AN: This was written before I read the book or saw the movie. It was based on Baranduin's writings and the odd video available on youtube.
Chapter One: Beginnings
He'd left school early, shortly before he was to sit for his exams. His housemates laughed, saying his timing was impeccable and expressing their envy. He'd smiled but been unable to appreciate his “luck”. The call from his Aunt Clarissa had been short but a heavy blow, enough to send him reeling so that he lost track of his regular routine. His father, never having fully recovered from a crippling stroke in April, had contracted meningitis. He had lost consciousness the night before and the doctors did not expect him to make it through the week. He was being brought home to die with dignity in his own bed. Tim's mother desperately needed his help. School would have to wait.
Emily drove him to the station and he took the 4 pm from Warwick to Cambridge and then changed trains for Ipswich where he caught the bus to Aldeburgh. This final leg of the trip home never failed to thrill him, even after so many years of comings and goings to his various schools, even in the current dire circumstances. He watched out the window for his first glimpse of the shoreline. Dusk was settling on the seaside villages, rendering the landscape darker shades of green, grey and black. He preferred it, though; somehow the water was less dismal at night. One could no longer distinguish it from the land at this distance but he knew how it looked, knew the power in the swell of the tide, and could picture it in night as in day. He could hear the waves, still strong in that interim period between spring and summer, taste and feel the spray on his face. By summer, those same waters would wash lazily over the pebbled beach, the fearful winter tides now a non-event. In July, on one warm day, he would shed his shoes and socks and venture in, wading out to find the more interesting rocks that never came ashore. He knew by heart every variety of stone on the little stretch from the lighthouse to the pier -- variegated and striated; red porous and blue shale; agate and polished glass. He knew the ones that had no specific name -- molten purple with pink crevices; black and white and red granite; and his favorites, those of a solid color with either a large white spot or a single stripe to differentiate them from the rest.
When he was a child and rock gardens had become fashionable, he had misunderstood the concept and had brought home a large collection of the prettiest pebbles he could find to make one for his mother since his father did not have the patience for such things. She had initially laughed at him and then rejected his offering, telling him to take them back where he found them. She wanted large rocks to showcase her plants. Worse, he had discovered that away from the ocean spray, the stones’ vivid luster disappeared, leaving them grey and dull in the summer sun. Their betrayal hit him harder than hers and he hauled them angrily back to the ocean to cast them to the underworld where he would never have to see them again. He regretted it the very next day and went back in after them, an act his mother described as "foolish" and "dangerous". He was enrolled in swimming lessons the following term where he spent each and every session purposely flailing about. His instructor pronounced him hopeless and informed his mother he should never be allowed in the water. To spite them both, as he grew older he taught himself to swim, becoming quite proficient. However he took no satisfaction in the accomplishment, reducing his hard work to a single act in the summer -- his annual wade to look for his long lost rocks from the garden.
His father had died before he even arrived in Aldeburgh. His mother was weeping on the couch, the ambulance attendants carting the body off, his Aunt Clarissa already on the phone making arrangements. He was grateful to her for that. He hadn’t any idea how one went about arranging a funeral. They cremated his father, a process he did not understand but he signed the papers anyway. His aunt assured him this was what his father wanted and she would know. He wondered if they just pushed the body into an oven. How would they know which ashes were his if other bodies had been burned in there as well? Would they be burying bits and pieces of other people and would bits and pieces of his father be sent somewhere else? He didn’t really think it mattered too terribly much, but it struck him as odd that they were going through all of the trouble to have a specific plot in the cemetery and a stone with his parents’ names on it – his mother would want to be buried beside him, his aunt assured him – when they couldn’t really be sure that he was the only one being buried there.
As with so many things in life, he knew it best not to bring the topic up. Instead he took his place as the man of the family, greeting relatives he had never met, seeing to the food and comfort of people he had not seen in years, and making regular runs to the store when it was discovered they needed something. After three days of socializing, he was exhausted and needed to retire. Unfortunately, he had given his room to Uncle Andrew and was now sleeping on the couch with his cousins Billy and Doug, neither of whom could he stand. He tried to flee the house for a walk but his aunt detained him, reminding him of some neglected elderly neighbour who had come to pay her respects to his beloved father. He exhaled loudly but dutifully turned to walk back across the room to sit with Mrs. ______.
