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Manor of Thy Friends

Solus greatly enjoyed pondering, turning the great questions over in his mind as he gazed out at the waves caressing his front lawn. Surely there was no better view than this. When else, in human history, had there been such a vast expanse of ocean without any unnecessary distractions? Solus could not think of an answer, he never could. “How beautiful those waves look today”, he whispered, as a tear rolled down his cheek.

Solus’ house did not seem big, but he told himself that he was happy there. It was a dingy little place with one small bedroom and a warm, low ceilinged kitchen. His kitchen had once been his pride and joy but now it was left to gather dust. As a younger man, Solus had baked bread. Warm, crusty loaves that he’d smother with raspberry jam or marmalade. He’d always loved marmalade. A hint of a smile flickered as he remembered those carefree days, sat in his armchair looking out of the window for a sign of a boat on the horizon. That boat had once contained hundreds upon hundreds of jars of jam and marmalade. As a child he used to sit on his grandfathers lap while he waited for the boat. His grandfather used to tell him that, when he was young, they only had milk delivered and never by boat. Solus did not try to stifle an audible chuckle at the thought. Only milk! Ridiculous, milk came with the eggs, cheese, beef, soap, paracetamol and candles on a Tuesday afternoon and, Solus thought, it surely always had.

The kitchen led through to a larger room which contained only a rug and the battered armchair in which Solus was sitting. The rug had been given to his grandparents by a man named Turkey many years before. His grandparents had often talked of Turkey, France, Germany and others whose names Solus could no longer recall. He had never seen them himself, they lived far away and it wasn’t easy to travel there anymore. That’s what his parents had always said when he had asked to see France as a child. He struggled to remember now, but he thought that France’s house was called Notre Dame and that it had great brass bells. Solus’ grandfather used to mumble about them wistfully in his sleep as he cradled his grandson in that same armchair. Solus had never heard a bell toll. He imagined it sounded like the sea.

At some later time, Solus rose and wiped his eyes dry. It was Thursday and the sun was falling nonchalantly from the sky. Soon the boat would arrive carrying toothpaste, tea and pencils from the east. Solus had run out of tea but had no use for pencils. He made his way out of his narrow front door, clutching his walking stick like a spear, and squinted out at the horizon. He saw no ships and he was glad. When he had been a boy, his father would talk to the boatmen for hours. Some of the words were strange to Solus and he did not understand them but he had loved watching them all the same. Those men had long since passed their boats onto their sons just as Solus had inherited his house and his island. But he no longer recognised those men, nor they him. The chatter had been replaced by silence, the smiles with grim faced nods. Solus used to give them bread in return for their goods but had not baked a loaf in years. Yet the boats kept coming, carried to him by the wind and by some loyalty to a tradition that neither he nor they understood.

But that night, they did not come. For hours he stood by the shore, leaning on his stick until it had sunk so deep into the earth that he could not remove it. Then he sat. He sat and waited until long after the sun had gone to be replaced by the starry sky. The cold air had made his joints stiff. He could not get up without his stick and his stick was still planted resolutely in the ground. “Perhaps I’ll sleep here, like I did as a boy”. He eased himself back until he was lying flat opposite the sky. “There are so many stars tonight” he said aloud. He wondered whether there was a star in the sky for every person on the earth. “Maybe just a star for every island”. “Some people share islands” was his last waking thought before his eyes closed themselves off. And there he slept. The wind gently stroking his greying hair, the grass enveloping his tender body. There he slept, dreaming of marmalade and jam.

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