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by Angela Slatter

I hear a ship’s bell at night, no matter how I block my ears. It’s loud as a crying soul. I hear the rush of the sea, too, though this house is landlocked but for the pond and the well. It’s all connected, I guess, the water of the world.

We used to live on the coast, once, my family and I, in a cottage by the sea. Simple and sweet until Daffyd came and asked me to walk out with him.

I’d slip into the night, holding the lantern he’d given me. Upon reaching the meeting place I’d slide the cover across the flame three times, no more, no less, so he knew to come from his cottage on the cliffs. I did not know I was sending signals to men and ships alike.

I thought it courting, and I suppose it was, but he was an efficient man, wanting to achieve as many things as possible. Courting me and doing business at the same time appealed to him.

I did not notice for the longest time, while I was infatuated. I did not question his gifts: expensive jewellery and silk dresses sometimes still damp, smelling of salt. While I had his warmth beside me, his face between my hands, and his lips sweet against mine, I did not look out to the wine-dark sea and see ships drawn onto the rocks.

But one night the wind dropped and I heard the bell and turned my head. I saw the ship go aground, watched while smugglers waded into the water. He laboured above me, sweated and swore he loved me while I saw people clubbed like seals.

I pushed him away. He smiled and laughed as he dressed. ‘You can’t tell anyone, sweet accomplice. None will believe you did not know.’

I sat up, feeling cold beneath my skin. I felt around for my dress but found instead the lantern. He stood at the edge of the cliff, back to me, assured of my compliance. The lantern flew surprisingly lightly.

And then there was just the great candle of him, tall and screaming, running off the edge of the cliff. He plummeted like a falling star until the waters embraced him and took him down to meet those he’d sent before.

His voice is lost to the years, but the bell’s will not leave me alone.

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