The Tide

I. The Walk

Here the Solway, in its sweep towards the sunset and the Irish sea, begins to widen. Here the sky is an impermeable grey, the gently rolling slopes of Criffel, on the far side of the bay, etched in high contrast to the cloud.

Silloth is a town perpetually looking back, as if overcome by nostalgia for its glory days. Once the railways had brought passengers by the carriageload to wet their ankles in the waters of the firth. The once-grand Georgian terraces are now turned into bedsits and retirement homes. A crust of salt and residual nuclear waste forms on the seafront windows of the houses. The pines bend eastward, battered all year long by westerlies. Only the church with its tall, proud spire still seems to bask in something of its former glory, catching the best of the sunlight on rare cloudless days, when children return to the playgrounds of the echoing green, filling the space with laughter and with light.

On a typically cloudy day, some thirty years ago, a child walked hand in hand with her mother, who was tall and thin, and wrapped in a grey duffle coat. The daughter’s coat was crimson and stood out against the silvered clouds. It was early March, and on the seafront lawn the crocuses were giving way to daffodils. The mother picked a handful of the daffodils, perhaps to take home and arrange in vases, perhaps to cast into the seething waters of the tide.

´I used to live here,´ said the mother, pointing out a nondescript half-rendered house set back a little from the sea.
´I pushed my baby brother along the shore; I wanted to be a long way from my parents, whose reign of terror was well-hid behind closed doors.´
´Once, I walked out into the bay and almost got cut off by the tide. I thought about just standing there, letting the tide sweep over me and take me far away. Instead I ran home.´
´Never walk into the bay,´ she warned, ´its hidden depths are treacherous.’

The mother and daughter soon arrived at Skinburness, where the coast road turns sharply back inland. Skinburness, the headland haunted by a demon – where the Green Knight’s chapel had once stood, and Sir Gawain had come to grief some centuries ago. The chapel was long gone, and the demon with it, but many ghosts remained behind. The Skinburness Hotel stood at the bend in the road, defiant in its faded glory, like the neighbouring town of Silloth. It was a period piece of architecture, straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. Here an hapless heiress might have met her end. The cold wind had got up now, and begun to pelt them with the icy sting of hail, so they sought shelter in the hotel’s public bar, propped up by locals and long-term residents, still limping on somehow. The walls were hung with oil paintings and hunting trophies of a bygone age. A log fire was smouldering in a grate where an elderly couple sat in antique chairs, a spaniel sleeping at their feet. Mother and daughter ate well and warmed themselves, then returned to the cold and the meagre shelter of the bus stop where they would wait a long time for the bus to come and take them home.

II. The Return

The tide has turned now, and tumbled us into the present day. The child, become a mother, walks alone, accompanied by memories, or the ghosts that haunt the bay. Or accompanied by the mother who is now a grandmother, but in the clouds – the silver light behind the grey sky’s obstinacy, breathing through the winds that pound the waves. Or accompanied by the mother, now a grandmother, in the flesh – now white or silver haired, faded like the town but beautiful.

It all depends upon the tide – which tide she went out on, or whether she has yet to go. Both tides exist, in parallel – the one which swept her out and the one which waits to take her. And the daughter too, her story is equally dependant on the waiting tide, which she might wander out to meet, in search of the mother long departed, or the mother at the margin of the clouds. She also shuns it, standing beside her living mother, and knowing it will take them soon enough. So the daughter and the mother (whether real, or ghost, or memory) return to Skinburness to find the hotel gone, and in its place, a building site.

And the daughter wonders, how much of this had been a dream, and who had dreamt it? The hotel, and the mother, or the walk and the lost mother, or the mother in the clouds? Had the Green Knight ever haunted the chapel on the headland, and had the chapel ever stood? Did any story matter, knowing that the tide would take them all? But everything had seemed so real; substantial, if only for the briefest of moments. Out towards the sea, and only for the briefest of moments, the cloud broke to reveal the sun.

(c) 2020 Experimentsinfiction.com. All Rights Reserved.

8 thoughts on “The Tide

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  1. I have read and re-read this so beautiful story, each time finding something else I missed the previous read. It reminds me of my book of short stories for intermediate certificate – the Irish equivalent of ordinary level. Every so often there would be a real gem I would pour over. If I was really lucky, that story might just appear on the (exam) paper. I lose you in places with the intensity of the piece, would love to see an analysis of it – either by you the author or someone else. And I believe you do illustrations. You know more and more stories are being written in an easy-to-read almost (for) children style to help soothe the savage breast of our increasingly tortured souls. Like you find “adult” cosy bedtime stories and a.s.m.r. Any doubt about their usefulness and comfort value/nurturing is borne out in the comments. Your powerful descriptions, so colourful language and references to The Knights, is, what can I say, – therapeutic and relaxing. Please write more, more and more. Could you read it on YouTube with some seaside scenery (everyone loves the sound of breakers,) and images of the Knights/Tintagel. And a little a.s.m.r. if you please…

  2. Imagery. Fantastic imagery and atmosphere. Just the story to read on an Autumn’s night when the wind is howling down the chimney and the rain is beating on the (rattling) sash windows. I’m curled up in bed with a hot water bottle at my side and a (springer) spaniel at my feet. And a mug of hot chocolate to sip from. Perfect. Please add to the story or more of the same/similar please.

  3. Please read this onto audio for me. Then I won’t have to be dragging “furry friends” onto the bed with me!

  4. This is a quality piece of writing. You setting descriptions are breath taking and almost poetic like. I’m sure there is a book in you somewhere unless you have already have one out there published? The more I read is the more I see high standard on display in your writing! I look forward to taking my time in reading some more! 😀🙏💛👊🎉

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words 😊 this really means a lot to me 🙏 I am working on a novel and a poetry book so watch this space for updates 😊

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