The Visitor

Free The Visitor by Katherine Stansfield

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Authors: Katherine Stansfield
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she realised she’d been sunburnt on her way down to Eileen’s. She pushed off the stony bottom and kicked her legs, finding more strength the more she kicked. The years fell away when she swam, as if the effort of each stroke took her further back in time. Perhaps if she swam for long enough she could find the young girl watching Nicholas launch a model boat with a white handkerchief sail, find the fish salted in the palace and her mother singing them to sleep. But there was always Jack to worry about. She never got far enough.
    She turned back to look at the shore, bobbing in the water. Jack rarely came to this beach. The retired fishermen liked to cluster by the lifeboat house, all still wearing their jerseys, watched by the holiday visitors. The nets were empty though. The fishermen had nothing to show the visitors. George would be out, far beyond the harbour, on his own on the swell.
    She liked to let herself drop every now and then, the water surging round her ears and slopping over her head. She licked the salt from her lips. She couldn’t touch the bottom. There were miles and miles of water below her now, she liked to pretend. All that space, dark and cold. And on the sea floor were the wrecks, and with wrecks came the Bucca. Pearl could tell Eileen’s Margaret a few more things to scare her.

Five
    After supper the lamp is lit. Polly washes the plates in the bucket Pearl has filled from the pump. Polly’s plaits keep falling in the water. When she tosses them over her shoulders her shadow on the wall jerks like a fish on a hook.
    Her father sits by the hearth and tells them about his day. He has a big beard, which is mostly brown but has red patches, and his face is deeply lined though he’s not very old. He smells of tobacco and the sea. His voice is soft – he never shouts. Her mother is the one for shouting. Her father is best at telling stories. On nights he’s not at sea she gets one before bedtime prayers. Tonight’s story is one she’s heard many times before.
    â€˜When we’re out in deeper water, past the harbour wall,’ her father says, ‘we know the Bucca’s likely to be about. He’s a spirit so he’s tricky to catch sight of, but if the wind’s blowing the right way and you listen very hard, you can hear him coming, crashing around on the seabed beneath you.’
    He slaps his hands across his knees to make the noise of the Bucca’s lolloping then stops all of a sudden and leans down so that his face is close to Pearl’s. The deep lines around his eyes are there even when he’s not smiling.
    â€˜The Bucca’s waiting for the clothes on your back. That’s what he wants, see, the things the drowned have no more need for. He’s got fancy tastes though, the Bucca. He likes to look fine, even though the only living creatures who clap eyes on him are the fish and the crabs.’ Here her father pretends to preen himself, batting his eyelashes and smoothing his coarse hair. Polly looks up from the bucket and laughs. ‘He decks himself out in velvet and gems,’ her father says, ‘with a ruby for one eye and a sovereign for another, and he pulls along a seaweed net full of china teapots and silver spoons that went down with Spanish galleons.’
    Lying on the floor Pearl looks at her father’s beard that’s scratchy against her face when he kisses her and wonders if the Bucca has a beard. Another question troubles her too. ‘If there’s no wind,’ she says, ‘how do you know the Bucca’s there if you can’t see him or hear him?’ The bottom of the sea is a long way down; a dark, cold place littered with broken boats and bones.
    Her mother looks up from her darning. ‘That’s a foolish question, Pearl. We know the Lord is there even though we can’t see him, don’t we? Some things you have to trust and believe without seeing.’
    Pearl goes to bed that

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