Saint No. 64

by Benjamin Norris

They say he used to live amongst the gulls, his haunches smeared with shit and regurgitated cuttlefish, heels hardened on wave-shattered ridges. His addiction was something quite different, then. Then, his strange psalms echoed into the tides, were dragged with waves along the spits, and returned to his dry lips over and over again, every seven seconds. His song was something which could only be howled into the sea, waist-deep in matted kelp, his jutted hipbones crystallized and misshapen with grey-green salts and the memory of land.

There were days when he came inland, pulling something of the ocean at the heel of his boot. Our parents spoke of when it started. Yours probably did, too. At first, it was something infrequent, an oddity. A reminder of the sea, and our debt to it; A man from the shore, coming to town to see what might change, to see what was staying the same. As the years went by, and as shops rose and fell and rose again with a swelling ferocity, the visits became more frequent. He began to stop for hours outside the bus station, and for days in the acrid hollow of the underpass. Within time, he was seen almost constantly, sat there with bottles kicking around his feet like driftwood, and later, with other paraphernalia. He no longer whispered his psalms and verses; he muttered them to anyone who should walk past.

They soon took him inside, and cleaned him up as best they could. They spent a fortune on programs and detoxes and god knows what else, and none of them were exactly sure why. It was the right thing to do, I suppose. He came out once, and fell straight back in again, immersing himself in the comforting sterile greens of the wards, washing his weathered body for hours with hard edged bars of institutional soap. A process of attrition and erosion under chlorinated tap water, a sanding down under watchful, matronly eyes until the skin showed through.

We met him properly, for the first time, in the foyer of that place. The heels of his shoes were fixed, and they no longer pulled the tides and the stink of oceans along with them. We talked at length, about many things. He mentioned the sea once, in passing, as you do. His voice was careful, precise, as if purposefully avoiding certain patterns of speech, staying well clear of rhyme and of weighted endings. He walked into town.

We saw him once more, three weeks later. It was a Sunday, and the rain was coming down hard on the English coast. He was spread-eagled across the granite cliff faces, naked and weeping and displaying a hundred thousand bleeding wounds across his back and feet. The grains of sand held in the waves took him apart, piece by piece. There was nothing left by morning except a man-sized nest, tucked behind the black stone, filled with feathers, and a diary nobody dared read.

Benjamin Norris is an author and poet from Bristol, England, whose work regularly appears in literary journals, magazines, anthologies and the suchlike on both sides of the Atlantic. He owns a language academy, and is currently working on his second novel and first poetry collection.

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