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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Charles Trenet's La Mer
by Cleveland W. Gibson

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"If only I can see him! He's my husband!"

Jane is a Nordic berserker fighting a wall of arms that reach out to encircle her. Nothing can weaken her intense feelings or diminish the anguish in her very soul. Her auburn hair, blown by the wind, frames her face in untidy bundles, momentarily hiding tears of disbelief, her horror at the cruel news. Her makeup smudged; no longer delicate shades of blue and blushers but she shows no concern - no vanity. Her red lips twist and contort with her growing torture. The biting coldness of the north-east wind, driving the salt-kissed spray, fails to make her shiver, yet no coat covers her heaving shoulders.

"Next of kin?"

She pauses momentarily, deceives those who would stop her, then darts frantically towards the ambulance on the beach.

"I must see my Michael."

Her screech dries up the instant she sees... finally staring blankly at the female form on the stretcher. Her anticipation becomes shock; she is almost mesmerised by the little girl's length of wet golden hair draped across the pillow. Jane gasps, her emerald eyes get wider; her gaze tilted in supplication towards the heavens.

"God! Don't take my Michael." In her mind she knows Michael must be elsewhere and she dreads putting her thoughts into words.

Her "cri de coeur" carried by the winds, swept over the breaking waves, onwards out to sea, to the maelstrom.

She recoils in horror, stepping back on unsteady feet to trip. As she greets the sands her handbag falls scattering a collection of photographs.

"Quick help her!"

As Jane falls her head strikes a rock: she bleeds. Again she cries with both hands clutching her head, her fingers unable to stop the red, her eyes closed like steel shutters. No cry of pain this time but the jolt of images invades her tortured mind. "Dante's Inferno" belongs to her. Her cry is heard, the rescue crew rush to assist some remembering it for their reports. A portent of tragedy links their presence on St. George's beach, with its solitary flying red flag. All await the dénouement, the discovery of a dead hero.

She gasps once. Only once, as unconsciousness wins. Now she lies on a second stretcher, alongside Lucy, the little girl saved from drowning by her husband Michael.

The ambulance sets off with its two patients, its sirens bugle the crisis, its lights signal danger. Crowds watch in silence, they who will one day acknowledge a brave man, yet ignore a woman deprived of his love until the day she dies.

The ongoing scene is unreal, it is set in concrete; how the Gods must weep watching an endless search by a town looking to claim a hero?

The simple facts are cruel; Michael swims out to rescue a father and daughter stranded on a sandbank. He gets the girl Lucy to the shore but when bringing back her father both men are swept out to sea to their death.

"The pain will grow less. Try counselling." Jane knew those sayings by heart but as she sat at the kitchen table memories engulfed her mind. The photographs before her seemed animated, recalling sounds and smells of ecstatic days of love in the summer with her husband. She wept again. Now three weeks after the tragic incident she was alone, unable to face a bleak future.

Unconsciously she started to play Michael's favourite vinyl, a classic by the late Charles Trenet. The talented French composer mirrored her tender thoughts in "La Mer"; romantic words about "meeting... love... the sea". Jane stared out of the kitchen window. With her senses so heightened, the words of "La Mer" lay like subliminal triggers deep within her. The compelling words conjured up visions of her Michael gazing into her eyes, his roughness of skin as he first kissed her neck and burnt her lips with the passion of a favourite lover. Her soul ached as she fingered her gold band.

She made coffee and stared, stared at the sea. Charles Trenet sang again. "The sea... love... our... meeting".

A moment later she finished writing a message and left it on the table. With a flourish she threw her car keys on top of the note; finished her drink.

She set the record player to repeat; looked again at "La Mer".

Suddenly a catch came to her throat; it was the inexplicable.

"Michael!" She screamed and sped off.

She was gasping with the physical effort as she reached the Cornish St. George's beach, her eyes scrutinising each breaking wave for the smiling face she'd seen. Her reason, her comprehension, deserted her as she battled to explain seeing his face in the sea. She just knew she had! A lump came to her throat.

As she stood there distraught, all the familiar fears resurfaced. Suddenly she felt his firm but gentle touch on her sleeve. Her heart skipped a beat as the hand slipped into her own. But Michael's hand was never so soft and she uttered a deep sigh as the hand gripped her more tightly. She sank within her self at the shock of that touch.

A look into such blue, such sea-deep tender blue eyes melted her heart.

"My daddy died too," Lucy said. "I keep waiting but he never comes back. Grandma says a lot of things but I just need my daddy." Lucy hung her head as her voice trembled. She looked away, always out to sea where it all happened. Always.

The floodgates opened; Jane wept bitter tears. She tasted salt, the warm tears as rivulets on her cheeks.

"I know, darling. I know. Forgive me, I've been so selfish." Jane felt empathy for Lucy, a little girl who's lost her father, just as she's lost her husband Michael.

It was so true, other people felt the hurt too. Again she wept but this time with deep relief. Her lungs worked like bellows as she took great gasps of air. Nothing it seemed could stop her crying.

She scooped up the child; held her tight. If only...

"La Mer" was still playing as Jane made drinks for the three of them in the kitchen. Lucy's grandmother sipped her tea; read Jane's suicide note as it lay there on the pine table. It sent shock waves through the kindly woman who knew what it felt to lose a son.

"Oh! My poor dear."

Instantly the old woman got up to embrace Jane and young Lucy. Nobody spoke for a long time; the three just looked out at the sea, watching the scintillating waves through the kitchen window, their eyes moist yet unblinking.

Charles Trenet crooned on. Michael was her angel. A surreal scene indeed as Jane knew, even from beyond the sea he'd made sure she'd never, never, never be alone.

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