The Unseen Sea – 14: The Layers of Me



Part Fourteen of The Unseen Sea

With the flickering of the cottage’s log fire behind her, Maria looks in on her father, snoozing on his bed after their spat. The stone wall – adjacent to the double bed and covered in red hessian – has four pictures on it, arranged in a line. She’s never asked him about them, but they appear to be a time sequence from the present back to her childhood.

The most recent depicts her on the day she took the ‘silk’ route upward from being a mere barrister. In the photo, the new QC stands proud and severe, her tightly-bound hair and burnt-ochre horn-rimmed glasses as polished as the performances that got her noticed, and shortly after, invited to the Queen’s Council. In the photo, the silk court-robes flow off her shoulder and wrap the lawyer in cascading folds, concealing the shapely figure beneath. Within that hidden space, lies the drama of Jessica–her and Graham’s only child.

She looks through the lenses in the professionally-taken photo. The eyes say it all… The striving for perfection, so common in barristers, is written in the pupils and, lower, the tight lips. No hint of a smile – not when the job in hand is literally, present, as the rolled brief, clutched, like inviolate purpose, in the fingers that lie on the bent knee of the seated figure in the legal chambers.

The eyes that look out of those judgmental lenses hold the entire story of Maria, she thinks. But they sing the same song that the inner ghost that haunts Maria has always sung. “Not good enough, Maria,” says the inner voice, now released, once again, to take her on that journey back…back.

Fixed on the burnt-ochre framed lenses, her attention now flows sideways across the red hessian to the second picture. It is a school photo – the graduation photo, to be exact. There, in a riot of end-of-school misbehaviour resulting in the planned pattern of the five friends being chaotically disorganised, rather than the perfect daisy she had planned, Maria stands, alone, glaring at the four happy friends with whom she has shared the last seven years. They are happy; she is angry. Her father hadn’t meant to capture the anger, but had kept the photo, knowing her display of emotion to be a contrast with the day’s happy proceedings. Oh, she had calmed down later, but her father had kept and displayed the image…for him, it was important. She wonders why? But also knows that she had, later, managed to channel that anger into her perfect understanding of the law.

Oh, she had calmed down later, but her father had kept and displayed the image…for him, it was important. She wonders why? But also knows that she had subsequently channeled that anger into her perfect understanding of the law.

She smiles to herself at her severe reputation… and woe betide those who come under her instruction with a different approach.

The third photograph is of a much earlier time. Maria as a seven-year-old sits on a riverbank in Wales. In her hand is a beautiful Ox-Eyed Daisy. The green perfection of the lush valley is lost to the girl enjoying the family picnic, lost in her adoration of the perfect flower in her palm – staying that way for minutes while the family ate, and Dad prevented them from calling her over while he reached for the camera.

What had she seen in that flower on that beautiful day? At the time it had meant so much – an emotion perfectly captured by her father in the photo. Despite all her mental powers , she could not, for the life of her, recall that feeling…

The final photo is a montage that her father had knocked up on his Macintosh – another beautiful daisy overlaid in harmonic tones on a photograph of Maria as a new-born. There is something deeply moving about this image, and she has never seen it, before.

On the bed, her father begins to stir. Maria turns away, anxious not to be caught in her deep reverie – a mood so different to her normal, busy focus.


There is a knock on the wooden door. She walks across the living room and slides the bar which locks it. Pulling the large iron ring that serves as a handle, she opens the house to the rainy night. Standing there is a man dressed in a green walking jacket, pulling the hood over his head to keep the freezing rain off his prematurely bald head.

“Jason!” she says shocked.

The civil servant replies. “Sorry to disturb your family time,” he says, pulling the hood tighter, as though protecting himself from both her and the weather. “It’s Graham…”

She leans into the wet night. Her intense silence the question.

“There’s been a development…”

End Part Fourteen.

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Read the previous parts of this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven, Part Twelve, Part Thirteen,

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2016 images and text. All rights reserved.

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