The Tide That Binds a short story

The door pushed open a tad too quickly but then again, Jodie had been drinking a tad too heavily and so the love tap that nearly took the door off its hinges wasn’t even noticed. He staggered out of the ‘Old Anchor’ and made his way along the coastal road back to his cottage that lay just outside of the village below the North Cliff. As the moon floated in the calm cove he couldn’t help but notice the object bobbing in the water that interrupted the transparent mark that separated the sky from the sea. He was too far away to really pick out what it was and almost too drunk to care but he’d been living around here far too long and been involved in too many tragedies to ignore it. He always kept a rusty old spy glass in his pocket from the days when smuggling formed part of his trade and now it could come in useful for another reason. He wobbled his bones nearer to the sea wall to steady his position and get a better look at the object. The clouds obscured the moon causing his vision to be limited and his bowels were beginning to feel uncomfortably full now as he cursed his need for those last five pints of stout and the extra bowl of stew from Kathy’s kitchen. Suddenly the clouds hold on the sky slackened, allowing the moon to break through and illuminate the thing in the water. Jodie raised his spy glass to his one good eye, focused it on the bobbing object and opened his bowels.

High on the cliff overlooking the Bay there stood a solitary house inhabited by two lonely people. It was in a prime position for the sea to claim it as it had done in other coastal areas where the coastline was eroding. Inside sat an elderly couple. The man sat motionless staring into the blazing fire, his only real company being the steady ticking of the clock and the bell that marked the passing of time. Across from him but with her back turned away, as it had been for the past fifteen years, sat his wife, her eyes fixed on something outside of the window, something out there in the Bay. The Bay had claimed the one real love of her life. Behind her the husband that she had taken those long, grey years back gave a cough and a fart that only made her fix more intently on the world outside of the house. Nothing could stop that fixed expression. To Bartholomew Jones, his wife had simply lost her mind after the accident. For fifteen years she had done nothing but sit by the window, he’d cook and clean the best he could and make sure that she was washed and presentable but no one would ever see her again. At first the friends came ’round with flowers and words of sympathy but now it was only Bartholomew and Mary. He’d go to work on the boats, hauling in the fish to make a living and grow potatoes and carrots ’round the back of the house to feed them with but it was simply an existence since that day their world stopped turning and life stopped being lived. As Mary stared out of the window the cloud cover blew away from the moon and she saw Jodie McDonald running for his life down the road that led to the village. Then her eyes slowly turned towards the rippling water and she too saw the shape bobbing in the moonlight. Her heart began to race and her mind danced. He was back.

Bartholomew Jones adjusted himself, pushed another lump of dry timber onto the fire and settled back into his chair to stare at the dancing flames. His mind flitted back to that day nearly sixteen years ago when he had decided that at the age of five his son, George, should go out in the boat with him as a birthday treat. Mary was happy to get the two men in her life out from under her feet for a few hours while she prepared the meal to celebrate little George’s special day not knowing that when Bartholomew returned he would be alone. The two of them had happily run down the path from the cliff to where Bartholomew kept his small timber boat moored. It was old but in reasonable condition. They’d packed some bread and cheese and Bart had sneaked a bottle of the good stuff to taste once he was out of earshot of Mary. “What she don’t know” he said to George with a wink. The sky was clear and but for a slight breeze the water was calm which made what happened next even more tragic. As little boys do George was fascinated by small nothings and the seaweed that floated past the boat seemed to capture his imagination; but it was just out of reach. Bartholomew was napping, with the motion of the boat, and having sampled a little too much of the good stuff was too late to stop George from losing his balance and falling into the water. Too quickly he jumped up and ran towards the edge of the boat, causing it to capsize. He spluttered and puked as the salt water filled his mouth and nose. He screamed, “George, George!” but George wasn’t there. He felt a tugging on his leg and he reached down into the water only to feel a tiny hand slipping away into the cold, dark depths of the sea. He screamed and plunged down into the water to desperately try to find George but he wasn’t up to the task even though by now the booze had all but lost its effect. He gasped for air as his attempts to find his son became more and more futile. Eventually, exhausted and beaten he had to face up to the fact that George was gone and he had to go back to Mary and break the news along with her heart. The villagers spent two days silently sweeping the Bay with nets to try, at least, to bring George’s body back but to no avail. The sea was his new home now.

From that day on Mary never spoke again. It was as if she too had been stricken by death itself and all of her days and nights were spent keeping a lonely vigil by the window. Bartholomew’s own thoughts were stuck in the past but the chiming of the clock at 11.30 brought him up to the present as he glanced at the calendar and remembered that tomorrow would have been George’s 21st birthday. A smile flitted across Mary’s face as she looked out at the object. Slowly it turned its sea battered head towards the direction of the light in the window of the cottage and glided towards the foot of the cliff. Its features were barely human, bloated spongy green flesh hung from its exposed bones as the years had ravaged George. His face now truly one that only a mother could love. It raised one leg onto the pathway and began the slow walk up the cliff path towards the cottage, leaving a trail of putrid sludge behind it. Every step was uncertain as George gasped, trying to breath the unfamiliar air, something he hadn’t done for sixteen years. He coughed and spewed out sand eels that had been living in his lungs. The clock struck 11.45 and Mary’s focus became even more intense. As the hands of the clock moved toward midnight Bartholomew stood up and walked over to his wife, mortified to see beads of perspiration running down her waxen face. Convinced that she was catching a fever he mopped her brow and went to lift her into bed. As he stooped to pick her up the clock struck midnight and the door pushed open. There stood George, framed in the doorway, kept alive all these years by the sheer willpower of his mother. For the first time in sixteen years his mother slowly turned her head towards the door as Bartholomew gripped his chest and lurched forward as his heart caved in. Mary convulsed as the strain of the years presented her with a paralising stroke. George looked around at the room and his spongy feet sloshed their way towards the window. The creature’s mouth opened as more sea sludge slopped out onto the floor and it struggled to form the word that Mary had missed all this time,


Mary’s eyes were fixed on him as he gently picked her up and carried her out of the house. The stroke had left her completely helpless now as George slowly and, ever so gently, carried her down the path to the cove and to the waiting sea.

The waves pushed towards the shoreline and the moon danced across the Bay as George lovingly carried his mother into the icy water. He opened his mouth releasing a dozen more sand eels and formed just enough words to make his mother proud of him. “Daddy’s gone … you should come and live with me now!” Her eyes filled up…followed by her mouth and then her lungs


The End