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Red Sky at Night

16 Mar

He awoke to a red sky, a red sky in the morning. It had been red when he went to bed, a red sky at night. He remembered the rhyme. But sailors or shepherds, which? He kept repeating it. Sailors, shepherds, sailors, shepherds.

Without thinking of how he got dressed, or even if he was, he walked up the backstreet, turned into another backstreet and another and another. He was in a maze of grey stone walls but not lost. He turned again and was in the centre of town.

There was no one about. No buses, cars, people, the shops all closed. He did not consider this to be unusual, he did not consider it at all.

As he crossed the road to the Town Hall, the sandstone clock tower appeared like a flame exploding out of the main building. Suddenly he had the urge to run – but invisible, elastic cords were holding him back and he needed to get to the High Level Bridge.

The High Level Bridge linked the town to the island where Schneider or Ramsden, he didn’t know which, built a shipyard. Schneider or Ramsden? Sailors or shepherds? He would have to find out.

Then there it was, the bridge. He was on it, looking down into the water. Two black submarines were basking in the shadow of the cranes, the Revenge and the Dreadnought. They looked alike, he wondered which was which? His head was spinning. Opposite, a huge cargo ship with a strange sounding name, registered in a strange sounding country. The quayside was a very busy, active place, in complete contrast to the town – but he didn’t give it a thought. Stevedores, shouting to each other, were unloading fruit and vegetables, particularly bananas, hundreds of bananas. From here the carters looked like matchstick men, with yellow loads, running to and from the ship. And then he saw him, his dad. Dad wasn’t running, he was waiting, waiting for him.

The elastic cords had snapped and he jumped down the steps from the bridge to the dockside and walked towards his father, who seemed to have moved and was now standing nearer the boat. The vessel loomed larger and larger the closer he got to it. It was an immense black mass against the crimson sky and the men working on the deck, just dots. Dad was wearing his tan-coloured bib and brace, his face was ruddy and smiling and his ginger hair was poking from underneath his cap. One hand was in his pocket. He stood out a mile but no one noticed.

‘Hiya Dad, are you waiting for me?’

‘Not not this time, I’m waiting for that fella up there.’

He pointed to a dot dangling over the edge of the boat, balancing, one leg on the rail and one arm hanging on to a net of bananas, slung from a crane.

The sky turned to grey, it had become chilly and silent.

‘Okay, see you.’

Vaguely disappointed but comforted by the fact that maybe another time, he went home. It was still early, he would go back to bed.

He awoke when the cat decided it was time to get up. It was a lovely morning. Blue sky and sunshine. He loved this time of the year. The garden was at its best. He would sit outside with his coffee and decide what to do with the day. The telephone rang. It was his mother.

‘Remember old Tommy Shuttleworth, used to work down the docks when the boats came in? Lived at the bottom of Ramsden Street, or was it Schneider. In one of those old back to backs. Knew your father. You can’t have forgotten, they were always arguing. Red sky at night. If your dad said shepherd, Tommy would say sailor. Came to dad’s funeral. Well, he died in his sleep last night.’