• Ruth Banister

Tales for Bonnie

Yesterday I saved a man. He tried to swim the estuary, from one side to the other, but he mustn’t be from around here because everyone knows that’s madness.

Yesterday it was windy, that coastal roar that exhausts your ears. My life is empty right now so the beach and me are good friends. I’ve learned its tides and its foibles, the way the sandbanks disappear from the east and how driftwood always comes to lie in certain places. These are things you notice when you visit every day.

A dead seal had washed up on the shingle, been dead a while I reckoned. I nudged it with a foot, saw an injury from a boat. I left it feeling sad with humanity when I spotted a shape in the estuary.

‘Oh no, no, no, no,’ I muttered aloud. Perhaps I was wrong and it was a seal, a live one. I kept my eyes on the spot and walked with the wind on my back. It propelled me onwards. The estuary was turbulent. The shape kept appearing and disappearing.

The changing tide brought the rain and I felt it begin to pelt my back. My thoughts would ordinarily turn to tea at the Harbour Café and the words I’d share with Bonnie, the owner, the only words I often shared with anyone. She liked my tales. I’d already prepared my dead seal story. I pictured her attentive face and felt that beautiful swell of the heart.

It was a man. I called out but the wind harvested the words from my lips. A pile of clothes flapped sadly on the opposite wall. Blue trainers weighted it down.

The murky swell buffeted the man, his skin the palest pink. I shivered. Rain pricked my eyes and I lost him for some seconds. I gripped the wall as I leaned searchingly towards the murk. My numb fingers fumbled with the lifebuoy and I threw it with all my might. The man paid it no heed but eventually clasped it and I pulled him slowly in, the rope rough on my wet fingers.

The man crawled onto the sand and I saw he was entirely naked. He stayed like that, hands pressed into the sand, his chest heaving. I expected some conversation, an explanation, but he said nothing. His hair hung wet about his face, a full beard dripped the sea. He stood.

All the time I was a babble of words and questions but he just stood, the wind and rain both paling skin.

Then our eyes met and he spoke. ‘Sir, you have saved me.’ And I declare I saw enlightenment fill his eyes.

He turned to the water and again plunged in.

I followed his progress under the bruising sky. Water began to penetrate my coat and I desired my tea. I walked slowly away, looking back from time to time. When last I looked he was pulling on his shirt.

I hurried to the warmth of the café.

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