Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sealark - October

Sea lark


The trees turned fast this year. Almost before the full richness of colour showed in the woods around the cottage the leaves started to fall in swirls, and Poppet darted after the falling ones as she hunted through the woods when Dare walked her.

Neither of them knew quite where she’d got the name or which of them started using it. It was an endearment Jonah had heard Dare use many times to his brother’s kids and somewhere it slipped from being an endearment to being her name. She had slept her first night downstairs by the fire which Dare banked up for her before they went up to bed around seven when Jonah began to be too tired for the couch to be tolerable any longer. They never were to find out where she came from or what her life had been before, although it was clear that she knew about houses and homes; she behaved herself like a perfect lady and when Dare padded downstairs around 4am to make tea and let her out she waited patiently by the door and then shot straight back in again when he whistled to her, giving him a wide berth but heading straight back to her nest by the fire.

She lurked around the cottage like an anxious small black shadow for the next few days. Dare kept Jonah to the same routine, balancing the need to push him to move and walk with the need to keep him from getting too tired: a bath as soon as he got out of bed which helped with managing the pain levels at the time he was most stiff, breakfast and then a morning nap on the couch, then helping with the basic chores that in this tiny cottage took very little time: drying dishes sitting at the table, walking a little with the crutches to dust or wipe windows, taking the rubbish outside to the little side shed where they stored it which for Jonah took several minutes to negotiate the twenty feet of distance it necessitated. Another mid morning to lunchtime rest. An hour outside in the garden – and whatever the weather, Dare accepted that as Jonah would, just ensuring he went out in the right clothes and coverings to withstand it, and he walked to and from the chair himself. A longer afternoon rest. Their evening meal and some time together in the living room before he helped Jonah upstairs to bed around seven and lay there with him to read while Jonah began the first of the cat naps that punctuated their nights.

Jonah’s initial resistance about the chores lasted as long as Dare’s calm and immediate application of the spoon to his palm. Jonah was beginning to eye that spoon, which Dare kept laying on the kitchen counter, with distinct and wary respect. After that he did what he was asked to. Slowly and grimly and in silence; he still spoke very little. But the moving around was painful and demanding and high effort, it was a battle for him and Dare watched it very carefully, monitoring enough to challenge him to use what skills he had without pushing himself too far. The doctor, Dunkley, dropped back every other day to check on the pain medication levels and kept an eye on the incisions still healing on Jonah’s pelvis and thigh. His visits were short and comfortable and Jonah didn’t seem to mind them. Dunkley didn’t say much about what he did or stay long and mostly he talked about his boat to Jonah while he worked, an elderly sailing craft he was restoring which sounded like the loving project of years, on a frame in the garden outside his house further down river in the village. Since one of Jonah’s main weaknesses was antique sailing boats, his visits went better than might have been expected.

Jamie visited again three days after the cast came off, looking angelically beautiful in jeans and a sweatshirt with the GP practice logo on it which he managed to make look as though it was designer wear, left his muddied boots at the door and padded into the living room to watch Jonah slowly and stiffly go on wiping down the windows. He helped Jonah to finish the job, although Dare saw him strategically doing only the bits Jonah couldn’t reach and not doing much of it at all, working instead on chattering about nothing in particular while he ensured Jonah moved as much as possible. He wasn’t missing a thing. He rarely looked directly at Jonah while they worked together yet Dare saw he never took his eyes off him. He got Jonah to take the cloths back to the kitchen by looking so crushed when Jonah initially and sourly refused that Jonah looked slightly shocked. Dare had been about to step in but after a moment Jonah swore and grudgingly but fairly immediately did as Jamie wanted. Jamie followed, taking the bowl of now dusty water for him and competently rinsing it at the sink while he watched Jonah walk slowly on the crutches, then settled him equally competently on the couch without fuss, showing them both where to put pillows to reduce any pull or pressure on tired joints with serene disregard for Jonah’s glowering or whether or not he co operated, and Dare could see he almost instantly got Jonah significantly more comfortable.

Dare made him a cup of tea and within a couple of minutes Jonah was asleep on the couch in the way he tended to fall asleep when he stopped fighting; with the same thudding suddenness that he had in the hospital, exhaustion taking over as his body used up the energy to heal itself. Jamie sat at the kitchen table to drink it, keeping his voice quiet not to disturb him.

“You’re doing a great job keeping him moving, that’s exactly what he needs. Little challenges, purposeful things to do alternated with rests.”

“I’m keeping us to the same routine every day. I think that helps.” Dare sat down at the table opposite him with his own mug. Jamie nodded approval.

“Good. Brilliant. Now make it a lot stricter. Same things at the same times, scheduled rests and when he’s resting make sure he is actually resting. Laying down flat so his heart gets a break; not reading, not talking, not playing with the dog. Not just being in neutral; the difference matters now. You and I can recharge sitting around reading or watching tv. His body can’t. For him that’s still energy neutral, he has nothing in reserve and he’s using up as much as he’s producing. You and he need to figure out all daily activities in terms of energy draining, energy neutral and energy restoring, energy economics on a limited budget. It’s going to take actually stopping all output to save some up in the bank.”

It was not a suggestion, it was a straightforward, clear instruction. Dare was starting to gather the impression that this extremely beautiful young man was actually a force to be reckoned with. Jamie gave him an acute look over the edge of his mug as the dog edged around the table to get to her water bowl.

“You’re looking like hell on toast too. How many times are you two up during the night?”

“He sleeps about three to four hours in a patch. Then I suppose we’re awake for an hour or so each time. We’re heading up to bed about seven, he’s awake about half past seven to eight in the morning, so I suppose three times on average we’re up.”

