No More Than an Eggshell
by Bronwen Griffiths
(Rye Harbour, November 1928)
I pin up my sheets and see how tomorrow the weather will turn. Autumn is almost gone. Winter is soon to be upon us. The dock plants lie shrivelled and black, the marsh-grass salt-flattened; the air chill as Sunday church.
After my many chores are completed, I stroll down the path to the shore. The gulls float on a river of wind and the bed sheets flap on the line like restless sails on the horizon. The wind has increased in strength since the morning. It tosses the clouds eastwards, towards the edges.
Once a proud town stood on what is now river and sea – a town chattering with traders and the clatter of horses, a town of inns; a magnificent stone church. Folk claim to have heard the buried clang of the bells on stormy nights. It is seven centuries since the town vanished, taken by storm and tidal surge. We are safe here, in our little village, settled some way from the sea. Yet, as I step onto the shingle a wave as high as any I have witnessed in these parts strikes the shore and thunders up the high bank. I retreat in haste and am left with wet shoes and the most singular trembling.
In the evening I forget the earlier unsettling. We sit quiet by the fire. He roasts chestnuts and I take out my mending. There are socks to darn, a torn shirt that needs attention. Later a kiss, sweet as our first. We are not married long.
I wake early in thick darkness to a wind crashing over the rooftops, a wind howling like our neighbour’s dog after he was run over by a cart last year. I hear the fire of the maroons and my husband sits up in bed and says he must go and all I say is to take care as fear swells in me like the storm itself.
He lies quiet on the shoreline, his un-moving eye a stillness in the storm’s deep roar, the sea still clinging to him. Can it be only last night we were sat at the fire, roasting chestnuts? He will eat nothing now.
I do not weep but a cold seeps into my skin – a cold that will never leave. There will be a time to weep later, wives, children and kin, for the men we have lost – men who perished seeking only to save others from the same terrible fate.
Those who witnessed it say the lifeboat was flung by the sea as if it were no more than an eggshell. We wait now for solace. For the storm to calm. For the grey clouds, imminent with rain, to blow, and blow away.
Bronwen Griffiths is the author of two published novels, and two collections of flash fiction. Her flash fiction has been published in Barren Magazine and Spelk, among others. She lives on the East Sussex/Kent borders and has just completed a new novel set in a fictitious Dungeness. Find her on Twitter @bronwengwriter.
Photograph of the Mary Stanford Lifeboat House by Barry Yates, Sussex Wildlife Trust; used with permission.