Clanking a stick along the ruined girders of a fallen crane, you examine the debris with forensic detail. I stand between the skeletal legs of a giant, fallen and twisted into a permanent death throe like the citizens of Pompeii. The head is smashed in, with levers and wires protruding from the cabin like guts. Everything smells of rust, as the ground works with the elements to absorb. Brown and ochre trails run like the roots of a massive tree, spreading and splayed and impossible.
I must’ve told you a thousand times that it was a simple accident that brought us here, but you never believed me. Just like you never believed that it was dereliction that brought this behemoth down. You refused to believe in the idea of death by old age. Everyone and everything went down swinging. You invented a story of a lone German bomber spending hours trying and failing to dislodge this metal beast before a single piece of white hot incendiary shrapnel cut a vicious arc straight from the grassy knoll to sever an artery in one of the legs. Rivets popped like bullets. The crane leaned, and groaned, and finally tumbled. As it fell, a rivet exploded into the air taking the rudder clean off the back of the unsuspecting pilot. He spun away like a boomerang, you said, ditching into a tempestuous, vengeful ocean that swallowed him up. Clothes, flesh, bones and memories all evaporate out there you said, pointing vaguely towards the bouncing tide.
Which is negated by your memory of it, but then my versions of stories have never been heroic. Still, you insist on life being a battle, and I am content to be the second in command. When the history books are written, you said, no one ever just falls gently asleep in their own bed. Maybe that is why you now climb up the ruined structure, pausing only to get an initial boost by lifting one of your legs on top of a ‘Warning; Keep Off’ sign and using it to lever yourself up higher. As you ascend, I watch you close your eyes for a moment as the sun momentarily peeks out to check up on you before retiring behind cloud again. As the wind flutters your clothes, your arms and legs spread-eagled on beams, you could be strapped to a kite. You make it all the way to the top, twenty feet above me, and contemptuously turn your back to me so as to look out to sea. Everything is slowly being reclaimed – all the materials mined out from the ground are being absorbed back. The water grabs at the rest, sometimes carrying it great distances. I once found a pineapple on the beach. I wonder where my bottle went.
You sit so still, I wonder if you’ve fallen asleep. I try and climb up but my cowardice renders this impossible. So I clamber beneath you, where I’ve always been really, and catch your view. You’re watching a ship, sliding gently on the horizon, black smoke pumping out from the single funnel.
Last year, a medium sized cargo ship limped into our desolate little bay. It ran aground with the determination of a ship that has grown tired of water, ploughing a deep trench into the silt and only stopping with an ugly crunch when hitting the rock wall, propping it patiently upright. When the locals eventually plucked up the courage to investigate, they found two emaciated men. They were privateers, five in number and ill-prepared for a long distance voyage. Fearing arrest, they sailed on past port after island as their meagre rations disappeared and they resorted to throwing pieces of string over the side, baited by slicing off the tips of their fingers, hoping to catch a fish. Infection soon followed. They threw their cargo overboard for extra speed, endured countless storms, watched their colleagues die and be tossed over the side without ceremony or mourning.
I look to where the ship once waited patiently to be broken up, and then back out to the horizon and hope that they have enough to eat and drink. I remember you spoke to one of the sailors as they recuperated. You asked him, quite frankly, why he never thought to eat one of his dead companions. You disregarded his inability to answer as weakness. I will forever be haunted by that long silence.