The following story was published by Dundee New Writers 2010. I’m grateful to them for their interest and support.
The house stood on a jagged outcrop of rock, spotted with mustard lichen. It was built from huge blocks of granite. On the headland a black flag ran taut in the westerlies. Sea spray dashed against the rocks. Breakers retreated, spent, sucking running pebbles into the surf. Far out in the bay, white horses rode like flecks of titanium dabbed on canvas.
‘You wouldn’t want to be out there today,’ Dad said.
Dad unscrewed our flask. Steam rose from the hot coffee as it swirled into the plastic square-shaped cup. Dad had used this flask for years, so the white plastic had aged like bone. I shook my head. I hated the metallic taste flasks gave to hot drinks. Heaps of brown sugar couldn’t shift it. On the horizon a yacht’s sale dipped and rose. When I was six granddad had tacked a Jolly Roger to my bedroom wall. I’d dreamed of sunken Spanish galleons spilling pieces of eight onto the seabed. I’d read about giant squid drawing ships and their screaming crews into the ocean depths. I’d seen old maps, brittle and yellowed like paperbacks left in sunlight, showing unexplored lands and volcanoes and twisting serpents. And, always to the West, the words ‘Here Be Dragons.’
‘Let’s chuck some skimmers. Let’s see what you’re made of,’ Dad said.
He chose a smooth purplish stone that was flat as a roof tile. He threw it from palm to palm, gaging its weight. I picked up a pebble, tossed it in the air and caught it with a slap in my palm.
‘Cheat. You can’t use that,’ Dad said.
He pointed to an orange seam, striping the middle of the pebble.
‘That’s brick and the rest is cement. It’s part of a wall, not a stone.’
I ran my fingertips over it.
‘The sea has took off all the rough edges,’ Dad said.
He was wearing a tweed cap he’d bought from a farmer at the street market. The farmer had black teeth and a felt waistcoat with fishing flies in place of buttons.
‘He saw you coming. Still,at least he can get his pegs sorted,’ Mum said.
Mum still called teeth ‘pegs’ like she did when I was a toddler. I still called most of her friends auntie. It just didn’t feel right to change some things. Dad raised the peak of the cap. There was a line of grit; shining specks of sand plastered to his forehead with sticky sea salt. It reminded me of primary school when you glued outlines on sugar paper and let the sand fall across them, sticking, and creating a picture. Dad crouched low, braced his knees, and whipped his arm across his thigh, sending the pebble arcing into the waves. It missed the first breaker, flipped and skimmed across the water three times before plopping into the water.
‘Fiver,’ Dad said.
I held up four fingers. We’d driven through the Bay to get here, but the Bay wasn’t our thing. The beach was staked out with pajama-striped windbreaks, beach towels and chubby, day-tripping families pouring orange squash from children’s plastic teapots. An ice-cream van belched out diesel as its freezer unit chugged along in the heat. It’s chimes stuck on: Jack and Jill went up the hill….’ Divers and skippers of boats called Wet Dream and Spent Pension were shuffling for position on the jetty.
‘They’ve got a few quid so they think they own the place,’ Dad said.
‘I’m happy here,’ I said.
This rocky little cove was perfect. The rocks were amber and caramel and jagged and slick and smooth and lined like an ancient map. The constant scoring and scorching of the waves could barely change them. Smugglers and princes, perhaps Vikings had sat on these rocks. They were pitted and decked and pocked and spiked. They brought to mind the soft, wet mud of a farmer’s field trampled by cattle and frosted by winter. I tapped my jeans pocket feeling the contours of my moleskin notebook. Frosted by winter, I liked that.
Three boys were fishing on the point. Dad said we’d go and see what they’d caught. We hopped and slid and skated across rocks clumped with rich, brown seaweed.
‘Any luck?’ Dad said.
The eldest shook his head. He had a thatch of hair that looked as if no amount of gel or wax would ever tame it.
‘What are you using as bait?’
The boy pointed to a handful of limpet shells at his feet. Dad pulled a face.
‘You want rag or lug,’ he said.
The boy was using the drawstring from a raincoat as his line. Where it had frayed he’d singed it with a match or lighter and attached a large brass hook with flaking black paint.
He hooked a limpet and angled it downwards between a shelf of rock and a fringe of russet seaweed. The line hung loose. Fine grains of sand had washed into this pool as if the tide had been panning for gold. The line went taut. The boy allowed it to run a little. Then he pulled it and raised it by degrees hand over hand. A crab had the limpet between its pincers. Dad hopped from foot to foot.
‘Let’s see it,’ he said, crouching with a crack of the knees as the crab was set down on the rocks. Dad tousled the boy’s hair. I doubted I’d ever make him that proud because I didn’t fish or fight or run or jump. We left the boys to examine their prize. As we walked back across the headland Dad said: ‘One day you’ll have to show me what you write in those notebooks of yours.’
He smiled. I watched the black flag flutter, then drop. People often smile when they’re trying to make a serious point.