Rain poured down. Oh god, I could’ve at least picked a beach that had a pier, or some form of shelter. “It said sun when I checked yesterday.” Matt laughed awkwardly, we both knew it didn’t, in fact I didn’t even check, I was just excited to see him again. My stomach quivered looking over to him but his wonky smile betrayed the excitement that was hidden in his cool eyes.
The stormy day blew clouds across the town, they hung low, the sherbet painted seaside houses were forced into involuntary concealment, their bright colours muted with the gradual eclipse of the sun. Outside people struggled against the elements, rain pelted down and the wind ripped through as umbrellas were over-turned. Victims of the attack ran for cover.
As we approached the sea, vibrations rolled across the car as lightning sparked across the sky leaving trails of iridescent forks and thunder rattled over the waves. Shit. I clasped my hands to my seat. If mum was here she’d worry with me, mainly because she’s a chronic worrier, but also, she would have no idea who this guy is and, unlike him, she knows I’m petrified of thunder and lightning. Reluctant adrenaline surged through me as the hum of the engine ebbed away. The car stopped. I stalled time but Matt couldn’t wait, with coats on and hoods up tight around our faces we left the haven of the car.
The green slope flowed away into the slivers of remaining daylight as he pulled me towards the foaming blue expanse. Gorse bushes, thick with spines and scattered with delicate yellow flowers blended into green fog as the crashing waves rang ever louder in my ears. Our footfalls pounded in reply to the thunder. I stumbled as my foot caught on a rock. Brilliant, now I’m the girl who can’t walk, or check the weather. I slapped on a smile and chased after him. I followed the well-trodden path that had become scattered with a glittering of fine golden sand whipped up in the wind and smashed shells taken and dropped, forgotten in someone’s sodden sprint back to their car.
A small stream that dashed alongside became ever wider as the rain lashed down, fresh water gushed over dishevelled rocks, dragging green ribbons of river weed towards the mouth. Cutting through the sand, the river bed scarred the beach. Fresh water leaked from the wound until it dispersed into its salt water resting place. Changing tides had tangled river weed among seaweed until it was unclear of the origin of either party, they lay in piles, abandoned. Graveyards of sandcastles dismantled by the gale were lying in wait on either side of the river. Discarded buckets and spades littered the beach, tombstones of the memories made here on less sombre days. The castles rested in soft dry sand, away from the waves, but the force of the white horses was ever approaching and soon the graveyards would be flooded. Barriers of obliterated pebbles and shells marked their progression, it wouldn’t be long.
Matt waited impatiently then we raced on towards the seashore. Morose clouds brooded over the tide, churning up an evil frenzy. Radiant sunbeams desperately fought their way through the clouds, like war-time searchlights tackling the dense night sky. Matt splashed in the froth, dousing me with cold water. Does he know how cold it is right now? Is he trying to give me hyperthermia? Quick, laugh along. I was laughing as a blurred black smudge bobbing on the horizon caught me. I narrowed my eyes, the wind forced my hood down, I tugged it back up pulling it tighter. It was a surfer, challenging the waves with an unfailing confidence. He falls. Are we alone? I am not swimming out to get him if he doesn’t come back up. I pointed him out to Matt. I wonder if Matt knows CPR. Perhaps the desperately watchful sunbeams were for him.
We walked along the seafront, pushing our bodies against the strengthening gusts. Our feet were pulled down by the saturated sand but we squelched on, picking up shells as we went. By the end my pockets were full. The beach was long, each segment guarded by a looming archway of mottled brown jagged rocks. We proceeded through the first, the tide was against us and the waves lapped at our feet as we made our way into the mazes that riddled the rocks. Confronted by a sticky mugginess Matt covered his nose. I ran my hands along either side of the wet tunnels, the rock was rippled as the ages gone by told their story in each layer of compacted brown mud and the remnants of past water hung from the roof of the cave in icicle-like stalactites. I didn’t want to leave, it was warm and almost cosy inside, we sat for a while.
Driven by an urge of discovery, we decided to press on. We were darkly rewarded. Waiting in the sand was a dilapidated dolphin, cast from the ocean by a previous storm. We stood looking in silence for a while. I took a photo. He’s staring at me, isn’t he? I looked up. He was scrutinising me, all excitement drained from him, inside my head my mum shouted “why would you do that?” I flashed him a coy smile. From behind, its dorsal fin hung limp and curled in the sand and most of its strong tail had rotted away, any remaining flesh clung valiantly to the bone. A web of fishing wire hovered over the carcass. With his back now turned, I snuck another photo. As the ever-swelling wind battered against it, the translucent wire was whipped sporadically forming a transcendent glow over the once majestic beast. We walked around to the other side. I looked at him, trying to guess what he was thinking. Repulsion was obvious on his face but he kept looking, like me Matt was transfixed. Only the bones remained, sea birds had ripped the meat from the ribs and the rats had licked them clean, hordes maggots were squirming in the dark red mouth, feasting on the clotted blood of the unfortunate creature. Suddenly, a waft decay washed over me and I backed away.
Months later he finally faced family introductions at my twenty-first birthday meal, naturally he revealed this story to my family. Again, the dolphin followed us as he embellished on my morbid photography, my mum, after one too many rosé and lemonades, looked at me and said “for fucks sake, really?”