Whitsun Tide

This is, it seems, the last of the flash fiction tales I’ve written for my secondary writing group.  I’ve decided, for various personal reasons, that attending is no longer worth it for me.  However, the members liked this, my final contribution to their stories.  The theme this final time was “exotic”.

Mary Prentice was special to everyone she met.  She was a loving mother to her children, David and Polly, and loyal to her husband Bill.  She had been a memorable presence at her old office, the local Women’s Institute and in the choir she and Bill had sung with.

No wonder everyone, especially her family, was heartbroken when she died.

The Prentices had never been especially well-off, so none of their holidays had taken them further than Europe.  Yet a quirk of fate ensured that Bill and Mary’s honeymoon was an exception to that rule.

“Around then, your Great Aunt Imelda sold her house so she could move into the retirement community,” Bill Prentice explained to David and Polly.  “She let us have some of the money as a wedding gift.”

Now, 27 years later, David and Polly agreed with their father that the most memorable place their mother had been should also be her final resting place.  They pooled their money and booked the trip.  They decided to take it in May, when Bill didn’t have any choir concerts and the younger Prentices didn’t have to worry about colleagues wanting time off for the Easter or summer holidays.

“Besides,” joked Polly, “What better time than Whitsuntide to pay a visit to the Whitsunday Islands?”

It was an exhausting journey.  Their flight from London to Singapore set off at 22:45, but none of them could sleep easily in cramped seats with noisy jet engines nearby.  Only David enjoyed the onward flight to Brisbane, because he knocked himself out with a shot of whiskey from the airport bar.  The local flight to Proserpine was much more pleasant, as was the subsequent bus trip, and the boat ride over to the Whitsunday Islands themselves was bliss.  The fresh sea air wafting over the cool blue waters were a wondrous relief after so many hours’ flying.

“The Aussies often come here for some sun during their winter,” Bill had once explained to his children, and David and Polly could see why.

The islands had to be the most beautiful and exotic setting imaginable.  Staying as they did in a wooden hut with an open veranda, beside a sun-kissed beach with hammocks strung between palm trees, the Prentices felt like they were part of paradise.  What’s more, despite the tourist presence, the islands were remarkably wild.  Scrub turkeys squabbled on the beach near the hut, while vividly colourful lorikeets swooped through the treetops.  Polly even got the shock of her life one morning when she discovered a huge monitor lizard – a goanna – resting in the shade under the veranda.

“It looks like it belongs in Jurassic Park!” David chuckled, as the great reptile snaked away into the forest.

On the third day, having thoroughly enjoyed the sun and no longer suffering jet lag, the Prentices went to perform their sad duty.  Bill took his wife’s funeral urn out of his suitcase, wrapped it in one of Mary’s old cotton scarves and slipped it into his rucksack.  Then they set off for the island’s main beach.

It was nearly dusk when Bill, David and Polly got to the beach.  They walked along a jetty were jetskis were being moored for the evening, until they were far out over the lapping waters.  Bill took the smothered urn out of his rucksack and began proceedings by reading a short eulogy for Mary.  Then Polly read W.H. Auden’s Funeral Blues (substituting “he” for “she” of course) and David recited the lyrics of Dust In The Wind by Kansas (he knew he’d never do it justice by singing it).  Bill unwrapped the urn as he did so and took the lid off.

“Well, Mary,” he sighed, “Time for one last journey.”

He sprinkled the ashes into the water and let the tide carry them out to sea.  Bill, David and Polly all took each other up in a crushing hug, as their hearts broke and their eyes overflowed.

They turned away from the sea to watch the sun set, as the islands showed their wild side once more.  Hundreds of bats began soaring into the crimson sky, away from their daytime roosts in the forest, creating a spectacle Bill, David and Polly couldn’t help but feel awed by.

“If only Mum could see this,” whispered Polly.

“Who knows, Sis?” David said wistfully, “Maybe she can.”




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