Tide and Time Await

A terminally-ill man struggles to distinguish reality from his dreams.

Image Credit: 
Public Domain

Tom Pritchard was dying. There could be no escaping the fact that the clock was ticking at high speed on the estimated four months it would take his brain tumour to complete its deadly task. At least he had the comfort of dying in his own home, tended by his loving sister, Thora, who had just left the room after seeing to his medication and straightening the bed clothes. Alone now, in the precious period when the medicine chased away the pain and replaced it with eerie euphoria, Tom stared blankly out into the garden and waited for sleep. He hoped he would die in his sleep. He remembered his wife, Ethel, who’d passed away two years prior. At least she’d been spared seeing him like this. She would have been broken-hearted and unable to cope. Thora, on the other hand, was well able to cope; a stalwart without whom he would have passed his final days away in some death-tainted hospice.

Thora came back into the room to interrupt his reverie. ‘Can I get anything for you from the shops? It’s stopped raining so I thought I would cycle down to the mall.’

‘I don’t think so. Although I notice the fat balls are almost finished in the bird feeder.’

‘I’ll check to see if there any left in the cupboard before I go. By the way, Reg was wondering if he could come and sit with you a while?’

Tom enjoyed his brother-in-law’s company. They’d been good friends for many years, but Reg’s visits had been scarce since the “demon,” as Tom called his malaise, struck. Tom realised Reg was uncomfortable around illness and understood why he couldn’t bear to see his old friend fading away. ‘Tell him to come over. I’d love to have a chat with him—I’d love to hear about his plans for the garden this summer.’

Reg’s garden and his beloved greenhouse were heavy in his mind as he sank down into sleep.

* * * * *

They were all waiting for him again on the boardwalk. The ship, anchored out at sea and shrouded in mist, looked like an old galleon, which explained the costumes of his would-be fellow travellers. Just as on previous occasions, the buzz of conversation ceased, and the group turned to focus on him. A couple of the men started to unload crates from a coster barrow while another two tipped a large barrel over and rolled it towards the boat.

A woman in a long maroon dress, watching the preparations, turned towards Tom with a familiarity of movement suggesting they were united in some way. She beckoned. ‘Are you ready now? The tide is right.’ Her face was beautiful, and her demeanour somewhat mysterious, but kind and welcoming. Tom felt he should know her, but just couldn’t think from where. As he took a step towards her, a small hessian bag fell from a wooden bench. Thinking he’d been clumsy, he bent down to pick it up, only to find several gold coins spilled out. He started to pick them up when a voice at his side said, ‘Hello Tom, Reg is here to see you.’

‘Oh, that’s good Thora, send him in. I was just dreaming.’

‘Really? With your eyes open?’ Thora laughed.

Tom enjoyed their chat about the appalling performance of the current government and the possibility of sawfly attacking Reg’s gooseberry bushes again. He realised later he’d drifted off to sleep mid-sentence because he woke up alone, feeling a warm spring breeze coming through the open bedroom window and hearing the melodious sounds of a robin. It felt good to be alive.

Turning to face the window, he felt something dig into his thigh. ‘What the—’ he said, groping for the intrusive object. When it emerged, he wondered how a coin could have got into his bed. Thora must have dropped it, he mused, holding the object up to the light. What he saw created fear and dread akin to the moment the doctor revealed his biopsy results. There could be no doubt about it—this was one of the coins he’d picked up at the quayside. The cold sweat he experienced had nothing to do with his terminal illness. Some five minutes passed before he looked at the coin again, trying all the time to convince himself the drugs were making him hallucinate. The information on his smartphone afforded no solace—the Spanish inscriptions and the Crusader Cross on the reverse confirmed a Spanish Doubloon minted between the 16th and 17th centuries.

Tom didn’t want to fall asleep, even though the pain in his head became quite intense. Thora arrived to find him restless and agitated. ‘What is it? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost. Let me arrange the pillows better for you. The pain’s bad again, isn’t it?’ she asked rhetorically. ‘Lucky it’s time to take the medicine again.’ A few minutes and a concoction of drugs later, the pain in Tom’s brain eased and with it the fear of sleep. He waited with eyes closed until Thora left before preparing for his journey.

They were waiting.

‘Oh you are just in time, the tide is about to turn,’ the woman with the enigmatic countenance greeted him, extending her arm. He noticed some of the crew were already on the jolly boat, while the rest were talking amongst themselves as they prepared to board. For the first time, Tom realised that only the strange lady spoke English. He accepted her hand and stepped onto the boat with her. Two swinging lanterns on the bow made a valiant effort to break through the fog as they approached the galleon. The woman, still holding his hand, turned towards him and whispered, ‘You’ll soon be free from your pain, Thomas.’ Tom almost asked where they were bound for, but on second thoughts decided that the destination didn’t really matter at all.

* * * * *

Reg was in the greenhouse pricking out seedlings when Thora arrived, out of breath and tear-stained. ‘He’s gone…Tom’s gone.’

‘Never mind love, it’s a blessing really. Poor old sod, lying there in pain.’

‘No, Reg. You don’t understand. I mean he’s gone as in disappeared. He left this old coin in an envelope with my name on it and a message saying “Enjoy, you deserve it.” He must have been in agony writing it…look at the scrawl.’

The best minds of the police, religious communities, and those of a spiritual and psychic persuasion were never able to explain Tom Pritchard’s disappearance or, two years later, the brand-new Range Rover parked on the drive of Reg and Thora’s bungalow in Birchington-On-Sea.

Born just six months before WWII ended, Brian was fostered to his paternal grandparents in the North when he was barely six months old.

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