Catherine 7

5 May

Seagulls swooped beneath the slate grey sky, bright, white wings captured by a stray sunbeam. Alfie watched them fly above the Workhouse and knew they were bound for the Pier Head. He tried to recall the scene that had once been so familiar, white sails, networks of ropes and pulleys, ships with curious names that Catherine would read to him, ‘The Spice Queen’, ‘The Dawn Rose’, ‘The Molly Baggins’. They used to play at spotting boats and just as the swallows would fly away for winter and return in the early spring, so the boats would come and go with surprising regularity.  Billy would always know when one was due back and worry if it was late.

‘The sea can be like a terrible monster.’

He would say to Alfie, as they lay in bed.

‘It can gobble you up and take you to its dark, deep depths. Never to be seen again.’

Alfie would lie awake afraid the sea would find him.  But Billie wasn’t put off by such possibilities, and would sleep soundly dreaming about his life on the waves.

Alfie had lost his boisterous, mischievous ways. The Workhouse routine left no time for play and life had become a serious affair. The wrench from Catherine’s hand had left him grieving. For days he had been unable to eat the meagre portions served twice a day. He thought about  Catherine who would be worried and lonely.

Days passed and the daily routine wearied him. He and William had tried to find a way to their sister, but the rules of separation were strict and impossible to penetrate. One night in a fitful sleep he saw his mother just as he remembered her when she was well. She waved to him and smiled gently. She was so vivid he thought he might touch her and reached out his hand, but the image faded and he awoke to the cold, hard bed, bereft. He recalled the dream next day and smiled at the memory as he swept the workshop floor.

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