Nothing will ever be the same again.
The tide is well into the ebb when I step out onto my deck in the grey half-light. Earth is pinned between the equinoctial sun and the full moon; the two astral bodies work in tandem to draw up big tides. These ‘spring’ tides of autumn seem to bring most flotsam ashore, so I’m eager to profit from this one.
I walk the beach between the two promontories with their rock platforms. Despite the high hopes, my harvest is disappointing. I decide to venture much farther than usual: around the far eastern headland, which has just been freed by the receding tide.
The black rocks are wet, slick and covered in algae, so I watch my step, testing each foothold before shifting my weight. Occasionally I need a hand, too. Painfully sharp-shelled limpets and tiny seed mussels underfoot add to the difficulty. It’s a task which requires concentration, so I barely have time to look up.
At last I stand on the firm, gritty sand of a cove far narrower than the Skeleton Creek beaches. A tiny rivulet of water trickles and splashes from the high cliff behind. It pools at the base of the rock and runs in a narrow, straight channel to the sea, neatly bisecting the little beach.
Jim and I used to come here often, against our parents’ strict instructions not to risk getting stranded by an incoming tide. We called it the Pirates’ Beach back then. If it has a real name, I don’t know it. I’ve come to think of it as Jim’s Beach. It’s where they found him.
On the other side of the little beach, up against the rock, half on the damp sand and half awash, there’s a curious piece of debris. Squinting into the rising sun, I see that it’s pale, elongated.
Shielding my eyes against the glare with a hand, I walk across the beach, splash through the little stream. I stop as my brain interprets the message of my eyes, then I break into a stumbling run.
Oh Jesus Christ. It’s Jim. Exactly as I always saw him in my head.
He’s been cast up feet first, on his stomach. His face is still submerged, his dark hair waving like seaweed in the wash.