Photo by Lisa Shambrook (please do not use without permission)
Agnes flinched as the wind roared around her tiny cottage at the top of the hill; it whistled through every nook it could find and the candle flickered wildly in the window. She stared, trying to see past the driving rain, out across the ocean, but the thick wall of falling water obscured everything in its path.
The little boat struggled against the thrall of the storm, threatening to capsize with every roll of a wave, but Ned’s experience and nerve lead his vessel on. Waves boomed as they smacked the prow and water surged across the deck, but Ned’s booted feet stood firm. He and his crew fought the ocean, as she threw her frightful tantrum throughout the inky night.
Harbour walls waited as the gale danced across her arms, and she lingered until the squall had quietened enough to allow the fishing boat home. When they finally crossed her threshold she hugged them close, and the twinkling lamps of the inn kissed them with friendly cheer.
Heavy rain drove the sailors into the ‘Harbour’s Hold’, where relief was quickly offered as they stripped off their oilskins and sank onto wooden stools, and allowed sweet nectar’s warmth to feed life back into their weary and aching bones.
Hours later and boisterous, jovial men traipsed back out into night’s blustering rage.
Ned’s stomach churned with the howling wind and the stench of the catch, and he stumbled into his first mate. A drunken slap on the back and a push down the road was all he needed, and he was back on his way home. Liquor roiled in his belly and he stopped at the road. Waves crashed behind him, against the pier, and nausea rolled up into his throat. He clenched his hands and pitched forward in the rain, hurling his night’s consumption into the gutter. There, he followed it, collapsing into the ditch on all fours.
The relentless wind bayed at Agnes’s window, mocking the flame in its golden glory. Agnes wiped her shawl across the condensation, peering out again into the blackness of oblivion.
Ned lie, propped up in the ditch, as the rain emptied its buckets upon his head. He gurgled and vomited again, and surrendered his body and mind to exhaustion.
Agnes checked her clock and sighed as the rain battered the roof. She opened the front door and squinted through the downpour into the village at the bottom of the hill. Lights had begun to go out and Agnes knew the haul was safely in.
As Agnes waited, Ned awoke to the rain’s attempt to drown him, and with his head thumping as if he’d been walloped with an anchor, he attempted to stand. He swayed and lurched, and began to blunder forward.
Several hours of worry boiled inside Agnes’s head, and now as the storm started to abate another began anew. When all the lights below had been extinguished, Agnes knew the sailors were home and safe, but where was Ned? She knew with absolute certainty where Ned had been while she agonised over his return, and anger stirred in her gut. Hours later and anger was long gone replaced by cold fury, and Agnes rose from her chair and moved to the window. With shaking hands she licked her fingers and snuffed out the candle’s flame.
Morning arrived with a crimson sky and cotton wool clouds dancing on the horizon. Agnes woke alone and stepped out onto her doorstep, her husband’s absence summoning stinging, salty tears. Waves crashed below, at the foot of the cliff, embracing Ned’s broken body as the climbing sun rose in glorious defiance to night’s violent turmoil.