A Walk by the Sea

This is a preview of my novel A Walk by the Sea which you can buy on Amazon.

Chapter 1

Unaware of the stranger’s lingering gaze, Meriel takes a few steps back. Her palette dangles by her side while she squints at the canvas fixed on her easel and she tries to be critical. Above the clairvoyant purple sea, a fleck of goldenrod light is poking through the clouds, and a desolate figure that Meriel added as a mere afterthought infuses life into the inertness customary to her work. The landscape seems genuine for reasons she can’t explain. She hasn’t been painting long enough to know that in art, instinct often and inexplicably brushes with reality.

The restful sea is preparing for the onslaught of the storm and it’s the true setting for her inner turmoil. She compares her brush strokes to the real, unpretentious colours of the water expanse, and as usual, finds fault with her art. There can never be enough paint to depict the teal and periwinkle and myrtle shades of the sea, and everything in between. So she wants to do it again. She thinks that next time, perhaps next time, she will succeed. Not in attracting attention from the world, but in colour-clothing what her eye and soul see: the emotions spurred by the beauty that never lies. Each day, she dabs those hues on her canvas with a hidden tremor in her heart which is the hope that this time, she can do it. Instead, it’s another unsuccessful endeavour, another failed struggle to give birth to her most perfect child to date. At sixty-eight, she won’t keep getting chances for too long and the certainty that she’s wasting them weighs heavily on her. Perhaps because she has wasted the biggest chance of her life decades ago and she knows there is no undoing it.

There is much to be inspired by, even in such a nondescript English town like Eldham. Meriel doesn't differentiate between humans and rocks: the fallen petals of a withering rose are just as exciting to her as the wrinkles of a woman mourning her husband. She commiserates with both, without being able to communicate it. Hers is a lonely form of creation, and sometimes she dearly wishes she could share it with someone. Jeff might have liked her art; she will never know as he left her long before she even looked at a paintbrush, but she likes to think he would approve. Despite the chasm in their marriage, he always supported her, in his own way. Phil, on the other hand... An apple never fell further from its tree: he never showed any genuine interest in art, and for that reason, she hasn’t told him that after she stopped teaching in Cornwall and retired in Devon; she took up painting to keep herself busy. That was years ago.

Secrets had been the foundation on which she built a life with Jeffrey, and later, on which her relationship with her son rested. Everyone kept them. Their late discovery rocked the marriage and the individual ties within the family a little more each time. And by now, she is aware that just as she keeps secrets from Philip, he is probably living with his own.

It’s too much to think about and it never gets easier. Meriel needs a break from her thoughts and her creative spell. She often does, which is one thing that reminds her of her age. Her chosen emotional outlet proves futile more often than not, and whenever she feels thwarted by her own artistic limitations, she alleviates her discontent with a walk by the sea.

She is now gazing at the sky above the strip of steel blue water. A ribbon of silver divides the heavens and the earth far away on the vast stretches of water before her. Seabirds fly across the expanse of slate, twirling in circles. On her left, where the foam brushes the beach, towering black rocks reach upward among green patches of lazy moss and adventurous shrubs. She likes to stand before those pieces of perpetuity in silent acknowledgement of her own mortality.

Meriel watches the waves come closer, they almost touch her and they sprinkle chilly water on her skin. Because her vision unwittingly transforms every sensation into colours, the tiny drops oddly feel like beads of blue agate. The bond between the sea and her is stronger every day, and blissful moments of abandon like this one come to her more and more effortlessly. It used to be very different in the States; back there, she thought the ocean brought her peace but in fact it only exacerbated her loneliness. It was perhaps one of the reasons she moved to England. Here, her emotions are enduring and the waves evoke so many in her that she, herself, becomes ageless. Powerful, brave, important. She has never experienced this feeling of completion with any human, and the knowledge scares her.

