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Beachcombing


The beach stretches away to the east; miles of wind-swept, wave-rippled sand and tussock; empty except for skirling oyster catchers and raucous, ever-seeking gulls. Hummocks of salt-bleached shells form ramparts for sidling shore crabs; bladder wrack lies flaccid on barnacled rocks, hiding periwinkle pools.


The wind whips up swirling sand storms at ground level while ragged sheets of cloud form and reform overhead; it whistles and keens, buffets and brushes, scouring the shoreline for objects light enough to gather up, play with and discard. Smells of ozone, sea, sun-baked seaweed; undertones of coconut from the gorse thickets colonising the dunes.


Phone switched off, not just silenced; untethered, out of reach, isolated and free. Shoulders drop into the rhythm of walking, gaze creeps up from ground to horizon, tightness in the chest eases with the deep breaths required to power forward against wilful wind and seething sand. There’s a gradual easing into now, this moment, this step, that view, the whereabouts of the dog who’s flinging herself into this unfamiliar environment with all the enthusiasm of one of the first sales shoppers through the door on Boxing Day.


A gap develops between the problems there and the experience here; the sneering, snivelling voices of doubt and fear and disdain sit back and relax: there’s nothing here for them to pounce on and rake over. Spaciousness expands.


The dog spots it before I do; shoulder and neck hit the ground and rub ecstatically into very dead gull. A wing, stretched skyward, flutters in a mockery of flight. Token yells drift behind me; irrelevant, unheeded, too late. We walk back towards the car; me resigned to a throat-catchingly ripe trip home, her supremely happy, blissfully unaware of the bath to come, revelling in the experience of now, of being (and smelling) exactly how she wants to be.


We both taste freedom.

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