The Return

The Return

Christine smelt it first that sweet pungent fishy smell that could only mean one thing, one town and one never forgotten person.

It was a time and a place Christine had firmly put in her past.  Marked down don’t open. Still after twenty years too painful to think about. So when she was asked by her boss to present to a group of fishermen in Arbroath on the new EU fishing regulations she recoiled with shock.

Her hesitance was quickly noted by her austere boss who was an expert at saying no to others but wasn’t any good at hearing the word directed at him.

Christine quickly put a fake smile on her face summoned her inner resources and responded that of course she would go.  Before being told that the location of the presentation was at the fisherman’s mission.  There would be dinner afterwards with top officials from the town who wanted to grill her on the impact the new fishing regulations would have on the town of Arbroath.  A town whose livelihood depended on the fishing industry.

She approached from the Dundee side.  Arbroath isn’t the prettiest fishing town.  In fact even twenty five years ago when Christine had first visited the town it had an air of somewhere that was long past its sell by date and that as a holiday town it was never going to return to its glory days.  If indeed there had ever been such a thing. But for the young adult Christine it wasn’t just the town that had quickly won her over and taken her heart it was him too. There was something about both that had held her heart in its grasp and never left her.

It was here again all these years later when even at first glance as the town came into view her heart beat a little faster and somewhere deep inside something told her that she was home.

Christine shook herself.  This was nonsense.  Home was Edinburgh always had been apart from those years in Arbroath followed by a couple of years in London trying to put herself together again.  She refused after putting all the blocks back in place again to let this town weave its spell.  Her heart though was trying its level best to re awaken long repressed emotions and memories.

And before Christine knew it she had parked her car by Arbroath Football Club and walked over to what in the USA would have been a board walk but here in Arbroath was a grey and austere path by the sea.  Christine looked out to the North Sea glaring at it and before she knew it she was staring at the younger Christine.

Christine was a naïve yet intelligent teenager who had been brought up by conservative parents in the sunny suburb of Morningside in Edinburgh’s south side.  Her childhood had been spent at a private girls school nearby.  With any spare time spent at the local Baptist Church where her parents worshipped with her father being church secretary and her mother always involved with events and goings on at the church.

Most of her school contemporaries couldn’t wait to leave not only Morningside but the city itself to start new adventures and as importantly flee the nest.

Not Christine and not just as her parents still had enormous sway over her.  For Christine truly believed her teachers that if she knew what was good for her.  She would study at the best University in Scotland if not the UK.   The University of Edinburgh.  The school seemed to forget there were actually two other universities in the city and some outstanding colleges too. For them there was only one University and that was Edinburgh.  Christine had two goals to attend Edinburgh and the second and far more ambitious to be the second female prime minister of the UK.

Christine’s University career ran rather like her school one.  Days spent at the Politics department.  Nights spent in her bedroom studying and weekends spent at the Church. Involved in the youth group she found herself one of the leaders in a youth weekend to Arbroath staying in the Baptist Church house an old what seemed never ending Victorian Townhouse just up from the harbour.  The Arbroath youth group were waiting for them at the house with hot chocolate and mounds of white mother’s pride buttered toast.

The girls in the group quickly spotted the Tom Cruise look alike or what Tom Cruise would have looked like had he been a few years younger, Scottish and a fisherman.  They swarmed to him like bees to honey and Christine could see that he just loved the attention.  Boys were not her cup of tea and certainly not boys who it looked liked themselves just a little too much.

Christine wandered into the kitchen to escape the stifling competitive atmosphere and here among the older adults she found a kindred spirit a boy about her age.  Shy and quiet who was also escaping.  Before she knew it they were talking and that was it her life changed.  One meeting and her heart abandoned her and she fell for an introspective fishing boy called Craig.  The Tom Cruise look alike’s younger brother.

Christine finished her studies but instead of heading for the dizzy heights of London and Westminster she married Craig at Charlotte Chapel Baptist Church before heading for Arbroath.  It wasn’t the life she had planned and for her parents it wasn’t even plan B.  Not in their wildest dreams would their only child have settled down as wife of a fishing man in Arbroath.  But Christine was happy and content.

