words: Aoife Inman; photo: Lara Watson
It’s not late in the evening but the clouds above me have gathered like a crowd, enclosing on the day with ever increasing speed. They turn my world to sepia.
I am stood with friends. We lean against the railings of the damp car park overlooking a swirling ocean. We have wrapped ourselves in every layer imaginable but still the wind is biting, fierce. The vast expanse of blue that stretches out before our eyes is breathtaking and it fills our friendship with silence for a moment. It’s my first sight of the ocean in a long while and words escape me. I fumble with them, puzzle pieces, but their jagged edges are all too harsh.
The last few stragglers are dragging beach-bags past us to traipse on up the coast path, retreating from the gathering storm. But with our arms laden with blankets, Tupperware and optimism, we trek against the tide to nestle just below the dunes. All three of us watching as the day melts before our eyes.
It’s this spell of familiarity that has numbed my tongue. I realise that I have forgotten the call of sanctuary and only in this echoing, drowning cry of wave upon stone do I remember.
The beach café pulls closed its shutters as we light driftwood fires and unpack, sticky brownies, bean burgers and soft rolls that mix with the sand and leave the grainy tang of the sea on our tongues. The sky is saturated with fresh grey; the murky paint-water of the afternoon. The fire grows higher, wood smoke clings to our clothes and we huddle closer. The smell is dirty, musky, bitter and it tastes of comfort.
We run towards the shoreline as the sea mist curls its toes over the cliff edges; brushing us with salty tongues. I am freezing but it doesn’t matter. The cold embraces me, whips my trousers in spirals round my legs as I laugh. We share stories, recount old friends and joy melts into unexplainable grief at the time I have lost here.
Eventually even the surfers, slick as seals, have ducked under their last waves and are dragging their boards through the grass and dirt up the misty hill. I press my dry lips tight to quell their chattering and sink my chin to my knees. We are three girls curled against the storm, our blankets billowing in tandem with the night. Sand burns our feet, our hands, our eyes and we blink out tears of belonging in a fragile world.
This sanctuary is tender, unforgiving, and I am rocked in the spell of its embrace, bewitched by its splendour.
Aoife Inman is a final year undergraduate history student and freelance writer. Her short story ‘A Pawn in Spring’ is due to be published in the Electric Reads’ Young Writers Anthology later this year. Follow her on Instagram @aoifeinman
Pick up a copy of Oh Comely issue 34 for more tales of Return.