The house I live in is surrounded by sea. Not literally, obviously, as any house encircled by the ocean would soon find itself engulfed by the power of the tide. But the sea can be seen from every corner of the house, from the lounge, from the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedrooms. The house sits on an out-jutting corner of the land, to which it is connected by a thin, crumbling pathway.
To the west, or from domestic perspective out of the round lounge window, lies the path to Shoreham. To the east, through the short square kitchen window, lies Brighton and the lights. My house lies between the two worlds, jutting out on a precipice towards the ocean.
I like the sea, obviously, an important consideration when choosing the house. I like the sound of the sea. I like the sound of the sea on a calm summer’s day, the gentle breathing of the waves, deep contented sighing in-and-out, as if the sea itself were basking in the sun. I like the sound of an angry sea, puffing and rasping as it flings waves furiously at every cliff face, rock and out-jutting house in its way. Luckily the house has double glazed windows and the brickwork is solid.
I like the smell of the sea. Fresh, eager, salty. That salty smell calls out to the salt in me, in my bones, in my blood. ‘Come’ it cries ‘leave your mortal burden, join with the air. Join with the water. Free yourself, come play with the elements’. My spirit soars, briefly becoming free. I love the smell of the sea!
And I like the sight of the sea, which is just as well, as I say it can be seen through every window in the house.
The sea was in short the reason that me and Krystel decided to buy the house. Krystel loved the sea too you see, so it suited us both perfectly. There were other factors of course, most importantly we’d decided to live together, to buy a place, settle down, maybe raise a family.
This was 7 years ago. And they were 7 happy years, in the main. Not latterly obviously, else we’d still be together. But …
Anyhow, this story isn’t about the sea, it’s about a letter. As I say my house isn’t completely surrounded by sea, it has a pathway, a lifeline to the land. It is a path where the postman comes, travelling on a daily voyage from Brighton to Shoreham and back again, bringing with him messages of love, hope, goodwill and of course the gas bill, and scattering them at houses as he passes. Not randomly scattering them, the Post Office would sack him if he did that, like they did with old Owen Thomas when he finally went mad, but scattering them with sniper-like precision, each letter launched with total postal accuracy into the appropriate letterbox, or, as in the case of Mr Trimble, who lives in the old alehouse down by the Shoreham coastline, under the back door. Under the back door mind, the front door faces out to sea and is only accessible by boat, and the Post Office don’t run to the expense of boats, at least not round these parts.
The postman comes every day, except Sundays and Bank Holidays. Actually he comes less since Krystel left, most of the post used to be for her you see. But the postman still comes regularly.
This morning was no exception to the postman’s norm. I saw him through the kitchen window as I made a cup of tea. I was enjoying the silent crashes of the waves through the stock square window, when I saw his bike lurching too and fro against the wind, weary legs urging it on one rotation at a time. His bag waving wildly from his shoulder as if trying to grab my attention, waving like a teenage child caught by chance on camera.
The postman and his bike continued to lurch towards me one gruelling rotation at a time. Left leg strain, right leg strain, rotation complete. Left leg strain, right leg strain, rotation completed. I watched in fascination. The postman neared. I sipped my tea and shaved, facing the mirror, one eye on the reflection of my bristled skin, one eye on the postman’s journey. He tried to dismount at the top of my path, but was blown by a furious blast of wind, forced off his bike, to the ground. He thumped onto his wet bum, a bum wet from the spray of the sea as he cycled bum raised, head bent down determinedly, legs rotating. But not now, legs splayed out, bum on the floor, bag by his side, head bumped, bum scratched and bruised knee. I laughed to myself, laughed inwardly.
By the time I’d finished shaving, the postman had got up, righted his bike, watched his bike blown over, righted his bike, watched his bike blown over and decided to deliver my letters before his next attempt. ‘A righted bike in a storm will fall over again before you can deliver your letters and return’ as he might have said. He might have said that, it was hard to hear in the crashing of the wind and waves, but I think he said ‘it’s a horrible morning’. I hope that’s what he said as I replied ‘I’m glad it’s you out in it not me’ a foolish response to a line about falling bicycles and righting postmen.
