Short fiction

Issue #10

The Sinking Night

‘Have you heard anything yet?’ Rosie appeared downstairs, her voice loud and abrupt, knowing that Derek would be lost in thought behind the dark bar.

‘No, nothing yet. They found the boat in the early hours but no one knows if any of them survived.’ Emotion was absent from his voice; he seemed transfixed by the mundane task of preparing sandwiches. There were three on the boat and Derek had grown up with two of them. If his Dad hadn’t bought the pub after his accident, Derek would probably have been on the boat with them.

‘Why don’t you come and have a brew?’ she asked him. ‘It’s no use doing that till we know either way.’

Whatever happened, she thought, people would come to the pub. If the news was good, they could turn on all the lights and get out a few decorations. If it wasn’t, they’d keep the lights dim and dress in black. Either way the food they put out would stay the same.

   Rosie left him preparing the buffet and walked out into the lounge. During the afternoon and evening the place was a beacon, its light and laughter welcoming anyone who might be passing in the icy waters and warning any who may stray too close to the rocks. Mornings were different. After all the clearing up had been done the night before it sat in a state of anticipation until the doors opened and the first punter stepped in and took his place at the bar. Until then it was like a museum of better times. In the absence of the friends it was filled instead with all the dark thoughts Rosie could normally ignore while she was pulling pints.

This morning it wasn’t so bad. Yes, Derek was drifting out into the darkness and the village itself might start to fall beneath the waves, but at least she had something to focus on.

    She opened the curtain a crack and gazed out onto the square. The old windbeaten obelisk, the village’s own mast, bore two bronze plaques marked with the names of all the men that had been lost to the water – fifty odd names ranging back over two hundred years. The last deaths were before she was born, when Derek would have only been a toddler. The business had become a lot safer in recent years. The worst accident in memory was Derek’s dad damaging his back. This is why he’d hung up his rods and bought The Beachcombers Windowsill from its elderly owners. They’d had no children, so no one to pass it down to. A curse, Rosie had begun to think over the last year.

Someone was pounding at the house door: John Roberts, an old dog who manned the village’s lifeboat station.

    ‘Dennis and Alex are fine!’ he told them. ‘They’re on their way back, nothing serious just cuts and bruises and dampened egos but they’re fine!’

‘And Adam?’ Derek asked. John’s face looked solemnly.

‘The Marshall boy? They haven’t found him.’

When John left, Derek turned to Rosie, his eyes shining. He swept her towards him and kissed her neck. She could feel the tears on his cheeks. They hadn’t been close like this for months.

Grant Marshall found out from a phone call from John Roberts, probably after he’d finished scurrying from house to house, finally in a role of importance. Roberts had been snivelling on the phone, very apologetic. Grant muttered his thanks and went back to his work on the farm. He’d almost forgotten to tell Marie. Out in the fields he could often fold in on himself – no longer a person, more a machine setting about its tasks. That was one of the reasons Adam had said he needed to find his own way; Adam wanted to do something that was a challenge, not a slog. And how far had that gotten him?

  When Grant finally told Marie, he passed on exactly what he had been told, no more and no less. Not even a single word of comfort. He had always been a pragmatic man, aware of his limitations, and he knew at that moment there was nothing he could do. And that wasn’t the only reason. Adam’s impetuous choice had stung his father: it felt as if he just wanted to be anywhere else, be a part of anything else. When he watched Marie weep, he felt almost resentful towards her. Adam had made his own decision; he knew what he was getting into. Let him drown.

He left the house and worked long after sunset, falling asleep in his kitchen chair still in his overalls so the next morning he could just start work again. If he stopped for a second, he might think about it. When he was milking he told himself the moisture on his face was from a leak in the barn roof. After he had finished the morning’s work Grant scoured the roof for any sign of holes or damage. He still hadn’t seen Marie that day.

He could see John Roberts stumbling up the lane. Grant knew he would only come if there was definite news. He waved and Roberts paddled up to the barn, his face awash with a rehearsed sympathy. This was it. No need to hope any longer.

Rosie surveyed the room, smiling: it was a beacon once more. In the last hour almost everyone from the village had crushed in, ready to celebrate. Dennis and Alex themselves were swept up by the cheering masses. The storm had passed and now everyone could let loose.

Derek inched past her to reach for a packet of crisps, kissing the back of her head. She turned around to give him a playful slap followed by a kiss. The slap was for the punters, the kiss was just for him. Everyone at the bar cheered, and began another drunken song.

    Usually Rosie would be annoyed at Derek being one of the drunkest in the room but tonight she didn’t care. The boys had made it home, and everyone in the village was ecstatic. Not even the pub’s garish bunting, left over from the royal wedding, could take away from the bliss. These moments didn’t come often, and for the first time in months she felt hopeful. She placed her hand on her belly and smiled to herself. Alex and Dennis had made it back.  Maybe she and Derek would make it too.

    Of course, there was one who didn’t make it back – Adam Marshall – but it didn’t feel he was part of the village. He was from the farm a mile or two away, a face everyone knew but no more than that, making deliveries with his father. He would even come in the Beachcombers occasionally, order a pint and sit at one of the tables, looking as if he wanted to start a conversation but didn’t know how. Rosie always thought him an oddball.

Everyone was surprised when he signed up to the boats. Most people thought it was just an act of rebellion against his father. She’d heard that he turned up on time, did his job and was polite about it, but no more. Even when he hung around with the others after they had finished work, he would always be on the fringes, never really a part of it. Most put it down to him being new to it all. This was only his fourth trip out. It was a shame, she thought.

