SHORT STORIES: Tides
It was said that they were so deeply in love, that they were about to drown. This is not unusual, in fact it is the nature of love, for two people to drown, and fall into each other’s arms on the ocean floor. The problem is when one such lover panics and swims for the surface, or falls into a separate current.
It had been a lengthy journey west, seven hours in the car, with three short breaks, but we had finally arrived at six yesterday evening. We had settled up with the campsite owner, pitched our tent, cooked beans over the small gas burner, and then read all evening in its unsteady light. We had slept a comfortably exhausted sleep, and been woken by the heat of the July sun, condensing in the dark blue canvas.
I climbed through the small hole the zip offered, stumbled to my feet, and smiled wide at the sight my eyes were graced with. A tall bank of pebbles separated the campsite from the beach, whose tidal ebb could still be heard, and a short distance away was a tall sandstone cliff, with a small trail meandering across its head. All of this was topped with a perfectly blue sky, and a gentle morning breeze. Perhaps Britain was redeemable, I thought.
Amy climbed through the small opening of the tent, and the dew on the grass left a darkened patch on the left knee of her grey pyjama trousers.
“See. Britain’s not so bad.”
I still wasn’t convinced. Today I was in a beautiful place, and the sun beat down, but next week I would have to return to the sterile tumult of London. Though the allure of this spot was apparent, I still longed for the Mediterranean.
By this time Amy had read the thoughts implicit in my silence and had adopted a wry frown. I drew her in under my arm, and as she nestled in, her lips returned to their usual faint smile.
We dressed, climbed over the pebblebank, and began to amble along the rich yellow sand, still damp from the receding tide. This place meant so much to me as a child, and it’s scarcely changed. I wonder if Margaret still runs the chippy. Gio still seems on the fence about it, but I’ll turn him. He is so very malleable.
We walk up to the foot of the cliff, which sits almost perpendicular to the pebblebank, but then slopes off round the corner creating miles and miles of unspoilt beach to those smart enough to read the tide. We leave the corner behind us, and Gio lets out a small gasp as he sees the empty beach. I knew he’d come round eventually.
After an hour or so wandering across the cool sand, we approach the rockpool where I used to play as a child. It has been changed slightly by heavy storms, but the essence of the place is the same. I can almost hear my sisters and I shouting gaily from summers past. Gio looks unimpressed.
“This place means a lot to me” I say quietly.
“If it means a lot to you, it means a lot to me.”
It has been a long day, and Amy has caught the sun slightly. Her usually pale skin has reddened, freckles have begun to appear beneath her thick red locks, and her usually unwavering calm has been frayed. On account of this tiredness, we eat in the little café where the road bends away from the pebblebank and up behind the cliff. She seems happy with the meal, but I grimace at the tasteless fish and greasy chips.
As we walk back, she thanks me for coming here with her. I tell her it’s been my pleasure, even though that isn’t entirely true.
“We could retire here.” She says looking up at me.
“Maybe,” I reply.
“Why not?” she asks with implicit venom.
“That evening chill. It’s too much for my Mediterranean blood.”
“Oh come on Gio, surely you could stand it for me.”
“Why don’t we live in Italy? The beaches are also beautiful, and they can be enjoyed more due to the weather, then one can eat food with real taste.”
“Britain is my home Gio. I’ll never leave.”
“I’ll win you over. One day in Italy and you’ll change your mind.”
I instantly regret this remark.
“How can you be so pig-headed Gio!?”
I unzip the tent, and pull out the bottle of whiskey we’ve been sharing.
“I’m sorry darling, let’s have a drink.”
“No, Gio! I need some time to think.”
At this she turns, and strides pacily across the grass towards the pebblebank.
“Amy! You’re just tired.” I shout after her. She shouts something back, but I only pick up the word “Bastard”. I climb into the tent and sit down. I shouldn’t have been so arrogant. I lie back, and as always, my mind turns to Amy. I smile as I replay moments we’ve spent together. I am a fool, and I should go after her. She is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I should not lose her over this.
I leave the tent, and look out into the twilight. She’ll have gone to the rockpool. I always go to the little chapel in the hills when I am angry, and the rockpool must be the same to her. I climb over the pebblebank, and run towards the cliff. The sea is a long way away, so I should be fine.
As I run I imagine her smile as she sees me approaching repentant. I truly do love her. I arrive at the rockpool, and climb up over the large rock which divides it from the cliff. The rocks are slippery, but I keep clambering across them, desperate to find her. But she is nowhere to be seen. She must have headed back.
I begin to walk back along the bottom of the cliff, dejectedly staring down at my feet. What a fool I am. Her anger will be incandescent by now. How long will it take me to untangle this mess? I let out a heavy sigh, and suddenly a small ripple of scummy white water turns the sand dark around the sole of my shoe. I look to my right and see the tide advancing. It moves so fast here. I pick up my pace, but within a few steps, the waves are up around my ankles. I start to run, lifting my knees high to reduce the drag of the water. I can see the corner of the cliff, but now the water is above my knee and the going is slow.
A large wave strikes me and I fall into the icy wake. I drag myself up, heavy now with the salty water, and look down to see the sea turning red around my left calf. All of a sudden I feel the pain of the water in the wound. I must have cut it on a rock. I squint into the darkening air, and as the level climbs above my waist, I break into a swim. I traverse a few metres, but then a dark black wave breaks over me, and sends me under. I feel the small of my back hit a sharp rock on the beach, but I return to the surface and continue.
I toil like this for a few minutes, my skin crawling with cold, and the silhouette of the cliff seemingly becoming further away. I’m sorry, Amy. I’m so, so sorry.
Maybe I was just being selfish. Maybe I should stop trying to change Gio. I gesture at the barman, he approaches and I order another gin. I take a sip, but am suddenly taken by an impatient desire to draw Gio into an apologetic embrace. I hate it when we fight, but the other’s touch is always the solution. I gulp down the remaining gin, and still enjoying its warm crackle, I walk out into the dark street. I use the moonlight to traverse the campsite, and climb into the tent.
I am surprised not to see Gio. He must have gone to the toilet I assure myself. I settle down and begin to read, but within minutes I fall into an uneasy sleep.
Upon my awakening, Gio still isn’t by my side. He must be wandering, running thought the events of the day as he likes to. I lie back down, but cannot sleep. I stare at the canvas above me, and after around thirty minutes I turn the gas on for a cup of tea. Where could he be at such a time? I drink the tea, then leave the tent, and begin pacing in front of it. I climb the pebblebank, but can see no one in the moonlight. One thirty AM. Something must have happened. I scrabble around in the tent for my phone, and on its location I enter the numbers nobody ever wants to type: Nine nine nine.
I wake, I see Amy’s tear streaked face, and I fall away once more.