Tuesday, 28 July 2009

they pulled the devil out of the sea in a lobster pot

this story is for david cleave, who said he wanted to read a story about the devil being caught in a lobster pot. although, he was thinking of cornwall but we all know my heart is in the northumberland coast, so that is where i have transplanted the action.

They pulled the devil out of the sea in a lobster pot

“Did you know the devil lived under the sea, far down in the depths, to the bottom of the ocean and under the sea bed?”
“No, I did not know that.”
“And if you sail out so Budle bay is on your left and the Farnes are on your right, and Lindisfarne isn’t seen but is known, then you will be directly above the devil’s house.”
“No I did not know that.”
“And did you know 11 girls fished the devil up in a lobster pot, and those 11 girls were never seen again.”
“No I did not know that.”

The sea was grey like a silver platter, as smooth and as clear as Julia had ever seen it. Like a long wide road that Jesus could have walked on as the legends had it, grey as a tern’s wing in flight, flat like the base of any old iron.
Julia had cast her boat out from the shore, leaving behind the soft undulating sands of the beach into the flat never ever land of the ocean. Looking round her to Budle bay on her left and the Farnes up to her right, unseen but known to Lindisfarne further down, surrounded on the one side by solidity of land but stranded on the other in the cold stillness of the sea.
“Take out the lobster pots and catch something fresh,” her mother had asked, her mother who had always been worried since her husband’s death, never without a child hanging on her hip and a worn expression on her face, taking in sewing and selling the fish that Julia caught. And Julia knew better than to argue that the eerie quiet of the sea made her nervous, she knew better than to fight back that no lobsters could be found in such a smooth view of plate, she knew better than to say she was afraid of the jellyfish that swelled amorphously in a still still sea, for her mother had always been worried since her husband’s death, never without a child hanging on her hip and a worn expression on her face. And the lobsters she caught that weren’t good enough to sell were good enough to eat, and the lobsters that were good enough to sell were good enough to put more food on the table, and though she hated their grasping hands Julia took the boat down to the shore and cast off into the sea as still as a lake, a still as the millpond in the fairytale.

She threw the pots over the side, and the splash they made was not echoed by a splash of fish in the sea, was not echoed by the splashing in the waves, was not echoed by a splash of the seals that danced under the waves and flopped on the rocks, for the sea was as still as her mother’s heart now that her husband was dead. Splash they fell and into the deep, and Julia lay back and waited, and waited, and waited.

Out on the oceans, there you feel free. As the land fell from the sea out of sight, and the great emptiness engulfed her, Julia forgot to feel afraid of the jellyfish like lions that lay beneath her, and like a cot the sea caressed her boat, lulling her into its spell, taking her into its distance. But she knew better then to allow herself to fall asleep, she knew wisely that the sky as clear as her mother’s best glass could thicken into an apocalyptic landscape, and the sea that was so calm and still could swirl in to a dozen whirling dervishes from whose dizzy dance she would be engaged in forever. So she kept her senses and hummed and mused and watched the glassy surface of the sea, until the first lobster pot needed to be lifted.

And she heaved and she heaved and she thought my my this is a good catch of lobsters and she refused to let it drop as that is how you lose them and with a great big tug and a great big ho the lobster pot crashed in a wet heap on the floor of her boat. And out of the lobster pot fell not a catch of clawed crustaceans, but a beautiful woman dressed in red, with hair as black as the raven’s wing and skin as pale as the moonlight would be when reflected on the sea, and lips as red as a drop of red blood stark against a fresh white snowfall. And Julia gasped for she knew this was the devil, and she knew that she had brought the devil forth in her lobster pot.

