Lockdown writings 1: Talking to the gulls

This is the first of two short pieces of fiction writing I am sharing on this blog. Both were written during the first lockdown in the United Kingdom, so the current restrictions seem like the ideal environment to air them. The common theme is isolation.

He is alone, walking up the beach in my direction. He isn’t looking at me or walking towards me, but it feels like an intrusion none the less. It had just got quiet, with the wind dropped, just how I like it, grey but not dark, the colours of the beach muted in early February. He is walking purposefully, not marching but clearly with an idea of what he is doing, or about to do. Wearing a light jacket, perhaps a little insufficient for the cold this time of year, and has boots on but not walking boots or wellington boots. He is walking towards a spit of sand surrounded by water, as if he doesn’t know or doesn’t care that he can’t keep walking that way forever. Does he mind that his socks and his jeans will shortly be wet?

I often find myself down by the beach, looking for nice stones or watching the gulls soar on outstretched wings. It’s much quieter than home. Or that house at least, if it is still home. It doesn’t really feel as it did, now that she has moved in and it smells different and the radio blares out the commercial station at all hours. I don’t blame my dad, he did his time with the grief like we all did, but still, its just not the same. Hasn’t been for a while really. My sister, my twin but we’re dizygotic, and not so alike, has her boyfriend and his car and that’s an escape I guess, leaving me with the happy couple and my idiot little brother. I think he is happy enough in his way, but he is probably too young to remember how it was like before, and as he spends all day on the playstation, who can tell? So, I head out, walk the suburban streets with the limp curtains and empty driveways, or I find myself at the beach, looking for pebbles, watching the gulls, or sitting high up here. I like the view.

He has got to the end of the sand spit now. He finds himself a lighthouse, marooned out on a limb, surrounded by the sea. I watch the little waves break against his boots. It is pretty clam today, nice day for a swim if the grey sea wasn’t so dead cold. Grey, dead, I promise I’m not normally this morbid, it’s just the weather or a cold or this town or something. Anyway, he’s just staring out towards the tankers now, as I do. Reds and blues against the grey sea and sky. They talk about the new wind farm and how it will spoil the view, but what view? Looking out all you can see is the steady horizon, dotted with hulls and their flashing lights. I sometimes imagine the boats are talking to each other, or sending messages to aliens, or to me, with those flashing lights. I can spend hours in a reverie with those lights, only to hurry home in the dark to dinner and nothing to show for my afternoon. Dad is nice and never says anything, but she always asks where I’ve been and waits for the answer like she knows I have nothing to say.

I wonder what he is up to, walking here and standing like that. He must assume he’s alone. I’m high up and amongst the tufts of grass, so he’d have to look right at me to see me. Perhaps he intends to leave it all here, step out a few more metres into the water, swim a couple of strokes, and let the water fill his clothes and drag him down. So simple. No equipment, bottles, pills, or knives. So little to go wrong. You, him and the sea and the erasure of his troubles. I admire him for a moment, striding out there grimly and facing the sea, facing his end. I nod, acknowledging his silent struggle, the failing business, or ailing wife, or whatever hardship has wracked him these last months or years, driving him out here to me and the empty beach. But then he turns and walks back, retracing his steps. I’m left with the sea and the circling gulls, wondering why I feel so let down.

I stand up on the cliff edge. It’s not so high, about 20 metres, but the lumpen stones at the base justify the plastic barrier I have to step over every time I come here. I hold a hand out, palm down, and catch the wind. My hand floats up and down like a bird in the wind as I undulate it. I stretch my other arm out and imitate the gulls, soaring in the updrafts. I feel light. On a whim I raise one foot and hold it forwards. The sole of my trainer peers down the cliffs, taking in the drop. I feel a rush of vertigo and place my foot back down. After it passes, I raise the other foot and hold it out over the edge. The vertigo comes again but this time I enjoy it. Enjoy the feeling, enjoy making it come and go, enjoying the control. I hold my arms in the wind and my foot in the air. I look down the cliff and think how nice it is to control this. I don’t really control anything in my life. My life. I look down the cliffs towards the rocks at the bottom, and the gulls circle overhead.

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