him, only a ribbon of his land remains. It’s divided from his neighbour by a rusty wire fence with grey-faced poles, older than Nathan by many years. The erosion will soon be a problem for the couple next door.
In the other direction, the fence follows a bend to the right, where a half an acre of land still remains. A handsome house, needing fresh paint, sits only a few feet from the cliff’s edge. It may be one or two winters before the old wooden home meets its executioner. The motion of looking back at the house disturbs the letter he set there earlier. It falls to his side. He finds the underside is wrinkled and damp when he picks it up. The seal around the bottom of the V is starting to curl. The face is blank. No address. He’d meant to put it in plastic, tightly wrapped so it wouldn’t get wet but in his rage he forgot.
It doesn’t matter now. Tomorrow when the sun comes up, he’s going to start packing.
Thanks to all you wonderful readers for visiting the Scribbler. I hope you enjoyed the story. Please feel free to leave a comment below.
Next week you will meet Author Stephanie LaVigne of Florida.
Watch for the next Drake Alexander Adventure - Vigilantes.
Cover Reveal August 1/2021