Tweed Newsboy cap perched jauntily on my head, I pulled into a small car park and turned the engine off. The place was deserted, shabby even, with broken tarmac in places. I took my cap off, pleased to see in the mirror that my hair was still in place, and put the convertible’s soft top back up. I got out and took a long, deep breath, expecting to inhale the scent of the ocean. But the air seemed disappointingly normal, despite the grass-covered dunes surrounding the car park.
I walked over to a board, a map of the Skendlethorp nature reserve. Odd, it showed the sea as coming almost to the car park. I walked along a path, up a nearby dune, and gazed out, not onto the vast ocean, but onto a sea of purple flowers, stretching perhaps half a mile. Beyond was sand and in the far distance, the dark blue ribbon of the ocean. No wonder I couldn’t smell it!
The weather was hot, the sky a clear, bright blue and the sun a burning orange disc. Most unusual for the English East-Midlands! I’d decided to take a drive out to the coast, having lived within striking distance of it for a couple of years, but whenever I’d previously thought of it, the weather had been cold and wet, the climate we normally endured.
Now, it was as perfect as it was ever going to be. But the sea looked such a long, long way away. Hmm. I walked back to a nearby caravan park, proudly boasting its very own fish and chip shop, the English coastal obsession. The owner was friendly enough. “Oh, the sea comes well in, even up to the top of the dunes, just beyond the car park.”
“Well, why isn’t it there now?”
Apparently, it was the wrong season, tide, and/or year. I sat and ate my over-salted fish and chips on one of two benches, the totality of Skendlethorp’s visitor amenities, along with a rubbish bin, looking out to the distant sea.
In the foreground was a huge sign warning of buried World War Two bombs and missiles in the currently-desiccated marshland that stretched out ahead. It stated that no reward would be given by the Ministry of Defence to anyone finding one. Well, that kind of made sense, they wouldn’t want to encourage idiots digging for unexploded bombs!
It was six o’clock in the evening, but still very warm after an oppressively hot day. I deposited my chip wrappings in the Skendlethorp bin and slowly started to cross the purple-flowered salt flats, the soil cracked by lack of rain into a crazy paving-like landscape. I followed a well-worn sandy track, presumably bomb and missile-free, until after ten minutes, I reached the beach.
I rested on a nearby sand dune as a few families, fat, and spouting one vulgarism after another – “Wayne, wai’ for me, you cun’, I wanna get some fuckn’ chips” – came the other way.
“Balthazar, here Balthazar!” A small white dog scampered past my dune, pausing just long enough to spray a stream of foul-smelling urine onto the sand near my feet.
What a stupid name for a dog! Maybe it was trained to find myrrh, whatever that was!
It ran back to join an approaching woman, presumably its owner, fat and red-faced. As she passed, she looked right through me as if I didn’t exist. My cheery greeting stalled in my throat.
I felt tired and the sea still looked a long way off. But when would I come here again? I began to trek across the sand, noticing hundreds of sea shells, mainly pod razors, Ensis siliqua. I picked one up, marvelling at its hardness and lightness and the way the two halves were hinged together. I wondered about the little creature that had created such a miraculous artefact and for whom it was home. Where had it gone and had he/she had a good life?
With child-like pleasure I began to assemble a small hoard of shells and flotsam. Here, a purple-tinged scallop, there, a piece of jet – charcoal-black, fossilised wood. Then, the pride of my ‘collection,’ a small, paperweight-sized rock filled with tiny bubble-like air pockets; volcanic, I presumed.
Ten minutes later I stood at the edge of the sea. I looked back towards the land. The rise where I’d eaten my food on the bench was barely visible. I took out my binoculars and looked out to sea. There were several large tankers off in the remote haze. Another world on board I couldn’t even imagine. Then I looked up and down the beach. In one direction two people at the sea edge in the far distance. In the other direction, no one.
The sun, still hot, bore down on me. I reckoned I could see five miles in either direction and the sandy beach was a good half mile wide. A quick calculation told me that I was one of three people on probably five to ten square miles of sand. How different to the crowded resorts not far down the coast where people flocked in droves for fish, chips, and bingo!
I rolled up my trouser legs and ventured into the water, to my surprise wonderfully warm and shallow. I waded out a few feet, watching the waves gently rolling past and feeling the soft sand beneath my feet. How lovely. Suddenly, something black and round emerged briefly from the sea, perhaps twenty metres out. My first thought was a dolphin. How nice to tell my friends. Then it popped up again, but this time remained with its dog-like head out of the water. Through the binoculars I could see a dark muzzle, big black eyes and long whiskers. A grey seal. I wondered if it would swim closer, just as another one popped its head up nearer to the shore. Then there was another, and another.
Soon there were about a dozen of them, bobbing up and down, keeping a wary eye on me it appeared. I wondered if seals would ever come out of the water and attack? I doubted it, only in the mating season, perhaps. I didn’t know when that was, but remembered a seal-breeding ground, Donna Nook, just up the coast, a tourist attraction. Hmm. Well, I felt fairly confident of out-running a seal! I didn’t remember reading about people being attacked in the water by them, though, or even swimming with them.
Would I go in the sea if I’d had my bathing gear with me? Given their powerful bodies, sharp teeth and the isolated location, despite the glorious weather, I decided … probably not. Discretion is the better part of valour, after all.
Just then, there was a loud thud from behind me and a distant scream. I turned to see a pall of black smoke above the purple-clad marshland about half a mile away. I looked through my binoculars in time to see something small and white hit the ground. It looked like Balthazar had been digging where he shouldn’t have been!
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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