Stepping-stones, scattered skew-wiff across the
mouth of the Beck, fragmentary, uneven,
precariously dry or wet depending on
the height of the tide, stretched from the
Monkey Island side of the Cut to the
path scrabbling up to Jackon’s Bay and on,
North, to a rougher, wilder place away
from the holiday town, to cliff-edges’ crumbling
fall to black stunned rocks in a sinuous
grey sea, the way to hikes, camping, anticipation.
Seldom alone, shouting, laughing, pushing,
I’d rush across their inconsistent
teetering imbalance unaware a
few years would bring my children playing here,
but as tourists not indigenes, for other
routes then led me West away from home.
Memory’s stepping-stones are gone:
Instead, large man-made blocks, orderly,
concreted securely, teeth above the water,
never wet: no draw, no mystery, no puzzle;
a safe way stamped over an obstacle.
Even dragon-slayer Skarthi* might have felt
uneasy at this blank, bleak obduracy.
*Skarthi mythical founder of Scarborough
Stepping-Stones by David Eade
Penelope’s chicks were hatching. The first two chicks had already hatched by the time Mel arrived, leaving speckled eggshell fragments scattered about the shallow nest. Mel watched through binoculars as the remaining egg rocked in place. The chick had made its first connection with the outside world through a tiny crack or “pip hole” in its shell, and having done so, seemed quite content to take its sweet time. Penelope was watching closely, too. At her feet, two impossibly fluffy chicks pecked at the gravel.
“Where do you suppose their dad is at?” Jackie asked, leaning back against the hood of the Metro.
“Probably hunting somewhere nearby,” said Mel.
“Hmph, my mam would have been up a height if my dad wasn’t there when I was born,” said Jackie.
Mel handed her the binoculars so she could take another look. The two of them had been attending a late Beltane festival at Jarrow Hall when she’d gotten the breathless call from Barbara, the store owner. They’d driven over in their flower crowns with drums and chants still ringing in their ears. Now, standing on the somewhat busy downtown street, Mel removed her flower crown and quietly slipped it into the backseat of the Metro, wondering if anyone had seen her. The Ridleys weren’t practicing Christians themselves, but Mel suspected her parents wouldn’t see a pagan festival as a proper place for their daughter to spend her time.
“Oh! It’s really rocking now!” Jackie squealed, passing the binoculars back to Mel.
Mel took a look to confirm, then passed the binoculars back. Even though she was the one with the special bond with Penelope, she wanted to make sure that Jackie got to see as much of the hatching as possible. Mel had seen dozens of plovers hatch during her internship work over the past week, but this was Jackie’s only chance. Jackie held her cell phone up to the binoculars to try to snag a few pictures. Mel made a mental note to send the pictures to Mrs. Bulmer, who was out of town for the week.
“I got more info from Bangor today. They said I’ll get first choice accommodations if I list them first on my exams,” said Mel.
“Well then you should do that,” said Jackie, as if it were that simple.
“My parents will ask which uni I listed first, though.”
“Then I guess you’ll just have to lie again. Or you could tell them the truth. Say that you’ve made your decision and they’ll just have to deal with it.”
“That’ll go over well,” said Mel.
They stood in silence for a while, taking turns watching the mostly-stationary egg through the binoculars. It was getting close to the start of their shift at Schooner or Later, and Mel hoped the chick would hatch before they had to leave.
“Anne says the chicks hatch faster if you don’t watch them,” Mel heard herself saying. Why did she have to bring up Anne every time they were together?
Jackie lowered the binoculars. “Have you told her about your university problems yet?” Mel shook her head. “Not yet. I just... She’s so cool, and I don’t want her to see how bad my relationship with my family is. She knows a little bit, but I don’t want to burden her with all of that knowledge. I don’t want to scare her off.”
“Aye, well you’re never going to scare me off,” said Jackie. “Though I doubt a bit of family drama is going to scare her off either. Honestly, Mel, you treat her more like a girlfriend than a friend.”
Mel felt her face flushing uncontrollably. “I do not!”
“You do too! What, are you blushing because you liiiike her?” Jackie teased.
“What? No! It’s not like that. I’m not like that.”
Jackie shrugged, raising the binoculars again. “Calm down, Mel, I was only joking. And besides, it wouldn’t matter if you were, you know...”
“I literally blush all the time. I was only blushing because you were trying to provoke me,” Mel said, pointlessly.
Lies, all of it lies. Jackie had come so close to the truth, and maybe that had scared her into acknowledging how she really felt. She had tried so hard to have crushes on boys, like Jackie did, but her crushes always fell flat because she’d invented them. When they were in Year 7, Jackie had asked her who her celebrity crush was, and she’d picked Chris Hemsworth at random, even though the first name that came to mind was Keira Knightley. Jackie had bought her a poster of Chris Hemsworth as Thor in The Avengers for her twelfth birthday. That poster still hung above her bed, Thor and his hammer at the ready to defend her from any questions about her straightness. Then of course there’d been the whole business with Emily Rosmund in Year Eight... And now there was Anne...
“It’s hatched!” Jackie shrieked, waving the binoculars at her.
Breathless, Mel snatched the binoculars back. The top half of the egg was gone, and a dark, wet blob spilled unceremoniously from the bottom half. Eyes still closed, the tiny creature looked exhausted from its long journey into the world.
“He’s not moving much. Is he going to be alright?” Jackie asked.
Mel gave her a tight-lipped smile. “Don’t worry, Jackie. He’ll be on his feet in no time.”
About the author: Ella Shively is a recent graduate of Northland College. She is now working as a water resource specialist at the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation in Ashland, Wisconsin, USA. You can find her online at https://www.instagram.com/shivelywrites/.
About this chapter's featured poet: David was born in Scarborough. Both his grandfathers were fishermen, one a skipper of steam trawlers fishing the Dogger Bank, the other an inshore coble man. His father was the youngest of seventeen and though he did not become a fisherman all his older brothers and cousins went to sea. In the First World War One of David’s uncles was on trawlers that were sunk three times by the same U boat. One of David’s relatives currently volunteers to serve on the Scarborough lifeboat.