When she washed up I’d been five years on my own. You’d have thought she’d have been an answer to my prayers, but it wasn’t like that. After a good sleep and a good feed all she wanted to do was talk, but I was out of practice.

And I guess a man who’s lived alone in those conditions has his ways about him.

It took us time to realise. I could show her how to catch fish and make fire. She had other skills that had passed me by. Together we made a comfortable life that by ourselves we’d never have managed. She taught me how to make crude cloth and weave nets. She cleaned me up until I was somewhere closer to the humanity I’d last known as a thin trail of steam as my ship sailed towards the horizon.

In time we made of our circumstance a kind of marriage.

Then the SS Neptune steamed into view, looking to outrun a storm. Now I’m in my berth, bathed and clean-shaven, and she is in hers. When I go down to dinner I do not know whether it will be as her husband any longer. I cannot say if I’ve been rescued or cast adrift again.

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (