Below is a story that I’ve written recently. This is flash fiction, which is a piece that is no longer than 1200 words. The prompt was “Seaside Gothic,” and I started writing it in the St. Thomas the Apostle Writing Group that we formed a few months back. (St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church in Hollywood is where our writing group members come from just in case you’re wondering about that name.) In the group, we take a prompt and write as fast as we can for fifteen minutes, then share what we’ve written. I wrote the first part of the story during that time and several people said they’d love to see where it was going. So, here it is. I’m not sure if it works but decided to share it anyway.
I hope you all are doing well. I’ve been off the grid for the past couple of months. Happy to be reaching back out to you, my friends.
That Fateful Day
Sarah stood on the edge of the cliff looking out at the turbulent waters of the Atlantic. Gray covered the sky like a pall and the gulls were squawking, announcing the coming storm. She pulled her wool shawl tighter across her shoulders and shivered. Nathaniel’s trawler should have already docked or, at least, be easily seen racing homeward, yet there was nothing. No ships at all and far off near the horizon, flashes of fierce lightning jagged across the ever-darkening sky. “Oh, dear Lord, I pray, please bring my beloved home today,” Sarah whispered as the wind forced her to turn and hurry back towards their home.
“It’s gonna be a bad’un,” old Jonah Sims called as Sarah hurried past his porch. “Reminds me of the gale of ‘02. At deadly storm that’un was.”
Sarah gave him a quick nod, then lowered her head and hurried on by. She had dinner to make just in case Nathaniel made it home soon and she already had cod ready for frying. Just before entering her small home, Sarah heard a loud clap of thunder that shook the ground where she stood. She felt her spirits sinking, but instead clasped her hands together and offered up another prayer.
Four hours later, the night now pitch-black with rain pelting against the thin walls of their wooden home, Sarah stared at the uneaten food on their pine kitchen table: fried cod, mashed potatoes, boiled turnips, and, just to bring a bit of extra cheer, a homemade apple pie, Nathaniel’s favorite. She had just put away the food when she heard a familiar stomping on her front porch. Nathaniel! She rushed to the front door and flung it open. There stood her husband of just two years in his oilskins and rubber boots, his wet blond hair plastered to his head. “Where’s your hat, my love?”
Nathaniel shook his head as if the question was beyond his ability to answer.
“Come, then, “ Sarah said as she led him to his chair by the fire. She knelt down in front of him and pulled off his boots, then ran to get both a towel and his flannel nightshirt. Returning, she helped him strip off his clothes, dried him as he shivered, then slipped his nightshirt over his head. “Are you hungry?” she asked but saw that Nathaniel’s eyes were already half-closed from weariness. “Never mind. There’ll be plenty of time tomorrow to eat and tell me what happened. Right now, let’s get you to bed.” She led him to their bedroom and got him settled snugly underneath the covers. Nathaniel squeezed her hand in gratitude just before falling into a deep sleep.
Sarah slipped into bed in the darkness, mindful not to disturb her exhausted husband. In the early morning hours, she dreamed of a huge wave slamming into Nathaniel’s boat, sweeping him and others on the deck overboard. She awoke with a start. As she lay shaking, Nathaniel’s arms encircled her waist, and his kisses mingled with hers. She felt his weight on top of her and love surge through her as their bodies melded together. She fell back to sleep, grateful to have her husband safely there beside her.
She awoke several hours later to the sound of pounding on her front door. “Sarah!” a male voice called.
She rushed to answer and there stood Jonah Sims with a forlorn look on his face. “What is it, Jonah? Tell me quick.”
“’ Tis Nate’s ship. Capsized by thirty-foot waves. All lost.”
Sarah shook her head. “Not all, Jonah. Nathaniel’s here. Came in around midnight.
“Here? Show him to me, girl. I want to be the first to welcome him home.”
“The second, Jonah. Nobody could be happier to see my husband than I am.”
They walked into the living room as Sarah called out, “Nathaniel, come say hello to Jonah. He’s been frettin’ over you.”
The two sat down together when Sarah realized there was no fire in the grate. Nathaniel, never, not once, had allowed their fire to grow cold. She smiled at Jonah apologetically. “I’m sorry for the chill. Let me go find Nathaniel and we’ll get the room warmed up.“ She headed to the kitchen, calling her husband’s name, but he was not there. She checked each of the small rooms in the house but had no luck. Returning to the living room, she found Jonah stoking a new fire. “He must have gone out,” Sarah said, though he’d never, not once, left their home without telling her goodbye.
Jonah gave her a sideways look, but then his face softened. “’ Tis all right, my girl. You rest a bit. This storm’s taken its toll on all of us.”
Days went by, but no Nathaniel. Then weeks. Sarah started telling herself that she’d dreamed up his return. The whole town, once the story was told, called it, “The widow’s yearning” and gave her knowing smiles when she was at church or in town shopping. Sarah soon felt the full force of her grief. She lost her appetite, slept endlessly, and felt listless when she was awake. Finally, she went to Dr. Abrams, hoping for some remedy. He took her blood and did some other tests, then sat down with her in his office. “I have some happy news for you, my dear. You’re with child.”
“What? Are you sure?”
“Yes, very much so. But I’m a bit confused about the date. Could you tell me the last time you had relations?”
Sarah blushed. “A month before the shipwreck, just before Nathaniel went out to sea.”
“Hmmm.” The doctor looked down at his calendar and then back up at her. “It’s just that from my calculations, you’re due a month later than that.”
Sarah stared at the doctor, then laughed out loud. “So, I’m not crazy, after all.”
Dr. Abrams looked confused.
“My Nathaniel did come back! He came back to say a proper goodbye and also to give me this gift to ease my pain over losing him.” She patted her stomach.
“Now, Sarah,” Dr. Abrams began, “you do realize that–”
But Sarah’s face was alight with joy. “Oh, Doc, I saw him with my own two eyes. How could I have ever doubted it?”
“But–” Dr. Abrams began, then stopped. He looked at Sarah’s eyes so bright with happiness. “Okay, my dear, then come to my office next week and we’ll go from there.”
“Yes, next week,” Sarah said, her face aglow.
People in town chalked it up as Doc Abrams’s miscalculation, but Sarah knew the truth. For the rest of her very long life, she often spoke of that terrible gale that took Nathaniel and the other men onboard the fishing boat. ”Don’t forget to pray,” she’d tell young wives of men who worked at sea. “I was blessed by the Lord in a very special way. I will never forget how he answered my prayers that fateful day.”