Chapter one of ‘Lost In Thought’
Luke Trescerrick sat on a barstool in the public bar of The Shipwrecker’s Arms studying the whisky bottles, wondering if it was too early for a shot of Islay malt. He re-read the solicitor’s letter that arrived in the morning post and crushed it in his fist, thoughts percolating, dark and bitter.
The smell of the fishing nets drying on the harbour wall drifted through the open window and mingled with the scent of sandwiches and strong Cornish ale.
Pub landlord Vic Butler put a pint of beer on the bar in front of Luke. “Bad news?”
“The cottage? Your father?”
“I thought it was yours. Your mother said…”
Luke’s fingers twisted in knots as he throttled the crumpled letter. “Nothing about that, in her will.”
Vic turned away from the bar, hands trembling as he dried a glass.
“This is it.” Luke took a long swig of beer. “I’ll be gone within the month.”
Vic leaned on the bar, close to Luke. “Go see your father, talk it over. Families shouldn’t fight.”
“It’s all mine ever does.”
“Think of Daniel. Do it for the boy.”
It was out of order. Luke would do anything for his boy. Anything but that. “There’s no point. You don’t understand.”
“I understand more than you’d think.”
“You don’t know how it is.”
“No.” Luke ran a hand through a tangle of black hair and scraped his palm across four day’s stubble on his cheek. “He’s selling the house. Needs the money, for his mad invention.”
“I thought it was dangerous.”
Luke swung off his barstool and challenged Greg Fielding to a game of darts. The man was a retired solicitor, and Luke needed advice.
Luke watched Greg as he studied the crinkled letter. “No way to fight it?”
“No way that’ll win, waste of money.”
“And the time, four weeks?”
“Within their rights, unless it says different in the lease.”
“You don’t have a lease?”
“I don’t even pay rent.”
“I can see why he’d want you out.”
“I’m his only son. All the family he’s got.”
“Have you talked to him? That’s your best bet. Get him to see reason.”
Luke hurled his dart into the double twelve, thanked Greg for the game, the advice, and the one pound wager which he slipped into his pocket. He downed his pint, called out his farewells, waved as the replies tumbled across the bar-room, and slipped out of the side door, his shoulders hunched.
He blinked in the brightness of the afternoon sunshine and headed across the stony beach towards his yacht, bought for a pittance eight years back. He should have made her seaworthy, tried her out around the coast, but there was so much to do, so much rotten wood.
He took hold of the anchor rope, wet and rough against his hands, and checked the knots with expert fingers. He walked around the hull, tapping on the wood, listening intently. It was worse than he remembered. She’d cross the Atlantic if fixed up right, but she needed attention. She was too small for the two of them. Too cold to be a home for a young boy. Damp and cramped and uncomfortable.
He turned and looked back at the village. He’d lose the cottage and the life he’d built, all so his father’s brainchild could be dragged into this world, screaming and certifiable.
He walked the stony beach beside the harbour and scanned the high-tide mark, absorbed in his search. He scoured the debris for driftwood weathered by waves, salt and wind, or some piece of rotten twisted metal, encrusted with an ugly beauty.
He saw a branch, throttled by red twine, dressed in seaweed and carrier bags, adorned with plastic rings from a six-pack of beer cans. Oak, a main branch ten feet long. He pulled it from the jumble of rubbish along the high-tide line and twisted the branch to examine every angle. Was there some image or essence or spirit, waiting to be freed?
He took a length of rope from the pocket of his jacket and lashed it around the branch, then dragged it along the beach towards his workshop. He’d add it to the pile, and one day he’d work the wood, discover its secrets, lose himself in its mystery.
Call it abstract art, Cornish creativity, and the tourists would honour you with their wallets, their credits cards, their hard currency. Money that would pay for food, for beer, for Daniel’s things. Money for getting by, not for getting rich. Not enough to pay for a place, or buy a house, not here. Not anywhere.
Luke heard a woman’s voice calling him from the road above the shoreline. Abbie Butler, wife of Vic, with a twinkle in her eye, a spring in her step. Less than half Vic’s age, she was barely into her twenties. Too pretty, too lively, too full of life to be shut inside a pub all day.
