We have no choice when it comes to the going down to the harbour to watch the trawlers coming back in at dusk. We had, you see, pictured this very scene when we first viewed the property. And it’s so close to the harbour, Carol had said. Wandering around the quayside that day we’d wasted no time imagining the holding of hands and the staring out to sea while standing on the harbour wall. And we’d bought into that whole befriending of locals delusion, as if they were just waiting for our arrival to enrich their lives with our fascinating tales from the city. They would be just so desperate to talk to us. Surely it was only a matter of weeks, we reasoned, before we’d developed an anecdotally rich understanding of local customs, Carol with her counsellor’s ability to get almost anyone to talk to her, me with my journalist’s knack for getting people to say more than they ever intended?
Ah, the thick jumpers we could wear and the newly acquired rosy freshness of Carol’s cheeks, all her residual acne blown away by the skin-freshening wind. How much better and healthier this would be than sitting in a scuzzy and cramped kitchen listening to the traffic below and the couple shouting at their little boy next door. How much wiser we were than everyone else.
So now, you see, we can’t very well just sit in of an evening in our slightly dank new home and watch mindless tv – as we both secretly want to do after long days at work and slow commutes – because to do so would be to admit that we’ve gauged it all wrong; that we’ve misjudged how much we’d relied upon our small but amusing circle of city friends; that left undiluted we basically get on each other’s nerves; and that one person doesn’t count as an audience so there’s no longer any incentive to be funny or kind. We’d also have to acknowledge that we know nothing of the sea and its working ways and most likely never will; that the locals, friendly enough for a brief chat but little more, will always presume that we’re just passing through; that our jobs, compared to dragging reluctant sea creatures back to land, are laughably puny and fake. None of this we can yet admit.
Instead, we nag ourselves to wander down to the harbour. Carol likes to pierce bacon rind and dangle it over the harbour wall, luring crabs into her plastic bucket. She’s untroubled by any potential accusation that she’s acting like a day tripper, arguing it’s just her version of having a pet, a remark aimed squarely at my allergy to anything covered in fur. Unable to give her a child, I have denied her even the usual feline or canine substitutes: this is what she would love to say to me.
‘Do you think they actually still like going out to sea, those men in the boats?’ she asks, lowering her bait down into quay. It’s a brisk evening in early May. No-one else is stupid enough and self-conscious enough to brave the wind to watch the boats’ return. And no-one else wants to befriend the crabs.
‘Hard to say,’ I say. I’m thinking they don’t look that happy. But then again, does anyone when going about their work? These men – some old, some young, all weathered and all clearly suspicious of us watching them despite, or perhaps because of, our regular presence on the quayside – appear grumpy and hardened, ready for warmth and beer, shouting to each other about ropes and chains and muscle weary as they tie and pull and yank. To my eyes, above all else, they appear fertile. I would bet my life that their testicles are fully functioning, bursting with tiny swimmers, each and every one of them.
‘It’s just that you once said it was in their blood,’ she continues. ‘Before we moved here. Which kind of implies their work is deeply fulfilling for them somehow.’
‘So how many generations do you think it takes before something is in your blood as you put it?’
Since moving down here, Carol has taken to asking me questions that are impossible to answer.
‘Well, would a grandfather be enough for example?’ she persists. ‘If your grandfather was a fisherman, would that make it in the blood?’
‘A grandfather would be sufficient,’ I say. ‘That would qualify. That’s three generations so that feels like a blood thing. A great grandfather would be better.’
‘What about a father who starts off as a fisherman and then leaves to take up a job in retail? Or catering? Would that count?’
I am really hoping this is a whole lot more playful than it sounds. I try to lighten matters. If you can catch Carol early enough, I’ve always found, you have a small chance of keeping things calm. ‘If they had a grandfather out to sea, I suppose….skipping a generation wouldn’t necessarily break the very strict rules set out for career bloodlines. I need to check the authorities on this point obviously….’
But Carol is not playing, not this evening. ‘It’s just that whole blood thing,’ she says. ‘I’ll be honest. That’s what’s bugging me. How can something be in your blood just because your father did the same job?’
‘I never said that Carol.’
Carol pulls up her line. A small crab has fallen for it yet again. He looks vaguely familiar from another evening’s haul. Will they never learn? ‘And why are you Carol-ing me?’ she says. ‘I’ve done nothing to warrant you using my name. I’m just exploring what you said. Trying to understand the point you were making.’
There’s an edge to her voice that I’m clearly not going to be able to soften any time soon. ‘I’m tired, Carol,’ I admit. ‘Just tired. I suppose we have to do this right now?’
We peer down at the small crab in the bucket. It’s got its back to the rounded wall, pincers ready for action, acting all butch and up for a fight: comic movements in one so small. If it could, it would start a brawl in a pub. And instead of pointing out the amusement value of the crab’s posturing all I can think is this: any child of ours would love this.
‘Well we’re all tired,’ Carol says. ‘Everyone is tired.’
We don’t talk much after this. Carol is a great one for sulking when challenged. She can hold the ice far longer than me. We listen to the mocking laughter of the seagulls and try to work out our next move.
The wind is getting up and the sun has almost slipped below the sea and we’re both getting cold bones. But even so she waits until she’s caught another couple of crabs before wordlessly pouring them back into the water and heading for home, hardly bothering to check if I’m following her.
Just for the record, these little crabs aren’t temporary pets. Not in the slightest. Carol is far more interested in the removal and renewal of liberty than she cares to admit. Nurture is just another form of control for Carol. It’s taken me a while to work that one out.