The only blot in the landscape was Craig’s brother.  Christine wondered why she had ever thought he was a Tom Cruise look alike.  He might have had his looks but he didn’t adhere to his strict scientology no drink policy.  Baptists too are known for their strict no drinking.  But Stuart was a member of the church in name only.  Most Sundays he was to be found nursing a hangover before taking the hair of the dog route and heading back to the pub.  His drinking got worse and worse and was really the only thing that Christine and Craig argued about.  Christine would have disowned him would have had nothing to do with him.  His constant drinking the inevitable fights afterwards.  The calls from the police station.  The path of chaos that he left in his wake.  Having been an only child she couldn’t understand why Craig picked him up again and again and that the sibling love ran deep.

Stuart when sober was the better fisherman.  Craig was too cautious a team player not a leader.  Not comfortable shouting at a team which is necessary for any fishing boat but especially in the rough waters of the North Sea.  Yet more and more Craig was having to lead the fishing boat as Stuart either stayed below deck or more often or not lost in the pub in a world of drink, hangover and then drink again.

So one October evening as Christine stared at the thin blue line as she sat in the toilet shaking Craig unaware was out at sea as an unexpected Autumn storm hit the coast with force.  The family fishing boat the Mary Jane was just heading back for shore.  Craig was commanding the boat again when a giant wave hit them.  Stuart would have known what to do.  Stuart would have handled the boat and the men.  Stuart would have saved lives. But Stuart was in Fletchers pub nursing his drink of choice whisky.  Craig and the rest of the men never stood a chance.  Christine vowed when she left Arbroath fleeing before the funeral that she would never return.  Stuart could go to hell as far as she was concerned and he would never ever know about his niece or nephew.

And as the 42 year old Christine looked out at the grey sea which had claimed Craig’s life she thought she had never been back.  She had reverted to a plan A of sorts left her child with her parents.  Headed for London tried out the world of politics.  Found it wasn’t for her too cut throat and not the actual power she had imagined it to be.  So she had opted to be the public servant.  Realising quickly it was them not the politicians who really ran the UK anyway.  After some time at the home office had returned to Scotland as deputy at the fisheries officer implementing EU policy.  Ironic really perhaps the most hated institution for fishermen.  It suited Christine though rules and regulations making people do what they should.  Christine liked boxes ticked everything neat and tidy.

Yet she reflected emotions were not like that.  You couldn’t just tick them into a neat box and even though you thought you could hide them away they didn’t stay hidden for ever.

Christine suddenly was full of guilt.  Coming to Arbroath it had brought it all back to her and she knew that Craig if he was indeed in heaven, if there was such a thing, which she often doubted would have been weeping all these years about her refusal to forgive.  Quickly she made up her mind if she didn’t do it now she never would.

Stuart still lived in the same family house on the shore line looking over the much improved marina which now boasted she saw an award winning restaurant. She opened the gate rang the doorbell.  Heavy footsteps were heard coming down the hall. The door opened Christine handed him a photo and said “This is your niece.”

Christine was not prepared for Stuart’s reaction or she might have tried to hold on to the photo.  But before she knew it he had snatched the photo and slammed the door in her face.  Christine was left staring at a black newly painted front door but not before she’d seen the utter contempt as he looked at her.  Plus the violence of the door slamming gave her complete clarity that she was not a welcome re addition to his life.

Christine was overwhelmed with a series of emotions as she stumbled down the path to return to the pavement.  Her immediate thought was indignation.  It was her who had been wronged not him.  Before the old anger returned and hatred surged inside her the old poison taking over her body to be replaced just as quickly with a more unfamiliar emotion tears.  Before she could stop herself she found that she wasn’t just crying she was overwhelmed by huge sobs that sounded like loud hiccups and she simply could not stop.

“Are you alright?”

Christine jumped as she felt a warm hand touch her on her shoulder and an anxious face came into view.

“Are you alright?” the voice repeated as Christine continued to gulp and sob.

As Christine looked up the voice changed tack from the anxiousness of a stranger who sees someone in need of help to the voice of someone who suddenly recognises that stranger.

“Christine?” the voice said in barely a whisper.  “Christine Petrie it can’t be.  Is it really you?”

Christine found herself staring into the face of another of the fishing widows and a former friend Rebecca who had been left alone with two young boys when the fishing boat had gone down.

Christine’s first thought was to lie she had changed out of recognition from the frumpy young adult she’d been.  She had lost weight in the aftermath of the tragedy and found that it mattered to her to keep as thin as possible.  With losing weight and climbing the career ladder in consumer conscious 1990’s London like all her contemporaries she had spent a great deal on herself and making sure she looked as good as possible.  High up in the civil service the current recession hadn’t made a dent to Christine’s salary and she still found comfort in spending on herself.  Looking good and knowing she did gave Christine her killer edge and also was her protection from anyone guessing that the old Christine still existed deep within in.  Still feeling frumpy and still desperately in love with a husband who had left her long ago.