“Get him to bed earlier.” Jamie said succinctly. “Try six. Before he gets too tired to sleep. He’ll actually sleep better when he’s not too tired, I know that makes no sense but it’s true. And you need to plan on resting when he does at least once during the day, you’re losing sleep too. I can see how down he is but you’re going to find grouchy is the warning signal of ‘tired’ and ‘not enough oxygen’. I know he’s got every reason to be grouchy, he’s handling a huge loss, and so are you. And pain is exhausting, that doesn’t help either, but he’s got no hope of working out how to cope if he’s permanently over tired and his brain’s running on low power. Get him laying down flat and quiet as soon as you see it. It’s about helping him learn to stay within his threshold, it’s going to take him time to know where his limits are.”

He’d seen a great deal of how they worked in just two short visits. Jamie met his eyes giving him a frank, cheerful smile.

“This is going to get easier. You will get him through this. Your instincts are right: the simpler and more structured things are the better he’ll do at the moment. I want you to have a recliner in the living room for you as well as him, you’ll nap alongside him and it would give him a change of position. I can probably scare up an old one from somewhere if that’s a problem-”

“It’s not. The insurance pay-outs have been…..” Dare hesitated for a moment and then sighed. “… alarmingly dramatic. With what he did for a living we had quite a lot of insurance of various kinds between us.”

Planning in case this ever happened, although neither of them had ever really believed it might.

“Your career’s on hold too isn’t it?” Jamie said gently. Dare nodded.

“That doesn’t matter. Photography of my type is always something of a famine and feast career.”

“And you’ve always fitted it in around his career. Travel where he goes, support him during the preps and the races.” Jamie sounded quietly understanding. “Someone has to get the shopping in, have the bills paid, the bed made and the laundry up to date. I get it to an extent, Mick and I are owned by a building and his publican licence, our lives revolve around the pub.”

“I don’t know about on hold.” Dare finished his tea, holding the cup between his hands. “From what we’ve been told he won’t be able to race again. Or handle a yacht alone again.”

“It isn’t going to be the broken bones, those are going to heal fine.” Jamie said gently but matter of factly. “It’s going to be the heart, and fatigue is going to be a big player in your lives. We’ll work on getting him as fit as we can but it’s a wait and see game as to what his new ‘normal’ will be.”

His bracing approach actually helped. Much more than the soft voiced, shocked staff who had seen the Olympic celebrity brought in on a helicopter and who realised they were seeing first hand a career at a sharp and premature end. This was the reality and this is what they had to deal with. It was much more the way that Jonah worked.

“He’s always been a wonderfully…. practical man.” He said aloud to Jamie. “With racing– you take the circumstances you have and you make the best of them, there isn’t time to whine about what the weather’s doing or if you’re cold or tired or whether the tide’s cooperating, you just get on with it. He’s always been like that in pretty much everything - very upbeat and nothing much gets him down, he’s a tough adapter. People tick him off sometimes but it’s a brief explosion and done, gone. This…”

“Isn’t him.” Jamie finished quietly. “It’s the shock. The head injury. The pain he’s in. The being tired all the time. Those things are going to fade and he’ll find a new normality. And then you’ll see him come out again. Those qualities are the best things he could have to deal with his condition, it’s the ones that are bitter and can’t stop fighting that struggle most. Keep pulling Jonah out of him. He’s in there, he’s just been battered to hell and he’s reeling. And I know you are too.”

“I’m tough as old boots.” Dare said wryly. “I’m fine. I just want to help. I want to make this easier for him.”

“Three days ago he was pale grey and terrified of weight bearing. Today you had him not only standing but freeing a hand to clean windows, taking some interest in the house. I know you’re having to be the bastard who won’t let him give up, and he really needs that, I can see it working.” Jamie gave his hand a firm pat and got up to rinse both their mugs as if he owned the place. He nodded at the dog as he put the mugs away. “And she’s a good idea too. This is the one you found?”

“I think she found us.”

“We heard about her. Gossip goes through the village like wildfire, we get very bored around here in the winter and everyone comes to the pub. No one seems to know where she’s come from or how long she’s been around. You’re keeping her?”

They hadn’t given it any conscious thought. She had just slipped straight into their daily routine without difficulty, quiet and undemanding. Walking her was currently a daily oasis of calm in Dare’s morning.

“She’s a sweet little thing. Jonah’s good with animals, he and I both grew up with dogs. Never had one ourselves, we were travelling constantly abroad, but…. Now things are different, there’s no reason not to. She’s good company and she’s giving him something else to think about.”

“Someone to look after.” Jamie stooped to the dog, putting a confident hand out to gently pull her soft ears. She let him too, Jamie seemed to disarm most people. “I’ll drop in again day after tomorrow. Get that recliner and get some sleep.”

The recliner appeared the following day from Norwich, and the guys who carried it through the wet field into the living room unwrapped it and set it up. It was large and wide and reclined almost completely flat, and Jonah spent several hours in it in the afternoon without finding it too uncomfortable. He was highly unimpressed with their earlier bedtime, but since Dare simply picked him up and carried him upstairs it didn’t make much difference, and once in bed after ten minutes silent and bitter fuming, he fell asleep and Jamie was right. He slept longer and he woke only twice that night.


He was going stir crazy by Friday morning. Dare saw him standing at the window in the living room staring out at the river, and came to stand behind him, folding his arms gently around Jonah’s waist. Poppet, who liked the garden so long as the door was left open – she clearly did not approve of being expected to make decisions about whether she wanted to be out or in no matter what the weather and liked to keep her options available – was pottering about sniffing invisible complex trails of any wildlife that had passed their way through the night, winding her way in circles as she followed their path across the grass, and a heron was standing motionless on a mooring post on their staithe by the boathouse, one gangly leg tucked up under its feathers. It was an elderly heron with ragged feathers that gave it a piratical look and it was glaring down its long orange beak at the slowly passing river.

