Been working on an opening for Turn The Tides Gently part 2. So, here’s something I wrote months ago. What do you think?
I will call you “Marine” he says as he looks at the child. About nine years old. An urchin, grubby faced, caked with the mud she is sinking in.
Here, have another.
A sixpence arcs through the air, turning over and over head, tail, head, tail, head… it lands with the tail up supported on the unstable black mud for a few seconds before an arm of black water reaches over the top of it.
Her blackened hands scoop it up with a handful of stinking black silt before the boys can get to it. One of them, Ned, a red haired boy with a hare lip groans – “It ain’t fair. And it ain’t lady-like. Go on, taking our loot!”
She rubs the mud from the coin on her far-from-clean dress and drops it in her pocket as the steady psssh psssh of the engine in the station starts up. A whistle echoing around the port mouth.
Ned comes towards her, aggressive, “I’ll have it. Come on,” he holds his hands out. She eyes him narrowly and freezes, watching him closely. Then as he moves in to take hold of her, she darts sideways under his reach, turns and kicks him square in the back so he sprawls on the flat mud.
The onlookers, tourists delighted by this scene of urchin rivalry, laugh; a delicate woman in silver bodice and flowing skirt looking more troubled than amused. Low morals. Ships, shops and low morals. Thus Portsmouth.
Grace, the girl urchin looks up at her benefactor, a tradesman of some sort, in a bowler hat and a neat moustache, bushy and almost comical, like the Walrus and the Carpenter she saw a picture of in a book. A book. Can you imagine. Someone left it behind on a bench by the sea and she’d found it, and there it was – Alice and all her adventures.
“Thank you, mate – Sir,” she shouts up, grinning white teeth from the black slime.
“There’s more where that come from,” he calls back in a deep, playful bass. “Oh plenty more. You come and see me, girl. Yes.”
She thinks, cocking her head on one side for a few seconds, then –
“Yes. Yes, mate. Wait there.” And she grabs a handhold in the side of the dock wall and climbs up to the crowd, which pushes back as she flops on to the deck, a sprawl of black mud and slime.
Later, after she has walked a while with the stranger amongst the naval outfitters and public houses, past the Gunwharf arch, he looks at her and says:
“I know you. I know your face. I’ve seen your eyes.”
“Where then?” she challenges him, putting her hands on her hips like the women do who banter with sailors and soldiers in the backstreets at night.
“A dream,” he says, his eyes suddenly burning. “In a dream.”
She laughs at that. “We got no room for dreamers here,” she says as if she’s said it all her life, an echo of Tope, the landlady at the public house where she lives. “Drunk more like! In at the Duchess, I bet you were, and drunk!”
“No, I’ve seen you. We’ve met. You come to my workshop. North End. I’ll tell you more.”
He holds up another sixpence. “There’s more of this.”
She smiles and laughs.
“At the back of the farm,” he says. “The workshop.”
“All right then. I’ll be there,” she answers with a grin.