A generation back my family fished off the South Cornwall coast. Although this is fiction it’s exactly the kinds of things I remember from my childhood – wreckers, slingers from over the Tamar, folk who bought the flotsam and jetsam we cleaned up when we were kids, and all kinds of stories, that might or might not have been true.
When we were small, Grandad told us that no one was really buried at sea. Folk were ate right up and came back to us in fish and kelp and bladderwrack. Even broadcast ashes returned on the tide to churn the strand mark, leaving a dark line on the heart. Better to be in the ground where it’s only the worms that have you for dinner.
He stopped, then, chewing on his bottom lip. Worried he’d frightened us all. But we loved stories with blood in the sand-bound footprints and the monsters that we knew lived inside.
One afternoon there were wreckers, hunching along the beach when the sea was out, picking over the tide line. There were plenty who’d buy sea beans or driftwood mirrors or sea glass netted in silver wire.
Two men and a boy sat ducked down over a driftwood fire, with a bit of stew in a pan. They were slingers after a particular wreck. They were cagey about the salvage at stake.
Out in the distance there was a shaft of light under the mackerel sky, patchworking the sea.
The boy ran after me, along the beach, and gave me a small Victorian ink bottle he’d picked up. All the fine detail had been smoothed away.
Grandad used to say that a bottle thrown overboard, when the moon was full, would always find its way back to you.
Grandad said a lot of things. But only some of them are true.