The sea is smiling today, soft and beguiling. Damn her. Damn her. Owen scowls at her from the prow of the Gwiddon, hands gripping the rusty rail, feet apart, knees locked as of habit although the swell is as gentle as a lullaby. He prefers the whore, the witch, the harpy. He knows his place then. He knows every inch of her, every gentle curve, every bone and sinew of her but can never sense that moment when she’ll snap, snarl, catch you in her jaws and spit you out on the shore for the women to gather up like flotsam. But then, no man can.
He shuts off the engine. Gwiddon rests on the water, a baby at the breast, sated and sleepy. The only sound is his breathing, rapid and hoarse. He looks back into the smudge on the horizon that is Greyling Bay. The air is still; the sky a pane of frosted glass; the smoke from the chimneys as straight and true as a plumb line. A few desultory gulls drift across the quay waiting for the boats to return bursting with their slippery, silver cargo. They don’t know about quotas, about net gauges. They’ll have to make do with rubbish bins and scattered chips.
He slipped out that morning to scuttle his beloved Gwiddon and sink with her into the seductive mattress of water. Why fight? Why rise before a winter’s dawn and set out against the tide, sleet blinding him, the wild wind tearing his hands, scraping the skin from his cheek; the triumphant struggle to haul in the swollen nets only to weep tears of rage back on shore where, calculations made and heads shaken, most is poured back into the water, dead and rotting?
On such days he feels the madness rise in him. He lurches blindly into The Ship and then, too ashamed to face the look in Ann’s eyes, sleeps off the madness on Gwinnod’s deck.
Greyling Bay once was home to a hundred fishing boats. Now the three that are left are the tattered remnants of sanity in a world where a London newspaper pays him to talk about the ‘good old days’. The girl smiles as he swallows glass after glass of whisky which he isn’t used to and only drinks because she’s paying. He isn’t a man of words like this chattering exotic bird with her jangling bangles who sits across the table from him, affecting wonder and astonishment at his nonsense. He’s stiff and awkward at first—he hates to see a woman at the bar—but soon enough he stops caring and demands more and the more he drinks, the more lies and fairytales pour from his loosened mouth because that’s what she wants hear. When his own idiocy stares back at him a week later he wants to vomit but Ann, who knows it is nonsense, kisses him and says never mind, bach, the money will pay for shoes for the girls.
Judas, the sea whispers in his ears. Judas Iscariot.