White Cliffs

Prudence Bourreau gazed out over the cliff edge, across the white horses of the Channel.

She inhaled and held her breath, the taste of the brine a light perfume in her nostrils. The horizon melted between sea and sky, as grey gave way to grey. The heavens above mirrored the waters below, clouds scattered over the waves.

Prudence nestled down into her warm vest and pulled the zip up all the way. A strong wind buffered her. The loose strands of her hair, which had escaped the Alice band, floated on the currents. She squinted off into the distance, where the black dot of a boat bobbed in the waters, nought but a seafaring ant. How many people sailed on board, so far away? Could they see her, a speck atop the cliff? Or did she disappear into the surroundings?

To her left, wild grass rippled in the gusts. First one way, then another. A liquid, multicellular organism built of a billion strands. One jagged tooth lurched away from the cliff face, crumbled into the seas. It jutted up into the sky like an accusatory finger. To her right, a scatter of rocks merged with the grass. As if the very landscape suffered from fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive. The stones tumbled over the edge, spilled down to where the ocean clashed with the cliff.

Nobody around for miles.

Prudence sighed and nodded to herself. A good day to scatter your husband’s ashes. A beautiful place to put Henri to rest. God knew he’d struggled for long enough. But sometimes, no matter how hard you fight, you lose the battle.

She knew what she had to do wouldn’t be easy. She had no illusions that it would. They’d been together for 47 years — the only man she’d ever loved. To the best of her knowledge, he’d always been faithful. And he’d always treated her with kindness. The father of her two children, and a good one at that. He’d supported them up until the kids left home and began their own lives, and worked for a good few years after that. For his retirement, they’d all pitched together to buy him a nice gold watch. Not a perfect man by any means, but not a bad one either. Could any man ever claim the title of perfection? Yet, if the pearly gates did indeed exist, Prudence did not doubt that Saint Peter would smile upon his life’s deeds. The children didn’t know she’d come here — Prudence decided she should do this alone.

A lone seagull floated on the updrafts. It hovered, motionless in the air. As if it did not fly, but rather hung suspended with string. Prudence squinted harder, but she could see no black lines connected to the bird. No. Real. It cawed once, its lonesome love song to the void. No other gull returned its call. Its cry burst forth and dropped into the ocean, a sonic pebble cast into the tide. With one last screech, it dipped its wings, plunged for the waves, and disappeared behind the ledge. Did it dive into the waters? Or did it pull up at the last second, a stunt worthy of the Red Arrows?

Times would be tough in the months ahead, Prudence knew that. But Henri’s life insurance policy would keep her safe for the foreseeable future. In his absence, he’d keep her as safe as he’d kept her during his life. Safer, even. You didn’t sniff at three hundred and fifty million. Sad to think about life in terms of the money it could produce. But you couldn’t change the way the world works. You could only offer a grim smile — stiff upper lip — put your head down and get on with things. Blitz spirit, and all that.

For one brief moment, the clouds parted and a shaft of sunlight broke free of the firmament. The beam angled down into the waves. Golden glitter glinted on the tide. It rippled and flickered, danced and winked. A belt tightened around Prudence’s chest, and she could not breathe. She could only stand and stare, at the beauty of the world. God’s country.

Prudence cleared her throat, turned and smiled at the car. Henri’s old Mini, one of the originals before they shipped all the factories off to Germany. Henri waved, as he held up the cap from the thermos, now full of tea. Steam wafted from the lip of the mug, and Prudence knew the brew within would taste perfect. Not bad for a Frenchman. Sugared and milked to her precise requirements. He’d put a lot of effort into learning the art of tea, as he understood the importance of it to her. Almost five decades of happiness.

The clouds stitched themselves together again, and the sunshine soon dimmed. A fine day to scatter Henri’s ashes indeed. Prudence Bourreau — née Covington — lifted her hand and returned the wave. And then began to thread her way through the swathes of grass towards the car.

She only had to kill and cremate the bugger, first.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Written for the October 2021 #BlogBattle: ‘Scatter’

4 thoughts on “White Cliffs

  1. Doug Jacquier

    I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, Joshua, and you didn’t disappoint. 🙂 Beautifully written descriptions of the clifftop, the sea and the environment. Prudence and Henri’s relationship reminds of the old story of the Englishman and Frenchman, where the Frenchman says ‘Savages begin at Dover’ to which the Englishman replies ‘Couldn’t agree more’. 😉

  2. aebranson

    Your twist at the end is quite signature of your writing, and although the hardest, it seemed like the last of three twists. At the beginning, probably by the end of the first sentence, I thought ‘Uh-oh, she’s gonna jump.’ The brilliant bleakness of your description pointed decidedly to her (premature) mourning for Henri (in fact, I suspected he died of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva). Fooled me each time, you sly dog! I think there’s a typo at the top of the third paragraph, where the strong wind ‘buffered’ her, and cushioning is exactly the opposite of how we experience strong wind. 🙂 And by the way, I love the name Prudence for this character. Delightfully morbid, and we’ve come to expect no less…!

  3. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    A great tale as always. Although, I do feel as if I was lied to – “Nobody around for miles.” Well, nobody but Henri 😉

    I absolutely loved “clouds scattered over the waves.” Only when I copied and pasted it, I realized that my brain read it as “shattered” instead of scattered.

    350 mil? Sign me up!

    And again, we have some words that are in a different font (?). Is it possible that those are copied and pasted from a different source rather than typed in by you? I wonder if that’s what’s causing the issue.

    I, too thought she might jump at first. Someone once told me that they always looked for a twist in some of my stories, so the twists were always a surprise but not an unexpected one. I can definitely say the same about your stuff, which I think says a lot about the fact that you have a style that’s being recognized by your readers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s