Sea Breeze Cocktail
The May bank holiday dawns bright and sunny. Marianne opens the kitchen window, feeling a slight breeze.
‘Isn't it a perfect day for the sea-side?’ she comments to Harold.
Harold stifles a sigh. He's been here too many times before. The sea-side meant Brighton, an hour's drive away, for fish and chips and possibly a ride on the old wooden carousel on the pier. And always followed by spending time staring at the waves. Just the waves, going back and forth, back and forth. Marianne never asked to go to Brighton, just suggested, in such a way that it felt like a demand. He didn’t have any choice. He didn't much care for the sea, himself, but had to admit that he would rather go and survive staring at the waves, than see Marianne upset. However, given the choice he’d much rather stay at home. Especially on a bank holiday, when almost everyone would also be travelling to the coast. There were too many greedy seagulls at the coast, too many screaming kiddies and sand getting in your food and clothes. At least Brighton didn't have a sandy beach.
‘Can't we just relax in the garden? Brighton will be so crowded,’ Harold replies. He has to try, doesn’t he? But Marianne's face falls.
‘But it's bank holiday. We can sit in the garden any time. Can't we go to the sea, just for a little while?’ She says the same thing every time. It had only been a month since their last trip to Brighton.
‘We only went a few weeks ago, dear.’
‘It feels like much longer,’ Marianne murmurs, staring out of the window. Harold does sigh this time.
‘Okay’, he tells her, not wanting a repeat of the time six months ago, on a crisp, cold but bright October morning. He had been tired, and it had been cold, and he really, really hadn't wanted to go to the sea-side. It had taken two hours for Marianne to stop gazing sadly out of the window, tears slowly sliding down her face.
Thirty minutes later they are on their way to the coast. Marianne watches the road ahead, fingers tapping on her knee as if counting down the seconds until they reach their destination. Despite how much he doesn't want to be doing this, Harold can't help but smile at her. He still loves her, he thinks; he just doesn't understand her anymore.
Finally they reach the south coast. Brighton is packed; Harold isn't surprised. There's a light in Marianne's eyes now, and she grabs his hand as they exit the car park and head down the main street towards the sea-front. The smell of doughnuts wafts over to them as they reach the entrance to the pier, where Marianne pushes her way through the crowds of tourists queuing at the food stands. She has a plan, and Harold is helpless to do anything but follow her. Wincing at the bells and whistles of the amusement games and rides, Harold makes his excuses through the crowd and finds his wife standing near the end of the pier, feet balanced on the metal railings, smiling down at the waves gently rolling beneath them. She turns her head at his approach and beckons him over. It's at times like this that Harold can't bear to deny her these trips.
‘Listen to them, Harold. It's beautiful.’
‘To whom? The seagulls? The people on the rides?’
‘No, silly. The waves, the fish, the sea itself. Can't you hear it?’
But of course Harold can't, and he tries to tell Marianne this. She just laughs, shaking her head at him. She lets go of her loose hold at the railings and swings her arms up and out in front of her.
‘I wish you could hear them. They're singing, Harold.’
‘I don't think the waves can actually sing…’ Harold remarks, but he knows she's not listening. He peers over the railings, wondering exactly what his wife is looking at down there. It's a calm day, so the waves are gentle, the tide is out and there are small foam horses playing around the substructure. The water is a greeny-blue, fairly clear, but Harold can't see any fish even if he squints.
They stand there for what seems like hours to Harold. He glances at his watch. It's been fifteen minutes.
‘So, what would you like to do?’
‘What? Oh, you go ahead, Harold. I'm fine here.’
‘Are you even listening?’ But Harold knows he's lost her. It's the same every time, although, he has to admit, the singing waves and fish are new.
‘Well, I'm going to get a drink. You just… stay here,’ he says, wandering off, knowing Marianne isn't listening.
The inside of the pub is actually fairly empty, everyone choosing to take up every little space outside, so ordering a drink is quick and easy. Harold savours his half-pint of beer. All too soon, though, his glass is empty and he can't stay away any longer.
He wanders back to the railings, a smile tagging reluctantly at his mouth as he pictures Marianne still chattering away with her fishy friends. But she’s no longer there. At first he thinks he must have the wrong spot, and rushes up and down the edges of the pier looking for her. There wasn’t enough time for her to go too far, and she wouldn’t just leave him there, surely. But he ends up back where he started, overlooking the under-structure of the pier, knowing deep down that it is the right place.
His shouts are caught in the breeze and the noise of clatter and squeals from the amusements. He's shouting in every direction, but already knows that she's gone from the pier. He just doesn't know where. He leans against the railings for strength, feeling lost. And that's when he sees it. He doesn't know if he's imagining it but it looks like a large fish tail, the tip just flicking out of the sea. He stares and the tail dips down beneath the surface. And then Marianne's face appears. He tries to call out, telling her to hold on, and starts looking around for someone to help. Aren't there lifeguards here somewhere? But all he can see are crowds of laughing, happy tourists. He pulls his shoes off, ready to leap in himself.
And then the tail flicks out of the water again, and suddenly he sees that Marianne's smiling, not struggling. It's her tail, finally free from land-locked confinement. He can see it now. He stops, and just stares at her, somehow not the least bit surprised, and manages to wave a final goodbye to his wife, the mermaid.
About the Author
Laura Kayne is a poet, short story writer, and book reviewer based in Brighton. She has had a number of poems, articles and reviews published both on-line and in print, including in Aesthetica magazine, The New Writer magazine, Pighog Press's Ice anthology, The Pygmy Giant, Sentinal Literary Quarterly, PoetandGeek.com, Message In A Bottle, and The Recusant. She blogs at http://poetry-life-distilled.blogspot.co.uk/