She was deaf and no amount of shouting facilitated communication.
The afternoon was quiet and he stretched wearily from his seated position in front of the lighthouse, unwilling to head in just yet. His aunt was still packing away his father’s clothing to give to charity, his mother sat in shock on the sofa downstairs, and he would have to tiptoe about so as not to disturb either of them. His aunt would come downstairs to make tea and explain to him for the nth time in four days what was expected of him. He would have to make decisions as his mother was not capable in her current state. That was what children did when their parents were no longer “themselves”. The sensible thing to do would be to sell the house and send his mother to live with her, the only sibling with the time to care for her. She appreciated that this was hard to accept so soon after losing his father, but the fact was that he was almost finished with school and God knows where he would end up -- the demand for English degrees being largely on small university campuses and most certainly not in Aldeburgh. His father had left some money but it wouldn't last long if they continued to sink it into a home that threatened to collapse in its foundation, especially with him still in school and the prospects of employment so grim. His mother would never work again and what could possibly be the point of remaining at the end of the earth, so far away from her family?
Because, he said to himself, he didn't want to sell the house. Ever. He wanted to keep it, to live there for the rest of his life. He reasoned that most people had family they loved but he had only his house. He knew that house better than he knew himself -- every painting on every wall, every creak in every step, every water stain on every ceiling. If that was taken from him, what would he have left? No, Aunt Clarissa would simply have to accept the fact that his mother did not want to leave, that he would not let her leave. The money was theirs and it would be used to support them as his father intended. She would stay until she died and then he would stay in it and become a writer, a plan, incidentally, his father approved of. Writers could work from anywhere and since they already owned it, he might as well stay there.
He sighed and looked back at the stretch of houses. He would do anything not to have to walk back in for another row. He wished he could hop the bus and head back tonight. He still had to address the problem of missed exams.
The bell on the breakwater clanged, announcing high tide and a hoard of fisherman, much like an army of ants, spilled out onto the wharf, gathering gear for the day's work, calling to one another over the roar of the engines. The wind played with the sounds so that he could hear them better than they could one another. It was the little things, he thought, that made life here poetic. How could he give that up? He watched until the little boats chugged out of the harbor, then sighed again and reluctantly turned to head home.
His aunt would be expecting him for dinner.
He bicycled across campus to turn in his final paper. He felt carefree, exhilarated, for the first time since his father's death. He had plans to eat out and then hit the clubs with his mates. Emily would doubtless be in tow which posed a small problem as he fully intended to pursue the Chinese first year he had met in the library last night but his mates would help with Emily. They were accustomed to his infidelities and found the game of luring her away to give him time to fuck someone else so vastly amusing, they looked forward to each new conquest. Invariably, his announcement that he had met someone was greeted with catcalls and cries of "But don't tell Emily!".
It wasn't that he disliked her in any way. Quite the contrary, actually. She was comfortable to be with – well, most of the time -- and readily available. The advantage of shagging one's housemate, as he explained to his mate Aaron, was that it required no effort. She was always there to "scratch the itch", no matter what time of day or day of the week. It was almost as convenient as masturbation and definitely much more satisfying. There were other perks as well: Emily stocked his fridge, owned a car that she made available to him whenever he asked, and was handy as a proof-reader; she spent more time on his papers then she spent on her own, ensuring him high marks when it might have been otherwise for him.
On the downside, Emily was clingy and had begun to regard him as her personal property. Earlier in the week, she had suggested he come home with her over the summer and when he expressed genuine confusion as to why, she had looked at him as if he were daft and told him that her parents would very much like to meet their future son-in-law. At that point he had had to state that this was all news to him as he did not intend to marry anyone ever and, moreover, he needed to be home to care for his mother and finish closing out his father's affairs over the summer and so that was where he would be. This had led to tears on her part and soothing on his and a good deal of not-terribly-discreet snickering from his mates in the next room. He had wondered how on earth he had gotten himself into such a mess just by being nice to her. Honestly it would be easier just to be gay, he told Aaron later. Blokes never had designs on one another like that. Sleeping with her was hardly tantamount to asking her to marry him. Was it?
Aaron had been laughing too hard to respond.