The loose hall board, if you rocked heel to toe, sounded like someone drowning, that bastard son-in-law he hoped. He tried to silence him with new copper nails along its length. For a while it worked. But one evening the gasp returns, quieter now, pitched high. His weighted heel brings his wife, grasping a breath before sinking under a swirling sea. His toe raises her sea-washed face and she gasps again; help me, John, I have her.
Doubt creeps in, what if? He cannot sleep, the slap of the sea saturating his subconscious.
A called carpenter pulls the board free, confirms no damp under, removes the nails and re-fixes it with glue and screws. The gasp, erased.
With no gasp, no dreams of lungs filling with salty sea. He sleeps.
On his regular bathroom visits he heel and toes the board for a few hours, (obsessive his wife remarked early in their relationship), but the gasp is silenced. Listening at the joints he tries to discern the lap of waves – nothing. After his final session he resolves to take the board up and confirm no sea exists under his hallway floor.
Two weeks pass, he feels strong enough to tackle the task, a bruising effort extracts the screws. Breaking the glue bond blood creeps from his nose. He will not stop, (a stubborn mule of a man, his wife teased). The drops stream, splashing the dark stained boards. Red rivulets run through shakers and knots, disappearing into the dark maws between the planks. He would not give up, not like that bastard man had. He would not let his own wife and daughter drown. Like the board, his wife’s love gave way in an instant, splintering and snapping with a sudden violence, underneath it all just dry dust
His strength like the tide through sand ebbs back to him. The DIY store deliver a new floorboard and sandbags. The board doesn’t fit well, he has to re-nail it in places. That night the gasp returns, smaller, higher. His baby girl now, keening with fear, terrified of the blackness beneath her. Don’t let go, she screams. He stacks the sandbags against his bedroom door and clambers through the outside window.
He cannot sleep, sure water is gushing and cascading. Like the coward his wife accused him of being he hides and waits for morning.
The kitchen is awash, water everywhere. A plumber finds the nail piercing the copper pipe. An electrician turns the power off until the circuits can be checked.
He orders an inflatable dingy and starts to sleep in that. Searching out his two burner gas hob and blue gas bottles reminds him of the last camping trip – good times. That night memories swell, raw and wrenching. His wife’s wretched denial, no, she’s alive John. I know she is. Help me, help me find her.
He pays builders to remove the living room bay-window. He will have a navigable escape route if the flood comes.
Time passes, doubt is constant, what if, when he brushes his softening teeth. What if, as he washes his bloodied smalls. What if, as he drinks protein shakes bought for his own life’s emergency.
Interrogating the floorboards he attempts to discover where they drowned. Lashed to the bannisters, life jacket inflated, he endeavours to discern their answers. The sea is wild, the wind sweeps their replies out and away from him. He bores holes and drops dried food scraps to them. He lowers ropes in an effort to save them, futile, he knows. His wife tried for two years before she departed.
Maps and charts direct him, a course is plotted. A week and the wind will be with him. List checked: head torch, whistle, flares, serrated knife (in case he has to cut them free from wreckage), compass, nylon rope.
He marks every letter ‘return to sender,’ cancels the milk and does not return the hospital calls. Ready, she whispers.
The winds ease to a Nor’ Nor’ Westerly. The floorboard lifts with ease. He screws a brass cleat into a cross joist, double hitches the rope to it, hurling the rest into the void.
He steps into the breach, dust rises and expels. Another step, water steeps his slippers, wets and cools his corduroys. The next, rises to his knees, his waist. “I’m coming,” he shouts above the roaring wind, “hold on.” The next step sinks him under the floor. The torch beam searches the vast expanse of dark agitated water. A head bobs in the distance. I’ve got her John, she’s safe, hurry. “I see you.” He heaves forward, plunging into the roaring sea.
The rope dances and weaves, tugging on the brass cleat. An abandoned vessel dragging on its only anchor, abruptly the tension leaves.
7 thoughts on “The Sea by P O’Connor”
It is great to see you site debut, and, of course, it an’t gonna be long till your next. I did my best to avoid “launch” and “set sail” but as you see I succumbed to those in this second sentence.
This story is an intelligent and subtle take on a subject that we often see, and is usually presented intelligently yet as subtly as a claw hammer. Brilliantly executed. Till the tide brings you back next week, fare thee well.
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Thanks for your kind words Leila. It is strange to see my story out living in the real world. I have read it hundreds of times but it seems to read differently when someone else has made the choice to publish it.
An excellent tale of psychological horror, obsession and guilt.
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Hi David, thanks for your comment. It is strange I never realised the story was about the three emotions/feelings you attribute to it. I think I was so wrapped up in the act of writing I became detached from the actual story itself.
Obsessive, tragic and poetic with it.
A very interesting read.
All the very best my fine friend.
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Thanks Hugh, as with my reply to David. It is great to find the story elicited these feelings. All I can do is write a story and hope that within that process I imbue it with something that someone else can take away that was hidden to me.
As others have said, very poetic and moving. The descriptions of the sea / the water are sublime.