Sea Buckthorn stains on my trousers

They’re like gentle sweeping watercolour brushstrokes in teddy-bear orange. Looking so soft in the landscape – but close up, a thicket of thorns. The dusty, muted orange berries cling on even into late winter, slowly decaying in place.

The crows are kings and queens here. A whole coterie of nobles flap and caw and pose gingerly on the prickly battlements. Scraps of black languidly blown across the sky, then returning purposefully to sway top-heavily on the slender branches.

If I pick them now and try for a taste, it’s like taking a mouthful of frog spawn. The frosted fruit is jelly-like at best, else, a shrivelled empty skin. I’m like a vat of grapes ready for treading – bare feet stamping the fruit, juices oozing out through the drain holes, running luxuriously into waiting vessel.

The putrid orange juice drips eagerly down my chin, and drops not quite silently: split… split…  onto my lap.

Licking my fingers clean, I emerge from the bushes with a sticky orange crotch.

Mermaid

A stick scratching in the sand fashions your form – and from Melissa’s mind, you are born.

“We were only trying to drown her.”

Innocence and caprice. Like the sea.

As I watch Enya squeeze into her wetsuit, arm arched and over backwards to feel for the zip’s tail, pulling upwards as it shrink-wraps her lovely form, I’m happy to take my chances.

Body boards and bodies run down to the surf. The waves, high, three or four feet at least, crashing on Tiree’s Atlantic shore. The board jolts upward, like a cork bobbing from forced submersion, shooting to the top as the wave’s force hits. I swim beyond the breakers and wait, scanning the near horizon for the next “big one”.

The salt’s in my hair, my ears, my mouth. My nose. It stings my skin. I’m alive.

Later, as we shiver on the rocks, hypothermia sets in for Melissa – too long in the water in ill-fitting suit. Emergency towels and warming drinks bring her back from the shivering, shuddering brink. So frail, such alertness needed, just to survive each day and the next. So glad as they grow older and take on more of their own survival – yet so happy to remain involved and connected.

We fight great random battles with flopping sword of kelp. The brown fronds slap like flaccid translucent whips, as if some merpeople enact a farcical sadomasochistic rite. Progressively shortening as the duel takes its toll, the stalks diminish to little more than daggers. Close combat ensues.

What more is written, drawn in the sand? What will wash away in tonight’s tide, and what new imagination from passing stranger will illustrate the dawn?

Sand

The seabed is so pale – wave-rippled sand – just a few feet below us. Dad directs a course across the bay, paddling far out from the beach. The waves are getting quite large, and with each, the aluminium of the canoe shunks as we land, spray spraying from the bow.

Mum shifts nervously. “Is it really safe?”

“Oh, it’s OK.” says Dad, looking serious but calm. He eyes the shore, the headland and the horizon, grips the paddle a little more tightly, and smiles. This is a moment to savour.

Shunk… Shunk… 

Yet bigger waves. From my cross-leggedness on the red cushion, I grip the gunwales and just love. Alice and Lena are there too. We’re like peas in an open pod, the five of us – and a cool box.

It’s shallowing now, and the water’s paler, losing the deeper turquoise and fading to clear. Sunlight refracts and dances on the sinuously rippled sand. We can hear and see the waves hissing onto the beach.

“When we beach, can you just jump out and start to drag us up?” says Dad.

Lena and I ready ourselves.

The metal hull slides and scrapes over the shell sand, and we jump out on either side.

Letter

I can’t believe she feels that way.

The roughly torn envelope lies on the duvet, glaring, and the crumpled sheets, close-written, lie on the crumpled sheets.

It’s the end.

My chest hurts, and I feel pain in the belly that’s not hunger.

Sitting out in the car at work’s car park, I can’t go in. Just sitting there. I call Sonia, lifeline, and words, kind words, reel my fleeing soul back in. I’m alive, aren’t I?

I start the ignition. Companionable diesel engine wakes up, and together we drive down to the sea.

“It was a good time, wasn’t it? We really did have good times.”

Counting blessings is worth the painful effort.

Sitting on the cold black rocks of the breakwater, I breathe in the smell of salt, seagulls and sewage, wondering whether there’s some way back.