By Hugh Tucker
The ferry dug into the waves, its pointed prow parting the sea as the hull trailed behind, only just slipping through before the water closed behind in a smothering embrace.
Jacques let his feet hang off the old stone jetty and congratulated himself, somewhat smugly, on his correct estimation. He was adamant that it was estimation rather than a pure guess, because countless years watching the passenger ferries and ships carrying goods imported from the mainland had given him some kind of foresight. He called it out loud as soon as it was visible as a speck on the horizon, and, more often than not, he got it right.
As the ship slowed to a crawl and nestled up to the jetty, Jacques toyed with the idea of slipping amongst the crowd, finding some small, dark place to hide, and waiting quietly whilst the ferry took him away from the island, to Brest and from there, who knows where.
He had tried once before, but the sea of tourists eager to leave their sea legs onboard and reach the stability of land had acted as a writhing barrier so he couldn't even come close to the gangplank, and once they had dissipated, there was no way to get on board. He had even queued patiently at the ticket officer, with its perfect, white cuboid rooms and yellow metal barriers, but when he had reached the Perspex window, the plan that had been so solid in his mind had fallen away, he had no money to pay for it, and besides, the staff all knew him and knew better than to give him a ticket.
But, though he longed to get off, he truly loved the island. He loved its English name, Ushant; both syllables were so satisfying to say. He loved the fear that it instilled in seafaring men. And he never tired of the topography, how it stretched across its eight kilometre length of spine. Bucolic. That was the word that sprang to his lips now as he looked left at the perfect little inlet hidden by the cliffs and right at the ribbon of tarmac lost in fields of green. He wondered what happened to the poor bastard that came up with such a word, what terrible trick the natural world had played on him to give it a moniker so hideously ugly.
He tried to imagine the people descending from the ferry as shady characters thick in plots drenched in nefarious deeds. The truth was that all of the figures were shady to him, devoid of any identifiable features short of their expensive hiking shoes and large packs.
Bored, Jacques stood up and made his way down the stone steps and onto the road that led back to Lampaul. That's where they were all going to end up anyway.
The distance between the port and the town had never seemed very far for Jacques. The distance just seemed to melt away beneath his feet, and he was already sitting at the squat corner table where nobody else ever chose to sit when two tourists who had arrived on the ferry came in, perspiring a little from the exertion of their cycling.
They spoke to the bearded barman who saw money in their unfamiliar accents. He greeted them with smiles, pushing two drinks across the wooden counter top towards them, and, with a glimmer in his eyes, pointed at Jacques and said something to the tourists. The woman, young but with a queer sense of frailty about her, looked horrified and buried her head in the crook of her partner's arm. He, older clean cut and carrying that unfortunate flabby kind of weight, laughed and tousled her hair.
Although he had leant forward and strained his ears to the point of bursting, Jacques couldn't make out a single word that the bartender had said about him. He never could, he always meant to ask him, but the man seemed to be forever beholden with questions and orders from his clientele.
The pair of drinks, one a pastis the colour of clay water and the other a suitably delicate vermouth, were racing to the bottom of their glasses and Jacques was waiting impatiently. He was waiting for them to leave. The bar was becoming full, and even though nobody came too close to his table, he found the general atmosphere oppressive.
Eventually, after tipping their glasses back so the ice fell against their lips, the pair said goodbye to the bartender, pushed their chairs back under the table with a shriek of wood and pushed their way through to the doorway. Jacques got up quietly and followed them out, nobody seemed to notice him leave.
The couple, arms entwined, walked silently along a footpath that led down to the sea. Jacques walked a little way behind, he didn't want them to scare them, he meant nothing sinister, but the pair didn't seem to notice his presence.
They stopped where the land fell away into the sea and the man held the woman tightly as they stared outwards. The woman had lit a cigarette and the glow that inched its way towards her lips illuminated her face in the semi darkness. She was quite beautiful.
Jacques was sitting in a hiking shelter, he stretched out on the wooden slats and tilted his head towards the couple. He could just hear the man say
“It's lovely here. What a shame we could only stay for one night.”
Jacques felt like rushing out there and explaining that it was easy to stay, forever. He wanted to make them understand that the opposite was the difficult thing, but despite himself, for a moment he wanted nothing more than to remain there for eternity.
Eventually the couple faded away and Jacques faded into sleep, or some kind of stupor where his eyes were closed and his thoughts were no longer his own, and when his mind was switched back on it was light.
Jacques rushed down to the port. It never made things easier to watch the others go but he couldn't help himself.
The only ferry that was scheduled for that day had just left the shore and half the eyes on board were fixed ahead and half behind. Jacques waved and whooped and hollered, hoping desperately to attract the attention of the couple, but no one on board waved back. In fact, nobody on the vessel could see anybody standing there at all.