“I’m dying to go for a walk.” Jonah said shortly. Dare made a quiet sound of comprehension against his shoulder.

“You haven’t had the chance to explore much at all. Rest until eleven thirty and we’ll go down into the village and get lunch at The Swan.”  

“I meant walking.”

“It’s too muddy to try the crutches here, I don’t want you falling.”

“It’s not going to make much difference is it?”

“Rest now and we’ll go into the village.” Dare repeated. “That’ll be more than enough exercise.”

“I don’t do anything else but rest, it doesn’t make any difference.” Jonah said sourly. “I can’t just lay around for the rest of my life, maybe pushing more would help.”

“Jamie doesn’t think so, and I can see he’s right. It’s about balance. You do better when you’re rested, you’re in less pain, you move better, you’ve got more mental energy.”

“You mean I’m less foul tempered.”

“I mean you’re not so tired you can’t think and everything feels too much. Right now you feel so awful so much of the time you can’t see much difference. But I can and it’s going to get clearer as you get better. So that’s the deal.” Dare kissed his cheek, patting his hip firmly where his hand rested. “Take it or leave it.”

“If you want to do the Transat you pull out of the Metro. They’re too close, it’s too much. That’s the deal, take it or leave it.” That was probably the last time he had used that line. About three months ago, in a hotel room in Barcelona, and Jonah had argued and pleaded that three days turn around was plenty, the boat was fit, he was fit, the resupply and safety checks could probably be squeezed in just about with a bit of luck, two days off was all any normal person needed. He’d been furious when Dare stood firmly with the protesting engineers and team who wanted the time to prep the boat properly, and Dare had refused to consider Jonah heading out on the Transat anything less than thoroughly rested, fed, fit and prepared for the physical ordeal ahead. With hindsight that might have played a significant part in those hours he spent in the water. But within a couple of hours of that conversation he’d come back, somewhat shamefaced, apologetic and grudgingly admitting that Dare was probably right. Determined but open minded, Jonah rarely stayed angry about anything for long.

He slept a good hour on the sofa and Dare helped him dress in real clothes rather than the sweats which were gentle on the incisions and soft to lay down in, and deaf to his furious protests, put the wheelchair in the back of the range rover before he carried Jonah out to the passenger seat, leaving Poppet to doze in peace in front of the hearth in the cottage. It was a ten minute drive down narrow lanes between open, lately ploughed corn fields that had once been under water marshland, past an elderly grey stone church and into the village itself. The Swan inn dominated the little high street. A vast and beautiful Elizabethan inn with the white frontage laced with dark wood beams, it stood three storeys high and spread out between two village greens either side, a restaurant and hotel, and it stood directly on the river front. The garden by the front doors held plenty of tables and chairs alongside the mooring for multiple boats; many of The Swan’s clients arrived by water. Dare helped Jonah get himself out of the car and very ungraciously into the wheelchair, and took him up the path along the high street. A large boatyard lay on the far end of the village and as the wide river made a turn to the left just beyond The Swan, there were multiple staithes and boardwalks between several hundred moored boats wintering quietly on the far bank. On the turn itself stood the Yacht Club, a tall building with a glass frontage on the second floor, and multiple well roped down and covered yachts were moored in front of it.

Jonah’s eyes were on them as Dare wheeled him up the ramp into the inn. Even on a mid week lunchtime there were tables occupied: people clearly were prepared to travel to eat lunch here. The stone walls were warmed by the big open fireplace with a burning log in the hearth, brightening the October day, and tables were spread throughout the rather winding interior beyond the long wooden bar. Dare found them a table by the window, parking Jonah where he could see the river, and went to get menus, returning with two half lagers as the gentlest nod to normality with Jonah’s painkillers.

He returned to find Jonah had got himself from the wheelchair to the upright, somewhat cushioned but still hard bench and folded the wheelchair, putting it out of sight behind their table. The effort had cost him. The noise in the pub and the movement around them was weighing on him too, he was pale and his shoulders were hunched slightly as though he was trying to shield himself. Dare put the glasses down on the table and reached to get the wheelchair and Jonah grabbed his wrist, giving him a look somewhere between furious and begging.

“I’m not sitting in that.”

“It’s softer, it’s got more give and you’ll be more comfortable.” Dare said gently but firmly. “No one’s looking.”

“I am not appearing in the village gossip as the crippled ex Olympian.” Jonah said bitterly. “No.”

Dare leaned on the table, not unsympathetic but not discussing it. “Chair, or we’re going back to the cottage.”

There was a moment where Jonah glared at him, hurt, embarrassed, angry, and it was very difficult not to give in. This was his pride at stake.

“We don’t even talk about it?” Jonah demanded. “We used to talk about this kind of thing, I used to get a vote!”

Dare reached past him to get the wheelchair and Jonah swore quietly and got up, propping himself heavily on the table.

“Ok. Fine. Chair.”

“Thank you.” Dare helped him move across, put the wheelchair against the table where Jonah could sit looking like any other diner in a chair, and took the bench next to him, putting his hand out to grasp Jonah’s and holding on when Jonah tried to pull away.

“I don’t want you in any more pain than you have to be in. I don’t want you wasting energy on holding yourself upright on a chair that doesn’t support you and I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. Appearances aren’t something we’re going to waste our energy on. This is an hour we’ve got together and that’s what we’re focusing on. I think we're doing a drink, not a meal, you're looking tired already.”

“Let’s have a starter at least?”

“If we do ok today we'll come back Sunday. We've got plenty of time to figure out how to do this.”

Normal people didn’t have to figure out how to go out to eat. Jonah dropped the menu back on the table, running his hands through his hair.

“That's the yacht club there, I'd read about it.” Dare said conversationally, nodding at the glass fronted building by the water.

