It was the photograph that did it. An ordinary holiday snap of the coastline. But it was the shaft of light breaking through the winter clouds, focusing on that patch of sea that set the memories pouring back.
Even in those far gone difficult days, most did what they could to emphasise their good points, or disguise those they thought unattractive. But not her, not on that day. The day I first saw her. This was not the time to titivate that or highlight this. No it was the air of purpose, the mould of nimbleness, the gentle flow of lines that caught the breath. Oh yes, here, overlying the forms of power and violence lay a chord of response to a quiet word, the gentle touch, the tranquillity to ensure repose as she kindly heaved and swayed at nature’s whim.
We learnt each other’s ways. She taught patience; the need to be precise. To listen with concentration so as to set apart the friendly muffled songs of those who lived around us. To learn of the silence that marks the separation of one layer of sea from another. Always waiting for the sharp echo that would propel us into action.
To endure the same endless days, each one seemingly the same as the one before, yet each as different as every sheep in a flock of a thousand is different. And so it went on through the rolling turbulent seas of the Bay, to the warm moistness of the tropic night. To the endless days of the northern summer nights and heaving violence of the winter days as the wind raged through the signal halyards and every rivet head strained to breaking point. Patience, endurance, awareness. These were the gifts she bestowed.
Then the fatal day. The violent slam on the hull as the torpedo blew away the trailing clappers of the Unifoxers. The quick turn in response to the unseen threat, the quickening of the engine beat to cover the convoy flank, the wish wish wish of the propeller sounding its tell tale message.
It took just ten minutes for the second acoustic torpedo to strike. She held onto the distorted bulkhead until every one had got away. Even as her strength gave out the sun broke through. The single shaft of light throwing the upturned bow and sloping funnel into startling magnificent relief. Whilst a hundred held their breath in awe and expectation she slipped below the surface, and the beam of light pinpointing her passing, faded away.