Low Tide

Picking up a pebble, round and smooth, sand clinging to its wet surface. Rubbing it between fingers and thumb, I drop it into my coat pocket where it will probably stay. The promenade’s quiet today, the small skate park, busy. Children skating on the site of an old tea shop.   

Nothing happens here. This place is as dead as a dodo. That was our mantra. Bored teenagers, hanging out in a café on the seafront, until we became too rowdy. Change happens, slowly, something emerging out of the debris. One of the amusement arcades that lined the seafront is still busy, the other’s bulldozed, along with cafés and novelty shops; a building site, hidden behind hoardings promoting a new seafront experience.

The café has survived. A young woman sits behind the counter, reading. The second time I ask for coffee she responds. I hear my name, hadn’t seen him sitting by the window. He’d been wondering when he’d see me, how long I’m going to stay. The conversation drifts through the years, touches on different lives, names I no longer remember, faces impossible to recall. He’s sorry to hear about my mother, wants to talk about his father’s death the previous autumn.

A solitary man, given to rambling along the coast. He’d often take Jimmy, mostly at weekends, and sometimes I’d go with them. He’d encourage us to be attentive, there was always something to be gleaned from the beach. Jimmy laughed, remembered that on occasion he brought home paper money, talked about good pickings after the day trippers had left.
After the funeral, Jimmy stayed on to empty the flat. It was Spartan, but then, it always had been. The times they were out together, his gentle encouraging manner. And walking. That’s what remained.
The last time they met, his Dad insisted they walk on the beach. He’d become so frail by then. There were questions deflected, a conversation that didn’t happen. When he returned that autumn, it was to watch his Dad’s coffin burn, scatter his ashes on the beach. They never spoke again about that desire, whether it was vast distances covered during his Dad’s younger days, or those long walks along the coast. It seemed to him that there was always that need, no matter how local, small, contained, a rhythm that defined his Dad’s life, Jimmy’s too. But that was only speculation, with him gone there was too much left to the imagination.

We sat for a while, talked about meeting again, maybe going for a drink. Exchanged mobile numbers and then I had to leave, arrangments to be made. He understood, was apologetic, hadn’t meant to spend so much time talking about his Dad. Was sorry to hear about my Mam, thought she was a lovely woman. She’d always been kind to him. Made great toasty sandwiches. ‘She worked here, didn’t she?’