Moving across a room is more of a challenge than it used to be. Mark has given up waiting for his sea legs – landlubber ones will have to do. He opens the door to find the first mate about to knock again. The man doesn’t even bother to sneer at Mark’s seasickness anymore.
‘We’re here.’ The man looks warily at Mark as though worried he might shortly be wearing his guest’s breakfast. ‘Although why anyone would want to be is another matter.’
Mark nods and begins to follow the sailor up the narrow corridor, arms braced against the corridor walls like a drunkard. His lifejacket puffs up in front of him ridiculously, and the first mate opens the door at the end of the passage for him.
The wind, whose fingers had already been tendrilling through the broken seals in the door, seizes the opportunity and heaves through the doorframe, salt-spittle-flecked and cold. The first mate does not waste any more words in the squall. He mimes that Mark should remain clipped in whilst on deck, and through a wagging finger the fact that no-one will be coming after him if he does go overboard. Mark nods and clips in.
It is a strange dance he does on deck in the heavy swell. A few steps, unclip, reclip. The Amundsen is a research ship heading to the Dumont d’Urville Station in Antarctica, but any fascination with the iridescence of the ice shelf or with the hull carving through pearly jetsam in the sea has long since passed. The crew and researchers alike are safely ensconced inside.
It is a different kind of research that Mark is undertaking, one that requires him to be on deck at this specific place. For Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica is the windiest place on earth. The grey waters lurching up at Mark are regularly whipped by winds of 150mph, and it is these winds and this place which he has sought.
The captain of the Amundsen had not asked questions when Mark wanted to book passage – not surprising, given the season and the amount of money offered. The only condition was that he remain in his cabin until they reached Commonwealth Bay and that his name should not feature on the manifest.
Mark unclips and clips one more time as he approaches the nodding prow. Horizon has disappeared and sea and spray are one entity. He is reminded of a snatch of Homer’s Odyssey learned at high school. Odysseus wants to hear the song of the treacherous sirens and so asks his crewmates to tie him to the mast, whilst they have their ears plugged with wax.
The Amundsen has no mast to speak of, but Mark is tied to her nonetheless. He listens for a sound between the squeal of steel hull and the rumble of the depths below. Mark is searching for something that was said. In 2004 he had gone to RAF Brize Norton to wave goodbye to his daughter as she boarded her plane to Helmand Province. Amy had been joshing with her fellow soldiers, embarrassed but pleased that her dad had come to see her off. There were hugs and tears before she walked out onto the tarmac where the transport waited.
The wind had been strong that day, too. It had tugged at her combat fatigues and pulled at the straps of her bag. It had snatched the words that Amy shouted to him from across the airfield, one hand over her chest as she bellowed.
Mark has been searching for those words since, in his daughter’s emails, her letters, in the memories of her phone calls. The search has brought him here, to the windiest place on the planet. Where else, he reasoned, would those snatches of lost conversation go? The words, the mutterings that never reached their destination, the messages smothered in the noise of traffic or of argument or between raw, hoarse sobs.
Mark is hoping to find the loose trails of that conversation here, amidst the crash of wave against rock, in the fizz of foam against heaving hull.
Threaded between the liquid roar, a voice.
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, Best MicroFiction 2021, Writer’s Egg, Idle Ink, The Wild Word, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0