Earlier that evening, Derek had tried to start a minute’s silence but it barely lasted thirty seconds. John Roberts wondered aloud if Grant Marshall blamed the village; he’d reacted so strangely, as if he were lost and the tide were against him.

Adam would be remembered at some point, Rosie thought, just not tonight. Tonight was for celebrating.


They sat in silence. Neither of them had moved much or spoken since Roberts had left. Occasionally Marie turned her head, as though she expected something either of herself or of him, the fading light reflecting off her cheeks. Grant wanted to shout at her, make her dry her face. Her weeping annoyed him and accused him. She didn’t need to say a word.

He’d hoped for weeks that Adam would admit to his mistake and ask to work on the farm again. Maybe he’d take Adam back; maybe he would just turn him away. He’d lost his son – failed him, he thought – long before this accident.

Grant stood up and stepped out of the room, making his way to the tool shed. Working here wasn’t living, Adam had said. They were the just like the animals and the crops, trapped in the same routine. Had the sea offered him something different?

Grant gathered up his tools and trudged to the barn. In the distance, the pub shone bright like a beacon. Grant could hear music and laughter drifting in over the darkness.


Rosie skirted round the bodies, smiling, gathering as many glasses as she could carry. They had reached the part of the night where the drinking slowed down but the merriness remained. Derek was sitting with Alex and Dennis recounting old school tales, savouring the bonds so nearly lost. His eyes were glazed and his face was red. She knew he wouldn’t be any help tomorrow, but she didn’t care. He deserved this night of peace. Soon nights where they could just let go would be a fond memory. They’d probably need to get help in soon: maybe Derek would offer Dennis and Alex work behind the bar.

She placed the glasses behind the bar and stood looking round. Dennis’ wife, Janine, sat near the window with a big crowd of friends. Charlotte, Alex’s girlfriend, was away for work and wouldn’t make it back until tomorrow; Rosie wasn’t even sure how much she knew.

Living here in the pub had made Rosie an outsider, in a way. The girls she had grown up with envied her, because she always knew her husband would return from his work. It didn’t matter that things had gotten safer now, that fear was always there. The girls rarely called her when a trip was unexpectedly extended or if the weather worsened. She had asked Janine about it once, and Janine had joked that if they called her they would have to pay for drinks.

Rosie sat down for a moment on a spare stool at the edge of the group. Janine, a biology teacher at the local secondary, was making everyone laugh, talking about a sex education lesson from a couple of days ago. Rosie laughed too, but she was distracted by headlights outside, the memorial illuminated in their amber glow. Tomorrow or the next day they would have to stand out there, in the ocean breeze, for Adam.

Grant sat behind the wheel, his hands shaking. Did he want to see the thing that had taken his boy? Did he want to stand on the beaches as widows did in the stories? Had he just wanted to get away from Marie and her real grief?

He’d tried to continue work on the roof but the noise had distracted him. He might have imagined it, some twisted siren song. He should be back at the house – if not consoling his wife, at least sharing in the emptiness. Maybe he just wanted to know if the noise was real or not. But the gun on the backseat told him otherwise. He wanted to know if they cared. He wanted to show them that he cared about his son.


Derek clambered behind the bar and emerged with one of his special bottles of whisky, to the cheers of everyone still crowded in the pub.  He began filling everyone’s glass but his own, and Rosie shouted to him to bring the girls a bottle of champagne. Then they made a toast, to the boys returning safely, to Derek and Rosie, to old times and to anything and everything as long as it was happy and that it remain so.

The silence crashed in on a wave. The door opened, and the smell of salt and chilly evening air washed in. Grant stood rigid in the doorway, broad shoulders shaking. People looked at the floor. Nobody was laughing.

Derek stepped forward.

‘Look Grant, I think I speak for everyone here when I say how sorry – ’

‘I just want to speak with the two lads outside. I think you all owe me that much at least.’

Grant backed our as silently as he entered.

‘You all stay here and enjoy yourselves,’ Derek told the crowd. ‘I’ll go out with Alex and Dennis, and when we get back I’ll pour you all another glass of whiskey!’

The three men walked outside, and Rosie refilled champagne glasses. Everyone was talking again, smiling. Outside the window, rain was falling again.


Grant had seen them all, heard them. Laughing and drinking. They didn’t care, not one of them. There was the landlord walking out, followed by the two lads, all with their heads down in some show of forced respect.

They were saying something about how sorry they all were, how there was nothing the others could do, how it was a freak accident. That Adam knew the risks; they all did, they were all together in this.

He’d lost his son, and none of them cared. They were all in there celebrating. Grant lifted his arm from his side, his finger on the trigger. He’d lost his son, but he wouldn’t fail him now.


They all heard the bangs, thunder striking twice, and rushed out into the storm. Rosie was caught in the current. Red water rose around their feet.

Derek lay washed up on the pavement, a dark well in his chest. She didn’t have time to see anything else before she was dragged back inside the pub. No time to scream or cry or feel anything. She could hear Dennis bellowing over the crushing wind and she was aware of people holding her and talking to her.

Derek didn’t go out on the boat, she told herself. It was one of the others. It was sad but their life would be the same; there would just be a framed picture above the fire and they would have to ask someone else to help out on the bar. Derek wasn’t on the boat.

Some men had carried Derek in and placed him on the floor with a sheet over him. She heard someone say they’d left Grant where he fell.

Janine walked her up to their bedroom and sat with her in the darkness. Janine was crying, but Rosie sat staring into space. The sheets were still ruffled from this morning. She had made the bed before coming down and when they went up they hadn’t bothered getting into the sheets. It was all going to be alright. The boys had made it back.

Chad Bentley

© 2014