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Sea Shanty by Kathy Hoyle

Flash Fiction Semi-Finalist, LISP 2nd Quarter 2020

Sea Shanty by Kathy Hoyle

My father’s back is broad and bent like a sea-coal sack.

I watch him stride along the shore, head bowed, hands plunged into pockets, the iron-grey water taunting him. I chew my hair and swallow back tears while he fades into the afternoon shadows.

My mother calls me back to the harbour wall. Her face is as white as a gull’s wing.

‘When will he be back?’ I ask

Her answer is a whisper, carried away by the North-East wind.

‘Don’t cry, bonny lass,’ my nanna says.

I curl into her nightgown, soft and musty with her unwashed scent.

‘I didn’t mean it,’ I say, pressing the bruise on my cheekbone to feel the ache.

‘Aye pet. Your Ma didn’t mean it either’.

I lay across her lap. She sings the old sea-shanty her grandmother once sang to her. I ebb into sleep on the tide of her words.

When I wake, my mother is gone.

Nanna dresses me for school. She polishes a red apple on her pinny then places it, cool and heavy, in my hand.

‘When will she be back?’ I ask

Her answer darts into the coal fire and sets alight. It burns for days until finally, it crumbles into ash and embers in the grate.

My lover stretches out a hand to pull me back to bed. I turn my back, stride naked across the room and push open the window. I breathe in the salt-tang air and rest a hip on the sill to watch the amble cobles bob on the water.

‘I have to go,’ I say, over a stone-wall shoulder.

‘When will you be back?’ he asks.

My answer soars out through the open window, billowing in the North-East wind, until it becomes lost amidst the shrieks of white-winged gulls.



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