Ffooks started the engine. The Hungry Gull coughed. A tractor was passing up and down Monmouth beach, ploughing lines into the sand. Someone traipsed behind it, metal detector in hand. There was the rigging of the yachts on the breeze. There was someone on the west wall, painting, back curved in front of an easel. Seascape. Magic stood above us on the quayside among the pots, the ropes, the nets.
“Perfect,” he said. He untied the bowline and bowled it spastic toward the deck. The rope, dripping diamonds, came to rest in a mess, mostly on the Hungry Gull’s boards. He crouched, gathered his cloak, bit his lip and launched himself after the rope, borne, for a moment, like some oily-black bird. I winced, but he landed onto the nest of rope he had just sent down. Falling forward onto his knees, head wrapped in his cloak, he said, “Almost perfect.”
The Hungry Gull shuddered. Ffooks helped the old bird away from the wall with a pole, went back to the cabin, slung his face over his shoulder and put the trawler into reverse. She swung her arse out into the harbour. He turned the wheel fully starboard, dropped into neutral. The bow came round, he engaged her again. She paused for a moment and then lurched forward across the mirror toward the mouth and the sign that read DEAD SLOW.
I sat in a deckchair just ahead of the cabin between the pots and ropes and the plastic crate piled with wet sheets. A perfect morning to deliver the lobster back to the sea. Cool sun and long shadows. We slid over the water and everything settled into a rhythm: the motor, the water, the creaking timber. Ffooks started to sing, his baritone settling just beneath the pitch of the engine. I couldn’t make out the words at first. Or, even the tune. but a melody formed.
The boat dipped gently from side to side as we headed out into the bay. The town dropped away and eventually Golden Cap, in the distance, as ever, shrank to the smallest I had ever seen it. A breeze cut across the stern, bringing Ffooks’ song to my ears.
Love is careless in its choosing. Sweeping over blossomed babies.
I turned round, smiling, recognizing it now. Tried to catch his eye. He was trapped in a shadow behind the glass of the cabin. The blue clay cliff, the honeyed beach, the slice of Stonebarrow, east of Charmouth, all compounded by the red, thin sky, fell into the distance behind him until there was nothing but open water. He was leaning against the wheel, his forehead to the glass, rolling a smoke, lost in Bowie. Magic, hands clasped on each side of the bow, gazed ahead.
Some time later the engine cut-out and we sat on the sea. Ffooks came out the cabin and said, “This’ll do.”
Magic turned. “What’s happened? We’ve stopped!”
“We’re on The Ledge,” said Flook.
“Is this it?” I looked over the side. Don’t know what I expected it to look like. A ledge, I suppose. There was nothing there though, just water.
“Course it fuckin is.” He pulled the sheet from the crate and dropped it on the deck. “I suggest we just get on with this. Unless you wanna do a sermon or summit.”
I looked at Magic. He was smiling. There would be some kind of service. It was never going to be any other way.
“Let’s do it then,” he said. He snatched at the gunnel with one hand as he made his way clumsily along the boat. The lobster scrabbled in the bottom of the crate. Ffooks reached in and scooped it out by its tail. “Come ere, you.” It arched in his grip.
“Let me do it,” said Magic. “He’ll be stressed.”
Ffooks looked at him and, holding out the lobster at arm’s length, said, “Grab old, then.” He took the tail just below Ffooks’ hand and cupped the yellow carapace in his other. “Let him go,” he said. He lifted the lobster up and cradled it, tenderly, like a cat. A great big fingernail of cat.
“Ah, ow sweet!” Ffooks drew a knife and, with two neat motions, cut the bindings on the claws. Now, I don’t know exactly what happened then. It happened so fast. I will forever recount it as one of those slow motion incidents.
Magic was about to lift the lobster above his head. Perhaps he was only getting ready to swing it over the side of the boat, but I doubt that. It was more like he was offering it up to the sky. Maybe it was the way the sun danced on the blade of the knife. Or maybe it was the tenderness of Magic’s hands. But something caught my eye at that moment. He had turned his face slightly in my direction. His mouth seemed to be forming a shape; a word. The lobster was struggling in the sunlight, blotting it out, almost. I remember its shape – airborne, briefly, forever – Magic was looking beyond me, over my shoulder and then up and up and twisting, corkscrewing to his left. I guess he lost his footing. Ffooks was looking down, putting the knife away. There was a splash and a thud and Magic fell heavily against the side of the boat and the lobster dropped into the water. Perhaps it was the thud and then the splash, I don’t know. But he was on the deck and the lobster was in the water. He was staring high over the bow into the sky. His hands were trying to get him to his feet. I looked up and I swear, I fucking swear, I saw it, too. It was cutting out a line, high, high up in the blue and red morning, in and out of, or, above, way above the mackerel clouds, a silver disc, for a moment, silent over Portland. Then, zip. It was gone.