After climbing a few more steps, he waits behind as they pause to lower the coffin onto the bench beside. This is the third time they’ve rested. As clouds thicken overhead and a sharp wind stings his cheeks, the final ascent to the church lies ahead.
One of his wife’s friends is helping to bear the coffin to the top. He’s touched by this lass whom he’d never met until today. The two women had worked together for a long while down by the shore, mussel collecting and skaning. Now, she’s here before him, her black shawl drawn around her face to shield it from the chill.
At day’s end he’d always smelt fresh fish on his wife’s clothes, her very skin. He’d not thought much of it, but lately he had prayed he wouldn’t always yearn for it. When he’d walked down to the harbour-side not long after, then collapsed on his knees, the scent of newly harvested mussels had brought forth a guttural cry.
The coffin-bearers lift his wife and proceed, each step taking them a little higher, a little nearer. The solemn bell of St. Mary’s is tolling from above. Time’s moving in slow motion; perhaps they’ll never make it before sundown. When he pauses and looks below to the grey-brown water lapping in, he lurches like a wounded man.
After, he stands apart on the clifftop as the mourners move slowly away, the briny wind whipping at his long-coat. He holds his son tightly in his arms. Still he sleeps, having been cradled by his grandmother through the service. As she’d handed the baby back to him he could barely look upon the pain in her eyes, reflected by his own.
Swallowing back desperate tears, he watches the waves cascade over and over until everyone has gone. Now they must begin the next climb together, just the two of them.
Christine Collinson writes historical short fiction. She’s been long-listed in the Bath Flash Fiction Award and by Reflex Fiction. Her work has also appeared in FlashBack Fiction and The Cabinet of Heed. Find her on Twitter @collinson26.