‘Pushing Against the Tide’ by Angela Cheveau

A bead of ice-cold sweat trickled down the side of Harold’s face, his fingers numb with cold. The stricken ship lay on its side, keel half-submerged in the graving dock like a beached whale which had lost its way and lay slowly rotting under a midday sun. The heavy clank of chains, the grind of wood on stone steps rattled above the flap of flags and masts of nearby ships. Harold thought of his father. Lying at home in his bed, flimsy sheet covering the skeletal remains of his body, while Harold’s wife Margaret softly soaped his pale forehead. His eyes glassy, as if staring towards some distant horizon beyond the peeling walls of the dim gas lit room. A booming voice from the end of the dock shattered Harold’s thoughts,


There was a sharp tugging and sudden sting as the rope chafed its way across Harold’s skin. Gritting his teeth, flexing the muscles in his upper body, he pulled as hard as he could, trying to match the strength of the other men in his line. There was a slight shifting, the grind and creak of wood as the moored ship ground against stone. The stink of pitch and the fetid stench of fish slowly rotting in the February sunlight made Harold balk. He thought once more of his father decaying at home on the bed. Body like a sinking ship, the wreckage of a once proud man. The thought made his muscles tense tighter, heaving the weight of the rope towards him, dropping back on his heels, and leaning back into the heft of the man behind. A sharp smell of sweat hit his nostrils.


From the corner of his eye, he saw men watching from the quayside in top hat and tailcoats. So called gentlemen with shiny shoes and pocket watches. Clink of coins rattling in their pockets. A rush of anger swelled inside him. There was no man better than his father. None. He might not be a man of money, but he was a good man all the same. A man of the sea. He’d once sailed in ships such as this, enthralling Harold as a child with his tales of sapphire seas, of warm white sands and coconuts. Conch shells with the sound of the sea still echoing in them like a song.

Hot tears sprang into his eyes, and he blinked them quickly away. He might not be able to save his father, but he’d be damned if this ship was to waste away in this dock. And so, he pulled. Hard. Pulled until waves of clapping and cheering washed over him in cool waves. Exhausted he slumped back against stone, watching the other men laughing and hugging. Later, Harold would be told that his father had opened his eyes for one last time, had lifted himself up off the bed, arm reaching as if towards an unseen shore, then softly, with the last tide of his breath, he was gone.