The sea is roiling and a grey essence runs through the turbid water. Leaden clouds hasten across the clash and froth below.
Sheila is having a cigarette on the path leading down to the small harbour beach. She is outside the café set inside the old Harbourmaster’s House. The Sunday shift is busy as people and some tourists come off the coastal path walking along the seashore of Fife; they are in for a coffee and what there is of their small selection of soup, sandwiches and cakes.
Brenda, is in charge is in a bad mood as the sandwiches due for delivery have not arrived. There have been a lot of apologies to customers and some hurried work with baguettes and some bread she had bought to fill in the ‘Soup with a Sandwich’ gap.
She has about five minutes for her break. It’s only three-and they always get a rush before they shut at 4.30pm. The old dears, the old ladies are the worst. Most are widowers. They’ve come out for a Sunday drive and they mean to milk every last tea drop from their time. Most are fine, some show what they would have been like thirty years before. Still sour.
Sheila’s thoughts got to funerals and black again. So would I if I was on the wrong end of the Grim Reaper’s shopping list; Eddie’s anger now depression was getting to her.
Christ, that’s her back to death again. Eddie’s bed in the Victoria Hospital came into view. He was due the move to the hospice next week; they would have room then for him to get a bed.
Like a tree felled. Never a heavy drinker and smoker he was shrinking before her eyes. Diane would greet for an hour at the house after she had visited her father. Chatted him no problem-big smiles and everything while she was there.
One minute. She had better go in.
The old harbour where Sheila works saw boats go across to Holland and beyond even before the old Scottish Parliament shut up, she thinks. And now they-those that have riches want a change. And yet it seems the poor get it in the neck. His army pension and army pension should be enough but Diane’s wee one has that hip problem and needs extra.
‘C’mon Sheila get the lady the latte, now. And the coffee cake too, mind.’
The customer in question looks at the outstanding bully that has matched the ancient surroundings with a distinctly historical foul presence.
Her dark hair and calm eyes take Sheila’s attention as she wrestles with the coffee maker and watches a noisy family of four enter the arena.
The lady’s raven black hair is tied back in bunch behind a green and yellow blouse that has songbirds arranged on it.
The coffee is finished and the unsmiling Brenda-with that long boned drip of a face looks to tend to the ménage that has just entered.
Sheila gets the things arranged on the plain tray at the till. A small creel boat leaves the gnarled maw of the harbour and heads into the Firth of Forth waters.
Taking the ten pounds without looking into the woman’s face she feels the warmth first. Then she speaks as her wrist is held.
‘He will be fine. Your husband is a good man. Don’t worry.’
The tone, is mellifluous like the surge of water left by the seals she sometimes see come into the harbour’s mouth.
The lady sits at the window seat in the corner but two metres from the till.
At the counter there is a metallic English voice talking about rabbits. It comes from the pram wedged between father and the older son. The device talking to the toddler is lodged, a sliver of silver between his arms. The buggy he sits in is being tipped up now by the older brother.
It keeps Brenda and her words busy.
Still stunned but not really surprised she takes over the change the lady undoubtedly left for her. The nearly four pounds rests lightly in her hand. The April sun bounces of the waters that still seem stirred by an underground wrath.
Sheila pauses, still sweating and looks into her eyes. A family with a beautiful brown spaniel walk by. Less chaotic than the present inmates.
‘Here’s your change. And what you said…’ Sheila uttered as she made sure her back was toward Brenda whose face was showing the strain as a small orange was dumped on the tray by the elder boy.
‘It’s the truth. I know. And you’ll see it is,’ the lady said with a reassurance that no doctor intent on getting on to the next job had ever shown her in the last six months.
Sheila says, ‘Thanks. Enjoy. Still rough out there’
Going back to the kitchen. Sheila noticed the two ladies in the other corner but six metres away from the lady who had taken off her scarf like she was walking the carpet to the Monte Carlo casino.
The two old ladies smiled at her. One took a sip from her tea and nodded. Sheila gathered the detritus from the one table that was now free. The pieces of cake that even the seagulls might have left unharvested drew Brenda’s eye.
She tutted and nodded toward it.
‘I have to go now,’ and Sheila turned to get her coat from the back, ‘I told you I had to be at the hospital. You’ll have to get it. Or sweep it later.’
The open mouth and wrinkled bony brow was a fleeting enjoyment.
A week later. He died. Just went. He’d been at peace. Just a day in the hospice where the nurses had been great.
She would phone Diane and his remaining family later.
On the way back in the bus the streaming rain sends rivulets sliding down over the window. They seem warming, like a small sea.