As she follows the flight of a seagull with her gaze, something catches her attention, a lonely figure that looks like a tiny charcoal statue poised in the water. Meriel instantly thinks of her canvas and resists the growing force of the wind to watch the stranger in fascination from the safety of the gorse-covered hill. The human form stands immobile as part of the landscape, a fragile reminder of a rock, very thin and very delicate. The thought occurs to her that a larger wave would swallow it with ease and picturing the scene gives her a perverse thrill. It’s not that she wishes it would happen. But anything that could transcend the reality she feels trapped in, any excitement, anything out of the ordinary to remind her that she’s still alive, is welcome.

A sudden gust of wind tears the hairpin from her strictly tied bun. She reaches for it in distress, but the wind has taken it in a flash, it has already gone underneath the waves and is swept away, accepted by the sea as an offering, a sacrifice.

Meriel experiences something close to panic as she tries in vain to collect her thick braids of grey hair. Have control of her hair she must, but it’s not possible and that upsets the order of all things, she feels. Because of the sense of disturbance this creates she is oblivious to the fact that the stranger’s glance is again fixed on her from the distance. As she turns frantically to face the wind and get the storm of strands out of her eyes, her hair-filled gaze sweeps across another human figure, standing much further inland, looking toward the first stranger.

But her hair is more important now, so she invests all of her energy into containing it, rather than solve the mystery which starts to unfold before her.

~

Samuel never misses his evening jog, which brings physical exhaustion and makes sleep possible. Today he’s early, and he relishes the thought of running along the beach to witness the sunset. Rain has saturated the landscape with scents and colours and everything is a little more intense than usual. Drizzling rain keeps his skin cool at every step and that reminds him of why he’s here. He entertains himself with kicking small pebbles on the gritty path that leads to the shore.

The sea lies peaceful and vast ahead of him, not yet sensing the powers of the storm brewing somewhere near, but Samuel expects that saturnine clouds will soon cover the sky in an effort to shut the light off from the earth. He stops to catch his breath. There is sunshine where he stands, the last bits of it, but in the distance, the merging elements are ready to manifest their displeasure. He gazes calmly into the splendour before him, because he is still far from the storm, and distancing himself from things has been his refuge when everything fell apart.

The clouds cover the entire sky now, and as Samuel scans the vast expanse for a patch of blue, he knows that rainfall is inevitable. He smells and holds the steam-heavy air in his lungs for a while. The past hushed and the future concealed. He almost feels at peace, but a thunder breaks the ethereal moment. Forgetting what happened is not possible, but perhaps all of it was his most important life lesson, the one thing everyone experiences during their lifetime in one form or another, at different stages of life. Whenever the memories start afresh, it’s this thought that keeps him going. The solace that he was meant to go through it.

From the corner of his eye he spots a human form further up the shore.

He keeps looking ahead, revelling in the sight of sea and skies, listening to the chant of surf hitting the rocks. The unearthly sounds lead him unawares onto a melody of his own that he starts humming quietly. It’s been months since he dared confront the silence and the ragged sounds emerging from his throat startle him. The pain that ensues is more emotional than physical, for he doesn’t recognise the voice that mocks what it used to be. He sounds like someone on death row screaming for mercy, and Samuel inhales slowly to steady himself. It’s not time yet, maybe he needs a longer rest still. He can always buy an instrument to play.

The evening grows darker and suddenly, the stranger leans down to reveal an avalanche of hair. It is a beautiful sight, an individual all alone amidst the elements. Samuel feels a kinship despite knowing nothing about the person. All he knows is that someone else favours the solitude, like himself, and without wishing to meet them, he finds consolation in the fact that he may not be the only one running from something.

The first raindrops fall on his lashes, and he looks up at the sky to wait for the unrestrained onslaught of water. He is content to watch the storm unfold, as the landscape encloses him into stillness. Moments like this remind him that there is nothing he can do to stop things from happening. Water pours down on him, it forms a balmy film on his face that protects and suffocates at the same time. He inhales through his mouth the rich air. It’s a certainty he can depend on, the storm that breaks after the calm, and the calm that settles after the turmoil.