Abbie followed Luke as he headed towards the workshop, a converted wooden storehouse at the end of the seafront. He turned the key in the lock and put his shoulder to the door. He shoved it ajar and the stiff hinges groaned in protest.
She slipped inside and pecked him on the cheek. “What’s wrong with you today?”
He told her of the letter. “Where do I go? What do I do with all this? How do I earn money, if I’m not in Porthelyar? Where will Daniel go to school? The boy needs stability.”
“Sell your fishing boat,” she said.
“Then I can’t go fishing. Can’t take tourists out around the bay.” He could sell the yacht, but it wasn’t even seaworthy, just a rotting whale corpse slumbering in the tidal mud. It wouldn’t sail again without months of work, piles of money. Money he didn’t have.
“What about this place? Fix it up, live here.”
Luke glanced at the sofa-bed, rescued from a skip. He’d be all right, camping out, close to his kiln and his clay, his driftwood and his workbench. But what about the boy?
“There’s no bath, no shower, no toilet. No kitchen.”
“Plumb them in.”
“It’s rented. Tom won’t like it. Then there’s the planners.”
“There’s rooms at the pub.”
“Too expensive,” he said. And too close to Abbie. Too much temptation.
“Bed and breakfast places, up the hill.”
“They cost a fortune.”
There was the campsite along the coast. A billion of them within a few miles drive. “They won’t let you stay, not year round.” Could he find a patch of land?
“Give up the workshop, use the rent to pay for a place.” Abbie sat on the edge of the sofa-bed, playing with her long black hair.
“What about all this?” Luke turned in a circle and examined the detritus of his life, from the unfinished paintings, the pile of driftwood and the pottery wheel to the woodwork bench and collection of abstract sculpture. His eyes rested for a moment on the tattered photo of a Dutch girl, who showed up for surf lessons one summer and returned, with Daniel in her arms, the next. The girl who never gave her full name. Never let slip an address.
“Where do I make the pottery, the sculpture, without the workshop?”
“Get a job. Move to Bodmin, Launceston, Newquay.”
Luke hauled the oak branch over to a drying area near the kiln. “And who looks after Daniel, while I’m working?” He dried the wood roughly with a rag. “He’d hate living in a town. A city school? It’s bad enough here.”
How would the lad manage, on city streets? The eight-year-old who hated change, who loved routine, who craved security?
“Besides, the teachers here understand the boy. They make allowances. I don’t want the system getting near him. I don’t want him ending up in care.”
“It won’t come to that.”
“It might. If I can’t find somewhere to live.”
Luke threw his jacket on a chair, picked up one of yesterday’s pots and examined it intensely, his eyes staring.
“You gonna join me?” Abbie lay sprawled across the sofa. “I haven’t got long. Vic’s expecting me back.”
“Lot on my mind.”
“You’re no fun.” She jumped up and crossed the workshop, ran her hands inside his t-shirt and up his chest.
“I was going to sail the world, you know that? Fix up the yacht and take off. South America, the Pacific. The islands.”
“Why didn’t you.”
It couldn’t be done, not with the boy, the anchor in his life, holding him here, but keeping him steady, keeping him strong. But Luke wished he understood his son and what went on behind those startled eyes. Every day, Daniel slipped further behind at school, grew more remote, became more of a stranger.
The boy had been born into the wrong family. He had Trescerrick genes.
Abbie stroked his shoulders with soft hands. How had Vic charmed such a young wife? Luke looked into her deep brown eyes and smiled but gently pushed her away.
“Sorry, stuff on my mind.”
She gave a groan of frustration and headed for the door, with a parting glance over her shoulder which said she’d forgive him, she’d be back. The door clattered onto its hinges as she left.
Luke stuffed his hand into a pocket and fetched out the letter. He read it one more time, then crushed in into a ball and hurled it across the workshop.
“I’ll kill him,” he said. “I swear, I’m bloody well going to kill him.”
He opened the workshop window and took deep gulps of fresh sea air. Across the foreshore and the beached boats he watched the waves of the incoming tide creep relentlessly up the mud and shingle, lost in thought.