Rebecca didn’t give her a chance to protest.  Before Christine reached for denial Rebecca had grabbed her by the arm and was leading her across the street to the restaurant exclaiming.

“Christine Petrie, Christine Petrie I can’t believe it.  And you look well you look just fantastic.”

All Christine could do was mumble that she was no longer Christine Petrie but Christine Armstrong.  She had reverted to her maiden name as soon as she reached London not wanting any long term reminders that she was once a part of the Petrie family.

Rebecca took no notice and as she opened the glass door and guided her inside she chattered and chattered about the weather, changes in the town.  On and on it seemed to Christine.  Not realising the shock that her appearance in Arbroath had made and that in her nerves Rebecca was just talking about the first thing that came into her mind other than the obvious.  Which was why Christine had suddenly returned and why she was howling outside her brother –in- law’s house?

Rebecca took her to a table and continued what seemed to be incessant chatter to Christine and and then to the waitress who took their order of an Americano and a Cappuccino.  Before going into her bag and handing Christine a tissue and gently saying.

“What brings you back after all these years?  Are you here for the memorial?  Where are you staying?”

Christine now so usually articulate was lost for words.   She’d intended to return to Arbroath as a stranger.  Carry out her work and then leave without anyone knowing she was there.  Now in a short period of time she’d let emotions over take her.  She’d tried and failed to reconnect with the one person she though she never wanted to see again.  And now here she was being bombarded with questions from a former friend and fellow sufferer of the disaster.  Someone who had known her well as they had found camaraderie in being outsiders to the close knit town of Arbroath.

Rebecca had always been very sensitive and she realised that her old friend was too emotional to answer and decided to change tack.  She gently put a hand on Christine’s and squeezed it and said.

“I’m sorry I can see this is really hard for you and I can’t imagine what emotions must be washing over you after all these years and with the memorial to face too.  Why don’t I start?”

At first Christine failed to listen.  It wasn’t one of her strengths and was something that was always pointed out to her at her annual work reviews.  On this occasion though it wasn’t simply indifference to the needs of others.  It was the word memorial.  What memorial?  And why did she get the distinct impression it was for this reason that Rebecca thought that she had returned to the town?

Trying to get a grip of her fuddled brain Christine tried to concentrate on what Rebecca was saying.

“ Had she really said that she’d re married”.  Christine though desperately.

“Sorry” she mumbled.  “But did you say that you had married again?”

“Yes.” Rebecca said as her face reddened and seemed to take on a glow of someone who deeply loves the person they are married to and not one of indifference which Christine found many of her friends seemed to have when mentioning their husbands.  “Yes.” She said.  “I married, took me years to get over Paul and with the kids so young I just about muddled through.”

“But eventually the pain eased a bit I started going out again.  I wasn’t expecting it to happen or even wanting it to.  But they do say that’s when you meet someone don’t they?  Anyway Mike was new to the town.  New job escaping a difficult divorce and we just clicked and that was it.  And you know?  I’m happy.  And I believe that Paul would have been happy for me.  Best thing is Mike’s a manager at Morrisons not another fisherman.  I’m not sure I could ever go through the emotions again of wondering if they will return each and every time they go out of the door.  I’ve been lucky too with my boys.  They have done well left the town.  One is studying medicine at Dundee and the other has set up his own joinery business and thankfully neither of them headed to sea.  Losing a husband was bad enough but the thought of the same happening to my boys is beyond contemplation.”

Christine saw Rebecca glance down at her hands searching no doubt for the sign that Christie had followed a similar path but Christine’s left hands were devoid of rings.  Rebecca hesitated and then asked?

“And you did you get married again?”  A definite and harsh shake of the head told her all she needed to know.

“Sorry I’m not letting you get a word in but tell me how are you really?  Strikes me this is all just a little too raw for you?  Did Stuart give you a hard time?  He still blames himself despite the fact we all know it was just an accident of the sea.  But Stuart won’t forgive himself.  He’s the town’s good Samaritan these days but still sees himself as the town’s pyrhia.  He’s raised all the funds for the town’s memorial to the disaster.  Surrounds himself in good causes.  It’s like he is trying to say sorry to Arbroath over and over again without realising its himself he needs to forgive not the pardon of the town”.

