An oratorio for a wreck


It was Sunday. An invited Orthodox choir sang in the cliff top church: an Oratorio in memory of those lost at sea. A breeze blew off the bay bringing with it a strong smell of salt and seaweed. The sound of the waves crashing on the rocks below mingled with the voices of tenors and altos rising from the church. She bent forward and laid her little posy of wild flowers on the cliff edge. An age-old tradition in her village, it was her way of honouring the memory of her grandfather. He had died several years earlier in the shipwreck of one of the finest boats in the area.

She moved forward gingerly and peered over the cliff edge. Below lay a tiny beach covered in shingle and small pebbles all various shades of pink. It was unreachable, even at low tide. The waves crashed onto the beach and transformed into a churning mass of pink that surged upwards until it finally sighed to a halt then receded sucking peebles with it back to the sea. Beyond, torn asunder amongst the rocks, lay the jagged remains of a fishing boat.

As she stood there, a small boy joined her and stared down at the wreck. She felt his hand reach out for hers. His welcome touch was warm and comforting. He was one of their many orphans of the sea. They stood for a long moment holding hands, listening to the eerie counterpoint between the choir in the nearby church and the waves below. Tears formed in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.

Then abruptly the kid let fall her hand, lurched forward and flung himself over the edge as if he were diving recklessly into the sea. Horrified, she looked over the precipice to find that he had not cleared the beach. His body lay face down, unmoving, his arms and legs splayed on the pink stones as the following wave broke over the beach, engulfing him.

She opened her mouth and screamed and screamed and screamed. Alerted by her screams, a man who’d been working nearby came running. He leaned forward to see what had happened.

We must do something,” she beseeched him, shaking his arm violently.

No point, Miss,” he replied as he freed himself from her hold and turned to go back to his work. “No point.”

(Rachmaninov’s Vespers for alto, tenor and chorus, Op. 37: Cantique de Siméon)

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