He thinks of his parents and hopes that they believe he will be okay. He knows he should rely on them less, but there is no one else, really. Something he should work on changing as quickly as possible, but the mere thought brings back memories of Susan and they mar the stillness of heart as fabricated as the storm is real. Her memory stayed with him longer than he would have liked it to, despite him knowing that Susan was bad for him. He still reminisces and pines for the good that she had instilled.

The stillness is here yet again, unannounced it reins in the havoc and soothes the ruffled landscape. Samuel wipes the mist from his face, combs back his hair and sucks the moisture from his lips. Sweet and salty mix on his tongue and as a gust of wind cools his wet skin, the craving to be close to someone infiltrates his pores and overcomes him completely. He waits a while longer, and when he finally moves, he notices that the stranger from the beach is gone, and once again, he’s all alone.

~

There is nothing that could lend warmth to the loosely spaced office. The curtains of an unspecified hue are half pulled in at all times to reduce the amount of the easygoing Los Angeles sunlight and heat to a reasonable amount. One desk, his chair and a sofa are the only pieces of furniture. The walls are empty, save for the square shaped grey-faced clock. Philip prefers it that way: with no real distraction to sidetrack him, he can focus on the figures that are contained in strict tables. Gavin expects the report by 9 a.m., and work deadlines are the only thing that keep him going.

There is an e-mail notification and in his inbox, the name Angela Kane pops up, unknown to him. The subject line says, “Your mother’s paintings”, which sounds surprising and predictable at the same time. Of course she paints, why wouldn’t she. Of course she didn’t tell you, why would she. Staring at his computer screen, Philip feels shock, frustration, anger and exasperation. To hear it from a stranger, to boot, who has made him an accessory to a plot that involves his mother’s private doings, which is the last thing he wanted. Eileen would be overjoyed, naturally. He can practically hear her squeal in delight as she leans above his shoulder to check and praise her mother-in-law’s art. He, on the other hand is gaping at the thumbnails of paintings he’s seeing for the first time. Why on earth would anyone contact him for this, he wonders. Fuming, he buries himself in rechecking last month’s traffic return.

For some time, the office holds no sound save for the clickety-clack of the keys as he types in the data. The computer screen vibrates before him and Philip’s lips move in concentration, without sound, without haste.

The noise of outside traffic seeps in through the open window and unawares, it claims control over his thoughts. After recalculating the same revenue data for the third time, Philip’s attention shifts back to the thumbnails. Absentmindedly, he browses through the picture files with lips and heart shut tight. He will not feel drawn to them. Luckily, he couldn’t even if he wanted to, as they don’t speak to him. He looks at the lifeless landscapes and tries to imagine the person behind the canvases. The hand that directed the brush. He tries to visualise her posture and her state of mind. He wonders if that side of her is any less forced than the rest of her, but he couldn’t say, because he doesn’t know her now any more than he knew her then, which was hardly at all.

She never painted when he was little. She never even showed an inclination to art until his father left, and then, it seemed like a weekend hobby.

Philip scrolls down, then back up. Dark hues, vast seascapes, one or two lonely figures that remind him of confined spaces, loneliness, fear.

Without an appetite, he spends his lunch break in his office. He checks and sums up his data, his brain adamantly processing information to take his mind off his mother.

After finishing his early afternoon coffee, he scans the news headlines online, which provide useless information on local political campaigns and faraway disasters. The former is too intimately close, the latter is something he can’t identify with.

Unaware of it, he looks at Meriel’s paintings again, in the hope that he would see them differently. It isn’t the case. They are just as oppressing as before. They carry such a destitute atmosphere that it’s doubtful any gallery would readily exhibit them. In a rushing world where everything is made to float on the surface, light as a feather, people aren’t much into misery. The dreary landscapes of Devon won’t interest an American, and he secretly hopes that Meriel will never attain success. He wishes she wouldn’t. The drive home is short and uneventful. The striking greens of palm trees and the pungent salty smell of the distant ocean that used to be such a novelty when he and Eileen moved to the apartment is all but gone now, made unnoticeable by custom.

Continue to Chapter 2

Buy the book on Amazon