Christine was finding this encounter more difficult than any meeting she might be shortly facing with any angry fishermen.  There were two things she needed to know and then she planned her escape.

With a very cutting voice she said “And the drink is that still his daily companion?”  Before finally giving away a small grain of truth.  “And I’m here for a meeting at the fishermen’s mission not the memorial.  I didn’t know about any memorial nobody thought to tell me.”

Rebecca answered her last question first.

“Perhaps that’s because nobody knew where you were.  You left without a word to anyone not even to the family and you’ve not been seen or heard of since.  I hoped that somehow someone had managed to finally track you down.  We all tried especially once the memorial statue became not just Stuart’s penance but an actual reality and one that would have a long lasting legacy on the town.  The memorial is tomorrow a statue of the replica boat on the cliffs looking down on where the boat went down with names of all those who were lost.  But the important thing is what the money from the memorial will do help others like Stuart who found that the only way to deal with the hardships of sea is to turn to drink.  So to answer your first question.  Stuart gave up drink the day after the boat went down and he hasn’t touched a drop since.  He runs the local AA group and has done for years.  Many people owe him their lives.  You know what a scar drinking leaves on this town?”

Christine rose to her feet.  Her brain was taking the information in but she refused to believe it.  Rebecca was talking about Stuart as if he was the town’s saint rather than the bastard whose selfish actions had cost both women their husbands.

“Rebecca sorry it’s been lovely to see you.  I need to rush as I said I am here for a meeting at the fishermen’s mission.  I need to get back to Edinburgh tonight and can’t make the memorial tomorrow.  Another time?”

Rebecca looked at Christine sadly and realised that the pent up woman that Christine had become was someone who was still living with emotions that she herself had dealt with many years ago and moved on.  Looking at her she could see Christine in monetary terms was rich but as she looked at her fast moving back she could see that was all she had.

Rebecca quickly paid and made her way over to Stuart’s house.  Rebecca was deeply puzzled and frankly concerned that Stuart had rejected Christine’s visit.  Christine was the one person that Stuart had always wanted to speak to.  He had done the Alcoholics Anonymous course through and through and sought pardon from everyone he had hurt or in some cases physically harmed during his drinking days.  But Christine was the one person that Stuart had never been able to seek forgiveness from and Rebecca knew it had always weighed heavily on him.  He was no fool and had always known that Christine had judged him and found him wanting.

The door was opened almost as soon as she had rang the bell.  As if Stuart had been behind the door since the departure of the previous caller.  Stuart’s face fell as he saw Rebecca though quickly recovered as his usual good manners took control and the door was opened.

Rebecca was led into the bright and sunny living room which faced towards the marina and the sea beyond.  Rebecca loved the room which since his mother’s death Stuart had redone giving the room a modern contemporary feel and making the most of the light so that each time Rebecca entered it made her feel relaxed and she always made sure she sat at the window seat so that she could take in the view.  Rebecca always loved looking out at sea whatever the weather it always made her calmer and unlike Christine she felt it made her closer to Paul somehow.  Today’s view was grey and austere and the North Sea was making its presence known as if it sensed the impeding drama unfold.

Stuart sat down heavily on the couch.  In recent years Stuart had looked like a man re born his natural good looks coming to the fore again recovered from the ravages that drink had taken on his appearance.  Today however Stuart looked as if he had aged overnight as he sat there wringing his hands.

“I’ve met her.” Rebecca said breaking the silence.

“Did she tell you about the child?” Stuart said.

“Child?  What Child?” Rebecca asked incredulous.

“Her Child.  Craig’s daughter and my niece.  “ said Stuart sadly.

Rebecca looked at Stuart as if he was hallucinating.  Christine had a daughter?  There had been no empathy from Christine when Rebecca had talked about her sons.  In fact the opposite it had been of someone who had no interest and it had struck Rebecca that Christine even when she’d lived here had never ever talked about having or wanting children and despite their friendship had never taken much interest in Rebecca’s boys.  Rebecca had accepted it at the time figuring that Christine would change once she herself had children.  Today the lack of empathy had struck Rebecca as she had sadly reflected that Christine obviously had never had the chance to experience motherhood.  But it seemed that this was not the case.

“How do you know?”  She asked?

