Friday, 26 September 2008
There came no scream from the dead man's lips, but a light was then shone on me and I yelped with surprise. A security guard had me trained in his torchbeam and he shouted at me to stay where I was. As if I could go anywhere, my eyes were fighting the brightness in order to catch a glimpse of the phantom execution. And as the security guard walked over, he must have become aware of the grisly scene unfolding nearby as his light flickered and swung round, illuminating the man, backlit as his body, rose, rose, rose, as if hoisted by ropes hung from the rigging of a tall ship. And then his body hung and swayed, suspended, floating there as his fluids drained away into the water.
Then the torch light died and my eyes couldn't adjust in time. Just a single splash was heard and the man was gone forever.
The shaken night watchman ambled over, scratching his head below a blue cap. He open the gate and we shared a warming coffee together in the shelter of his guardhouse. There he told me the story of Salt Bert, the crazed sailor who had attacked and eaten one of his crewmates on a freighter bound for Liverpool from New York. His captain was said to have caught him in the foul act and it took four burly seamen to catch him and hold him still. The crew then took turns to beat the treacherous cannibal sailor, slashing at him with spurs and fists. When they were done with him he was taken and locked in the ship's hold until the ship's arrival in Liverpool. The hold was filled with a cargo of salt, and not a man was said to have slept for the remainder of the voyage, such were Bert's cries of agony, shrieking from below deck.
Under Maritime Law, Bert was tried and executed at the quayside at Liverpool. His body was then thrown into the dock itself. The night-watchman, 'Captain' Tom Barrow, had seen Bert's ghost before prowling the wharfside and often, when he dozed off on duty, his sleep was duly disturbed by the agonized wails of Salt Bert.
So let's drink a drink for Bert, and remember his hideous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, writhing day and night in salt burning agonies. Maybe you'll see him tonight, or maybe you'll hear his scream, floating along the river's edge leading him back to his grave.
Thanks to JuJu Spider for the inspiration…
Thursday, 25 September 2008
I saw the ghost of Salt Bert last night.
As the train whistled by over the embankment near Sandhills station, I spied a lonely figure floating down the broken road between the old dock warehouses. I was compelled to get off, though Craven, who was travelling with me, thought I was mad. Maybe I had gone mad, but all I could think about was following this strange lonely creature through the night.
I soon picked up his trail, as I ran through the rain-soaked night. Crates and bins were turned over on either side of the road, as though a fierce drunk had staggered there; kicking and punching at the littered flotsam as he rolled across each side of the street.
And then I came upon him... he leaned upon the side of a massive brick-built storehouse, once used for processing raw tobacco from the Colonies. He seemed to smoke a stogey from one quivering hand. His grey beard scratched through, whiskers illuminated by the gibbous moon. He wore the hanging face of a doomed man. He didn't see me, he was eyeing a dark patch, spreading across his dirty checked shirt.
Soon his clothing was dripping with blood, but he staggered on into the night, his body seemingly effervescing, fading imperceptibly as the night's seconds ticked by. I followed him again, followed the shining trail of blood until we reached the great dock wall. The grave man passed through the wall as if he were merely pushing through green undergrowth.
I watched him then, through the bars of an old gateway. He stood by the dock and his shirt was ripped from him by an unseen force. Then the wound, spread thinly below his chest, was opened wider and entrails poured forth into the salt water. My eyes stung and my ears cringed at the sound of organs splashing into the swilling water of the Queen's Dock.
to be continued…
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
And they came back to the old cottage then, Maggie and he, after so many years away.
He marvelled at how well nature had hidden the place: “Saved, just for us!” But Maggie grew sad, poignant, thinking of how the old place had changed so, how it had not been cherished and loved. “I want to cry, I think,” she told him. “I’m happy too, but I want so much to cry some tears right now, for this place.”
He touched her though, wiped at her cheek before the tears had even started to well, and that was enough to make her smile and dry her eyes and take his hand as they continued to walk along the edge of the dry stone wall.
This was a palace of great wonder to both their lives, and even the ravages of time and nature could not dim its memory and meaning.
When they got to the gate they both tensed and resisted. “You go first,” she whispered, and he nodded, leading her slowly across the threshold once again.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
What is it that drives us back to the sea? We escaped from the tides and the surf and the foam all those millennia ago, so why does the crashing pound of those rhythmical waves claw at us still, mirroring the Sirens' call?
I wonder this as I lounge here on a Cornish beach. It is the height of summer now, and this is the second sunny day we've had. We go home tomorrow. Still, the weather brings us out in our droves; the weather and the whisper of the water.
I'm on holiday with Sylvie and her family. It is as fun as it can be. I'm enjoying peering through dark sunglasses at the perfect and the almost perfect bodies of the women who waltz by, and wondering which of them I could realistically have.
Anne has texted me twice this week. I can't decide if she's making a real effort by texting me, or if this meagre couple of texts shows I'm worth anything much to her at all.
This whole weekend, it's made me question why I bother holding on to this relationship with Anne. Of all the people to choose to have an affair with, why the woman I previously loved and lived with? I may as well have chosen some beautiful young thing. An oozing, raw, sexual presence whom I could just meet for a meal and some red wine in a shaded corner of a bistro, before whisking off to a hotel room for a few hours of sweating, heaving passion.
That way sounds good. I get everything I want - all the sex, the excitement - and I don't have all these unresolved issues cropping up, all the raised eyebrows and impatient huffs as I manage to annoy Anne, yet again. At least now I can leave before the row starts. That's probably why it's just about working. It's funny that I never row with Sylvie. She is an implacable pond before me and I can just skim right over her without a care.
Everything inside tells me I should concentrate all my attentions and affections and time on just one person, Sylvie. But then, I'm thinking, is she worth it?
So, as the waves crash in my ears like tribal drums, I close my eyes on the bikini beach and drift off to sleep while the sun's still high and my body's still warm and Sylvie's still by my side.
Monday, 22 September 2008
If a man stands in a field for long enough, he might become one of its skeletons.
As his shadow grows long in the afternoon, he may find that his feet have fixed to the tilled earth below him and that fate has made him part of that idyll forever.
That is a dream to have anyway, this dream to become a part of the field. Perhaps when I die someone will find my bones and scatter them there, bury them among the compacted clods and roots, plant them kindly.
A field holds many skeletons and not all of them below its green-brown canvas. From the dead sheathes of yesterday’s harvest to the slender sapling that yearns to grow so thickly and quickly towards the sun, all are skeletal beings. Spectral before you, transitory, without flesh, promising either life or death... but who knows which side will win through?
The very nature of the field is a slowly convolving routine; the ageless schema of death to life to death and life again. Nature is a wonderful thing of permanent resurrection.
But where does man fit into the field? Is man like this long dead machine, left to rust on the sidelines? Set there for eternity to watch its successor, the better machine, doing its role, doing everything better, while the new grass grows fresh and long all around it? What torment, it must feel.
No, I think man has a place closer to the field. It’s almost kin, to me, that aching pasture, that threshed turf, and we sit somewhere between that rusting carcass and the steady green grass. Though it’s hard to say just where.
I hope I’ll find out, some day, when the sun casts its long fingers across the shadow of my life and leaves me standing there, naked before the winter, still and skeletal in the midst of the great field.