As And The Sea Shall Answer

by Nicola Ashbrook



Ask And The Sea Shall Answer


Alastair mans a seal tour boat – incessantly backing and toeing across the shallow congested waters to the tip of the peninsula, six times, every day. Well, during the summer months anyway; winter he spends in his carpentry shed, alone.

In summer, Alastair feels overwhelmed by humanity; in winter like he may become hollowed out by solitude. He feels old; curmudgeonly. He’s irritated by his constant dissatisfaction, knows he should ‘live for today’ yet, deep in his bones, he yearns.

He arranges his face into a convincing smile to greet the mornings’ first group; offers a steadying wind-worn hand to those struggling to clamber on-board. He mentally counts heads – twenty-four ranging from bald to downy toddler fluff – and starts his welcome talk. He keeps it short – there is far too much fuss about health and safety these days.

He mans the tiller and cuts a confident course through the aquamarine swell, weaving between moored sailing boats and bobbing buoys, salty spray occasionally spattering his customers.

Alastair shifts his gaze between the distant horizon and the undulating lub-lub of the waves against his vessel. He tries to ignore the cacophony of conversation and squeals and parents chiding their children. He focuses on the land mass to the northeast to which they’re heading and he offers his yearnings to the sea.

The seals come into view lolling on the pebbly outcrop – unfeasibly lumpen creatures with too short flippers sewn where tails should be – causing the crowd to stand and ooh and ah. Alastair understands their reaction – even after his hundreds of trips, it is still a privilege to see nature as intended.

He sails alongside the seals, carefully avoiding the protruding rocks; loops the boat around so people seated on the other side can see. He has to think of the reviews.

Two seal pups flob playfully down the bank, enter the sea and become orbs of greasy velvet heading towards the boat. The customers jostle for photos, chorusing ‘wow’.

Suddenly, Alastair becomes aware of a movement on the opposite side of his craft. He jerks his head to see a lad of ten or eleven balancing on the three inch-wide outer ledge. He shouts for him to get down but even as the lad’s arms windmill, Alastair is cutting the engine and lunging forward. His strong fingers brush an elbow but new trainers slip on wet glossy wood.

The sound is like an egg cracked on the edge of a pan. The mother’s screams visceral.

The tourists hoard and gawp as a slick of crimson diverges from the jagged rock, seals already forgotten.

Alastair dutifully leans over, grabs a handful of wet denim and heaves him in, ignoring the hungry call of the sea. Gooey cerebellum graffitis the deck – the pungent smell permanently imprinting Alastair’s limbic system – as his yearning is replaced with tortured regret.

He should never have confided in his liquid master.

He should never have asked.


Nicola Ashbrook is an emerging writer from the north-west of England where she lives with a menagerie of children, a husband, cats and a dog. She loves flash and has had a handful of pieces published. She is supposed to be re-drafting her debut novel, but the call of flash is strong. She can be found tweeting @NicolaAWrites


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