"The sea's lonely today grampa."
"Lonely Timmy?" George asked, smiling at his grandson's metaphor, "No it's not lonely, only people get lonely."
Timmy didn't answer, swaddled so tightly in woollen hats and scarves, lovingly wrapped by his mother, that only his eyes fought against the balmy sea breeze. George let his thoughts wander, Timmy's words had ousted his misery long enough for the world to impinge on his senses.
The sea did look lonely, for want of a better word, a grey desolation cast by the cool autumn morning. Overhead a scramble of rain clouds clustered, each vying in the celestial race to release precious rain to the soil.
Maybe his moroseness had deepened because the tide was out, George wondered to himself. An isolation marked by streaks of abandoned seaweed, each lacing across the rippled smudge of sand. This emptiness then highlighted by rocks whose barnacles clung, death-like, to their barren abode.
He shrugged, maybe he was old and senile, life was lonely, not the sea. He'd felt lonely ever since Maureen had died, before then even, a fact he felt tremendous guilt for now. He squeezed Timmy's hand warmly, no wonder the child thought the sea was lonely, his own depression was catching.
"Let's head back now, your mother will be there, fretting no doubt, and warming some soup for us."
Timmy's voice sounded small, muffled by the layers of coats and scarf. George silently reprimanded himself, he'd let his misery wander too far and kept them both out too long, again. Sharon would probably scold him when they returned.
George smiled ruefully, looking at the child that followed patiently beside him, mittened hand in his. It was a scolding he'd deserve.
"And about time too!" Sharon exclaimed as they entered.
The hot air burned their faces as they stepped into the bungalow. A small copper pot bubbled on the stove relinquishing its luxuriant flavours to the steamy air. Sharon's home-made soups were always a welcome treat. George shivered, suddenly aware of how cold he'd been.
"And you're frozen Timmy!" Sharon bent before her son stripping away his outdoor clothes, "Quickly now," she urged rubbing his cold hands briefly to bring some warmth to them, "I'll give you some soup then you go by the fire next door and get warm. Next time you'll have to bring grampa home earlier, I told him he mustn't let you get this cold."
George watched the colour return to the boy's cheeks as the warmth flushed into him, the tiny cold hands awkwardly held the big bowl.
"We had to stay, mummy." Timmy protested, his big eyes savouring the broth, "The sea needed us, it was lonely."
"That's enough of that." Sharon spoke sharply, too sharply, George thought. "The sea never feels lonely, now take the soup next door. Go on." she added as Timmy faltered.
"Are you coming Grampa? You're cold too."
"I'll be along in a bit Timmy," George smiled, "I'm warming up in here lovely."
Half mollified the child left the room.
"You ought to know better!" Sharon glared as she snapped the words.
Ruefully George stared out of the window.
"Sorry Shaz." he apologised, his words tempered by the calmness of the sea.
He could see it now, the waves softly foaming over half buried rocks. Moving here had been one of his better decisions, Maureen had never like it, Maureen had liked so little of his things, especially his love for the sea.
"I didn't mean to stay out so long, it just happened."
"It's always 'just happens' dad. Ever since I can remember you'd vanish for hours on end, and always to the sea. You were never around when we needed you." Sharon complained, a hint of bitterness creeping into her voice, "If it were just you I wouldn't care so much, but Timmy, he's only a child. He'd freeze to death out there before you'd notice."
George turned away from the window, the double glazed silence cutting him totally from the shore. Sharon's words hurt, not for their truth, he could face that, but for her fear. She was frightened.
"I am sorry." he sat dolefully, pacifying her, "I just forget sometimes, but Timmy will be okay, I wouldn't let anything harm him."
"Well it might not matter much longer." Sharon spoke more quietly, guilt edging her words, "Mark's gone for that job down south. Looks as though he might get it too."
George felt himself slump. Consciously he forced himself to smile.
"That's good." he managed, "Maybe you can get yourself a proper house now, instead of that sardine tin of yours." Refusing eye contact Sharon gave him a bowl of soup. "When would you leave?"
"If Mark got the job it'd be about six weeks." Sharon answered, "The company he's going to would pay for a bridging loan on the house 'til we could sell it. We'd probably be in time for the spring term at a new school for Timmy."
"It'll be a good experience for him." George muttered, his thoughts drifting from the conversation.
He'd be alone again soon. It was funny, now that the threatened move had come, it didn't worry him, nothing seemed worth worrying about anymore.
George wasn't sure when Sharon and Timmy had left. There was just a sudden awareness that Timmy was no longer there. Out of all his family, Timmy was the only one he felt at home with. The child understood his suppressed feelings, even if he couldn't explain them. No one else cared to try.
