Friday, May 9, 2008

Seaside

I walk down onto the beach, as far as the edge of the hard sand. Nobody else is here - the narrow strand edges a steep drop and families stay safely away. I take off my watch, wrap my towel around it and put them down out of reach of the waves. Then I walk out to the sea.

At each step my feet puddle the sand and the water inches up my calves. It feels colder against the warm skin on the inside of my thighs, tickling and starting to soak into my swimsuit. I turn round to face the beach and slide backwards into the water, my hair floating out around me. I arch my back tightly to wet the top of my head.

And then I turn back out to sea, pause to steady myself, and dive into the next wave. From under the water I hear the wave break, and then the sound of millions of particles of sand scurrying back. The back-flow pulls me forward and I make my first stroke into it, the movement deeply familiar. Idly I cover the next few meters, as the beach drops away beneath me.

I tilt upright and start to tread water, legs tucked up under me and arms circling to the front. I breathe deeply, gently, for a minute or two.

Then I duck my head under the water and pull smoothly downwards. The water closes in above me, and the sounds of the world beneath the surface take over. I count my stokes, down, further down. The water grows first colder, and then darker, and my skin starts to press tightly to my face. Something unseen glances past me to the right, and my ears start to buzz. Then through the gloom I see a deeper darkness approaching, and my finger tips reach out to touch the bottom. It was 14 strokes down.

My heartbeat sounds and feels together all through me. I move in slow motion, resisting the growing urge to swallow. Time is scrambled, racing and standing still, and I feel a moment of confusion. I shake it off, and corkscrew round onto my back, to look up towards the shafts of light tinted green by the water. I count to seven.

Then I kick down behind me and begin to rise. It feels as though a cord through my centre is pulling me upwards. The water rushes past my face, my legs tingle, and my lungs seem to have negative air in them. I burst through the surface, to the feeling that the warm air and light have been waiting for me.

I turn over onto my back and start to kick my legs gently, making luxuriantly slow back-and-forth progress to the shoreline. The water gets warmer around me, foam catches in my swimsuit, and finally my bottom touches the ground and I sit up. I sit and look at the grey horizon for a moment, then I get up gradually, kneeling first, then stooped over, to avoid blacking out.

My steps feel heavy and the ground more solid than ever as I walk back to my towel. I retrieve my watch, spread out the towel and lie down, front downwards. I turn my head to one side, and my lower ear hears the sound of the waves carried through the sand. A trickle of water runs down my inner thigh.

Before my thoughts start to torture me again, I send my mind's eye up above me. I look down, at my hair turning to salty cardboard ringlets, at my back covered in rounded droplets, and at my toes burrowing into the sand. I go higher up and see the narrow beach, the empty road beside it, and the parallel lines of the waves moving towards the shore.

The sun warms my back, and all my mind is full of my breathing, in and out, in and out.

2 comments:

Katherine said...

Fabulous. Really fabulous writing. Being a kiwi, as kids, we used to almost live in the sea. This brought it all back. This is exactly how it is.

EB said...

"This is exactly how it is" - that's what a writer's writes to read :D