Jonah didn’t look, but he picked up his lager and took a long swallow. He jumped at the arm that closed around his shoulders and gave him a hug. Jamie. Looking far too happy and in a heavy chain knit sweater and jeans that said he was off duty.

“Hello, it’s nice to see you out! You be careful, you look knackered.”

“If I so much as breathe I look knackered.” Jonah muttered. Jamie gave him another swift hug, ignoring the hunched shoulders indicating Get The Hell Off.

“I know. We’ll work on it, but you’re not used to being upright for long yet. Using that recliner?”

“We are.” Dare said to rescue Jonah. “This is a lovely place Jamie.”

“We love it.” Jamie glanced around him with real warmth. “It’s got a real spirit to it.”

A large, broad man in a checked shirt and a thick dark beard came over from the bar and hooked an arm around Jamie’s waist, looking from Jonah to Dare and then grinning at Dare.

“Is he driving you mad? I'll move him if so.”

“No, Jamie's been great.  You must be Jamie’s partner. I'm Dare Brody.”

“Mick Welton.” Mick leaned across the table to shake hands. “Great to meet you.”

His tact said a great deal: he was leaving it entirely to Dare as to whether or not he wanted to introduce Jonah or prolong this conversation further. Appreciating it, Dare looked across to Jonah.

“This is my partner Jonah.”

“Hello.” Jonah shook hands and managed something halfway to near a smile. The look Mick gave him was very comprehending and deeply sympathetic behind the thick beard.

“Hi. It’s great to meet you. I've followed your racing for years.”

“He's been absolutely green that I've been getting to talk to you.” Jamie said cheerfully. “Watch him, he’ll interrogate you on every race you’ve ever done given half a chance. We’ll leave you in peace, wave if you need anything.”

They disappeared back behind the bar together where Mick seemed to occupy half of it and went back to pulling pints with smooth, practical hands.

Near to tears and not sure why, Jonah went back to staring into his drink. His hands were shaking slightly. Dare’s hand slid over to grasp his gently. They sat there together while Dare sipped his lager and Jonah gazed at his, until Dare said softly, “Done?”

Jonah nodded without looking up and Dare leaned over to get the chair brakes and took him outside to the car. Jonah kept his eyes down as Dare unlocked the car door, hauling himself to his feet and leaning on the roof, and Dare’s arm closed around him, more or less lifting him down to the seat. If he hadn’t…. Jonah was unsure at this point if he could have done it by himself. He was getting nauseous, keeping himself upright was getting difficult and his hands fumbled with the seatbelt. Dare put the wheelchair in the boot and got into the driver’s seat, closing the door and putting an arm around his shoulder to pull him close.

Jonah’s eyes blurred. He got a hand up to grip Dare and that was as much as he could do, but Dare hugged him tightly. Then he started the car, putting a hand across to Jonah’s knee.

“It’s not far love, hang on.”

It shouldn’t be like this. Half an hour out of the house should not be like this. Jonah stared at the road as they drove through the village. Dare carried him into the cottage: getting out of the car would have been more than Jonah could have handled. Dare put him down on the couch and reached for a pillow to prop him, and that was the last straw. Jonah knocked it out of his hand. Or tried to; it wasn’t a knock with enough power behind it to get out of a wet paper bag.

“Don't worry about it, I can lift my own damn pillow.”

Dare lifted his knees anyway, putting the pillow under them. “Enough.”

“Then leave!” Jonah spat at him. “Get out for God’s sake and leave me alone, I don’t want you here!”

Dare caught his hand and put it down, holding it with enough strength for Jonah to look up at him in spite of himself. “Jonah. I am not leaving. No one is leaving.”

“There isn't anything to stay for!  I'm broken, there isn't anything that can be fixed and the sooner you realize that the better off you'll be. This is it. The End, I’m done. You can’t come up with the magic answer to this one, you don't want to stick this out, you saw the way everyone was looking at me in that pub. I’ll never earn again, I’ll never be any bloody good for anything again as I long as I live and you need to get back to your work before there isn't anything left.”

“I don’t care if you want me here or not,”

“You should! You didn't sign up to be married to a cripple!  I wouldn't put that burden on you!  I'm fucking useless and this is it, this is how it is! Ever after, RIP, QE fucking D and you hanging around being sorry for me-” 

“You can spit out the most hateful, angry things you can think of and you still won’t manage to scare me off.” Dare’s voice hadn’t exactly gotten louder but it had got a whole lot deeper and it cut right through Jonah’s. “And this is mostly tired talking, so you can close that mouth. Jonah, I’ll go get the soap if I need it. Close it.”

Jonah paused, mouth open, tears starting to pour down his face in earnest as Dare stooped to pull his trainers off his feet. Dare disappeared into the kitchen and for a moment Jonah seriously expected him to come back with soap – he’d left their usual line several miles behind him – but he came back instead with pills and a mug and sat on the edge of the couch to hand both to Jonah with an expression that implied hesitating was not going down well. Jonah bolted the pills and swallowed milk, half of it missing and pouring down his chin. The cup felt as heavy as lead, he had to rest it on his stomach to take the weight. Dare put a quick hand up to wipe his mouth, taking the cup away and putting it out of reach on the floor.

“Thank you. Look at me. Jonah, now.”

In a tone that stern, Jonah actually wouldn’t have dared do otherwise. Even this mad. Dare’s eyes were as stern as his voice, his expression made Jonah’s stomach twist hard and Dare spoke very quietly but it was as impressive as if he’d thundered every word.

“Don’t you ever tell me you’re a burden to me, or imply to me I’m shallow enough to care about any job more than you. You come first, you will always come first and we will not talk to each other that way whatever the circumstances. Do I make myself clear?”

