(There is a recording of North Sea Crossing, read by Nigel Anthony, in Woman’s Hour Short Stories Volume 4, BBC Radio Collection, ISBN 0561382406)
Carl wakes at six. There are shadows on the ceiling, bright sloppings of sea. Or do you call it a ceiling, when it’s a boat? He lies tight under the quilt and watches the room heave. His throat aches, but he knows it’s not seasickness.
‘You can’t be seasick. I’ve never known it so calm.’
The boat gives a lunge like a selfish sleeper turning over in bed, dragging the quilt with it. His father is buried in the opposite bunk. He never twitches or snores. Once Carl talked about a dream he’d had, and his father said, ‘I never dream.’ The second his father wakes, he starts doing things.
On one elbow, leaning, twisting, Carol watches the water. It’s navy like school uniform, with foam frisking about on top of the slabs of sea. Even through the oblong misted window the sea is much bigger than the boat. He’ll get up. He’ll go and explore. He’ll walk right round the decks and come back knowing more about the boat than his father.
‘Hey Dad,’ he’ll say, ‘guess what I saw up on deck!’ and then his father’s waking face will crease into a smile of approval.
No. Much better to go out, come back, say nothing. Later, maybe, if his father asks, he could say, ‘Oh, I thought I’d have a look up on deck.’ That way it won’t be like running to him saying, ‘Look at me! Look what I’ve been doing.’ His father doesn’t like that.
‘Just do it, Carl. Don’t tell the world about it.’
Remember when he’d thought it was a good idea to go out and chop logs. He’d haul in a basket of clean-cut logs, all the same size, enough to keep the fire going for two days. ‘Did you do those, Carl?’ ‘Yes, Dad. Thought we were getting low.’ ‘Good. Well done.’ But the wood was damp and slippery. When Carl brought down the axe it skidded on the bark and the lump of wood bounced away off the chopping block. And then his father was suddenly there, watching.
‘What the hell are you supposed to be doing?’
‘I’m chopping some logs, Dad - I just thought - ‘
‘That wood’s green. It won’t be ready to burn for another year.’
Carl saw his father looking at the mangled wood. ‘Next time, ask,’ he said.