There was no response Stuart handed her a photo.  It was of a girl with an older couple.  Rebecca recognised the couple from their infrequent visits to Arbroath.  It was Christine’s parents.  They both had their arms round a girl who stood in the centre of the photo smiling at the camera.  There was no mistaking whose daughter it was the girl could have been her father’s identical twin.  It was as if Craig had returned from the grave.

“All this time we never knew.”  Rebecca murmured shocked.  “Your poor mother.”

At the mention of his mother’s name Stuart broke down.  Rebecca let him cry for a couple of minutes then seeing he was embarrassed but unable to continue the conversation felt the need to fill the empty space.

She’s not here for the memorial.  She claims she knows nothing about it.  She’s here for a meeting at the Fishermen’s mission.  I find it a coincidence as if she’s meant to be here somehow.  But a daughter she never mentioned her to me how could she not mention she had a daughter?”

Stuart glared at Rebecca and said

She’s Christine that’s why.  Always righteous. This was no doubt punishment for us no way were we going to get our hands on her precious daughter.  It would never ever have occurred to Christine that she wasn’t the only one suffering.  And why is she here now?  Why not when Mum was alive why now?”

Rebecca had no answers.  They talked briefly about arrangements for the memorial then Rebecca took her leave sensing that Stuart needed his space and made her way home grateful more than ever for her boys and the relationship that she had with them.

Stuart stared out to sea for some time.  He just couldn’t take it in.  Craig’s legacy was a daughter.  The photo had been of a girl he estimated to be about 12 but his niece must be 20 now almost an adult.  And he knew nothing about her.  He didn’t even know her name. All this time he had thought he was the only Petrie left and with his death the line would die and all this time there was a living Petrie who nobody knew anything about.  He just couldn’t take it in.  However he needed to speak to Christine needed to know more about his niece and Christine’s return.  Surely she hadn’t just returned just for a meeting?

Stuart made his way down to the Fishermen’s Mission.  Anybody who was involved with the fishing industry in the town knew about the meeting.  In Arbroath like many fishing towns the mention of the European Union was tantamount to a swear word.  Since the meeting had been announced it had been the talk of the fishing community.  The town was determined to let the officials know in no uncertain terms how angry they were at yet more officialdom coming from Brussels.  Stuart was no longer a fisherman but his work within the town meant he still knew the views and thoughts of the fishing community.

He could hear the voices as he entered the hallway to the mission the meeting had obviously started and the local fishermen were as good as their word and making the most of this opportunity.  As he entered the crowed room Stuart saw Christine at the far end of the room on a hastily made DIY platform built for the occasion.  Despite the barrage of questions she was holding her own seemingly taking it all in her stride.  Stuart suspected that she had been in this situation many times before as she seemed as cool as a cucumber as she took each question in turn and calmly answered each one.  In some respects Stuart admired her confidence the way that in a room where she was alone in both her sex and as the enemy she seemed to have the ability to answer each and every question thrown at her.  But what he found it hard to take was her lack of understanding of the fishermen’s plight.  She had been a fishermen’s wife and lived in the town.  Surely she of all people had taken this job to help?  But it seemed that like so many things in her life she had had amnesia about how hard it was to make a living from the sea.   The new restricted fishing days would make life harder than ever.  This was what was making the men so very angry there was fish in the sea.  Fish that they could make money out of to pay their mortgages and feed their families yet the European Union had taken on itself to regulate and regulate all supposedly in the name of conservation.  What were they actually conserving their own jobs?  Because fishing towns like Arbroath were going to die if these stringent conditions continued and what would be left?  Stuart knew only too well despair that leads to heavy drinking and increasingly these days to drugs too.

The meeting finished and Stuart made his way to the front to speak to his sister- in –law but there was a line of people in front of him.  Before Stuart could get to the front Christine had been swept away by the town’s official and whisked off for dinner.  Well Stuart could wait he was a patient man.  Now that he knew about the existence of his niece he was no longer content to wait and see if Christine would return.  He now knew what Christine did.  She would not be difficult to track down and when he did he would get to the truth and find out about the last in the line of the Petrie family.