The bundle of post he passed me became wet in the instant it passed from hand of postal authority to hand of postal quarry. It was dry in the postman’s bag you see, drier than you would have thought it possible to be, but once it reached my hand, my normal mortal hand made of blood and salt and stone and a million of mineral and chemical I cannot name nor conceive, it became immediately moist, damped by the salty moist breeze that carried the taste, smell and touch of sea.
Back in the house it was dry. It was almost warm, though I had to wrestle the door shut against the wind to retain the heat. Shoulder to door, pushing against the wind. I watched the postman struggle his way back onto his bike and the pair of them took off, took the path along the sea to Shoreham, wind washing them with spray, wind brushing them astray, a lurching lumbering machine of bicycle wheels and human legs, rotating, battling, ‘gainst the force of the wind and the natural world.
As the postman-and-bike turn the corner I turned my eye to the newly moist post in my hand. I sat on the sofa and enjoyed the warmth of the radiator, domestic heating in a house that had housed domestic bliss, until so recently. There was for me brown envelopes, one, two, three, containing bills; gas, telephone, electricity. These I place on a pile with two of their kindred, to deal with at a later date.
The brown unwanteds disposed of; only friendly-looking post remained. A letter, white enveloped, slightly splashed and stained, with clear black writing, slightly smudged, naming me, addressing me, typed and stamped officially. I opened it with a rasp of knife through paper. It was from Ross and Smee, Solicitors of Brighton, since 1923. It read:
Dear Mr Watanabe
Re: A certain property
It is my duty to inform you most regrettably
That your former cohabitte, a Miss Krystel Lee
The owner of the house, where you are living currently,
Has decided that you must leave the aforementioned property
As she has expressed a desire to live once more by the sea.
I hereby give notice formally
Two months warning before you must return the key
& move out to another property
By Tuesday 26th May at three.
I trust this notification gives you time sufficiently
To remove yourself and things that will accompany
Your move to your next chosen territory.
Have a nice day, obviously.
On behalf of Messrs Ross and Smee.
I tore up the letter, shouting in frustration, but there was no-one to hear. I jumped up and down on the letter, kicking it, punching it, shouting at it, shouting at the world. We’d bought the house in Krystel’s name you see, a minor decision at the time, a tax and mortgage consideration, but it is the most gentle flap of the butterfly’s wing that brings with it the consequence of the greatest storm. And now my storm raged, raged at the page of the letter.
Outside the storm paused, as if straining to hear what was happening inside my house, Krystel’s house, the house the sea surrounds. Tension sensed, the wind waiting, waves wavering, seeming minutes passed before the next wave chose to smash or the next whip of wind dared to lash. As the world returned to normal outside I also began to breathe in a more orderly manner. Deep breath in, deep exhalation out. Normal bodily functions demand attention; letter or no letter.
A disaster so deep by necessity required more toast and of course more tea. Back to the kitchen and then the lounge, a quite think on the sofa. I played the stereo, my favourite LP, ‘The sounds of the Sea’, I listened to the sounds of a calm summer’s sea, as all around the ocean crashed and stormed angrily.
Through the window I saw a lone child playing on the beach, running and screaming in mock shock fear as waves lashed and crashed, ferocious foam, up the pebbly beach splashing and smashing into the child. A child playing with the ocean, no friends, no family, perhaps they’ve all been washed to sea.
Hours pass. I sit and stare, at the torn up paper, fragments of bad news, the meaning of which remains intact. Outside the mood of the weather changes not, the sea calmed down not a jot, foul wind, foul weather, foul waves outside, foul mood and foul situation inside. The soundtrack changes it is true (an album of riversong). I piece the letter back together with sticky tape, but read again the news remains the same. I think about calling friends, but think again. I make more tea, but tea goes cold. Outside, unseen and unfelt by me, the hidden sun is passing overhead, ever-so gradually. Soon it is afternoon, the sun lies above my house, not resting, but I find it interesting, that we never see the sun moving. Some trick of the eye when we look in the sky that the ever moving never moves, the deception of perception this proves.
Indirect evidence of the sun’s movement, of the rotation of the hands of the clock, of the passing of time, appears in the form of the postman. The postman-joined-to-bike-beast, journeying this time from west to east, the afternoon direction. Legs still rotating against all odds, wheels still turning, postman yearning, to be back home with wife and family, warm fire, hot soup, dry clothes and bike safely bedded down for the night.
