Friday, May 18, 2007


It is a blustery afternoon near the end of October. The beach is almost deserted.

Above the sea, wisps of clouds are scattered in the sky. They catch its colour, like intensities of space, concentrations of light. Over the sea the sun hangs, bright and golden. Its glare darkens the water, highlighting the foam of the waves. The breeze blows, pulling at my hair, my face, grabbing the ends of my raincoat.

She comes down the stairs of the apartment. The light in the entrance is refracted, splays out in lozenge like shapes along the wall. There is a quiteness there and she is aware of it as of a long silence, a question waiting to be answered.

I am walking. I feel an unusual sense of motion, of time contracted. It is similar to the way in which a film jumps across experience. The way in it alters the real not to make it unreal but to heighten its reality, to render it hyperreal.
Small gestures take on a significance, amplify and expand. With each step I feel as though my feet sink into the sand only to be pulled out again, to be forced forward into other steps. Each call of a gull or flutter of a flag from the promenade, strikes my ears as if snatched from its source. I almost feel each grasped sound reverberating within me.

She steps out onto the street and pulls her coat around her, her hat down over her eyes. The sun fractures through the branches of a tree. It comes back off the black frames of the bicycles chained to the railing.

Along the edge of the sea is driftwood. It is twisted into arbitrary shapes and novel forms. Rough and smooth.
Waves pound slowly and heavily, foam rushing in long sheet-like movements up the strand.
The repetition wears down all resistance. It pulls the sand of the seabed up into eddies, into swirling patterns before depositing it again, changed. With every rush, the endless rhythm bears down on me, stretches my defences and moves in uncompromisingly.

Under the rail bridge the pavement is dark. It leads onto the square. The wind sweeps across the open space. Sometimes there are old Turkish or North African men playing chess under the trees. Wrapped in long coats, they sit patiently, talking at length between each move, their lined faces serious.
She likes to see them. There is something reassuring about them. Their feet in sandals and their hands fingering prayer beads.

Only one thing goes through my mind. Is everything I have built to this point, every centimetre of the pathway I have beaten here, disappearing?
Am I approaching a core? Is my life about to reach some watershed?
How many times before have I walked this stretch of strand, how many times passed the hours of an afternoon while the years were silently building up, sneaking their irretrievability past me? Moments never to be recovered from time, from the ceaseless flow of life.

She comes to a junction where the street cuts right along a canal. Above her head a clock shows it to be mid afternoon. The houseboats rock in their berths and windows are tightly shut. A man with a black and white dog rounds the corner and stares at her. She walks on.

I have come here many times with my children, my son and daughter. I think of how they play, stepping in and out of the water, their eyes open and eager to learn. That trusting expression of children, no polish, no defence. Their backs to me and the sunlight flaring like copper across the sea's surface.
I have watched them grow and change, watched their steps become surer, their words and actions gain weight, confidence. And all the time the years have been moving past.
I still see my son bent intently over something, a shell, a strangely shaped stone, his blonde hair falling in front of him. Then calling out in happiness, turning and running back to where we stand. Or my daughter sitting, her knees pulled up in front of her, her cheeks flushed red from running, the line of freckles across her nose. She is eating an ice-cream.

She takes the canal. The wind pulls at the trees, making them sway and creak, scattering leaves in bursts of yellow and brown.
The water moves and throws up its reflections in bronze or gold, shimmers off the inside of bridges. A shutter rattles or a tarpaulin from a terrace snaps. And eddies of dust swirl up and cause her to squint, to pull her scarf over her mouth.

For hours I have walked up and down. The wind has blown stronger and stronger along the seafront, pulled harder and harder. Earlier the sun was so bright, the late autumn light on the sand and sea so acute I needed sunglasses. My eyes hidden, I felt relieved, briefly, of my identity. As if the emotion to be read in my face was somehow deflected, diverted. And in the deflection there was escape.

The city is peculiarly empty. Trams pass as if in another world and the gables of houses stretch up into the sky, their stonework or spire the only thing that does not move as wisps of cloud race by.
She is on her way to the park to meet their son and daughter. They will be waiting for her in the café after skating. Perhaps they will all sit and drink some hot chocolate, eat some apple cake.

I have pushed my hands deeper into my pockets, changed the pace of my steps from slow to fast to slow again. At times I have stood simply by the water's edge and watched the waves break and break.
It seems in every quiver, every pulse of my body, every rise, fall of my breath, every thump of my heart in my chest, the sea is there.
Its sway is the very movement of my life itself, its incessant rhythm permeating all I do. As though I were really deep within it, were actually part of it, only imagined I had ever stepped out of it.

She wonders where he is. What he is doing. He has not been home for some days. The curtain in the living room has not been open. It is draped against the window, only a chink showing the street, the railings of the balcony.
It is only in the kitchen she looks out onto the world. The backs of other apartments, balconies, the dried flowers in a tall vase by the window.

The light intensifies and the sun burns its fire over the sea. The sky, earlier white, pale, deepens its blue. In the late afternoon light, the water moves with the sky, forms a line where they meet and then in a haze are gone.
Along the seafront the summer kiosks are closed and the promenade nearly deserted.
I stop before turning, before walking to the street that leads to the station. The air is colder, damper.
My footsteps, their curious crackling in the light layer of sand coating the pavement, sound in my ears.
There is a sense of a break, a moment when I feel as if I were being stretched, being pulled over a fissure.

Her son and daughter are standing in front of the café. They have their skates slung over their shoulders. The grass along the gravel looks vivid under the half-naked trees.
A cyclist goes by in a blur. And she bites her lip.

Searching in my pocket for change, my hand impatiently sorting through keys, crumpled papers, I look around. Its green paintwork shines.
Walking quickly, I pull the door closed after me. Inside is the burning fluorescent of all telephone cells, the metallic opaqueness of efficiency.
Then I am dialing the number, wanting, waiting to speak to her.
I leave a message saying I am coming home, asking her to be there for me.


Will we once again uncover each other, close down the spaces of their relationship by making every curve, every reflex, every pleasure of our bodies, an answer?

When she wakes in the night, looks at him lying in the light of the moon, she wonders what it is he is searching for. Wonders what they are both searching for. Why sometimes she feels the certainty they wish for evades them.
And for a moment their children cross her mind and she thinks she senses the sea. That the sea is whispering to her. As she sinks back into the arms of the night, puts her head to the pillow, it rolls and breaks, runs up the beach, leaving its mark in her like the foam in the sand with a long sigh.

Copyright (C) Peter Millington. London.