After dinner Christine meant to head straight back to Edinburgh in fact despite the speed cameras on the A90 she intended to put her foot down and get there as quickly as she could.  So why she wondered had she checked into the only decent accommodation she could see in the town?  She now found herself lying in a double bed staring at the lights of the harbour beyond and willing sleep to come that she knew would never happen.  Another long night in Arbroath.  She’d spent a few waiting for her husband’s return from sea missing the warmth of his body.  The night of the disaster had been the worst night of all.  As the news spread round the town that a boat had sunk not far from shore the boats had gone out despite the stormy night and high waves that had claimed the lives of their fishing brothers.  Only one boat had gone out that night so everyone knew whose boat it was and it wasn’t long before kindly neighbours and friends had rung Christine’s doorbell.   To break the news.  Her screams as she heard the news initially followed by absolute silence as if she had been struck dumb made her concerned neighbours call the doctor.  Christine remembered still the injection she’d been given to make her sleep.  She’d pretended that it had worked every time her bedroom door opened she’d feigned deep slumber while all the while she was wide awake devastated at the course her life had taken in such a short period of time.  And as dawn broke over a grieving Arbroath sky Christine had tiptoed out of the house and left.  Twenty years later Christine relived every moment of that long night as sleep evaded her until dawn finally broke over Arbroath.

Christine got up and quickly dressed in last night’s clothes.  She was not one to wear clothes that had already been worn wearing things only once before they were put in the washing.  Wearing yesterday’s clothes reinforced her tiredness and they felt as if they were wearing her down.  Zapping her already low energy levels.  She was going to head back to Edinburgh as soon as she could but first she had to see the memorial to the lost ship and her drowned husband.  She couldn’t face the memorial service itself.  The accusatory stares and the chance of another rejection from Stuart.  She did though want to see the actual memorial.  In fact needed to see it sensing that it might give her some kind of closure.

Christine headed out of the hotel just after six am and headed for the cliffs where Rebecca had told her the memorial was.  Round every corner Christine saw ghosts.  Not just the ghost of Craig but the ghost of her former self.  Recently TV drama’s seemed to focus on bereaved people seeing the ghosts of their former loved ones.  It seemed to Christine to be totally surreal and far from everyday life.  But here in Arbroath ghosts were meeting her at every corner reminding her not only of her loss but also of the woman she had been and that Craig had loved.

The cliffs had been a favourite spot for Craig and Christine they had to use an old fashioned word courted there.  They had often walked on them after Craig returned from sea especially in the summer when the days seemed to go on forever and had often stayed arm in arm watching the sun sink behind the sea.  Christine therefore thought it was a fitting spot to erect the memorial.

The memorial was half way along the cliffs.  It was a beautiful a replica of the Mary Jane the Petrie Family fishing boat.  The boat was looking out to sea.  It inspired hope for the future.  Written below on a silver plaque were the words.

“This is to the men of the Mary Jane Fishing Boat who despite fighting the sea bravely drowned in a tragic accident on the 19th October 1998.”

 

Listed below were the names of each of the crew.

Erected by Stuart Petrie who loved his brother and the rest of the Mary Jane Crew.  Funds from the Mary Jane Memorial will go to assist other fishermen and their families in need.

Christine stared at first then lovingly stroked the boat.  Then her hand fingered the name of her husband and stayed there for a long time before touching each of the men’s names in turn.  She began to cry as twenty years of repressed grief finally could be bottled up no more.

Christine wasn’t sure how long she stayed there with her head bowed crying but suddenly she was aware that she was not alone.  She could feel and sense the presence of someone else and she knew that someone else was watching her.  Wiping her eyes she turned and standing a short distance away was Stuart.

This time though there was no hatred in his eyes just sadness covered his eyes as he looked at her.  It was Stuart who broke the silence of twenty long years.  Blurting out.

Christine I am sorry.  Sorry for slamming the door in your face.  Sorry for the drinking and suffering I put you and Craig through.”

Christine stared at him before saying.

And what about sorry for killing my husband and these men.  Are you sorry for that?”

Stuart stared at her.  Shock showing on his face as he answered.

You think I caused the accident?  You know I wasn’t there.  So how did I cause the accident?”

“That’s my point.”  Christine’s voice rose as her newly pent up released emotions burst out.  “You weren’t there.  You were the best fisherman in Arbroath if you had been skipping that boat as you should have been.  It wouldn’t have sunk the men wouldn’t have drowned and Craig would be alive today.”

Christine nobody could have prevented that accident do you know how high the waves were?  They have never been seen since.   It was nature that killed them and nothing would have made any difference.  Nothing.  Surely you know that from the accident report?”

Christine looked at him and said “I never read the accident report.  I was In London at the time of the enquiry my parents mentioned it but I just couldn’t bear to look.”

