Take settlers and seamen, tell women with men

Heavy heat pressed him back onto the park bench, seedy sweat making his shirt uncomfortable.

‘I should never have got off the boat.’

‘Yeah, yeah. Tell me about it again, why don’t you. I enjoy listening to it.’

‘The sea never treated us this rough.’

‘Christ’s sake, the sun’s fricking shining, that’s all. It’s not like you’re gonna fall over board and drown.’

‘It’s not the same…’

‘That’s what I’m saying, you gobdaw.’

There was the simplest of breezes coming in off the sea, hot wind, not cooling. Gulls sat on thermals that twisted up from the concrete wharf. Boats rocked gently, salt crusted ropes slapping on masts, rusted applause for a sailor who has turned his back on the sea.

‘We could go home, run a cool bath. Like, if you’re hot and all.’

‘I wanna stay here a bit longer. Looking out there, it… It gives me peace.’

A young couple walked past them, pushing a pram, gazing together at their little piece of miracle, a gift so easily given by some, so cruelly denied by others. Alice turned her head from them, looking north towards the open bars and seafront cafes.

‘Hey,’ she said. ‘Look over there.’

He looked, and immediately tensed. He pulled his feet up, despite the cramped bench, pulled himself into a ball. The cat was black with a white trim at its throat. It wandered along, dawdling as if conscious of the effect it was having. It stopped straight in front of them to lick at its fur, then eventually found something to draw it further down the promenade, away from them.

‘You can relax,’ she said. ‘It’s gone now.’

He uncurled himself slowly, cautiously. If he had been damp before, he was saturated now, and his eyes had shrunk into his head.

‘Home,’ he muttered, pulling him self up onto his skeletal legs.

As Alice stood to follow him she felt a strong pang of guilt, but there was only so much she could take.