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Jess huddled in the dark cold dampness of an alley way off Church Street, wondering how she was going to keep warm tonight. She was sure there wasn’t really a bye-law about carrying large folded cardboard boxes around town like that man from the Council had said, as he had confiscated her box. Jess knew the real reason was that they wanted her gone, away from this pretty seaside town where her presence offended the holiday-makers. They all thought she was simple-minded. Jess sighed. The holiday-makers failed to see the other side of this once thriving fishing port, where damp and depression permeated the very stones of it’s existence, re-emerging to infect the hearts of every miserable being dwelling there.
The mist was really closing in now, making Jess shiver, it’s questioning fingers probing into her very soul. She didn’t mind. The mist came from the sea and reminded her of her lover. Most of the desolate souls living in this town were aware of Jess, seeing her only as a bundle of shabby dark rags rambling the shore, day in day out, year in year out, picking up shells, seaweed and bits of driftwood and building shelters, only for the high tides to wash them away. They did not see her fine bones, her noble brow or the beautiful clear eyes filled with sea and sky, because Jess had once been somebody. Now she was a nobody, virtually invisible, unless you were a holiday-maker, come to sample the delights of fish and chips, ice-cream, cobbles and gothic ruins. They complained that she was there, frightening their children and spoiling their photographs. Jess wished she really was invisible, then she could wander and wait for as long as she needed without anybody complaining.
Painfully straightening up, Jess struggled to her feet. She would go down to the beach and look out to sea. Maybe he would come back tonight. She supposed that he didn’t know about their baby, or he would have come home by now. Jess tried hard to remember about the baby – where did he go? She longed to look into her lover’s eyes again, feel his strong arms around her and his warm breath on her breast. Now his warm breath was a freezing dank mist that enveloped her – but she welcomed it into her heart because it was the nearest thing to him that she could find.
Jess’s broken old boots stumbled along the cobbles as she made her way to the beach. She could see the sea through the swirling mist at the end of the alley now. Her heart lurched with anticipation. Would she see his boat, brightly lit and sitting low in the water, full of fish? Surely he had to be there tonight. Slowly Jess scrambled down onto the sand alongside the Fish Pier. She sat down in it’s shelter and waited. As the hours crawled towards dawn memories of her loved one floated into her confused mind. Black curly hair, weatherbeaten skin, wide blue eyes that sparkled like the sky as he waved to her from the back of his boat leaving the harbour. Her family could not understand or allow her union with this fisher lad. They gave away their baby and the fisher lad never came back. But she knew he would come back – and it might be tonight. Jess watched the waves lapping at the shore. It soothed her and presently she slept. Her dreams were filled with him. His broad capable hands mending his nets, while she watched, fascinated. His rowdy, foot-stamping sea-shanties. His passionate kisses, the sweetness of their intimacy in his bed. All of it just cold memories now.
Jess awoke with a start. The mist had closed in completely now and she could not see more than a foot in front of her. Time to go. Slowly Jess walked towards the steps leading from the beach. The mist swirled, forming weird shadows – almost the shapes of people. Jess stared hard. Was that a hand outstretched she could see? She stretched out her own hand, reaching and trying to connect. It was a hand, she was sure of it. Turning away from the steps, Jess held out her hands. Her fingers brushed against mist. The misty hand beckoned and she followed, her feet seeming to glide over the sand. She reached the water’s edge, the mist cleared a little and he was there, just as she knew he would be, just as she remembered him. As she stepped forward into the sea he caught her to him, showering her with his salty kisses. As she sank down through the murmuring waves into his arms she said, “ I knew you would come back.”