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Sunday Read: “Sea Story” by AS Byatt, Short Story for World Water Day 2013

To observe World Water Day on 22 March, The Guardian is publishing one new water-themed short story each day, leading up to this date. Well-known writers from across the globe are participating in this exercise in creativity and awareness raising.

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AS Byatt, winner of the Man Booker Prize for Possession: A Romance, wrote the first story in the series, titled “Sea Story”. In this haunting tale a bottle containing a love letter is thrown into the ocean, but it is not only the romantic aspects of this action that are explored.

Read “Sea Story” and look out for water-related short fiction from Martin Kohan, Sarah Hall, Neil Gaiman and others.

He was born beside the sea – almost literally, for his mother’s birth pangs began when she was walking along the shoreline under a pale sun gathering butterfly shells. He was born in Filey, on the east Yorkshire coast, a fishing town with a perfect sweep of pale golden beach, crumbling grassy cliffs, and the unique Filey Brigg, a mixture of many rocks, beginning at Carr Naze, and stretching out in a long peninsula into the North Sea, full of rock pools and rivulets, harsh and tempting at once. His father was an oceanographer, the son of an oceanographer who studied the deep currents of the North Sea. His mother taught English at a high school and wrote fierce little poems about waves and weather. They took him walking along the beach, and scrambling on the Brigg and fishing from rocks and with lines over the side of rowing boats. The family had almost a collection of bottles picked up by sailing vessels and along coastlines. Several of these were numbered bottles, sealed and weighted to bob along the seabed, designed by the Marine Science project to map the movement of currents around the coast. One – a rather sinister-looking early 20th-century medicine bottle – contained a lined sheet of paper. This read “Dear Mary” and was followed by the phrase “I love you, I love you, I love you … ” repeated until it filled both sides. It was meticulously signed Robert Fisher, with an address in Hull; the house turned out to have been demolished by bombs in 1944.

His mother recited poems to him. They would emerge from under the tunnel-like underpass which led from the town to the beach. The wind would blast them or wrap itself round them, and his mother would quote Masefield. “I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.”

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Image courtesy The New York Times


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