The tears were running too hard now to manage anything coherent but Jonah managed something like a nod since Dare’s eyes had him practically skewered to the wall.

“I signed up to be married to you. For richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health. So no matter how scared you are, no matter how angry you are, it is our problem and we will deal with it in whatever way we need to. You don’t get to dismiss me and do it alone. Neither of us know what the future much looks like right now and I know how stressful that is for you, but frankly it doesn’t matter because nothing is going to happen that we can’t handle. Whatever we need to do we will do, and it will be together. Whatever happens we will be ok.”

It was a relief. It was such a terrible relief to hear him say it. Jonah heard himself start to let loose awful, tearing sounds, shameful sounds, and Dare leaned his forehead against Jonah’s, his hand cradling Jonah’s head with his fingers spread through his hair. Jonah grabbed him incoherently, plastering himself as hard against Dare as he could, and Dare stooped and gathered him up, sitting down on the couch with Jonah in his lap. He didn’t say anything for a while, holding him while he cried himself out. Jonah gripped him in a strangle hold, clutching tightly enough that it must have been painful but Dare didn’t comment.

“I’m sorry.” Jonah said eventually when he had the breath. “I’m so sorry. That was a terrible thing to say, I don’t mean it. You know I don’t mean any of it-”

“I know.” Dare said firmly. “It’s been relentless and you need to grieve. I know it’s hard.”

“But it’s hard for you too-”

“We’re going to get through this together. And in this state you’re headed to bed.” Dare got up, lifting Jonah with him. Poppet was laying at his feet. She had backed away while Jonah was shouting but at some point she had settled down with them and she got up quite confidently, shaking herself and trotting after Dare as he carried Jonah upstairs.

It was the first time she had come upstairs with them but she trotted up as if she owned the place and sat near the top of the stairs watching while Dare laid Jonah down on the bed and undressed him, not letting him help. He settled Jonah under the covers, laying him flat and pulling pillows into place to support his arms and neck.

“I’m going to get lunch. Stay put.”

“For a first try at going out….” Jonah said something like lightly. Dare leaned over and kissed him, firmly.

“It was our first try. We’ll get better at it.”

When he came upstairs a few minutes later with a mug of soup and some toast, Jonah was watching out of the large window, his eyes on the river. It was one of the biggest reasons he had chosen this cottage; that Jonah, who could spend hours watching water flow by, could see it from couch or bed, a wide uninterrupted view of the kind he loved. Poppet was curled up on the bed beside him, her chin on his knee, and his hand was on her fluffy black back.

I aimed sharp, hurtful words at you today.  I didn't mean it, I just can't seem to get out of this hole of self pity and you're the closest target.  To my surprise, they seemed to stop short of you, instead piercing the wall that's developed between us.  There's daylight there and I can see you on the other side, holding out your hand.  It's not with pity, intending to carry me forward just because.  It's you, reminding me that you've got me and that the wall isn't between us, it's around us.  We’re okay, as long as we’re together.


“So it was too much too fast.” Jamie advised when he dropped in a couple of days later.

“No one can get exhausted just sitting in a chair.” Jonah complained. Jamie took no notice, grabbing a pen and notebook from his bag and sitting on the edge of the sofa beside him. Poppet had taken to climbing to the top of the pillows behind Jonah, as high as she could get and curling into a ball behind his shoulder, and she watched the movement of the pen with large dark eyes, her chin against Jonah’s arm. She was, as Jonah termed it, a cuddle monster; a tendency that was growing as fast as her confidence was. She spent much of her sleeping time on or against him in some way, and Jonah spent a lot of his laying down time stroking her.

“Yes, you can. Your heart’s working harder with you sitting up, you’ve been mostly laying down for the last month. Use the recliner, get used to half an hour sitting up a couple of times a day. We have to work out your threshold and then stay below it. Consistently train your body to be ok below threshold so you always have energy in reserve and you’ll have a better chance of gently raising that budget higher. This is the routine you have right now, yes? So add this. Every other day, fifteen minutes in the car. Just the car. Just driving. Go have a look at the water front in the village. Drive past the church.”

“Where can we get in fifteen minutes?”

“Stop thinking of it as ‘where’ and think of it as physiotherapy for now.” Jamie advised, handing him the list. “Practice. Before you start getting scared to go out anywhere. If that goes well then in a week we’ll plan in more time. And don’t pull that face, getting angry and stressed uses up energy too. You have to learn to stay as calm and easy come easy go as you can manage. You have limits, they’re here to stay at least for a while, so you have to learn to live within those limits. Not just get by, actually get it together and live.  So sucking it up is going to matter.”

Jonah’s glare at him was not pretty but … where that might have discouraged or angered plenty of people that was something Jonah himself might have said two months ago. Being cold, wet, exhausted, off time, broken sails, off route – you hadn’t time to waste on energy draining, unhelpful emotion when positive action mattered. Jamie saw the glare and gave him that sweet, crashing smile.

“Yes, I thought you’d get that. I read about your training schedules, I know you’re tough. Now get tough.”

“The roads wind forever around here, it takes ages to get anywhere.” Jonah muttered, more than half mollified. Dare could see him responding whether or not he liked it. Jamie nodded cheerful agreement, shifting Jonah’s sweats out of the way to check his incisions.

“Yes, they do. That’s why most of the locals shop by boat. The waterways around here get you a whole lot further a lot faster. Sitting in a boat rather than a car is fine for the fifteen minutes by the way? You can do that instead if you’d rather. So long as you stay warm; getting cold will drain energy too.”

Jonah’s glare darkened and he looked away. Dare saw it and knew painfully well what he was thinking. At any other time in their lives had they been here Jonah would had at least one if not several boats in the boathouse and would know every inch of the waterways in the district by now. Handling ropes, sails…. It wasn’t something he could do and his tolerance for Dare doing it for him under his orders….. Dare could sail but he wasn’t the expert Jonah was by a long shot, and it would drive Jonah mad. Jamie saw the look and gave Dare a rather severe stare.