He sat up late, in his favourite chair. Here he could see the crazy ripple of waves on the grey ocean, a fallow expanse stretching to the dying sun. He remained sitting when the daylight faded, not bothering to turn on the light. It was now that the sea took on character. A futile sprinkling of slowly flashing lights marked the channel buoys and lighthouses. Guiding angels in the minefield of death. George sat in the dark letting the feel of it sink in, protected against the reality by the paper thin sheet of glass.
Something touched his hair.
Heart pounding George stood, turning.
The room was empty.
Shaking he fumbled for the light switch, flicked it on. Oozing shadows scattered from the invading light. He busied himself with the kettle, a cup of tea, the bastion of the British, would sort him out.
Sort out what? It was only his imagination.
Even so he checked the doors of the bungalow. Nowadays there was little point in taking chances.
Unusually George found it hard to sleep, the darkness held a secret torment, his failure with Maureen. He'd never cared for her, for anyone except Timmy, and now his conscience scolded him. In his guilt ridden memory her dissatisfied essence hung within the dark recesses of his room. Discordant shadows that poisoned the night.
Drugged synapses snapped alert. Breathing slowly George listened tensely, stifling his movements with painful intensity to sharpen his hearing.
It was silent.
Thick strands of moonlight twisted into the room, sidling through the haggardly hung curtains, derelicts from Maureen's care. Each shadowed beam struck wall or door. An empty room, unless.
Something was near the door!
Heart pounding, George lunged for the lamp.
Clicked it on.
Through grimaced eyes he peered at the brightness.
The shape, if a shape it was, had gone.
Shaking George stumbled from the bed and checked the vacant rooms. Nothing was there, save for the dull ache which haunted his loss. Trembling he poured himself a tumbler of Glenfidditch and sat, shivering, before the fire.
"A dream," he muttered to himself, unable to believe his words, "I must have dreamt her. She's been dead too long now."
Hollow words that died in the night silence, they formed no meaning for George who, the Glenfidditch working its spell, slipped into a harmless sleep.
He woke to bright daylight....
He was bound, brown leathery warps, to the chair. It had grown cold in the room, and damp, someone had turned off the fire.
"I have found you George. It has been a long time."
Struggling against his bonds, George turned to face the voice. A woman. Maureen?
Maureen with deep green hair and eyes of a liquid black. A bitter smile, lined with sensual lips, encaged him.
"Don't make feeble excuses." She snapped, walking around the chair to face him, "We know why I'm here. You ran away George. You ran away too often, and I'm here to take you back."
George swallowed. Her naked body rippled with the pleasure of youth, strange senses foamed in his stomach, sending acute hopes of passion to his feeble body.
"I didn't mean too." he stuttered, accepting his guilt with little evidence or memory "I didn't know, it just happened."
"Happened!" Maureen spat, "It always just happens with you. You care so little for others, or me. And you gave it all up for this." she sneered at the cottage, "come back to me. I'm all you'll ever need."
"Where?" George gasped, struggling to keep pace with his body's changing tempo, "Where to? How do I follow?"
"You can't remember?" She taunted, releasing his arm and drawing his hand across the richness of her flesh, the soft, heavy breast. The thighs, her...
"You will have to remember." She goaded, "If you want me."
The pre-dawn light was filtering over the hill and dipping into the ocean's edge. Panting he wiped his brow, hot despite the lack of fire in the room.
"Too many dreams." he spoke to himself, shaken. "Dear god, can I really suffer such guilt to torment myself like this?"
Yet there were images. The coral palace, and Nerva.
George understood now, partly. Maureen had never objected to his visiting the sea. It was Her. Maureen was jealous of Her. He had even married Maureen seeking for that thing he sought in another, one so powerful and feared. George sighed, he would have to return. There was, after all, no one here for him now, save for Timmy. He'd miss his shy grandchild. Opening the door to the beach he padded softly into the sea, the chill water coaxing him on. The sea had been his first love, she would have take him home.
It was a cold trip to the beach, the morning air freshened by winter's breath. Sharon held her grief as she gazed over the pallid plateau, recalling the day she'd last seen her father.
A fisherman on the shore had witnessed it, the suicide, out there on the Atlantic swells. An old man, naked, walking into the fresh dawn breakers. No salt swollen corpse recovered. She stifled a sob, it had been her fault. She'd never considered his pain and lose. She was too engrossed in her own selfish misery. Then the sea had taken him.
Sharon cried softly, careful to hide her tears from Timmy.
"Don't cry mummy." Timmy hugged her warmly, seeing past the deception. "The sea's not lonely now."
"Why's that Timmy?" Sharon asked, cold omens of fear dragging at her spine.
"'Cos Grampa's with her now." Timmy smiled.
Heart stiff with premonition Sharon held him tight.
Then rushed back to the car.