Well if you had you might have realised that it was nobody’s fault.  If I had been on that boat I would have been dead too.  I live with that every day that I am a dead man walking.  So yes it turned my life around.  I would give anything for the accident not to have happened anything but I couldn’t have prevented it.  I believe God saved me that night for a reason.  I can’t bring my brother back or the rest of the men.  But I could fight to save others who like me found being at sea a dark nightmare and turned to drink and these days more and more to drugs for relief.  That’s what I have done since.  It’s what you do when you are shown clearly in a mirror what a wreck of a man that you are and God gives you a second chance a chance that wasn’t given to the rest of the Mary Jane.  You seize that chance as I owe it to these men.  I will never be a saint.  I can never make up for the mistakes that I made.  The people I hurt.  All I can do is take the second chance that I have been given and make something of it.”

Tears were rolling down Christine’s face as she took in not only the words but the anguish and sincerity that went with it.  All these years she had blamed him.  All that hatred for what?

I am sorry about yesterday I was so shocked that you had a child.  That Craig had a daughter.  My mother mourned not only Craig but also your loss till the day she died.  She thought of you as the daughter she’d never had.  She would have loved being a Grandmother you denied her that.  Now I see why you blamed me.  But what a waste what a terrible waste.  Tell me about her.”

Christine felt deeply ashamed she had loved Craig’s mother too and she knew that she had always longed for Grandchildren.

Catriona.  Well she’s beautiful a female version of Craig.  She’s studying law at Bristol University heading for a first.”

 

Just like her mother then.”  Stuart said.  “Clever just like you.”

Christine tried to smile at the compliment but the truth was that she didn’t know if Catriona was just like her.  She didn’t know her daughter.

Catriona’s her own person.  To be honest we are not close not close at all.  Her University choice reflects that as far from me as she possibly can get.  I left her with my parents went to London and by the time I returned she was so happy with them I couldn’t bring myself to take her away.  She was always so distant with me.  So loving with them but with me there has always been this barrier.  Suspect she resented my leaving her.  They say you build a bond with your child when they are younger and I never did.  Catriona was devastated when my parents died within a month of each other but even then she wouldn’t let me comfort her.  She left for Bristol and stays there even in the holidays.”

And us did she ever ask about her father’s family?”

Christine looked at him and her face flushed.  “I told her you were all dead.”

“Oh Christine.”  Stuart said.  “How could you?  You denied her a grandmother and whatever you think of me I would and will love her.   She’s the only family I have left.   If you don’t watch out you are going to be just as alone yourself.  I know how that feels and I know what a lonely life it is.  You need to let go and you need to tell Catriona how you feel and she needs the truth.  Tell her the whole story.  Visit her and far more importantly tell her that you love her.  She sounds just like you.  Surrounding herself with an iron wall.”

Do you think that would work?  Do you think she could learn to love me?”

“I am sure she loves you already Christine.  I am sure just like you she always has.  But you have to tell her and you have to tell her the truth.  About us too.  That you lied and that I am very much alive.  If you don’t I will.  She’s my niece and I have a right to know her.  She should be at the memorial with the rest of the family members.  You too need to be here.   Don’t run this time.   Stay and face your demons.  I can delay the memorial wait a few day.   But if I don’t hear from you I will be making a trip to Bristol to see Catriona.”

Stuart turned to leave but first he turned and said to Christine

“I learnt the hard way its better to face your demons Christine.  Don’t run this time face them head on.”

Christine stared out to sea for a long time after Stuart’s departure before reaching for her phone and phoning her daughter.  Catriona’s phone went straight to answer machine as if it was programmed to when it saw her mother’s number.  Christine took a deep breath and said.

“Catriona I need to talk to you.  I have returned to Arbroath where your father lived.  Can you meet me here?  I have a story to tell you about the gentlest man in the world and his family.   Your family.  Catriona I am sorry so very sorry.   I’ve not been the mother I should have been.  Your father was my world and I’ve not been able to see clearly since his death.  But now I do and we need to talk.”

Christine left Arbroath as the sun broke through and realised this return would be one of many to this fishing town on the Angus coast.  Because this town held her heart and her soul.

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About fionadranesblog

40 plus mum of two married with a mad cocker spaniel. Along with two colleagues run Bright Light Marketing a rural marketing agency who specialise in getting rural businesss noticed. www.brightlightmarketing.co.uk. Live in St Boswells in the wonderful Scottish Borders. Love books, walking and living life to the full here in the Scottish Borders though its sometimes a juggle!
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