I posted an extract from this story – The Gull – on Facebook the other day and several people have since asked to read the rest of the story. But where to put it? This Words for Wellbeing blog is not really intended for fiction. Or poetry either – except for mindful writing, which is a form of writing for wellbeing, and the poems I post to illustrate exercises.
My plan is to start a new blog for my fiction and poetry, but I’m not very quick about these things! I need to check out the other themes available on WordPress, think of a suitable name, etc., etc.
So, having nowhere else to put it yet, I’ve decided to post The Gull here…
“Come on Ali – it’ll be great – it’ll blow the cobwebs away,” Lorna insisted.
“And by cobwebs I assume you mean my New Year’s hangover!” I retorted.
The drive to the beach was uncomfortable, with every bump hurting my head. Twice I asked Lorna to drive more slowly, even though she was probably doing far less than the speed limit. I thought her laughter very unfeeling and said so.
We were not the only people on the beach, but everyone else had dogs with them. We seemed to be the only ones there just for the fun of it. After we’d walked and chatted for a while I finally conceded that Lorna had been right and my cobwebs had indeed been blown away.
At the end of the sandy beach someone long ago painted a white stag on a huge flat rock and it has been regularly re-painted ever since. Just before the stag, between two low rocks, we found a dead herring gull with a metal ring on its leg.
I was intrigued by the idea that the ring could tell us some of the history of the gull. “Isn’t there somewhere we can send the ring? I said, “the RSPB?”
“More likely the BTO,” said Lorna.
“British Trust for Ornithology.”
I posted the ring off to the BTO offices, which I discovered were at Thetford in Norfolk. I received a wittily worded letter in reply from A.C. Montgomery, who told me the gull had been ringed at Gibraltar Point 22 years ago, and that the bird had almost certainly died of old age.
I phoned Lorna: “Do you fancy a walk at Stag Rocks tomorrow? I’ve got something to show you.”
We met in the car park and I handed her the letter from the BTO.
“What a wonderful letter,” she said. “You must write back and say thank you. Look, there’s an email address – Alex.Montgomery.”
After our walk we composed an email together and fired it off to Alex.
We also did a bit of research into herring gulls. We had assumed that 22 must be a ripe old age for a herring gull but apparently they can live up to 49 – quite an advertisement for a junk food diet!
Alex replied, and we exchanged a number of emails over the following weeks, each one more friendly and entertaining than the one before. We gelled across the ether you might say. I discussed the emails with Lorna of course. I’d say we both fell for Alex a little from reading his emails. However, Lorna had a boyfriend, and I did not.
“I think you should meet him,” Lorna said one day when we were doing the beach walk to Stag Rock again.
It had become a Sunday ritual for us, doing the walk and discussing the latest missive from Alex.
“You were meant to meet up I’m sure, finding that gull was fate throwing you together. Look at your names – Ali and Alex, Alex and Ali – they sound good together don’t they?” said Lorna. “And besides, what have you got to lose?”
I didn’t take much persuading, especially once Lorna agreed to come with me. She arranged for us to spend a long weekend at her sister’s house in Bury St Edmunds, quite close to Thetford, and I arranged for us to meet Alex late on the Friday afternoon in a café in Thetford. It began to feel like we were in a movie – we would be the ones carrying a stuffed toy herring gull and he’d have a blue jacket and be sitting in the window.
Except he wasn’t sitting in the window and none of the customers in the café had a blue jacket. Swallowing my disappointment I ordered coffees and tea cakes while Lorna took possession of one of the window tables. I joined her and we watched the street through the window.
“Even if he doesn’t turn up we’ll still have a good weekend,” I said.
“He’ll turn up,” said Lorna.
The waitress brought our order. Several people entered the café at once and three of them had jackets or coats in shades of blue. Two were men – one of about our age and the other a much older man. They joined the queue at the counter. I remembered the stuffed herring gull and ducked under the table to retrieve it from my bag.
Someone spoke my name and I banged my head on the table as I straightened up.
“Alex?” said Lorna.
Alex sat down. Lorna and I exchanged glances.
Alex apologised for being late and Lorna said that we hadn’t been waiting long.
“It’s funny,” said Lorna. “You conjure a mental picture of what someone will be like, and sometimes when you meet them they’re nothing at all like you imagined.”
“I’m not how you expected?” said Alex looking a little worried.
I managed to speak at last. “You’re not at all like we expected Alex,” I said with a smile. “We’d assumed you were a man!”