A walk on the beach
A Walk on the Beach
The boy is happy when he is by the sea. Like most three-year-olds, he loves to amuse himself by playing with the waves, chasing them as they run away, and avoiding their salty embrace as they scuttle back towards him. The tide is out, and it has been a long walk across the beach, but he doesn’t mind. There have been treasures collected on the way as he shuttles back and forth to his parents, depositing shells, stones, bottle tops and crab claws into a rucksack on his father’s back. Bamburgh Castle, all granite, gloom and grandeur, looms like an imposing giant over the bay and he enjoys looking at its high walls and square towers, imagining battles against giants and dragons. He knows that knights in armour once lived in the castle, because his father, whom he trusts absolutely and loves completely, has told him so. His senses are in overload, capturing the sights, smells and sounds of the bay, tasting the salt on his lips and feeling the gentle kiss of the spring sun on his face. His red hair sparkles as the sun’s rays bathe him with their afternoon warmth. Life for him is uncomplicated and here, on this seemingly endless beach, he is full of the joys of life. As a small child, he has little comprehension of time and its passing. He cares not for the past or the future, only the now, this moment. As he splashes his feet in the waves, he feels the sand under his toes, and the water cold against his ankles. His father summons him back from his reveries, with a call offering food and drink by way of inducement He lifts his head from playing and sees his mum and dad sitting on the blanket, surrounded by a feast that seems perfectly fit for a fearless young knight. Later, as they return home, he falls into a deep and contented sleep whilst nestled in his pushchair. The man jokes to his wife that the boy looks like a matchstick, a red head poking out from the blanket wrapped around his small frame. She smiles and hugs her husband, enjoying the warmth of the moment.
The red-haired man calls to the small child playing on the beach. The boy has been digging channels into the sand, creating a haphazard network of little canals that transport the seawater hither and thither. “Michael, come and get yourself dry. We need to go home soon.” The boy looks up at his father, then returns his attention to the work in hand, the instruction either ignored or forgotten. Sea-shells adorn the small sandcastles, which stand guard along the sides of the waterways, offering protection from the advancing waves. He is sitting on a blanket next to his wife and has been watching his son play for some time, fascinated by the intense nature of his son’s industriousness. The tide is nearly in, and the cooling wind in the summer air has dropped to a fitful breeze, nuzzling the sand hither and thither.
They have spent the day in Bamburgh, visiting the town and the castle before walking along the coastal path to the beach. Now, as they prepare to walk back along the path, it has bought back happy memories of his own childhood. He remembers walking across the beach with his parents and picking up shells, handing them over for safekeeping and closer examination later. Where did the shells end up, he wonders–perhaps in a box hiding somewhere in the attic, perhaps discarded? He calls again. “Michael, we must go–come on now!” The tide has nearly reached his son, the waves filling once more the little riverbeds the child has created. Michael ignores his father, probably hoping that by so doing he can continue to inspect the progress of the seawater into this wondrous construction. He stands up and walks the few metres to where his son is playing. Bending down, he extends his arms and gently picks him up. The boy looks up at his father’s face and pleads for an extra few minutes of play, but to no avail. Jenny, his wife, watches the scene unfold. She is beautiful, with a heart bursting full of love and pride. Her hair is straw blonde, her eyes green as the lush grass beyond the dunes. He thinks that happiness such as this is surely a gift from God. As the sun dips behind the castle they begin to make their way back, the boy sleeping peacefully in his pushchair, wrapped in a thin blanket to protect from the cooling sea breeze. Two seagulls are in the sky above them, calling out as they swoop and dive through the air.
The tide is out, and the earlier promise of rain to come has materialised. A leaden evening sky complements the iron waves that gently roll on to the beach. The smell of the sea is in the air that he is breathing. His shoulders are a little stooped, his red hair now turning to silver at the temples, his eyes constantly betraying the loss that he feels. His son, Michael, is walking with him along the beach path. Grandson Stephen, three years old and full of growing, rides the shoulders of his father, small hands clutching at hair like barnacles hanging onto a sea-wall. Stephen has not understood why his grandma is not with them and keeps asking where she is. Michael winces a little as the boy pulls even harder on his hair, and tells him that grandma has gone to heaven. The boy asks if heaven is in the big castle and his father replies that the only things in the castle now are suits of armour and dragons’ teeth, which makes him smile in recollection. “Where is heaven then, daddy?” the child asks.
“Out there, high in the sky above the water,” says Michael, pointing at the sea. “Only its always sunny in heaven so you need to go above the clouds to see it.”
“That must be nice,” says the child.
“We better get back,” says Michael. “The rain is getting worse, and this horse is feeling cold!” Making the sound of a neighing horse, Michael skips a little, making his son grip his hair ever more tightly. They walk a little faster as the rain gets heavier, which makes him breathe a little harder as he struggles to keep up.
He sits in a wheelchair, wrapped up in a blanket which covers his shoulders and chest. He is being pushed along by a tall, slim teenager whose red hair is dancing to the tune of the stiff breeze that is blowing off the sea. Michael walks with them both. He fidgets a little in the chair and lifts the blanket off a little, but is gently prevented from doing so. “No, dad. It’s too cold and you need to keep it over you.” He grumbles a little in response, objecting to being treated like a child. The smell of the sea air is almost overpowering, the sombre sky shifting swiftly as a storm approaches. The tide is high, almost reaching to the path. His hair, what little of it there is now left, shows no sign of its red roots any more. He has refused the woollen hat offered by his son, vanity winning out over comfort. The castle looks gloomy, almost foreboding, its stone walls reflecting the cold light struggling through the thick clouds. As he is pushed along in his wheelchair, he looks out towards the horizon, watching the sea churn and rage. He suddenly realises that his wife is not with him.
“Is Jenny in the castle?” he asks.
“No dad, she’s not with us anymore.”
Michael bends down and wraps the blanket more tightly around his fragile frame. “We need to keep you warm, dad. It’s cold out here today.”
“Can we go down to the beach? I want to go to the beach....” he requests.
His words seem to be spirited away by the wind as they continue on their walk. Michael looks down at him and takes a tissue from his pocket to dab a tear away from his eye. “The weather’s turning for the worse, dad. We can come back tomorrow.”
“Jenny’s up there you know.” He points a finger towards the sky. “Up there, past the clouds. I wish she was here with me. She is very beautiful, isn’t she? You have to get above them, you know. Above the clouds. It is sunny up there, isn’t it?”
“Yes dad. Yes, it is.”
Michael steers the wheelchair along the path. His son walks beside him, glad to be taking a rest from pushing his grandfather along the bumpy path. His father’s head falls back a little as he drifts off to sleep. Even though the old man’s eyes are closed, his creased and weathered face radiates a most beautiful smile. The love that bonds the three is as deep and endless as the sea. In the distance Bamburgh castle seems to look on impassively as one more circle of life, love and loss plays out before its imposing walls.