Shallows and Shadows

     It's a crisp clear day, the sun shining bright and full in the sky and the air feels blessed, feels as though the light is the light of childhood, the long-shadowing glare injected with Super 8 clarity, Super 8 romance, Super 8 nostalgia. 

     It's a day for beach combing, just the three of us, wrapped in whatever came to hand as we were leaving the house. Looking at you both, all wellied up, I reminisce about the days when you would both come beach combing in your pyjamas because it was too complicated to get dressed first, knowing there would be no one around for miles to judge, laughing about the time you got changed in the car, but  got so wet from jumping in the waves that you both had to go into a restaurant in the pyjamas because they were the only dry clothes left in the car. We had pretended they were tracksuits and then you had both run around in the restaurant garden overlooking the estuary, squealing in the evening sunshine while I watched from the balcony. Just the three of us, not a care in the world, our heads filled with thoughts of the day’s rockpools, slippery stones and windswept cliffs, knowing that the journey home would end in tired warm bodies being carried to bed, soft relaxed arms draped around my neck as I lugged heavily sleeping, worn out little ladies up stairs. Pulling off wellies, worrying about teeth not brushed and ignoring the heaped sand  left in the car alongside the gritty damp clothes. We never took towels, never really remembered the picnic, certainly didn’t have a wind break, just ourselves, our pyjamas and our imaginations. 

      But you are grown a little now. Not so much so as to be dried out, bereft of illusions, you still cling onto the tooth fairy but are entering the sad phase where a tooth came out the other day and was discarded. No letter to Nettle, no excitement in the morning, no little hands rummaging under the covers trying to find the cold shiny coin. But young enough. Young enough to cling hotly to my hand as we wander through the fields together, young enough to bring a hat which gets pushed into my hands not wanting to be worn, young enough to tell me stories about magic earrings found on the beach that transform the wearer into a mermaid. 

They thought she was a bit weird afterwards, you say happily, she liked the sea too much, became a bit of a weirdo so no one wanted to be her friend, but then they realised she was a mermaid… and so it was ok, they got it then you know? 

Yes chick. I know. 

      Eventually I wander steadily off, away from the chatter, listening to the smaller pebbles hissing in the water, I’m looking for something interesting today. I want to find something strange. I photograph the rocks, the lichens are pretty weird looking. I photograph the glassy ripples at the shoreline and then see my shadow, standing watching me like a comical ghost, my legs long and stretchy, my fingers and arms outlined in sharp relief on the rock face and sparkling water. Today is a day of shadows. I run back to you shouting, Hey! Hey girls! let’s take shadow photos, come here! come here! Reluctantly you leave your film making and come over to me, but when you see your shadows you’re in. Look! one of you shouts, waving your arms in the air, Ha! look now! as you comically stagger around half bent double, your shadow aping its way along the rocks. 

      We continue along the strandline together for a moment looking for shells, but then you are gone, running away to carry on with your imaginary weirdo mermaid and her Adventures in Peer Alienation. 

      The beach is clean, the seaweed and kelp, the pebbles pure, washed by the waves, not a scrap of rubbish or human debris to be found. I pause and ponder the carcass of a dead bird, torn to pieces, only its bony chest and wings left. A pheasant, I think to myself, not too interesting. We head further up onto the cliffs. There is no wind today, the sun feels hot through the icy air, the breeze when it comes has a chill about it, as though summer is still in hibernation but starting to slowly wake up, maybe thinking of emerging soon as a nascent spring. 

      I notice the pebbles here are agate: moss agate, rose agate, the most beautiful detailed watercolour swirls of colour in the stone, layer upon layer of granny smith, chartreuse, earth, daffodil, oyster, antique rose. I greedily stuff my pockets with them. They have the seductive round gleam of freshly washed pebbles and feel heavy and ridiculous in my pockets. Imagine if I fell into the sea today, I muse, with pockets full of rocks. They would think I was Virginia Woolfing myself. 

      Finally hunger nudges curiosity out of the picture and we head back to the car. Time for lunch. But when we get to the car it is stuck deep in thick sticky mud. The wheels spin hopelessly, churning up the claggy brown sodden mass into a dip and slapping thick wads of brown across the windscreen. I let the car spin and skid for a few minutes and consider phoning the rescue squad to come and get me. I get a brief thrill from the thought of rescue. Waiting for the stranger who would come save the stricken ladies from the mud. I sit for a few minutes in silence. The chattering has stopped and has been replaced by a bemused quiet. 

Shall I push it? the older of you asks. 

No. I say. That would mean dying and I don't think you should die today. 

      Hum. And then I remember my bulging homage to lesbian angst. My pockets are full of stones! But they’re so pretty. I think about the delicate oval pink one, my favourite, I imagine them in a dish at home, smooth round, pleasing to hold. I reluctantly get out of the car and sprinkle my treasures under the wheels. I take one last look at the green grey rounds and get back into the car. Right ladies, time for a more useful homage to lesbian angst. We are going to do this on our own. We rock back and forth for a few moments and then gradually, gradually, bit by bit, the wheels find a purchase on the pebbles (and the ferns, the twigs and the strange soggy stuffed duck I found a little further up the lane), the wheels gain purchase and we screech off the mud and directly into the path of an oncoming Mercedes which narrowly avoids hitting us at speed. I swear and curse a lot, briefly, but with fervour and a heartfelt commitment to educating my children in the intricacies of adult language. 

      As the Mercedes roars away, we decide that we should take some photographs to prove we were here and to document the fact that three ladies, using only their ingenuity and pockets full of pebbles, managed to free themselves from a bind, narrowly avoid death by Mercedes and, hopefully, enter a restaurant in clothes other than our pyjamas. 

      And my shadow legs look huge and impressive striding over those tyre marks. They make me look heroic and strong, nothing approaching a damsel in distress. I stand, admiring this giantess in the sunshine and decide that, yes, I think I’ll wait a little longer before Virginia Woolfing myself after all. 

Long legs, muddy grass...




[Kathryn was with the Gremlins]


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