I have a character in search of a story, Gus. I knew I had written about him wandering around a beach and by a river which ran into the sea because I came across something I’d forgotten… now I have come across more somethings! gradually an idea of a story is beginning to emerge and I’m getting a picture of Gus – mid to late forties, divorced (painfully) made redundant, living in his late father’s house in a small village by the sea… his life seems empty and aimless…
The sea stood still, or so it seemed, just for an instant and then there was a lazy roll of water and the sound of the wave dragging the sand. The sea looked like melted metal, smooth, limpid, with a slow plasticity. It had a pewter quality, not quite grey. The sun had gone but dusk hung along the horizon waiting for night to shove it over the edge.
Gus tramped along the damp sand. He wondered what the ripples on the surface meant, was it a particular tide? Was it wind? Was it always like this and he hadn’t noticed? A hinged shell lay open, pink and like a tiny pair of lungs. He stopped to look at it. There was a thing shaped like a cigar but with a spongy surface – some piece of detritus washed raw by the action of salt and water or some strange sea creature, sea weed root perhaps.
He strolled on and watched a couple who walked quickly past him with a prancing border collie. They threw a ball for it and it raced after it and had to skid and change direction when it bounced at an acute angle. The dog raced back dropped the ball and the man kicked it so it arced away again. The dog ran after it towards where a gaggle of sea birds stood on the tide line, facing onshore.
There must be a slight wind coming off the sea but nothing detectable to Gus. The couple walked on and Gus stopped to look at the birds. He could hear the sound of an oyster catcher but could not see one. He thought they might be black-headed gulls but wasn’t really sure. He looked further along the shore and three herons stood at the edge of the sea. As he watched them they raised, one after the other and began their ungainly flap across the river mouth to the meadow beyond.
In the water a fat duck like creature was paddling in circles, too big for a duck maybe… so perhaps a goose of some sort? Gus turned to begin to tramp along the beach and his foot slipped as he reached the muddy part of the beach. Millimetres beneath the surface of sand were banks of grey mud. He tried to walk on but his shoes sank into the squelchy clay slime.
He turned back and could see the line of the mud like a shadow on the sand. He walked back to where he could gain beach and then carried on along the firmer sand. It was churned up where cars had been turning. He went past the yacht club up on stilts. It looked shut up and empty, no sign of life, he had never seen anyone standing on its little veranda or looking out of its windows. He supposed it must be used, he supposed the yachties must come down and socialise there, but they always seemed to be in the pub, and there was one area of the bar which they seemed to claim, with pictures and photographs of themselves.
The land rose slightly towards the dunes held in place by blackthorn and sea buckthorn. This was where the little dinghies were drawn up onto the sand above the tide line. Some of them had been there in the same place for years, never moving, and the sun and salty wind had peeled their paint away some had holes where the elements had vandalised them. Some looked smart and well-kept, but these were in the minority.
Perhaps he should sit here one day and watch and see if anyone ever came and took these little boats and launched them into the sea. This was where the ferry used to operate, across the river, join the beach to the meadows beyond. The ferryman had spent more time in the pub than at his ferry and it had fallen out of use. It would be useful to be able to cross to the other shore, it was a twelve-mile journey to go by road in order to cross the river.
There were a couple of walkways down to the water with notices forbidding use by ‘the public’ Again he had never seen anyone actually using them so why object to a casual visitor walking down the slippery wooden planks to the sea? He walked on to the end of the beach. Should he walk the long way round following the river, or should he cut across the field and join the path nearer the boatyard? He sighed. There was no joy in walking on his own. He dropped down into the field and followed the track worn in the grass up to the path along the bank of the river.