We walked along the tideline in silence, occasionally stopping to pick up a stone or shell or odd piece of rubbish the tide had brought in. Flotsam or jetsam, which was which? Flotsam floated, jetsam was jettisoned? I don’t remember and I didn’t ask – any answer would be brought round to the thing I didn’t want to talk about.
It was a long time since I’d swim in the sea, thinking back it was probably when I was in my teens, on holiday with friends, dashing in and out of the freezing North Sea, the perpetual on-shore east wind chilling us to the bone so that even the waves seemed warm. There was no wind today but I felt a different chill and that too chilled me to the bone.
Or maybe the last time I’d swum in the sea was when I was in the south of France with friends, swimming in the Med, floating off-shore from Menton and looking up at the perfect azure sky, the Alpes-Maritime rising above the small border town. I’d floated, drifted on the sea, calm and almost serene, everything then perfect. The skies above now were grey, clouds scudding, piling up no doubt soon to send the forecast rain lashing down.
I used to be so familiar with the sea as a child when we went to the east coast and time seemed to last forever on the sandy each and running in and out of the grey sea, grey whatever the weather was like. Then I’d swum fearlessly, loved being carried by the power of the briny water, at home above or below the silvery waves, strong enough to escape the tug and pull, tug and pull of the tide.
Sometimes on those long sandy beaches, things would be washed ashore, logs, pieces of wood, bottles, curious barnacled items which made me think of Treasure Island and pirates. Occasionally mines were washed ashore and we children would stand outside the roped off area staring in awe at the great thing, the great dangerous thing with fronds of seaweed dangling from their horns. Were they dangerous? Were they actually live? I don’t know, but with our childhood innocence I expect we thought of the comics we read and the jagged speech bubbles containing BANG!! to illustrate an explosion, from which the heroes always escaped, ragged but unscathed, and the enemy lay in tidy supine heaps. Once we saw a dead sea mammal, a dolphin or porpoise I guess but then we thought it was a whale, just a big lump of grey, featureless, formless.
We walked along the tideline in silence. I stopped and looked at a blackened stump of what had been a tree, trailing seaweed hair like a creature from the deep. This wood had drifted, drifted many leagues, many, many leagues and now it lay marooned. It was a sad analogy for our romance. What had been strong and thriving, growing and developing, branching out, had withered, and fallen, and somehow come to the sea and drifted, drifted on a tide which brought it to this pebbly beach.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I haven’t changed my mind, I can’t change my mind. What we had is over. I feel as if I have been drifting, just drifting, that we have been just drifting.”
I looked down at the driftwood lying moribund, and barely heard the words that were spoken in reply. A seagull swooped, maybe catching them in his beak and carrying them away.