BROKEN SEA by Nigel Peace (978-1-910027-23-3)
He is not aware of sleeping but awakens to find the sheet clinging to him with sweat and sunshine streaming through the windows. He had dreamed that he was the captain of the ship about which folk singers say they have the strangest dreams. The vessel was pitching and rocking in waves that seemed as high as the clouds and he stood at a wheel that spun uncontrollably between his fingers as spray lashed his back. A small group of writers stood around him in a circle, examining his expressions and noting down everything he said to use for themselves. Finally, a figure dressed all in white and with a kind face had appeared beside him and said, “Life is a heady game, my friend. Make yourself ready, or you won’t know when life has begun.”
It’s past eleven and Roy is annoyed with himself for having lost the morning. He is alone and on the kitchen worktop are the remains of Paul’s breakfast, a greasy plate, an empty tin of beans and a saucepan of cold water. Whose turn was it this morning? He takes a pad and writes down the dream before washing, dressing and making some food for himself, only then drawing back the curtains. The campsite looks deserted. There’s no sign of Paul. So he makes another flask of coffee and takes towel, guitar and writing pad up to the lip of the grassy dune that overhangs the beach.
The night tide’s crop of new stones lie in a swathe across the beach like mushrooms that have sprung up in the dark, the sea now distant. On the open expanse of sand there are several families setting about enjoying the unexpected heat of the day, the best of the summer so far. Castles are rising up, kites are flying and balls of every kind are bouncing. Roy’s eyes track each group in turn, beginning to smile, his thoughts calming. Then as if to assert that he is back in this world, he stands and walks across the dunes down to the beach himself, spreading the towel, lighting a cigarette and inaudibly fingering the guitar.
Before long, Paul’s unmistakable figure can be seen approaching, the day’s newspaper under one arm. Somehow he walks from just above the knees with a low centre of gravity, grounded. There is a little uneasiness between them when he arrives, the conversation monosyllabic at first, but nevertheless Paul sits beside his friend and passes over the crossword page of the paper.
Soon it’s lunchtime and as if at the silent call of a gong the families begin to gather their things together and drift away towards the promenade. Eva watches them go from the shelter of the overhang where she sits, a couple of open books spread beside her. It’s Sally’s turn to waitress the lunches today, despite her pounding head.
The beach now almost deserted, Eva stands and stretches, rising onto her toes and drinking in the sun’s warmth through the pores of her athletic body. One cannot be lonely when the elements themselves are within, and in this moment she is at peace, a young girl again who wants nothing more than to perform, to jump and to swing between bars, to show off and prove that the training wasn’t all wasted. Slowly and with perfect control, she steps forward with arms raised, cartwheels, stands and wheels again.
The movement catches Roy’s eye and he turns from the newspaper, surprised and then transfixed. He cannot look away, his eyes following her as she steps forward and wheels again, the very slowness of it electrifying. Involuntarily, he raises himself on one knee, magnetised, some unknown voice within him shouting “Don’t move!” Paul looks up briefly, stares, and then returns to the cricket report.
In that instant, Eva is aware of Roy’s look - or perhaps she heard the voice - and she pauses with arms outstretched and body taut. She turns towards him and smiles shyly, then wanders back to her towel and books. Roy also sits again, but it has happened now and can never be undone.
When the embryo is in the womb, it is still possible to think of it as a strangely unreal medical phenomenon, a potential thing. But when the child arrives kicking and screaming in the world, nothing and nobody will ever be the same again. Roy’s entire energy field has shifted. It is one of those days when the world briefly stands still, when you make a decision without realising that you have, when you end and begin and you look at other people and wonder at the gulf between you.
Like a man who has dreamed the winner of the Grand National and needs a witness to the name he is sealing in an envelope, Roy speaks slowly and deliberately to his friend.
“Paul, you see that girl?” He looks up from the newspaper briefly and nods.
“What about her?”
“I’m going to marry her.”
Paul is used to his friend’s naivety, the youthful idealism that borders on pathos at times, but he’s never gone this far before.
“I see,” he replies, and returns to studying the bowling figures.