Shovel-handed and taciturn, Joe suits life on ship. It disappoints his parents though – an awareness of which he dully carries with him from deck-sloshing to mainsail.
His father, a petite man, taut of body and thought, is a Cordon Bleu chef with his own restaurant. A restaurant he has made clear since childhood should become Joe’s one day. But Joe isn’t built to finely slice onion or gently score the skin of a would-be hassle back potato or an about to be grilled sardine. He hasn’t the fingers to finely chop and gently sprinkle chives, or other herbs of which his knowledge is limited. He hasn’t been gifted the sensibilities to discern fine alterations in seasoning, or the dexterity to lay out miniscule portions fit for dignitaries. He simply isn’t built to be a chef.
His mother, on the other hand, is a post office clerk – a job she frequently offers Joe as an alternative to the restaurant. However, expecting him to pinch the corner of a tiny, flimsy postage stamp between his sausage fingers is no less ludicrous than sprinkling herbs to his mind.
Though his parents are blind to it, it’s clear as the sun sparkling on the ocean to Joe that he doesn’t fit in – not with them and not with his sister, whose superior manual finesse has her well on the way to becoming a surgeon now. He has tried, over the years, to mould himself into another version, a different human – a finer, more delicate one – a version who would blend in, who wouldn’t swallow one of his father’s painstaking creations in a single mouthful, who wouldn’t clumsily smash his mother’s bone china with an ill-timed gesture.
But, the truth is he’s a giant, built for manual labour and a life outdoors.
It was a chance meeting with Ivor – a long-haired, tattooed Viking of a man – that finally triggered the switch from seeking invisibility to escaping to a life that fits.
They met at the timber yard, Ivor and Joe; Ivor seeking planks to complete his boat-build, Joe aimlessly breathing the delectable musk of fresh sawn wood, dreaming of a different life. Now, only a month later, Joe finds himself aboard said craft experiencing a crash course in navigation, wind direction and knot-tying. His hands are calloused, his hair a salty tangle, but he feels a satisfaction in his muscles previously only yearned for.
Ivor arrives beside him at the helm, lays a hand on the small of his back, absorbs some of the dullness Joe carries around like a weighted rucksack.
“Try not to worry,” he says, “You deserve to be free – to be happy. To be you. They’ll come round.”
Joe smiles – just a little – rests his forehead on Ivor’s, breathes him in, hands finding bearded jaw, lips finding lips – two monoliths of manhood united by the dexterity of their gentle hearts and the freedom of the sea.
Nicola Ashbrook has been writing for a year or two, having been busy before that with a career in the NHS and two small boys. Her flash fiction can be found in a variety of online and print anthologies, including with Reflex, Emerge, Lunate, Bandit and Truffle mag. She is querying her first novel.
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