by Bren Gosling
Father took pleasure seekers out in a boat along the coast. The trip lasted a little over two hours, across the Bay to the lighthouse and back. I collected fares: the silver sixpences of the pleasure seekers, in a bucket I otherwise used for crabbing. Janey liked to come and see us off. My sister was what people in those days referred to as an’ imbecile’. Mother said it was on account of the way Janey came out, with the cord wrapped around her neck like a hang man’s noose. It made her turn blue as the salt wrapper in a bag of crisps. The mid wife nearly didn’t save her.
Janey was loved. She grew to be a beautiful young woman, in spite of the way she was…When people remarked on how beautiful my sister looked, mother used to stare into nothing and mumble nature is cruel that way. Janey drooled a lot. She waved her arms up and down as seagulls do when they are defending. She never spoke a word any of us could understand, only squawked. Other kids made fun of her, soon had her christened the ‘gull- girl’. Father taught her to swim, well it was more doggy paddle than swim really. He’d take her out to waist deep, cradle her in his arms, then let the water lift her until she floated. The sea was Janey’s medicine, father said. It kept her calm. Happy days…
When I became older, father encouraged me to better myself, leave Yorford Bay and see more of what the world had to offer. I joined the navy. The war came, and I survived it, but that is a different story for another time. Mother and father were killed when the post office got flattened by a German bomb; the Luftwaffe often dumped bombs on east coast towns like ours before heading across the North Sea on their return leg. Janey ended up in an Institution. They looked after her well, so far as I could measure, but not long before the war ended, she died. I decided to scatter her ashes where we were happiest.
Each year I come back, and, no matter what the weather, I take off my shoes and socks and paddle the foreshore. Time slips away, the moments and hours of my life tumble into consciousness all at once, like the shingle thrown against my feet by the breaking waves. The salt – kissed air on my face and seagulls crying down the wind bring everything back, as if then were now, and I am collecting silver sixpences once more.
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