“Hey. This is the Broads, there are plenty of other options to yachts. Most of us around here would get on the water on a tea tray if we had to, it’s being out on the water that matters.”  

When he left to go and energetically bully another patient, Dare gave Jonah a meaningful look and Jonah rolled his eyes but resignedly turned up the notebook and pen he’d put to one side when Jamie arrived. He had been writing for three days. Copying out the sentence only once at a time between rests, but five times a day Dare put the notebook in his hand, and had  informed him he’d be doing it until he reached fifty, and it was not a sentence possible to write without reflecting on it in some detail with a whole lot of feeling. Dare’s clear, straight handwriting was at the top of the notepad, giving him the words to be copied:

To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and health, to love and to cherish for as long as we both shall live.”


The boatyard at Stalham that Jamie and Mick recommended was only a couple of miles up river from them – so near by boat that one of the staff sailed her down to their staithe for Dare to view her rather than insist he came to the yard. It was the very end of their season, they had little to do and were starting to close down for the winter, the tourists were gone. It was only the locals who were out on the water now and made the most of the peace, quiet and early morning mists.

She chugged her way quietly to the staithe mid morning, and Dare left Jonah asleep on the sofa and went out with Poppet at his heels to meet her. Not a young boat. She was clean but stubby and chunky, roughened around the edges, long and low as all the boats were around here to go easily under the few low bridges, white with light blue and primrose yellow trim and a blunt, big prow and the name Sealark painted on her side. Like many of the cruiser boats people hired here to live on and travel in for their holidays, she was built with a saloon in her middle, roofed with a thick glass canopy that slid back to open the saloon to the sky in finer weather, and there were solid, broad and easy steps down into the saloon from staithe height. Easy for Jonah to navigate and Poppet ran straight down them without hesitation to investigate the interior, her tail waving behind her. The girl wagged her way around the world, her tail almost never stopped. The saloon had two dark blue sofas built into the hull, one on each side and long enough and wide enough for Jonah to comfortably lay down on, with a table in the middle. Her steering seat was on a platform in the forward left corner of the saloon in front of the wheel and the clear glass windscreen, and two small steps led down deeper into the boat’s nose where a small galley kitchen had a sink, oven, microwave, kettle and fridge as well as stocked cupboards with cutlery and china, and a door to a small outside deck well for sitting or fishing. Aft of the saloon a door opened into a small very low roofed cabin that filled the end of the boat, a large mattressed island took up most of the floor space as a double bed with a few drawers and cabinets built into the hull, and a small but functional en suite bathroom held a toilet, sink and shower. She was small and compact. She had central heating, she had places where it was perfectly possible to lie down and sleep in comfort with the capacity to make meals and hot drinks. And she was petrol fuelled with multiple fuelling stops available up and down the Broads, and an engine that meant sailing her took little effort beyond turning on her ignition and steering her. And like all boats meant for the shallow Broads, she was near enough flat bottomed and very stable. In many ways she was a waterborne old camper van.

Jonah would not approve at all. In boat terms, this was a Citroen 3CV compared to Jonah’s catamaran as an Aston Martin. But here and now, she was exactly what they needed. The boatman had been running the central heating all the while he sailed her down here as it had been one of Dare’s main features of interest in her with the wide sofa being the other, and the cabin was warm. The boatyard was more than keen to rent her out for the winter, and as one of their ‘old girls’ as they put it, one of their most elderly and battered boats in their fleet, the rent was more than reasonable. With another quick glance into the cottage to check on Jonah, Dare took the wheel and with the man’s guidance sailed her briefly a few hundred yards down river to try her out while Poppet stood on the bottom step with her front feet on the top step to gaze over the side at the passing river, then turned her and brought her back to the staithe. She was easy to handle in the gentle water. Responsive, quiet, slow and steady. Dare signed the papers while the boatman phoned back to the yard, watched the boatman hop aboard the craft a colleague had brought down river to collect him, and they left the Sealark moored at the cottage staithe. 

It took very little time to put the makings of a basic meal aboard her, add blankets and some of the vast number of pillows currently occupying the cottage, coats and a few other essentials, and to fit Poppet with the dog life jacket stowed with the other life jackets under the deck which she accepted with interest.

Jonah, newly awakened, stiff and somewhat bewildered as to why Dare wanted him to put a coat on, co operated with being lifted and carried outside, watching Dare lock the door and whistle to Poppet - and Dare felt him stiffen as they rounded the corner of the cottage and he saw the boat by the staithe. He took no notice, negotiating the steps carefully and putting Jonah down on the sofa in the saloon.

“What’s this?” Jonah demanded. Dare walked along the side ledge of her to release and coil in the mooring ropes, jumped down into the well of the saloon followed by Poppet and pulled the glass canopy roof into place, turning it once more into a covered room. The heating was blasting and would warm the room quickly again- although it was relatively mild this autumn so far – but he took a moment more to get Jonah better positioned with pillows behind him where he could lean back with his legs up directly alongside the long window.

“She’s called the Sealark. We’ve got her paid up until January.”


Dare took no notice whatsoever, turning the key in the engine ignition and taking the steering seat. The river was deserted apart from a couple of geese floating by and the engine spluttered into life, chugging steadily as he turned the wheel and took her slowly out into the flow.

This is supposed to be a boat?” Jonah demanded behind him, although he sounded quizzical far more than annoyed. “This is why I don’t let you choose boats. This is not a boat, this is a mess!”

