Walking on the wide white sands of the bay, I see the footprints. Some are of big old walking boots, like mine, only bigger, some of paw marks or gull prints and then……oh joy…..little bare toes, scrunched into the darker wet sand along the shoreline.
The tide is coming in and fast. I have to veer landwards, ever so slightly, or it will be up to my ankles by the time I reach the far side of the scooped out bay. There’s a screech of gulls way over there where the fresh water has sunk a deep furrow in the sand. They always gather there, shouting ‘mine, mine, mine, into the cold blue sky. As the little dog splashes through the frothy spume and the fingers of kelp, spread at a tidal whim, the gulls begin to rise, first one, then, two, then all of them, not high, but high enough to float just above my head. They are huge this close, alarmingly so and their eyes black and mean as they cant at us from a safe distance.
I find a message in the sand, drawn letters, two foot tall, a sand-whisper about someone loving someone else, a childish confidence in the curve and straight of the names. Laughter comes to me on the breeze and I look up to find the owners of the toe prints. Two little pink girls, leggings rolled up to their knees, run in and out of the freezing water, impervious to its chill, filling brightly coloured buckets and emptying them again. Their hair, long and curly russet, flies out behind them. Their song is of delight and life without thought, without reason or limitations. Their mother watches from where she sits on the drier sand, muffled up in hat and boots and a warm overcoat. She calls to them and they reply, their voices sweet with innocent joy, but their words are lost to me for they fly into the salty free-blown air before I can catch them, and make them a part of my own afternoon.
As I wander away from the gulls, the kelp and the shoreline, it is almost evening and my shadow casts long over the sands. Tonight, when all is dark and the little russet-haired innocents are safely tucked beneath their warm blankets, the sea will claim this beach for her own and she will take the words, the shadows and the footprints back to herself.
It will be as if we had never been here at all.