“Oh Julia Julia,” said the devil, in a voice that was as sweet as the nightingale in the eveningsong, and as pure as the lark when the dawn would come, as wise and as ancient as the sound the bark of an oak makes when you press your ear against it in the stillness of the moors. “You have released me from the tumult of the world under the oceans, you have pulled me to freedom in your lobster pot, away from the icy depths and the boiling mantle and into the freshness of the sea air that blows against the moors.”
And Julia pressed her back against the boat and cried “get away from me devil, stay away from my flesh; keep away from me devil, my soul you’ll never get.”
The woman smiled in tenderness and laughed like the silver bells that Julia imagined rich ladies wrapped in furs had on their sleds on the steppes in Russia as they galloped through the snow.
“Don’t be afraid Julia. I may be the devil to some but not to the woman who has saved me from my fate under the oceans. To you I will play the angel and reward you with your heart’s desire.”
Her green eyes shone like the dewy grass that grew in the meadows by the forest, and glinted like the emerald Julia had seen on the duchess’s ring when she was a child and had watched her walk past in a state of grandeur that had haunted Julia’s dreams.
“I know what you wish and I know what you dream,” she whispered seductively. “I can bring you your furs and I can bring you your emeralds, and you’ll gallop on horses strung with silver bells. You have saved me and I will grant you your wish, just take me back to your shore and together we’ll live.”
And Julia pressed her back against the boat and cried “get away from me devil, stay away from my flesh; keep away from me devil, my soul you’ll never get.”
And with a great big heave she pushed the devil over the side, and she vanished without even a splash, without even a ripple on the smooth skin of the sea.

The next lobster pot was due to be drawn in, and with a tug and a ho Julia pulled and she heaved, and thought my my, this is a good catch, even the devil can’t keep my lobsters from me. It fell over the side and in a wet splash to the floor of her boat, garnished with weeds and jetsam, encrusted in a salty glaze. But no lobsters fell out, no fish struggled for life, and Julia stared in horror at what the sea had sent.
On the deck of the boat a raven stood, as black as the ocean on a moonless night, as black as the cassock the old priest wore, as black as the heart of the devil himself. And Julia shook in fear for she knew that she was faced with the devil a second time, and that she had raised the devil up in her lobster pot.
“Oh Julia Julia,” he cawed in a voice that had the history of the world in it, as wise and as ancient as the knowledge of the trees, as free as the wind that lapped a bird’s wing in flight. “You have pulled me from the depths of the icy oceans, from the boiling flames of the mantle, to the freedom of the sea air that I have craved and the sight of the shore that I have missed for so long. With you I can fly in safety and in peace, away from the tortures and the fears I have suffered.”
And Julia pressed her back against the boat and cried “get away from me devil, stay away from my flesh; keep away from me devil, my soul you’ll never get.”
And the raven cawed and called to the sky, and shook his head and his feathers in a ruffle of joy.

