Why did it always have to end in an argument with her? They were in a shitty situation and arguing never helped. It filled the house with dangerous electricity, left razors hanging in the air.
The village had few streets to roam, and none without noses poking through the curtains. He didn’t fancy the crowd in the pub. Besides, he didn’t have the money to spare. He marched through puddles of orange streetlight, and headed for the estuary instead. The streets were quiet. Half the village filled the two pubs, the other half remained glued to Coronation Street.
At the far end of the village the sea wall stopped next to concrete steps, dropping away from the pavement. He stamped down each one. Sand dampened the sound when he stepped off them. He kicked a few stones as he walked along the shore. The tide was still out, though it was on the turn. The streetlamps picked out churned circles in the sand. Land Rover tracks, erasing the memories of hand-rakes and riddles. The last remnants of the industry that once was the beating heart of this whole estuary. The hardy women who picked cockles were long gone, replaced by a handful of men and their machines.
The November wind raced over the water, flinging the salty, earthy smell of the estuary into his face. He stopped to look over it.
The castle that long ago protected this once-valued port stood on the bank upriver; a faded aristocrat gazing over a crumbling estate. The estuary had long since silted up. No vessels of notable size had coursed its waters for over a century. Beyond the castle, the new steel bridge spanned the banks, and behind it the skeletal remains of the old bridge. Around the bend, but still this side of brackish water, squatted the boating club. A score of small boats moored in the waters outside, a poor image of the fishing flotilla of old. Time was, you could wade into the puddles left at low tide and fish the flatties out with a net. Nowadays...
Downriver, rain and dark clouds the colour of spent coals formed a shroud over the far banks. They were already advancing across the estuary towards him. Somewhere in there lurked the steelworks, where he'd worked until just a few months back. Once publicly owned, then privately owned, now owned by foreign venture capitalists interested only in asset-stripping the proud old industry, whilst those in London faked concern and made lucrative deals with the Chinese. No matter how hard you fought to protect what was yours, the world moved on. It pushed you out of the way, stuck a boot in your guts, and spat in your face when you tried to get up. Now he had nothing to show for the decades spent there, except a mortgage he couldn't pay and a CV nobody wanted. And now a too-low offer on a house he didn't want to sell.
He holstered his hands in his pockets, turned left along the beach and swung his feet into a steady, aimless walk. That's what they'd been arguing about. The money was enough to move, to downsize to a two-bed flat miles away. Mikey would have to change schools, after taking so long to settle in at the local primary. How would it affect him? Why should it have to? And how would he, Michael Thomas, provide for his family? Where they were going there were jobs, sure, but of what sort? Insecure minimum-wage shit, all of it. Tide marks on his watch strap showed what the worry had done. Clothes that had been snug flapped loose. He kicked another stone down the beach. It landed near the water. Wave after wave of murky brown estuary water reached for it, each one came close; each one failed. He picked it up and threw it into the estuary toward the steelworks. Then he picked up another. Then another.
Cottages lined the far side of the main road, facing the estuary. There were lights on in every one. But for how much longer? Jobs were disappearing fast, and weren't being replaced. On the hill behind them the ghost of a quarry looked on, the last watchman waiting to turn out the lights.
He'd scream if he thought anyone would listen; he'd punch if there was anything to hit. A gust of wind howled at him, echoing his frustration. He wanted to run, but the beach was bookended by a railway bridge and bypass at one end, and a rocky promontory at the other. All this space and there was nowhere to run. The rain was upon him now, icy droplets that stung his face. Somehow the estuary air always tasted muddier when it rained.
A sea wall separated the road from the shore. With the aid of the streetlights it cast a long shadow across most of the muddy flats. The gloom was thickest right next to the wall. Grey slashes punctuated the darkness where ladders dropped to the gravel and pebbles thrown farthest by the waters. He walked past one, two, three of them. Making his way to the fourth he saw something in the darkness, lying at the foot of the wall. Laid on the ground it looked like...
He sprinted the last steps.
"Hello. Hey are you okay?"
The wind and rain forgotten, he kneeled next to the prone figure.
He looked as if he was resting. Wearing a black two-piece business suit, the figure was laying on his back. The suit was sodden. His arms were by his side as if pinned there, and his legs were out straight. Had he been vertical he would have been standing to attention.
"Hello?" Michael patted the man's cheeks. Cold. "Hello? My name's Michael, I'm here to help."
He put his ear to the man's face and looked down his torso. No breath, but there was a small lump in the breast pocket. Michael fumbled for his own phone with one hand, fished out the man's wallet with the other. Perhaps the man had had some sort of seizure, perhaps there was some information in there.
There was nothing of use. No bank cards, no ID. Just a thin wad of five-pound notes. The man had no medical bracelet. There was nothing to identify him, no clues as to who he was or how he’d come to be there. Had he had a stroke? A heart attack? If so, why was he laying in such a neat fashion? He couldn’t have fallen from anywhere save for the sea wall, but the sand around him was undisturbed. There were no signs of impact. There was no blood to be seen. Had he been in a fight? There were no marks to his face. His knuckles showed no bruising or scraping. All Michael could tell the emergency services was the time he'd found the body, and the location.
In a swirl of blue, two police cars and an ambulance arrived within twenty minutes. The body was as dead as the steelworks across the estuary. An officer ushered him to the road. Another held back the small crowd spewed from The Lamb. Michael was still giving his statement when the paramedics carried the stretcher to the ambulance.
The tide of sapphire lights and white vehicles washed away. Michael looked around him. A few bystanders still awaited an encore. He walked off, unsure where to go. A kid -Michael recognised him as the Waddenson's boy- called him.
"Did you see him? Was it anyone you know? Was he dead when you got there?"
"It's late, you need to go home."
He didn't want to go to the pub. He picked his mobile and dialled home.
"Hi... yeah I'm fine. How d'you know? Oh. Look, I’m on my way back now. And... yeah. I'm sorry. We'll work something out... no, no I'm heading back now. Is Mikey in bed? Good. We need to talk about the move, a new job... just have to face up to it. Worse things happen, we'll cope. I love you."
His home was three streets back from the estuary. When the weather was right, like it was this evening, the whole village was awash with that salty, muddy smell. He'd miss it. But there were other smells to experience, bigger sights to see. There was a comfort in living in the village, a familiarity and a safety. Perhaps it was time to leave it behind, if only for Mikey's sake. What opportunities were there for him growing up in the village?
He shivered. Knives of November wind pierced his clothes. He walked on, slower now. There was no hurry. Home would be warm, the yellow rectangles shining through the front door more welcome tonight than they had been for months.
You can follow me at www.facebook.com/morganclarkauthor
To purchase my novels or audiobooks, please visit https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anthony-Morgan-Clark/e/B00JTHFCCG/ (Kindle and paperbacks). For all other electronic formats visit https://books2read.com/ap/8VKGAx/Anthony-Morgan-Clark.