17th November


Not so long ago he noticed something about his wanderings. He saw a repetition that had previously escaped him. He noticed how he often ended up on beaches.

It came to him, this realisation, when he was nowhere near a beach. He was at home, in the kitchen, eating buttered toast. He’d poured a mug of tea and made toast, or someone had, and then he was on a beach. He was startled by the vividness of the thought. It was just as if he’d had to jump back because a wave was suddenly about to soak his shoes and socks. Yet his feet under the table were dry and warm. He looked at the toast on the plate, the steaming mug, pushed them away. They were irrelevant. They made no sense. He was on a beach.

Why beaches again and again? He glanced up and down, trying to identify this one by what was on it. Chunks of driftwood, bleached and bone-like. Seaweed clumps like markers on a big board. Gull tracks going nowhere. The swarming corpse of a gull. Feathers and shells. A headland in the distance. He peered. He recognised that coastline. No, he didn’t. It could have been anywhere.

He thought, When did I last go out?

He thought, Why do I go to the sea? Do I go because I like what’s there or because I don’t?

You can go no further than the end of dry land, the start of salt water. Especially in winter, and this was winter. The salt wind cut his face, spume rolled and skipped over the hard sand. The edge between the land and the sea was decisive. Either you got your feet wet or you jumped back from the dismissive waves. Either you waded in or you didn’t.

Nobody else was on the beach, nobody to see him or stop him. It was his choice.

Another possibility was up in the hills. Snow, and a bottle of whisky.

But a beach was better. A definite edge.

Once he saw this, the repetition made sense. And this understanding took him to beaches more and more. He wandered, if not with purpose, then with intent.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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