Life & Arts Fiction

The voyage

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The Humber Bridge near Hull (image by David Wright via Wikimedia Commons)

This short story is an *IA Writing Competition (fiction category) entry.

In the ebb and flow of a dream, my great-grandfather summoned me. He emerged from the tides with a handful of gold coins and an unnamed flower. The stars were like coins raised out of wishing wells, and moonlight filled the eye he had lost at sea. My relative didn't speak; he dropped the coins, and then I woke. I had heard stories about my great-grandfather George returning from sea with an unnamed flower he claimed had its roots in both heaven and earth. He could see the tears of Hull falling on the tides, catching his reflection, and one day he said he would return from paradise in those tears to compare its beauty with that of a fishing town, leaving the unnamed flower as proof.

I have walked across the Humber Bridge just before night's arrival. Clouds on the water were like final shadows cast by dying trawler men, tides like prayers never completed, winds the moon's floating dreams. I carried one of only two photographs of George. He emerged from the dream and the picture, and the eyes of time read his biography, revealing undisclosed narratives. My great-grandfather never spoke to his wife or friends about his time at sea but believed the tides of every coastal town had a unique signature, an essence.

In Whitby, thunder retains its authority in the drowning skies. Ghosts carry the tide's signature to autograph lightning. An unusual flower has been left on an unmarked grave. Thunder now has a tongue to sing this town's song. I find the same flower on an unnamed grave in Scarborough, but not yet in Hull. Was the earth ever without tides? Dreamer without dreams. When did Earth sing consciousness into existence, and the moon first control the tides? The fishing industry faded in Hull, and its song vanished. Humber waves are like disparate pages of the town's history, unable to create a seam. The river talks to itself like the earth before the presence of the moon. I discovered George was a student of different types of tides. Neap Tide: When the Sun and Moon form a right angle, as when we see a half-moon, their gravitational pulls fight each other, and we notice a smaller difference between high and low tides. These are called neap tides. A town is trying to adjust to its new multicultural identity, but some natives won't accept.

My great-grandfather claimed the power of prayer of fishermen could shift heaven on its axis. Does heaven place a limit on prayer? I have a dream which seems to recede endlessly to the last dreams of George like two different tides meeting. He was dropping gold coins and expected me to identify wishing wells. He wished for the welfare of Cory's Shearwater, the long-winged ocean bird, and numbers without limit.

Withernsea sky is like an unfinished message on an unsent postcard. The beach is quiet, sands like an invisible hand moving a mountain imperceptibly, the sea is like the customer who reads the fortune teller's mind. I can almost detect the pulse of the hand that left flowers on unmarked graves in coastal towns and Whitby tides in synchronicity with steps of someone climbing towards the abbey. I find a rose in Bridlington cemetery, prick my finger and make a prayer for the safety of seabirds to release Whitby Abbey's only dream.

George had a recurring dream after losing his eye at sea about a mermaid who would extract a drop of blood into a chalice as she changed form who would then test incantations. She was seeking human transfiguration after witnessing the killing of whales. She would then infuse the dreams of men with the false locations of copies of keys to heaven's door. The mermaid slept between a circle of candles, each flame broadcast her different dream about every type of tide, each wave reflected different phases of the moon. She then dreamt about my grandfather buoyed on the ocean of every dream he ever had, being carried to paradise, its tides washed in over sleeping members of his family through to coastal towns and Hull, across angels emitting heaven's light as they laid on rocks below a lighthouse warning a particular spirit.

Above Robin Hood's Bay, I can see the confluence of seabirds. My grandmother told me she wept into a wishing well after her husband died, did tears reach the coin? Did she reach the threshold to join her beloved? She also told me she would smuggle her wedding ring into paradise.

Perhaps mermaids have ghosts, and they return in search of their songs. I have walked through every cemetery in Hull trying to find an unusual flower. People return to this town for its unique essence, which cannot be replicated.

* Full IA Writing Competition details HERE.

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The voyage

This short story is an *IA Writing Competition (fiction category) entry.  
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