Facing the North Sea
Words – Laura Morgan • Photographer – Chris Tuff
We watch from the patio doors as you put your work bag in the car. The clunk of the car boot shutting makes everything real. I wave as you pull out of the drive and after you’ve gone the dog stays at the window, blinking at the empty space. The first day is always the hardest. I worry about the storm forecast and the chopper in Shetland that will take you to the rig. I turn up the television so that I can’t hear the wind. Later I lie awake and it scours the roof, looking for gaps.
Now it’s morning and I sit at the window, listening to the wind in the stovepipe. Outside it sheds its sleety winter coat. An email: Will call soon. Comms playing up. I take the dog for a walk and the ditchwater all along the roadside shivers. Reeds splay beneath the surface. The rain coursing from the hill flattens the grass in a patchwork of puddles, monochromatic as frost. I pause to let a thought form, but the wind shoves me to my toes. Out on the moor, it is running in a pack. Back and forth, searching.
Today the road to the Salmon Bothy flows as fast as any stream. The wind blows the water onwards and over the cliff, dropping from the same height to the sea as an oil rig’s deck. The headland here has sheer drops and geos, and I hold the dog tighter on his lead. Swell rolls in so quickly that looking down it feels like an optical illusion, like nothing is moving or everything is. Endless dark blue from the horizon and then shocking white, the froth streaming from the rocks back to where more is pooling, thickening into a lip. I think of you on the oil rig, far to the north – a heaving sea slamming into rusted stanchions.
The wind hurries me along the road and my waterproofs, slick to the backs of my legs, billow ahead of me. The dog narrows his eyes, the long hair on his side whipped into a sudden parting. When the wind around me drops I hear it higher up the moor, whistling and whining around three small cairns. I check my phone. Still no more news of you.
Today is your birthday. I wake to birdsong. The storm has passed and on the beach the tide has dragged ribbons of oarweed out to sea, leaving lines and grooves like feather boas unfurled on the sand. Each wavelet fizzes, leaving behind bubbles and glitter, celebrating without you here. I stare at the bleached sea knowing that the horizon stretches towards you somewhere in the north-east. Minutes pass. A line swells up the shore, catching us out; freezing water ruffles and gulps at my wellies. I watch the next one – its wavering waggling crystal lip collapsing into froth. With you not here, and the wind dropped, I’ve all this time to think.
You call tonight – and though it's a phone box in a corridor, you tell me you love me. I hang up, some part of me trying to conjure the rig’s metal drone, but what I hear are wavelets on the shore, their roll and glide and hiss.
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither'd leaves to quicken a new birth!
O Wind, if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
Laura Morgan is a writer based in the Scottish Highlands
Chris Tuff is a photographer based in Cornwall