A Thousand Suns

At a distance it had looked like a tangled ball of fishing net and seaweed. It rolled in the breaking surf and settled a little further up the shingle as each succeeding wave surged up the beach and then drew back with the hiss of thousands of pebbles tumbling in the froth.

The two young boys ambled down through the sand dunes crowned with tufts of coarse grass and descended onto the pebbled surface of the beach. The eldest boy studied the object for a long while before putting raw fingers to his numb lips. He attempted a whistle, which was all but lost between the crash and rumble of the waves and the gusting wind.

A moment later a large German Shepherd appeared on top of a dune, panting noisily, its long pink tongue flapping like a pennant.

‘Over there, Prince!’ he said, pointing towards the dark object on the beach. Prince set off at a sprint, passed the boys, showering them with kicked-up sand and flecks of saliva.

They watched the dog as it quickly crossed the beach, correcting course once it had sighted the object for itself.

‘Don’t let him roll in it,’ the smaller boy called out, ‘you know your dad hates him rollin’ in beached catch.’

The dog splashed through the surf and reached the object as the boys clattered across the pebbles and onto the soft sand, slowly approaching the dog and the discovery.

Twenty yards away from it, the older boy slowed down. ‘That ain’t a fishin’ net,’ he said uneasily.

Prince pawed at the object and buried his nose in it, noisily snuffling and oblivious to the boys as they came to a halt a few feet away.

‘Oh boy,’ he muttered under his breath, taking an involuntary step back.

A wave rolled the object over. Prince began to lick the exposed pale face of a young man, a blond fringe plastered to the brow with dried blood.

‘Is that man dead, Sean?’ the smaller boy whispered, looking up at his older friend for confirmation. ‘He’s dead, ain’t he?’

Sean moved reluctantly towards it, aware that Danny was holding back and looking uncertainly to him to take the lead. He was only a year older than Danny - thirteen, to his twelve - but that was enough to confer an unambiguous seniority on him.

He approached the body and leaned over it, studying the face intently, ‘Think so. He’s not moving a whole lot.’

Danny gasped.

He watched each wave lift and move the dead man’s arms up, and the retreating ebb pull them back down again. In a bizarre way it looked like he was trying to fly.

‘When a body dies it goes all stiff,’ he said matter-offactly. Danny had the stern face of an undertaker. ‘Do you think he’s one of the fishermen?’

The dead man looked like he couldn’t have been over thirty years old. Sean knew most of the men who worked on the trawlers in Port Lawrence; they were all much older. Most of the young ones in Port Lawrence had long ago left these shores for the war in Europe.

‘I don’t think so. I don’t recognise him. Anyway, those don’t look like oilskins.’

He slowly reached out a finger and lightly prodded the corpse’s chest. ‘Yeah, reckon he’s dead all right,’ he announced with growing confidence. ‘Maybe he fell overboard from one of the cargo ships.’

Danny nodded gravely. ‘He must’ve fallen,’ he added soberly.

Sean, encouraged that the corpse wasn’t about to spring to life, grew bolder and started to pull away some ribbons of seaweed that had wrapped themselves around the body. Prince resumed licking the dead man’s face.

‘He ain’t going to wake up,