Beauty by the Beach

“Oh, how lovely!” she sighed, breathing deeply, letting the smells of salt and seaweed soothe her lungs. She stretched out her arms and lifted them high as, into the sky she cast her gaze, grateful for the white clouds that scudded overhead. The seagulls screamed as their wings clipped the ocean spray and far over there, interrupting the smudged brown horizon, sandstone hills and cliffs housed nesting colonies of razorbills, gannets, cormorants, puffins, and predatory, snatching, arctic skuas.

Beneath her feet, where her shoes squelched in the hard, rough sand, the water puddled, forced by her weight to pool in her footprints. From force of habit, she examined the curve of the waves as they came in to crash at the shore, as sinuous as living snakes, as determined as the pulse of a heart. And everywhere, beneath the crowded cacophony of birds, waves and wind, there was the musical highlight of draining sand, pulsing notes from each minute shell and holed out fragment of rock.

Pulling in her gaze, as she always did after a while gazing, Lizzie bent to examine the shoreline for interesting shells, for shards of colour, for flat spirals of splintering white, or round curled coronets. Here and there her eyes picked out a deeper blue, a flash of bright purple or a slick of purest orange, and automatically, her hand would reach, collect and cradle each find. Soon, she had a collection of about ten specimens, all different shades of pink, yellow, red, brown, orange or blue and purple. Each, she caressed and examined minutely, turning them over in her fingers, brushing out the sand, promising to love and savour them carefully.

Many times, this is what she had done and she knew that would all be lies. None of the colour would hold unless it was trapped in a water-filled glass jar and left to sit on a window sill, in the sun but ever so slightly in the way, the screwed-down top gathering dust. None of that brightness would be transported to the ledge in the bathroom, where motes would dance, but the collected water would be still and flat and lifeless. So Lizzie blessed the shells and let them loose. She threw them high in the air, and watched as each beautiful spark sank beneath the waves.

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