Down Along the Cove by R.T. Hardwick

He sits, bucket by his side, looking out across the bay. He's a small boy, perhaps nine or ten years old, tousle-haired, serious, alone, deep in thought. He's spent the morning building castles in the sand. He’s an only child, quite happy in his solitude. 

He's thinking of his life that lies ahead. Should he be an engine driver, a sailor, perhaps even a king? He's a king of the sandcastles, after all. In his mind he stands on a sand carpet of gold and watches kindly over his subjects as they lay gifts of pirate’s gold and pieces-of-eight at his feet. 

The sea is calm, the morning is warm and sunny, the sky lightly flecked with translucent cirrus clouds, the boy clad only in swimming trunks. He wonders whether he might go for a swim later. His mother told him not to because the currents around here are treacherous even though there is scarcely a ripple on the water. His mother is concerned for the boy's welfare, like all good mothers should be. 

He transfers his gaze from the old abandoned lighthouse far to the west, way beyond the sea wall, and looks straight across the bay. He sees the old hulk, encrusted with limpets, winkles and barnacles, resting drunkenly at an angle, hard up against the sea wall and the rocks. It's lain there since his grandad was a boy. His grandad says the captain was drunk and misread the charts. No-one was killed, but the Chinese cook broke his wrist. His grandad has great wisdom. 

The boy wonders where the ship sailed to when it was capable of doing so. Was it like The Queen Elizabeth, something majestic, sailing around the Cape of Good Hope with its plethora of rich passengers and crew in immaculate white linen uniforms? Perhaps the Queen herself was on board, piped down the gangway to lead a royal procession along big city streets, waving to the crowds throwing flowers at her and her party, whilst policemen in stiff uniforms  held up the traffic? Would she end the procession by shaking hands with VIPs, all genuflecting and saying: 'Yes Ma'am' and 'If you please, Ma'am?' 

The boy might be the captain of a great ship himself one day, spending all his time on the bridge, barking out orders; 'Take her down a notch, number one, and hard to starboard, three degrees west.' 

He looks again at the broken, rusted vessel, anchored in its final resting place. No Queen Elizabeth, she, after all, but a dirty old lugger, hauling coal and steel from port to port around the coast, the captain dressed in an old soiled sweater and greasy oilskins with a cigarette dangling from his lips, a glass of rum in his calloused hand, and the cook opening up yet another tin of corned beef for the overworked and starving crew. It's a filthy winter's afternoon, January, he thinks, more years ago than his nimble mind can visualise. Rain and sleet hose down from a dirty grey sky. The sea isn't calm, like it is now. Waves ten feet high toss the old lugger around like a badminton shuttlecock. Water streams down the windows of the bridge, rendering them opaque. The captain swallows another tot of rum. Suddenly, the engine fails and the ship is turned about by the gale. 

'We're finished, Captain,' says the Mate, by his side, 'man the lifeboat.' 

'Belay that, you lubber,' says the Captain. 'Stay here and get those engines moving.' 

It's too late. There’s a grinding crash as the prow of the boat smashes into the rocks below the sea wall. The crew climb desperately from the stricken vessel and clamber up the slippery rocks to safety.

'Peter?' 

The boy jumps with fright. He's still scrabbling up the greasy rocks with the captain, the mate, the Chinese cook and the rest of the men. It's only his mother, arriving with a picnic for his lunch. 

'Peter, you can’t sit there with next to nothing on. Here's a towel - wrap it around your shoulders. I've the picnic basket here - coffee and cheese and tomato sandwiches.' 

'I'm not hungry, Mum.' 

'Of course you’re hungry, Peter. Playing all this time at the seashore is bound to make you hungry.' 

'I've stopped playing. I'm thinking.' 

'Well, don't do too much of that, dear. You'll grow old before your time.' 'I was thinking - what will I be like when I grow up?' 

'Oh, I expect you'll grow up like your Dad - tall, handsome, good-humoured and kind.' 

'I don't mean that. What sort of job will I have?' 

'Well, you could do worse than sell insurance, like your father.' 'I don't want to sell insurance. It's boring.'

'Or you could be a teacher. You've always got your nose inside a book. Sometimes I swear you don't know what day it is when you’re reading.' 

'A teacher like Mr Brown?' 

'No, not exactly like Mr Brown, dear. Someone rather more pleasant. Now stop all this nonsense and have a sandwich.' 

Peter chews reflectively on his sandwich. 

'Do you think I'll ever be the captain of a great ship, sailing to wonderful places, meeting rich and famous people and having great adventures?' 

'I doubt it, Peter, seeing as how you always get sick on the river ferry.' 

'No, I don't suppose I will be the captain of a great ship. I don't want to wear greasy sweaters or oilskins, drink rum and shout at the Mate and the Chinese cook.' 

'I think you've been out in the sun too long, dear. I think we'd better go home.' 

As they gather up their things and prepare to leave, Mother, a sensitive soul, notices that her son's eyes have filled with tears. 

'What's the matter, Peter?' 

'The tide's come in and swept all my sandcastles away.' 

'Like life, really,' ponders Mother, sadly, ‘you build up your sandcastles and before you have the chance to enjoy them, the sea comes along and sweeps them away.'

Published in Issue #24

No comments:

Post a Comment