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Story: Sea Story
By Jane Walsh
From the top of the cliff she looked out over the vast the ocean. ‘Sea’ was too small a word for this great plain of water. Its surface rumbled with small waves, as if it was the skin of a horse shivering to rid itself of flies. Where the sun reflected off a wave light briefly flashed, but overall the ocean lay heavily in the field of her vision, bound by the gentle curve of the horizon; a shoulder of a great animal.
On its earthly edge, nearer her feet, the mass of water broke itself in a crash and hiss of waves. So pointless were they it was as if the ocean was embarrassed by this betrayal of its greater dignity; such fuss on its periphery.
The sky above had no such qualms. It moved where it wanted, toying with the water, curling its clouds, then moving its fleeting attention to strands of her hair. The air was movement.
And here she stood watching them both: ocean and sky.
Earlier in the day during her third cup of tea she became aware of her eyelids drooping and her chin sinking downwards. She huddled nearer the little fire that warmed the range and experimented with a doze. It was nice. The grandfather clock in the hall ticked slowly with each swing of the pendulum. Outside a wood pigeon burbled lazily, every note of its call sounding like a bursting bubble of soup. In the corner of the kitchen the cavernous Smeg fridge hummed at such a pitch that she couldn’t distinguish it from the faint tinnitus in her ears. The warmth of the fire and the continuous slow sounds around her combined to blanket her in hypnotic comfort.
But as her body began to sleep her conscious jumped awake in horror. What was she doing? It was only half ten in the morning. This was not the time to be succumbing to nothingness. Her eyes popped open; she lifted her head, and took a long refreshing breath through her nostrils. Body and mind now aligned in purpose she stood up and put the tea cup in the dishwasher. Flinging in a tablet of detergent she slammed the door shut, and clicked on the machine. It splashed into life. What to do next?
There were no urgent domestic tasks to be done. Basically hygienic, with no danger of catching preventable diseases, the house didn’t need cleaning. The garden then: the fish had to be fed.
A few days ago the fish had been spooked by a heron. They skulked now at the bottom of the pond, so the flakes of food floated untouched on the surface of the water. Witchy’s beneficence was unrewarded with any activity. The flakes remained greasily turning where they fell.
So what were the jobs of the day? She looked around the garden. There were a few small dandelions that could be weeded away. Perhaps some seedlings needed pricking out. The truth was, that just as in the house, nothing urgently needed doing.
Today then was the day to start the novel she knew she had in her, or she could go sketching in the woods. More productively there were always alms to be distributed to the poor - she had not yet taken her part in The Big Society. Or simply a day of shopping would be entertaining.
A car moaned past along the lane at the bottom of the garden.
A sigh heaved her bosom. Her world ticked along without her. It didn’t need her. No part within it faced her square and issued a challenge. There was no asking or refusal, nothing to trip over, no hole to fall down. It was though she was the one who had to ask to get involved, had to pop the balloon just to get attention. Fridges, fish, dishes, pigeons: small things. No wonder it was tempting to switch off from the whole place and just doze away the day.
What she wanted was Elements, big fundamentals: the sea, salty air, noise, rushing, crashing, eye-squinting light.
With the energy of a teenage girl leaving her parent’s house to go clubbing she rushed back indoors, grabbed the essential pointy hat, skipped onto the trusty broomstick and zoomed out towards the Cornish coast.
A couple of chilly hours later she stood on the cliff edge looking out to the far horizon, licking salt from her lips. The sigh that moved her bosom this time was one of relief. As the external world swirled around her she relaxed into internal stillness.
Using the broomstick for support she climbed down the cliff face and alighted on the soft sand. The beach was a theatre with the sea performing a great Shakespearean tragedy, roaring its words around the enclosing granite cliffs. Witchy was the only audience member. She had the choice of seats, but given this morning’s passivity she chose to take part in the play. Sitting on a rock like a mermaid she unlaced her boots and rolled down her stockings. Then she jumped down, splash, onto the wet sand, her splayed toes sinking in.
At first she walked along the edge of water, letting the waves tease those sandy toes, but there was something she wanted from the sea, that her garden back home could not provide.
She gathered up her skirts, now heavy and gritty with seawater, and strode purposefully towards the onrushing waves. They hit hard, forcing her to take a step back, but she waded on until thigh deep. Her legs looked white through the clear water. Strands of seaweed tickled past her calves. A tiny fish darted away. Heaving the skirts higher she peered round at her pale thighs and found what the sea could elicit but home could not: goosebumps.
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