“This is the main kind of boat on the broads.” Dare kept her to the right in accordance with river law at a slow, easy pace of 3 mph which was the speed limit on this stretch. They were already well past the cottage. High reeds lined the banks for a moment or two, then gave way to open grass banks and fields stretching away on either side into the distance. Deserted fields. The windmill stood some way off on the far bank, its white sails still.

“Where are we going exactly?”

“We’re exploring.” Dare nodded at the kitchen in front of him. “With a kettle. Dinner. And a bed in the cabin at the back.”

“A….” Jonah glanced towards the cabin door, sounding increasingly surprised. And not at all unpleasantly so, in fact that had overtones of downright hopefulness. “You’re planning that we stay out overnight?”

“We’ve spent at least as many nights on board something or other as we have in hotels. Usually not as comfortable as this.”

“Well usually not in a flat bottomed, engined tourist bathtub.” Jonah pointed out. Dare who knew the tone and that he was now mostly joking, grinned, leaning on the wheel to watch a deer in the far distance on one of the bare fields lift its head to look at them.

“Ideal boat for the area.”

“I’ve been kidnapped.” Jonah said to Poppet who had jumped up onto the sofa beside him and was gazing out of the window at the slowly passing scenery.

“This is covering distance and scenery and exploring while you still get to lay down while you do it.” Dare pointed out. “That couch converts to a double bed too by the way so if need be we can explore the area without you getting out of your pyjamas.”

“Before I went into hospital I hadn’t owned a pair of pyjamas in twenty years.” Jonah pointed out. “You said you were worried I was going to shock the nurses, and I thought at the time it was mostly jealousy. This is the nautical equivalent of a wheelbarrow.”

Dare laughed but shook his head. “Live with it.”

About twenty minutes down river a narrow, winding stretch opened up abruptly into a lake so large that the other side was out of sight. The water was grey blue here, different to the river’s soft brown, and Jonah sat up a little straighter to see, something near enthusiasm in his face.

“This is one of the broads, I’ve read about them.”

“Barton Broad.” Dare nodded him at the sign at the broad mouth, having read what he could from the maps of the area. “This is the second largest of the lot.”

These man-made lakes linked up by rivers were what was left from medieval peat excavations, a trade that had once been run by the many local monasteries in the area selling peat fuel to the cities of Great Yarmouth and Norwich. The wide, deep pits and the shallow trenches that linked them had flooded centuries ago as the sea levels rose, forming the lakes and network of rivers that linked them all together into 120 miles of navigable waterway. On either side of the banks the reeds had once provided a living for many people and roofs for many buildings, and the patches of woodland varied in state from true woodland to marsh and fen, much of it protected wildlife sanctuaries.

The tide and the wind on the open water was stronger here and the speed limit higher. Dare turned up the throttle a little to keep the Sealark steady as they moved out into the lake, aware Jonah’s eyes had taken on the hundred-mile gaze that was familiar when he was looking out over open water. He was rapt.

The afternoon sun glinted off the water, glittering all around them, and for a long, slow half hour Dare navigated her all the way around the lake in a circle, from a fenced off wildlife area where several herons and a number of terns stood on the posts that held the nets sinking deep down into the water, to the entrance to the river that wound on towards the village of Ludham, to the entrance to the small waterway that led into the village of Neatishead, to the several tiny dyke waterways large enough only for very small craft and rowing boats, that belonged to the several very large houses and private estates hidden some way off in the woodland. In the Victorian age this had been a busy area for boat building, for the huge wherry boats that took goods up and down these waterways, trading, and for leisure. The small island in the middle of the lake had once been a popular Sunday afternoon picnic spot where a band was rowed out to play for the assembled crowds. This late in the season there were many moored boats in the distance around the Neatishead staithe but no one else sailing. Dare took the Sealark out to the far side of the lake to one of the quietest, most deserted spots in the shelter of some woodland where the water was deep, and Jonah watched him turn off the engine, head out onto the deck well at the front and drop the mud weight; the large, heavy weight that worked as an anchor. It would hold the Sealark secure on this spot, and she would swing gently around it on her chain on the open water. They had spent many nights on yachts at anchor in many very similar situations, although usually on sea rather than calm, steady water like this.

With Sealark stable, Dare came back into the cabin, put the kettle on and came to Jonah while it boiled.

“Come on. Up. I’ll turn this into a bed, we’ll sleep in here by the heater with the view. The cabin’s got smaller windows.”

Jonah perched, with his help, on the steering chair, looking over the simple dashboard while Dare converted the sofa bed, made it up with the thick duvet, several blankets and pillows he’d taken from the cottage, and came to help Jonah take his coat off. Jonah pulled a face at the sight of the pyjamas he put out.

“It’s three o clock in the afternoon, I’m not going to bed.”

“Yes, you are.” Dare helped him out of his sweat shirt, exchanging it for the pyjama top. “We’re budgeting energy, remember? Strange place, new things to look at, more energy being used, so you don’t need to be wasting any getting cold and sitting in uncomfortable positions. You can lay in bed and admire the view.”

And the bedding was familiar to Jonah, comfortable and well padded. Settled under the duvet and well propped on pillows with a 360 degree view through the saloon glass Jonah lay back and his eyes went straight back to the water, starting to examine the terrain around him in more detail. Now the boat was still and the engine off, wildlife was starting to re emerge around them. Birds of all descriptions. Terns and geese, fishing grebes, gulls. Poppet, who approved of blankets and bedding, stood still to examine a pair of ducks that landed on the roof, then leapt up onto the bed, turned around a few times and lay down with her chin on Jonah’s knee, also looking at the view. Automatically Jonah’s hand moved to silk her ears.

