To Catch the Tide
Short Fiction ~ Oscar Windsor-Smith
Third Prize, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition -4
He’s here to find his father, this man in middle age with the new woman who might be his future. Sitting, close but not yet touching, on a weather-beaten bench on the ancient quay, they’re gazing out over the Conwy River at buildings gilded by the setting sun. A bright reflection flares from some moving object on the far bank. It creates a false light whose beam swiftly traverses the two bridges across the river to their junctions with the nearer bank.
The man's gaze follows the reflected light, arriving at the medieval castle that dominates Conwy with illusions of protection and permanence.
Illusions of permanence, the notion has barely formed before it flies off on a freshening breeze.
Wheeling gulls disturb his reverie with their mocking shrieks. One lands in search of tourist titbits, strutting the granite quay where its forebears dined on fresh-caught fish.
The man stands. Eyeing the last departing visitors he inhales a whiff of sun lotion and ice cream. He grimaces. The woman extends her hand to touch his but he’s already out of reach, eyes unfocussed: his awareness in the past.
On the bustling quay, rank with the stink of diesel and rancid fish, night and weather are closing in. Lines of small trawlers strain at their mooring ropes, eager to be back at sea.
Yet there in sepia memory, emerging from a confusion of seamen loading tackle and supplies comes his father, striding forward. He’s wearing tweeds: those ridiculously inappropriate golfing trousers. He stops a child's arm length away, so tall.
Gazing at one of the trawlers, the father pulls from his pocket a briar pipe and a pouch of tobacco. He fills the pipe and strikes a match with practised posture to protect the flame from biting wind. In that brief illumination, the son scans the father's face for clues.
The mature son interrogates the imagined smile: does it suggest determination, resignation, or mental torment? His father was a gunner in the World War – only two years before – did something happen his mind couldn't handle?
What were you thinking, Dad? You, a landlubber who'd never been sea-fishing in his life.
Giving the match a needlessly long shake, the father casts it into the boiling waters and shoulders his kit bag.
I love you dad.
A strong hand reaches out, ruffles the son's hair, and then the father is gone, striding down the gangplank with the crew.
So did Mum. She married twice more but I believe she loved you till the day she died.
The drone of diesel power rises to a chugging crescendo as expert hands cast off the mooring ropes and the tiny trawler surges into the river.
The father turns, waves, and the child half-hears his parting shout – ‘It’s the only way to live, boy. We have to catch the tide.' – the last sight and sound of him the son will ever have.
The phantom words still echo on the silent quay when a warm hand touches his.
The boy-man nods, his mind still in the past but now on a course of his own. He murmurs, ‘Would you like to spend the rest of your life with me?’
Oscar Windsor-Smith is an English writer from Merseyside, now resident in south Hertfordshire, UK, with fiction and non-fiction prose and a smattering of poetry published in diverse places, in print and online. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies, most recently in the Departures anthology from Arachne Press. He graduated from the 4-year BA creative writing course at Birkbeck, University of London, in 2018, having specialised in screenwriting, but is returning to his first love, short and flash fiction.
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