“I may be the devil and I may have haunted the earth, I may have caused harm to the souls of the world, but to the woman who saved me from the shivery depths I will only ever be a friend. I will grant you your wishes and your heart’s desire for rescuing me away from the horror of hellfire.”
Julia thought of the sad little cottage and her brother who didn’t have enough clothes for the winter. She thought of the cracks in the plates and the windows that let in the winds in from the north and the east, and the rains that attacked like knives. She thought of her brother’s sad face as he chewed nervously on his old toy, staring with wide eyes at his mother’s tears for her husband.
“I can bring clothes to your brother and wrap him in wool, he’ll sleep in velvet covers and he’ll never feel the cold. On his bed will lie a soft toy that will guard him through the night, and your mother and you will laugh at his antics, as he runs around carefree in a cottage as cosy as it is large. The windows I’ll mend and the cups I’ll replace, and you’ll eat from fine china and drink from cut glass and the nights will never haunt your rest again.”
He flapped his wings and he raised his beak, and in his beady eyes that were as ancient as the bones in the earth itself Julia saw the freedom from misery that her brother could have. But she saw the devil in his wings and the devil in his beak, and she knew her misery she would keep.
And Julia pressed her back against the boat and cried “get away from me devil, stay away from my flesh; keep away from me devil, my soul you’ll never get.”
With a heave and a push she threw the raven off the side of her small boat, and it fell without a splash and without a ripple, back to its home in ocean’s depth, back to its home in the heat of the mantle. Exhausted she lay back by the empty lobster pots, and wondered what she would tell her mother when she returned with nothing to eat and nothing to sell.
“This last pot must bring me a catch,” she muttered. “Or I don’t know how I will be able to go home.”
And with such thoughts in her mind she heaved and she pulled and she dragged with all her might the final pot onto the floor of her boat.
It landed in a splash of salty water and jetsam and sea weeds, encrusted in salt, and Julia checked that no jelly fish had stuck to its sides, as she knew the pain of being at sea with a burning sting, and she was afraid enough of the stillness at the sea.
And out of the lobster pot stepped a man, tall and broad with a sailor’s beard, and a pain struck her heart as Julia recognised the burnished skin and close curled hair, the piercing eyes that were as blue as sea when it dashed on the rocks, the face of her mother’s husband, the face of her father. And tears fell down her face as she knew this was the devil to visit her once more, that she had raised the devil from the oceans in her lobster pot, and that she wanted to take the devil in her arms and cry out the sorrows that had struck her heart since her father had fallen in a hole in the ocean.
“Oh Julia Julia,” he sang in his voice, as pure as the winds that blew the waves of the ocean. “You have pulled me from the depths of the icy oceans, from the boiling flames of the mantle, to the freedom of the sea air that I have craved and the sight of the shore that I have missed for so long. With you I can live in peace on the land, and sail on the sea as my home.”
And crying in fear and sadness and terror, Julia pressed her back against the boat and cried “get away from me devil, stay away from my flesh; keep away from me devil, my soul you’ll never get.”
“The devil I may be who once haunted the earth, and I may have brought fear and temptation its way, I brought in the frosts that stopped the fruit growing, and I conjured up storms that frightened the fish from the shore. I may have brought sadness and sorrow to lives, but to you, dear Julia, I can only be a friend, for you are my saviour, you gave me life, for you pulled me up in your lobster pot. And to you I can bring your heart’s desire.”
Julia looked at the devil with her father’s face, and she remembered the days when he’d tell her stories, when he’d pick up her brother with a laugh and smile, and her mother never seemed sad, or so worn or so pale. She thought of the cottage that was once spick and span, and the walks on the shore where he pointed out the sea birds to her, she remembered her mother laughing and her father laughing and her brother playing on floors that weren’t worn with dust and sadness.
“I can bring back your father and laughter to your house. I can take away the worn look from your mother and give her a husband that is her heart’s desire, and the four of you will smile and joke and sing, and a new baby child will lighten your hearth. You’ll sail on a boat by your father’s side, and your mother will wear bright colours again, her hair will shine and her teeth will gleam, and all of her cares will vanish in one.”
And Julia dreamed of the future that could be and the home that she once had, but she knew the devil and she knew the stories and that no good could come of taking his gift.
And Julia pressed her back against the boat and cried “get away from me devil, stay away from my flesh; keep away from me devil, my soul you’ll never get.”
She pushed and pushed but her devil father took hold of her hands and as he fell from the boat’s side he pulled her down with him, and Julia and the devil fell into the sea without even a splash, without even a ripple.

Down down down through the silvery depths he pulled her, as the fish swam upwards and the seals swam upwards and the lobsters crawled from the sea floor up up up to the surface, and the jellyfish floated upwards too, amorphous and patient, but Julia and the devil kept on going, down further than Julia ever would have dared to believe the ocean sank.
And when they reached the ocean floor he kept taking her further, through the sandy bottom and the rocky corals, into the earth, towards the fired mantle. And Julia’s tears filled the sea with salt water, but soon her tears faded when she realised through them she was becoming one with the sea.

And the devil took her to his land under the ocean floor, where ten pretty maids stood all in a row and they sang to Julia that they like her had refused the devil’s gifts and now they like her lived their days in his house under the ocean floor. They sang of what they had wished for and they sang of what they had refused, and they sang a welcome to Julia who stood, dumbstruck and amazed, at the grandeur of the devil’s house.

And the eleventh maid was captured, and lives far off in the deep. And we never take a lobster pot out onto the sea, when Budle bay is on your left and the Farnes are on your right, and Lindisfarne is unseen but known. For the devil’s house is there under the sea, and he is looking for a lobster pot, he is looking to be free.

1 comment:

Alastaire said...

I like this, a lot. It's somewhere between Gogol and the Brothers Grimm...

I remember walking along the beaches of Bamburgh and Beadnell a lot as a child, can still almost taste that salty air and feel the windswept days with the sea-spray splashing your face. Thanks for the memories.