Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The second Moon Prize goes to Jan Haniff's story "The Seagull"—backdating to the full moon of October 15, 2016. Congratulations on a haunting story, Jan Haniff. Look for more Moon Prizes here on the May 2017 full moon and the day after.






THE SEAGULL

by Jan Haniff


I'm lying on the beach. It's February and it's freezing, but I don't care very much. Well I don't care at all, actually.

I had just enough sense of the weather to have dressed in jeans and a thick cable-knit jumper before leaving the house. It's the jumper of his I always wear when he goes away for any length of time. It has his scent on it and it makes me feel he's still here and has his arms around me. I don't remember putting it on - I suppose it was automatic. Its thickness shields my back from the stones underneath me, but I doubt I would feel them anyway. I feel nothing - just numb.

I draw on the cigarette and watch it glow in the half-light of morning. He'd left the packet lying casually on the bedside table and its mundaneness had screamed at me. I'd snatched up the packet, even though I'd not smoked for years, and brought it down here with me.

The waves crash onto the beach. It's a flat beach and the tide floods in quite fast, but I don't bother to check its progress.

He has gone.

A seagull dodges across my vision, gliding along in the air streams, taking it easy until an unexpected gust of wind comes along and blows it off its intended course.

Her name is Julia - my unexpected gust of wind. It seems she's been around for a while but I only became conscious of her about eight hours ago. He left two hours later.

Mike and Ria are coming to Sunday lunch. I suppose I should phone and cancel. ('Would you mind very much if you didn't come over today, only Richard called it quits on thirty-six years and I've a lot of Wedgwood I might want to take it out on.')

But I don't have any inclination to move from my stony bed. If only I could melt into the pebbles and become one of them, someone might pick me up and skim me out to sea. I could then spend the next hundred years trying to get back to the shore with each breaking wave. That would be something to work towards. Something to live for.

I came down to the beach because I'd tried everywhere else. I went into each room in the house but my thoughts followed me relentlessly like some malicious shadow. If only I could remove my brain and put it in a box, I could escape the absolute desolation and terror I know is waiting to invade once this numbness has worn off.

The seagull cries, piercing my thoughts like a dart, giving my mind a moment's respite.

It's freezing but it's not the cold that makes me shiver. I'm in shock. I should really have some caring first-aider putting a blanket around me and handing me a mug of sweet tea. Instead I smoke the cigarette, listen to the waves getting closer and the seagull who cruises around the sky.

I saw not sign of what was to come, and I suppose that's what shocked me more than anything. We'd spent most of our adult life together. I thought we knew each other inside out. Now it seems there was a side of him I never knew existed. He compartmentalized his life so there was no trace of her when he came home to me.

The first I knew there was something wrong was last night when we were curled up on the sofa watching a late film. It was a comedy we both liked but after a while I realised I was the only one laughing. I sat up and looked at him. He took my hand and stared at it.

'I'm so sorry.'

'What for?' We hadn't argued.

'I have to go.'

'Go where?' Did he mean to bed or out for cigarettes (at that time of night?)?

'I'm leaving you.'

The words made no sense, no sense at all. I wonder why they didn't?  I mean, it's plain enough, isn't it, 'I'm leaving you,' but you don't really expect to hear it out of the blue after thirty-six years.

'I thought it best just to say it straight, get it over and done with,' he said.

"Over and done with."  How many times have those words come back to haunt me?  There were other words said of course - many - but those four stayed to chill my blood throughout the early hours of the morning.

The seagull has been joined by another. They fly in and out of each other's path like a couple of fighter jets.

If I had just let him go without a word, or kissed him and wished him luck, perhaps I could have lessened the pain. Instead I said, 'Why?'

And so the knife twisted.

She's young enough to give him the child we never had. Suddenly after thirty-six years he changes his mind about children. Isn't it a bit late in the day for such a major change of heart?  Too late for me at least. My body clock stopped ticking a while back. We were working through that together.

I knew I was getting older of course, but so was he. We'd accepted the ageing of our bodies because we'd aged together. We'd even grown to have similar facial features. When I look at my face in the mirror, I see his. Now I see hers as well, even though I've no idea what she looks like.

He used to joke, 'Who'd have me?  I'm far too old and out of condition.' I'd put my arms around him and whisper 'I would,' and we'd end up in bed or down on the beach, knowing so well how our bodies worked together.

I throw away the cigarette and the seagull flutters up the beach. The waves are getting closer. What will happen when the sea soaks through my boots and socks and starts crawling up the legs of my jeans?  How tempting will it be to lie here waiting for the next wave and the next until they cease to be waves and become a complete body of water, shifting and drawing over my head?

I've heard the last stages of drowning are supposed to be a pleasant experience. After the initial panic the struggling ceases and then comes a sort of high. I could go with that.

I move my eyes. The seagull is beach combing, searching for the little nuggets hidden under the sand, the odd small crab or stranded shellfish.

I know what happens. Friends begin with their support, but eventually I shall become a fifth wheel - awkward to seat at dinner so they will stop trying. Then there's the problem of dividing their loyalties. How will I be able to sit with them knowing the week before they had watched him playing happy families?

The gull is free-wheeling again, enjoying the ride on the wind. I allow my lip to rise in a small smile as I watch him. I imagine him calling 'wheeeee' as he is blown backwards across the sky on a roller coaster ride for seagulls.

At least there will be few legal complications. We never married. Well, we didn't plan to have children. I admit I flirted with the idea of having a family a few times, but deep down knew it would be a disaster. We both liked children, we just didn't want any of our own. Instead we both concentrated on our work and there seemed little point in getting married. I'd found my soul mate and nothing mattered but being together. We were happy. Really, we were.

After I've packed my brain in that box, perhaps I could throw my heart into the sea. Then I'd have nothing else to hurt and I could just live the rest of my life in blissful ignorance of any emotion I ever felt.

Except, even feeling as I do, I suspect I'd rather work through this pain than lose the memory of those precious years of happiness.

I watch the gull glide off towards the cliff. I wish I could get into that air stream and let the wind push me wherever it wants because I've lost my direction and I don't know where I'm going any more. I've lost him as severely as in any tragic accident.

I suppose I must ring Ria.

I sit up, my back now complaining where the stones have been digging in. The waves break so close the spray reaches me and wets my face. I would have been soaked by the next few waves.

The gull has gone. I can hear its distant cry on the other side of the cliff as I shuffle off in the opposite direction. I hope the beach over there has different things for him, interesting nuggets hidden beneath the sand. Even if that gull has to work hard to find them, turn up lots of pebbles, I'm sure they're there.

They have to be there.

* * * * *


"The Seagull" was first posted on Writing In A Woman's Voice on October 5, 2016.