The wind lashed at the harsh edges of the cliffs, causing the rain to fall sideways and the waves of the ocean, over 500 feet below, to crash thunderously against the rocks. Eve stood in quivering grass surveying Mother Nature’s wrath from the dubious safety of the top of the ridge. She stood seven or eight steps back from the sheer dropoff, well within a safe distance, but sometimes, during storms like this, she wondered about inching closer. Maybe within four or five steps. Maybe within two.
She never did, though. She always remained firmly planted; seven or eight steps from the edge.
The coast had always fascinated her, but before then she’d never had the freedom to really bask in its power and beauty. She had always lived in cities. In Connecticut she’d lived away from the coast, had never made it to the ocean much at all, and her life in London had been no different.
Past lives, she thought to herself. Now she lived where she wanted to live, at the top of desolate yet mesmerizing cliffs in the northern UK, a 45-minute drive from the nearest town. At some point in her life it would have been laughable to imagine her living like this, but she was content with her decision to move. It was never too late to start over.
Eve shook her head, dispelling her thoughts, before shifting her gaze from the dark clouds and roaring ocean down to a beach nestled in a small cove at the bottom of the cliffs, a little way down the coast. Not far off the shoreline were what appeared to be several rows of wooden beams, anchored in place. They were being subjected to some of the harshness of the wind, periodically submerged by small swells, but overall were protected from the worst of the weather. They were home to her oysters.
The decision to farm oysters had been an impromptu one, but it made a lot of sense in the long run. Oysters could be farmed sustainably, they were healthy, and easily manageable for her on her own. She had no extra help or hands at her little home on the cliffs, which meant that anything she planned to grow herself had to be doable alone without too much hassle. It was why she had never owned any livestock; she’d never had the stomach to be a butcher.
The oysters took about three years to grow to a mature and harvestable size. She’d staggered herself so that she had a harvest each year. It was one of her proudest accomplishments, because she’d done it herself and it was really rather niche. Not everyone could boast about growing their own oysters.
That being said, she didn’t spend enough time around others to be able to boast about much of anything, living as she was like a hermit. It didn’t bother her much though, anymore. At first the silence and stillness had been suffocating. Now it was a welcome friend.
Eve let her lips curl into a small smile before she turned away from the cliffs and wandered back to the homestead, ready to turn in for the night, surrounded by the ferocity of the storm, welcoming it.
Dawn broke early, casting pink hues against the far wall of Eve’s small bedroom. The house was rustic, many parts of it made of nothing more than logs and lumber, but she’d decided to paint the walls of her room a creamy sort of white. That way, every dawn, the sun would paint the first light of day across the canvas of her east-facing wall. It made for a peaceful start to the morning.
She hauled herself out of bed, enjoying the first light of day. She pulled an old sweater and sweatpants on over the shorts and tank top she’d slept in before she wandered to the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. With her steaming mug in hand, she padded to her front door and settled on her porch, content to spend a few moments of the morning in peaceful thought, before she’d have to begin the day’s work.
The thing about living in self imposed isolation was that it meant there was so much more work for one to do every day. Eve avoided going into town as much as possible, and as such she grew and harvested as much of her own food as possible. Her vegetable garden was coming along nicely, her oysters would be ready in a few weeks, and her only animal, Molly the goat, provided her with milk. She got water from a well, or the frequent rains, and anything else was bought on her rare trips into town, where she only picked up things with long shelf lives. She just didn’t fancy going into town more than she needed to.
Along with her food and water, the homestead had its share of upkeep. The house itself was old, and she often found herself replacing shingles, mending window frames, or fixing leaky pipes. Needless to say, her bookshelves (of which she had many) were lined with books of various “... For Dummies” titles. Plumbing for dummies. Gardening for dummies. Electrical wiring for dummies. Maybe not the most modern source of information, given that tutorial videos could be found anywhere and everywhere on the internet, but Eve limited her contact with the outside world so much that she’d long ago given up with WiFi.
She sighed as she brought her mug to her lips, tasting the bitterness of her coffee, letting it linger on her tongue.
The ocean would be calmest in the early morning, she figured, the storm of the night before having passed sometime in the darkness. She would check the oysters first, then.
With that settled, she lifted herself up out of her rickety rocking chair, an ancient thing that looked on the brink of crumbling to dust anytime she sat down, and wandered back indoors to get dressed.
A little while later, Eve was walking down the small trail that led to the cove. It wasn’t well worn, given the out-of-the-way nature of her homestead, but it was easy enough to follow for her trained eye, and it led down to the beach by way of several switchbacks. It took about 20 minutes to get to the beach. She sighed contentedly as her feet hit the sand, the weight of her hiking boots causing her to sink an inch downwards. She began to trod towards the shoreline.
She had a small canoe waiting for her in the wet sand. She paused to take off her shoes and roll up her pants before dragging it out to the shallows. Eve then settled herself and began to paddle out to the oyster farm, humming to herself as she went.
It wasn’t long before she came upon the first row of racks. At high tide they were visible only as beams of wood on either side. Between each row of beams were smaller wooden rods, submerged, upon which the oysters grew. At low tide she would be able to inspect them thoroughly and harvest the ones that were ready. In the meantime, she donned a snorkel mask and spent time checking each rack from the surface, peering into the brackish water and making sure each individual rod was secured and undamaged from the storm.
Eve had nine racks in the water and harvested three each year. She decided to check the nine of them that morning to make sure that all of them, especially the youngest group, had been undisturbed by the severe weather.
It was tedious work, but she loved it, and that had come as a surprise in the early days. Eve had always had the propensity to grow bored at any repetitive task. It was what had caused her to quit her job. It was what had caused the dissolution of her marriage.
Well, that and-
Something caught her eye then. She was inspecting her seventh rack, but the eighth and ninth weren’t far off and she noticed that the furthest rack was tilted unnaturally in the water. One of the beams was lifted above the surface, weighed down by something on the other side. She cursed under her breath, hoping debris or driftwood hadn’t shattered the mooring. She began to maneuver her canoe directly to the furthest rack.
It turned out that it was not debris. Or seaweed, driftwood, or even an animal.
It was a woman, clinging to the rack with the last of her strength, fluttering on the edge of consciousness.
“Oh Jesus,” Eve gasped, before urging her boat closer to the rack. When she came alongside, she hoisted the woman in, not at all gracefully, by the armpits. Seawater lapped into the canoe as she struggled to pull the woman over the edge. Once inside, Eve fluttered her hands over her limp body, searching for injuries.
She checked for a pulse and heard ragged, shallow breathing. Sure that the woman was at least alive and had no obvious injuries, Eve wrapped her in a wool blanket that had been stashed under her bench. She laid her to rest against the bottom of the canoe before picking up her oar and beginning to trek back to shore.
“Fucking Christ,” she whispered under her breath.
She spared a fleeting glance at her passenger, guessing the woman was in her mid-twenties. Her hair was a darker blonde, slicked against her scalp and drenched from the water. She looked fragile, lying unconscious, made small by the enormity of the ocean that had tried to devour her. As she lay in the boat she began to shiver. Eve forced herself to paddle faster.
She spared a backwards glance at the oyster racks she hadn’t checked. She’d been so preoccupied that she hadn’t even paused to inspect the damage done to the last rack. It would probably need replacing at the next opportunity. She felt a small twinge of annoyance before she shook her head at herself and turned again to face the shore.
The racks could wait, of course. She had undoubtedly more important matters to deal with.