Descent – Gail Anderson

It is one hundred steps from the spine of the hill down to the big house, and the view is east. Out over the deer park’s remains, out across the Republic. Over the ocean to unambiguous England. To Italy, where your husband’s grandfather found inspiration for this garden.

Seven terraces, graduating to sea. A lapsed geometry: yew hedges, wild strawberries bursting terracotta pots. Father-in-law planted rhododendrons; now the garden is feral. You salt the walks, tread the weeds. Move down, one step at a time.

From the ruined stable block you see mussel fishermen, hoisting barrel floats. The smaller shells are cut adrift to pepper the seabed. The bigger shells, constrained in mesh, swing like tuberous legs. They are sent back into the water to kick their heels until harvest. The symmetry of grey plastic floats reminds you of graveyards.

On the final terrace, four cannon are aimed west. Out over Fastnet, Ireland’s teardrop. Long ago, French frigates came here to shrug off the English. Pity no one thought to tell the locals, who hid their cattle, fled into the hills. One frigate sunk, the rest blown out of the bay by a freak wind. Independence might have come so much earlier, but for a wind.

Turnstones surge the shoreline. Brother-in-law tells you that their recorded food includes human corpses and coconut. In a country where one is never more than five miles from a site of human massacre, the corpses are understandable, even ecological, the turnstones doing their bit. It is the coconuts, the notion of exotic incomers bobbing into this bay, that stays with you. Today a local woman stands in knee-deep water, scooping jellyfish with her bare hands, hurling them to a desiccating death on the shore.

Your mother once asked: when the tide is out, do you forget the sea? Wind forces salt-tipped hair into your mouth.

Your husband’s family gave the locals away to the governors for generations – yet they were permitted to live, their big house to stand undisturbed. You can’t think why. The house is decaying now, open during the season to paying tourists.

Sinking. Turnstones. But for a wind.

When your husband dies, you move down the hill to the gatehouse. Its exterior walls are overspread with tiny maidenhair ferns. They would grow in your eyes if you stood still long enough.


Gail Anderson won the 2019 Scottish Arts Trust Story Awards, placed in the top three in the Fish Publishing Flash Fiction competitions for both 2018 and 2019, was shortlisted for the 2018 Bridport Prize (Flash), and won the 2018 Winchester Writers’ Festival Poetry and Memoir Prizes. In 2019, her work has been published in Ambit, Crannog, Strix, the Fish Anthology, the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual, The Southampton Review and elsewhere. Weekdays she does communications for the University of Oxford; weekends she can be found in her boat on the River Thames.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 28 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

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