Preview: Coldwater Cottage

MandaCover“Don’t.” Ian was tense, and he wanted Jakki to know it.

Jakki sighed and tucked the cigarette packet back into her cagoule. “It’s not dope, Big Brother, it’s just a fag.”

Ian waved at the can connected to the outboard motor. “This is just a tank of petrol. It doesn’t know the difference.”

Jakki gave him a look he’d seen a thousand times on the faces of the teenage runaways, prostitutes and drug addicts he spent his weekdays trying to turn into something other than human detritus. The look said, ‘I know you mean well, but what you’re saying has nothing to do with me’. Seeing it on his sister’s face hurt him in ways he doubted she could imagine.

“Here, zip me up will you?” He said.

Jakki half crouched and half crawled over to him, unused to the motion of the small boat. He showed her how to close the zip across his shoulders and seal him into his drysuit. He attached the buoyancy jacket to the scuba tank and checked the regulators. Two hundred bars of air should give him plenty of time, but making the checks alone left him feeling naked. He was breaking the first rule of diving by going alone, and his club only let him hire the equipment because he said he was meeting a friend from another club.

“You know there probably won’t be a thing down there but a pile of boulders?”

“You’ll find the cottage. Mum will help you.”

It was like trying to persuade an addict to clean up. Their mother had died in a car crash eighteen years ago, when he’d been six and she was two. Ian could see how she’d built her hazy memories into a guide and guardian angel over the years they’d been apart, but that didn’t make it any more likely he’d find a house that had fallen off the edge of a cliff. He looked at the fortnight-old scar in the chalk where several hundred tons of rock had crumbled beneath their childhood home and dropped it into the English Channel, probably crushing and burying it in the process. It was eleven years since Ian promised himself he would never set eyes on Coldwater Cottage again. He didn’t think he was likely to break the promise today. “You know what to do when I come up?”

“If you do nothing, I do nothing. If you wave, I turn the clutch,” she fingered the lever on the outboard, “and drive over to you.” Ian heard indulgence in her tone as she repeated what he’d said to keep him happy. He hadn’t used the word ‘drive’.

He pulled on his neoprene gloves, reducing his sense of touch to degrees of sponginess. The rubber gunwale felt very spongy as he lowered himself on to it. The edge of his mask was less spongy as he pulled it over his eyes and nose.

“You look like James Bond.” Jakki’s voice was muffled by his hood, as though she was a long way away. “You know what you’re looking for?”

Ian felt as Jakki must have done when he repeated his questions. The hood made it difficult to say ‘a silver brooch in the shape of a Celtic cross’, so he just nodded.

“And Ian? Thank you. For trusting me this far.”


Coldwater Cottage was published in Lamplight #1.2, December 2012 and the Lamplight Vol 1 Annual. It is now available as part of the Steel in the Morning collection, and as a standalone Kindle edition.

Author notes


Cover by Manda Benson.

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