Friday, 30 April 2010

Palimpsest (#fridayflash)

He is standing in the sea, holding his sailing boat on a string, and jumping the waves of the incoming tide. He ignores his mother's shouts to come and join her on the promenade to have the sand washed off his feet .

I’m in my beach hut, knitting a christening gown for my granddaughter in Australia. Ann, my daughter, has lived there nearly fifteen years.

The sailing boat is wooden, painted blue, with a white sail. My son Danny had a red boat like that.

The boy lets go of the string. Despite the incoming tide, the boat floats away from him. He calls to his Mum, and she shouts for him to run after it.

I want to scream, but my throat tenses up. I can only see Danny. I see his body floating on the waves, and I hear Ann’s final words to me on the day she left.

“You’ve always blamed me for Danny’s death,” she said. “You always blamed me and hated me. So now I’m leaving you in peace.”

I was sat in this beach hut when Danny drowned, distracted by Ann crying. He let go of the string of his sailing boat, and followed it out to sea.

Ann refuses to come home, no matter how much I ask her to.

Suddenly the boy screams, a horrific scream, and he runs up the beach.

"Mummy, Mummy," he howls. "I'm burning, Mummy."

I hear her soothing him on the promenade behind the beach hut.

"It was a ghost," he says, "a swimming ghost. It burnt my leg"

"Let me see," she says, and "Ooh, that's red," and "Now, let's wash that under the tap."

She says it must have been a jellyfish. "Let's get you in the car," she says. He's still crying.

When they're gone, I walk down to the edge of sea. There are hundreds of jellyfish bobbing in the waves.

"Danny," I whisper, looking out for his swimming ghost. I know he is listening. "Good boy, Danny."


  1. This was ethereal. Short, immediate and to the point. Well done David.

  2. Very, very good. You painted the scene very well, with suspense, heart-tugging emotion, and a twist at the end. I really like this one.

  3. Oh, that's such a brilliantly unexpected twist! I was getting anxious that the little boy was going to drown... A lovely tale of good coming out of tragedy. Excellent! :-)

  4. First of all, I loved the title of your piece. Palimpsest has been a favorite word.

    Secondly, this is such a touching story.

    Little boy's salvation written over the original tragedy.


  5. Man alive, that is an unnerving way to weave it all together. Of course I interpret the ghost to be a jellyfish, but her seeing that ghost as Danny has an inexplicable chilling effect. Superbly done, David.

  6. I love the association of the transparent jellyfish with an ectoplasmic ghost. Top stuff.

    marc nash

  7. Wow. Wow. Wow.

    This is fantastic. To my shame I didn't know what Palimpsest meant, but now I do, even more wows.

    Fantastic. This is why you're in my top ten.

  8. Very nicely done. :) I like the ambiguity that the jellyfish may or may not have been Danny's ghost, but the narrator chooses to see them that way.


  9. Powerful and melancholy, I really liked the ending which left me just slightly unsure whether the jellyfish really was Danny's ghost or not. Great stuff! :)

  10. I did get a little misty-eyed here. I love your ending.

  11. Good story. Was it really Danny's ghost saving the kid, Danny acting through a jellyfish, or just a simple jellyfish sting? No matter which ending is true, it's an excellent tale!

  12. Lovely and packed with emotion. Very well done.