The wind blowing the bag has the effect of making it protrude from the bike/man beast at a 90 degree angle, as if it were the bike/beast’s wings, as if the bike/beast were about to take off, the flying postman, looking down on his route, mission accomplished, going home to rest, to his nest, a place to dry his feathers. Mine are already dry and for an instant I pity him, but soon I go back to pitying me.
A month passes. The postman’s visits become less and less frequent.
Outside the sea goes through mood changes: it smiles when the sun shines, is broody silent when it rains, and rages in the wind. My mood remains; rarely sunny, often rainy, sometimes raging. Another month passes.
On Tuesday 28th May at 3.07 two men arrive, smart suits, lawyer’s shoes, estate agent’s morals. Hands protrude, faces form into awkward smiles, polite but firm and sturdy words emerge from between the still smiling teeth. Above the sun shines, some birds somewhere decide to sing (a tune I’ve heard before). Words emerge from my mouth also, not from my brain, bypassed in this case by something deeper within me.
Something inside me snaps. My normal calm ceases, as if it had been a front all along, a façade. My anger rages, fists wave and crash, chins crack, suits are bloodied and muddied and stained, and, my brain still being ignored not being consulted at all else it would have urged caution, a gun is produced. Bullets scatter like running lawyers and estate agents from angry tenant. And estate agent and lawyer run, wildly, crazedly, like unaimed bullets from a recent virgin gun; smoking emissions a virgin no more. The narrow concrete course connecting the house to the land is traversed at great speed but with great determination, legs running, legs dodging bullets, legs rising and falling, smart shoes out of place in life or death race.
Hours pass. Almost a day. The clouds overhead change from the light, white clouds of a warm spring day to the dark, scheming clouds that warn of a storm coming. Indeed they are part of the storm itself. Inside and outside the house a storm approaches. The sky starts to rumble like a nervous stomach, my stomach starts to rumble like distant-heard thunders.
I am aware of tension building up: tension building up within me; the electric tension of the sky above, electricity so tense that soon the clouds must projectile-vomit it out in lightning flashes; and the tension of the police surround, being built up car by car, the distant rumble of a helicopter circling above, the grumble of a firm but still nervous voice through a megaphone. Lay down the gun, come peacefully. I fire blindly, into the dark, don’t know if I make a mark.
The sea, sensing the mood, adopts its uncontrolled foul mode, as if auditioning for the part of Lear; bare and maddened, howling in pain. Policeboats cower, ‘daren’t go out at this hour, in this darkness, in this sea’. The sea gives me an advantage, for now at least, one means of approach only, a thin narrow path, not wide enough for an army. Even from above I am safe, the wind is too strong for the hovering copper ‘copter to approach too close.
A stand off. Shouts, warnings. Time passes. I make a cup of tea, and watch. For once I am not looking at the sea, though it can be seen through all the windows in my house. I am watching the shore, where danger lies, where the enemy dig in for a long fight. Suddenly shadows move on the path. I fire blindly, shadows shoot back, one of them yelps. Windows smash. My gun blasts again and again. More shadows, fast moving, more bangs and more window smashes, the door nearly reached. Click, click, click and another empty click. I am spent, shell-less, unable to defend.
From above a crack of thunder. Lightening strikes the path, crack and crash, cement is crumbled, the umbilical cord is cut. The wind takes the house, bricks and mortar become a sail, picked up and carried by the wind. Shadows grasp and groan, so near yet so far, hard earth turned to air, a house no longer there. The house is carried from the shore and shadows fail, the house has gone.
Hours pass, daylight comes, shadows become men, professional men with jobs, worries and concerns, with wounded colleagues, men with failure. Men I have already long forgotten.
I live in a house surrounded by sea. Quite literally. A house that floats, a house-boat, a boat with no sail or engine. I live off the sea, off the fish and seaweed it provides.
The sea can be seen from every corner of the house, from the lounge, from the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedrooms. The land is far behind me now and human forms I never see. One day I may return, to start my mortal life afresh, but for now I just float, just follow the decisions of the tide, a tide directed by the moon, the unseen mover of the waves. I drift to the direction of the tide, not caring to marvel as to why I am alive, why my house-boat floats not sinks. After all, it is the nature of us sea dwelling creatures not to question why we are living, let land based mammals do the cod philosophy.
I live in a house that is part of the sea, through every window that is all there is to see, and my body, mainly water, feels at home.