I thought again about when my mother brought me to the beach as a kid. I don’t recall much about her presence or the details of what we did. I know that we got ice-cream at one point and that I, fearing the water, sat on the beach, far up where it breaks back to soil and grass, and watched the waves roll towards me, crash, bow and retreat (repeat). There was so much mystery in those glimmer flats. Knowing they were not solid, that one would sink, sent my mind chasing itself trying to picture the entirety of its depths. I would focus on one imagining of a fish and follow it as it flicked its body forwards through that gradient of darkness, from the foot of clarity before its eyes to the increasing oblivion on all sides. It would not be long before I lost all idea of the fish and the vastness would break my concentration.
It was enough to make me cling to the earth beneath me, to the grass (rough as a cat’s tongue) and the sand and soil, to tell myself I was out in the open. I would breathe in the fresh salty air and watch the wind blow gently around the human figures on the beach in front of me, causing mild inconvenience as it knocked hats off heads or dug sun-umbrellas out of the ground.
My mother sat down beside me, her knees up under her chin and an inquisitive tilt to her head. She said we didn’t talk like we used to and asked me what I was thinking.
“Nothing, really,” I said, pulling on the young grass.
She pressed me, nudging me with her elbow and giggling. “Come on, tell.”
“I was just thinking I wonder how big the sea is. Where does it go?”
“It’s big. Very, very big. It goes to England and there’s a sea on the other side of Ireland that goes to America. I’ll bring you to look at that sea some time. Just me and you.”
“How deep is it?”
“I’m not sure exactly. No one has ever been to its deepest point. The weight of all that water on top of you would squish you into jelly.”
I laughed at the odd thought of turning to jelly but once the laughter died I was left thinking about that dark bottom and being trapped there. I think my mother saw my mood change because she pulled me close to her and half draped her crochet blanket over me. She told that I should fear the sea if I was in it, but if we’re just looking at it couldn’t hurt us.
“The sea never changes, Donnie,” she said. “It may look like it does because it’s always moving but if you watch for long enough you’ll see that it’s always there, always coming in and out. The waves always peak and crash and go back and peak and crash and go back and they’ll keep doing that after we’re long gone.”
The words ‘long gone’ chilled me. Everything else she said soothed.
She asked me if I would follow her wherever she went and I nodded, a little distracted, crumbling the grass between thumb and forefinger, and she rubbed the back of my head and spoke under her breath; words I assumed were for herself, an adult thing that I too would someday do.