My apology for the long absence from this blog. Have been travelling, now finally back at home in Cardiff, Wales. A recent visit to a local venue presenting In Chapters: Beaches, a reading by local writers accompanied to music by local musicians, inspired me to write my own piece about the beach. Unusually for me, it’s not FUNNY, so most of my friends will be disappointed. Sorry, hope you’ll enjoy it despite this obvious drawback!
The stopwatch feels cold and hard in my hand. I can hear the distant grumble of the ferry huffing and puffing on its way to Denmark. A tired crew is herding passengers to the breakfast bar. My stomach tightens. I should have eaten something before I left the hotel.
I shiver and press the button on the watch. Gentle waves reach the deserted shore, a trillion lips pursing to kiss the pebbles on the beach. Broken sea shells call out to the retreating waves. There’s disappointment in their hiss. The moon tells a naughty joke and the sky blushes. An embarrassed sun puts in a fleeting appearance. Between them they decide grey is the appropriate colour for the Baltic skies.
A gull sails past me in the first light. How time flies!
I read somewhere that the sinking of the Titanic cost more than a thousand lives. Most victims died of hypothermia not drowning. Just a couple of minutes they struggled in the waves, then the unforgiving sea claimed them, swallowed them whole until their bodies belonged to the aquamarine world below.
Another two minutes gone! Just like that.
Whilst I have been standing here staring at my soggy boots, a thousand men, women and children died of hypothermia. Frozen stiff, their immovable faces floating just below the surface. Tiny boots dragging their wearers to the bottom of the ocean.
As a child I used to come to this beach. Wanting me out of the house, she’d sent me here to play among the icebergs which had drifted down from Sweden and Norway during the winter storms. Fetching up in our bay, they would stand tall as a house, lining the coast. We’d climb them like tiny explorers, wearing proud red bobble hats and brightly coloured mittens attached with string to our coats.
The waves had carved blue caves into the icebergs, their walls decorated with sea dwellers caught on the way. Small beings trapped between layers of ice. Small creatures belonging to the sea.
Late in the afternoon she’d be standing by the pier, stamping her feet impatiently, calling out to her wayward, unwanted child. I’d squeeze into a hollow in my turquoise cave, trying hard to vanish into the walls. Sea stars twinkled from the roof of the cave. Sleepy seahorses nestled between their sheets of ice, their eternal beds ready made with every winter and undone with every spring. If I stood perfectly still, perhaps she’d give up her search and go home alone? I could sneak in later, when dad was back from work and it was safe to show my face.
I’d wait for ages in the blue silence. A small being trapped between layers of neglect. A small creature belonging nowhere.
Another two minutes have passed! My watch must be faulty.
Whilst I have been standing here with the water swirling around my knees, a thousand men, women and children felt a myriad of icicles prick their skin, felt their eyeballs freezing and their nostrils filling with water, their gaping mouths tasting the brine.
In the distance a man’s walking his dog. I can see the animal’s ears flapping in the breeze. A small creature chasing imaginary cats through the kelp.
When I was eight I once got my foot stuck in a hole in the ice. She had yelled at me, I was late for dinner. I hurried to climb down from an iceberg as tall as our house. That’s when it happened. I slipped and fell between the edge of my iceberg and its neighbour. I cut my hand, trying to scramble up. My foot was wedged tightly between two icy walls. Would she leave me here until spring time? She had climbed up, cursing, pulling at my leg, tearing at my arm. My foot would not budge. We could not afford a new pair of boots, she hissed. Perhaps my boot would float back to Norway when the ice melted. Would it return the following winter, caught between layers of ice? Would my boot belong to the sea?
Ridiculous! For two long minutes I have been standing here watching cold, sharp fangs nip at my thighs. With every new wave coming into the bay, the wind has increased. Snow is drifting across the beach. Snowflakes are settling on my lashes, my nose is dripping. I should have worn goggles. Too late now to go back to the hotel. How time flies by!
In the summer windsurfers misjudge the currents and drift out of the bay into the open sea, where hours later the coast guard will find them, exhausted, sunburnt men clinging on to their boards. How my first boy friend used to laugh at the surfboard casualties. Small fry spat out by the sea. City dwellers don’t belong here, he said.
Just two more minutes.
I hold the stopwatch high above my head so it doesn’t get wet. A myriad of icicles is pricking my skin. I can taste the salt water on my lips. I wonder if the dog has caught up with the imaginary cats.
Just two more steps. Turquoise washes over me. I am as light as kelp and as sleepy as a seahorse. What’s that thing drifting past me? A twinkling sea star or is it the naughty moon? Perhaps it’s my mother’s wire brush, bent out of shape by too many beatings.
I relax into the waves. Nothing to fear. It was only the stopwatch gliding from my hand. Snug in my eternal bed I close my eyes.
A small being nestling between sheets of ice. A small creature finally belonging.