They drank tea and ate sandwiches for dinner, gently rocked by the boat on the water and watching the sun get slowly longer and softer as it sank. Near twilight Dare took up the mud weight, took the Sealark to a staithe and moored her long enough to let Poppet off to stretch her legs and run, exploring the stretch of woodland beyond while Dare walked. Jonah was asleep when they came back on board and he didn’t wake through Dare sailing Sealark back out to open water and mooring her for the night as the sun sank down.

He stirred once in the late evening, turning stiffly and uncomfortably over, but Dare, in bed beside him and laying down his book he’d been reading by the soft cabin light, felt a sleepy arm slide around his waist and Jonah’s head landed on his chest.

“Whatcha reading?”

“Another detective novel I picked up. The shop in the village has a second hand book rack.”

Poppet was laying between them, flopped on the duvet and snoring gently. Beyond that was the soft sound of water, the soft movement of the boat, the regular creaks of the mud weight chain as she moved. The air was fresher out here on the water somehow. The cabin was cool but in the warmth of the covers it was rather pleasant. A fox barked somewhere, a long way off. It was the first spontaneous gesture of affection he’d made in a while. Dare held him, trying hard not to show the surprise or the welcome of it; Jonah had always been demonstrative, a physically very affectionate man free with his hugs and kisses, and keen on a lively and active sex life. The distance of the past month had been alarming, and between medication and pain, their sex life had been the last thing on either of their minds.

This was the first night on the water since the accident and Dare had been prepared – dreading – that it might be too much, that it might trigger nightmares, flashbacks for him. But in the dimly lit cabin surrounded by the utter blackness of the water Jonah sank almost immediately back to sleep against him. Dare felt him move only once more, somewhere near two am, and turned over to find him awake but laying looking out of the window. The water was shadowy and hard to see, but Jonah was relaxed, listening, one arm behind his head. Dare padded out of bed into the kitchen a few feet away, bringing back biscuits and mugs of tea and they picnicked sitting up bed with the warmth of the covers, watching the night outside. After which Jonah turned out the light as Dare put the mugs under the bed, slid down and curled up with Dare again, and his body was more peaceful than Dare had felt it in what felt like a very long time.

In the end, it was three days before they went back to the cottage. Dare kept them rigidly to Jonah’s routine but they followed the river Ant down to Ludham Bridge and turned right into the river Bure, following it on to the village where Dare moored the Sealark at the village green and took Poppet with him, first to The Swan where he left a message for Jamie not to look for them for a day or two, then to the delicatessen in the village where he shopped. And from there, they went out into the wilds.

For a couple of hours at a time, Dare sailed her steadily along the river, following the winding path and periodically turning her off into the smaller broads that lay occasionally to either side for them to explore. And wherever they found somewhere wild and deserted and the water was open, they dropped the mud weight and stayed a while. Jonah was handling the route to the bathroom with his crutches, he stood to wash and dress with Dare keeping a wary eye on him and despite some muttering about tubs on ponds, washed the couple of breakfast dishes in the tiny galley and wiped over Sealark’s windows and sills, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off the water. He sat for a while out on the tiny fishing deck at the back, a place that gave him time alone although Poppet, who didn’t care whether or not he wanted company, went with him. She liked to watch the banks passing and stood like a statue for minutes at a time on her hind legs, front feet draped on the side, her eyes fixed and her nose snuffling steadily at the passing scents while Dare sailed slowly on down the river. After half an hour out on the deck Jonah brought himself slowly back through the cabin on his crutches, taking the couch near Dare. Not saying anything but choosing a spot near him.

In the afternoon, aware of a lot of new experiences being tried here, Dare made up the bed in the saloon for him and without very much protest Jonah lay in bed and watched the scenery go by until they found their night mooring. By the second day, when it was apparent he was managing well, Jonah used his crutches in the morning to walk a short way along Ranworth staithe to the small shop, sitting on the wall in the sun with Poppet and watching the water and the bobbing craft moored around them while Dare bought chocolate and fresh milk and a map of the broads which they examined together to choose their route. That afternoon it was one of those curious Indian Summer days that come sometimes in October in England, warm and still enough to pull the canopy right back and they lay together on the bed beneath open sky, with open water all around them at the far wild end of Ranworth Broad, and Dare read while Jonah slept. The trees were fully turned now, the leaves falling fast.

On the third day Dare came back to the boat from walking Poppet who had been darting up and down the tow path chasing scents for the several miles they covered together, and found Jonah sitting on the boat roof, slowly and stiffly stowing the mooring ropes more tidily. He had good handholds to move around, he was doing a lot of it by crawling, and he balanced – he balanced naturally, the way he had done for years on boats in gales and on ridiculously wild seas. He whistled to Poppet who bounded up on to the side and trotted around the trim ledge to reach him, jumping neatly up to the cabin roof. Dare loosed her mooring ropes, tossed them to Jonah and stepped aboard as Sealark began to drift from the staithe, stepping down into the open saloon to start the engine.

Jonah sat up there with Poppet for a while, watching the river go by. When he climbed, slowly and carefully but climbing- actually climbing – down into the saloon, Dare gave him a quick smile.


“Please.” Jonah stooped to pull Poppet’s ear gently as she stood up on her hind legs, bracing her forepaws on his thigh to look up into his face. Dare slid out from the steering chair, holding the wheel steady.

“Come on then. Take her.”

Jonah laid his crutches down on the floor and took the seat, leaning over to kiss Dare in passing.

It’s a tub you say.  I guess that could be accurate compared to the crafts you sailed Before.  But those were your boats, meant to be survived on, triumphed with, races won.  This beast, the Sealark, is different.  She is ours, a boat meant to be lived on, lived in.  And I can see that it’s working, you’re breathing again on the open water.  You’ve taken initiative, an ownership of sorts, storing the ropes.  Three days and what a difference it’s made in you, at home on the water once again.  But this time it’s living, together, you and I.


Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2015

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