Sunday, 24 January 2010
seaweed courtesy of static.zooomr.com - images - 851606
Robert couldn’t wait to get out of the car. He jiggled up and down in his seat, his face close to the window so that he didn't miss a thing.
‘Can we get out now? Are we parked?’
‘Just wait. I need to get a ticket’ said his mother, and she undid her seatbelt and opened her door.
‘Can I come too?’ he asked, but she slammed the door shut without answering and walked across the car park. Robert craned up to see where his mother was. She was at the ticket machine. She was coming back to the car. Excitedly, he undid his seat belt and picked up his overstuffed rucksack from the seat beside him and tried to open his door, but it was locked.
‘Mum! Mummy! I can’t get out!’
‘Just wait!’ she said as she opened her door. She peeled the backing off the ticket, stuck it half across the back and pressed the ticket to the window. She slammed her door shut again and opened Robert’s door from outside.
‘Don’t go running off as soon as we’ve crossed the road.’
Robert held his mother’s hand as they crossed, trying to stop his rucksack from banging into his leg as it hung awkwardly from his other hand. When they reached the pavement, Robert tried to run onto the sand but his mother kept hold of him.
‘You’re hurting!’ he said, trying to free his hand.
‘Just wait!’ she hissed.
Robert looked at the curve of the sandy beach with the huge boulders all along one side, tumbling down towards the sea. The sea. The tide was out past the rocks and some children were already down by the rock pools, their fishing nets waving as they ran from pool to pool. Their voices sounded far away and Robert felt as if he would never get there. He looked up at his mother. She was slowly surveying the beach. She let go of Robert’s hand and started to walk the other way, away from the rocks. Robert walked behind her, awkward in his shoes in the soft, dry sand. He watched it dust up onto his shoes and socks as he walked. There were tiny stones and shells lying in dry waves along the tide-line, framed by parched seaweeds which stretched away in long, tangled mounds across the sand.
After walking an endless way along the beach, Robert’s mother finally stopped and started to unpack her bag. She unrolled her beach-mat, took off her sandals, sat down and stretched out her legs. She began to unscrew the top from a bottle of sun-tan lotion. Robert watched her, trying to wait until she was ready to let him go, but his impatience butted in.
‘Can I go to the rock pools now? Please mum?’
She waved him away without looking up.
Robert fumbled with his shoe-laces and impatiently prised his half-unlaced shoes off his feet. His socks quickly followed and his feet found themselves at last in the hot, loose sand. He opened his rucksack and emptied it beside him. He left the plastic spades, picked up a small bucket and started to run across the soft sand. It was hot and soft but rough on his bare feet. Sand-shrimps jumped out of the tangles of seaweed as he quickly picked his way across them. As his feet met the smooth wet sand, he ran faster, his footprints lighter behind him slowly darkening as the water reclaimed them.
As he reached the rocks, he slowed. Walking as slowly as he could force himself, he reached the first pool. He looked into the water and the sun rippled across the sand at the bottom. A dart of movement. Fish. Robert held his breath and slowly crouched down to see. Tiny fish, the colour of sand, swam without moving in a patch of sunlight. Robert slowly let out his breath and watched them, their tiny fins blurring like wings. He gently eased the bucket into the water towards the fish. At the last moment, the translucent creatures darted away, but when he pulled the bucket back towards him, he saw that one fish was hovering in the water of the bucket. He carefully sat down with the bucket in his hands and watched the fish. It was so transparent he could see its darker organs through the skin. After a while, he slowly got up, lowered the bucket back into the pool and encouraged the tiny creature out towards where the other fish had swum.
Robert walked from pool to pool, his shadow following him. He saw the small empty skeleton of a crab, moving gently to and fro in the soft motion of the water. Feathery fronds of bright green weed held motionless in the smaller pools amongst mop-headed bladderwrack. Red anemones on the submerged rocks glowed like rubies in the deeper pools, and black sea-snails glided silent tracks across the sand at the bottom. He stepped into the warm water, watching the sand rise in slow little puffs around his feet.
Further on, surrounding a huge rock which jutted out of the sand, was the biggest pool yet. It was deep, and deeper still where the sea had excavated around the base of the grey-black stone, the pool sloping down into the shadows where long strands of reddish seaweed floated out like underwater hair. He stepped into the pool, and a shimmer passed across the surface of the water. Looking down into the water, he saw more of the tiny transparent fish, hovering in the long red strands of weed which floated out from the deepest part of the pool.
He slowly walked down the sea-carved slope into the deeper water and let his fingers float in amongst the fish. The fine strands of weed caressed his fingers, clinging slightly to his skin. His toes sank into little clouds of sand, and he saw a silvery sheen behind the flowing weed, stretching right along the underside of the rock.
Robert leaned in more closely, adjusting his head to avoid the glare of the sunlight on the water, and in the shadow of the rock he saw a long fish tail, longer than his own legs. His eyes followed the tail back up towards the long strands of seaweed, where the scales gradually evolved into silvery skin. The mermaid’s arm moved gently in the motion of the water, fingertips caressing the tail, its scales shimmering in silvery rainbow colours where the sunlight found them. Behind the floating hair, which still tugged gently at his fingers, a silvery oval slowly resolved itself into a face. The mermaid’s dead fish eyes were open and staring blankly, while a tiny transparent fish nibbled at the still, grey lips. Robert tried to untangle his fingers from the mermaid’s hair. His feet were held by the shifting sand, and the mermaid’s dead fingers brushed against his feet as he struggled to get away. Freeing his feet and hands at last, he stumbled from the water, fell to his knees and was sick into the wet sand.