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Where Will You Go?

You are missing an element. The seventy percent of you built of water is screaming for a salt tang to the air, for raging white waves, or placid, all-encompassing stillness. For all that sea and all that sky. For the crunch of shingle marking your footsteps as you look for whelks and slipper limpets. For burst bladderwrack and slimy kelp, white chalk towers and gulls spread-eagled against the sky.

Before lockdown, you walked at the beach. You watched kite surfers riding the waves, letting the wind fling them into a grey and roaring sky, flying before landing with a skid and a rush in the foam.

Within four walls, you miss the element that makes you real. Without it, what are you? You had a cool bath the other day, lowered yourself into a shallow puddle of water and let out a cry at the cold, a cry that you stifled because there are neighbours just the other side of the wall. But white porcelain is not the same emptiness as big sky. You want to sink into salted blue silk. You want to step forward into a rising tide and see your feet engorged beneath the surface. You want to inch in, to count the degrees by which the water rises over your body, to step forward even when you are sure you can’t, to prove to yourself, before breakfast, that you can do the impossible. That swooping in your chest. That aching in your wrists. That tension gathered at the base of your skull, only to be broken by thrusting down below the surface, opening your lids in the dark and letting the salt touch your eyeballs. You want to know where you end and everything else begins, to feel a whispering chill outline your edges as your heart pumps blood out, out to fill the shock of submerged muscles.

The weeks go by and you know that you are lucky, and you are grateful for your health, for any green space, for the paddling pool in the garden that you extract wasps from with the end of the hosepipe.

And you wait. You think of the aqua blue lido and the stretch and yawn of your sides as you pull through sun-dappled water. You think of rivers, running, glossy, carrying you with them on their rapid journey. But mostly, you think of the sea. Of all the shores it touches, and all the people connected by their staring at it. Of the smell of it; brine and mud and weed and sewage and sunshine. Of the power and freedom of so great a body and the way it holds you, lifts you, rocks you, smashes you, lets you know just how tiny and valuable you are. Of the way it aches, the wires it tightens in your cheekbones, the jumping it soothes in your chest. Yes, you think of the sea.

Seafarers told stories of the sea, once. Whistling on board is a challenge to the wind. Don’t wave goodbye to a sailor. Renaming a boat dooms it. Don’t wash your clothes on sailing day, don’t leave harbour on a Friday. The albatross carries good luck. The mermaids adventure below. Sirens call the sailors to the rocks.

The myths and legends, rhymes and superstitions are endless. For all time, we have known the power of the sea.

Bury your boots below the tideline so the water doesn’t rise to the graveyard to claim them. A sealskin left on a beach could be that of a selkie, dancing in the moonlight in human form. There’s a city lost in the ocean. There is a Kraken flailing in the deep.

There is time, now, for stories. The stories have a chance to ripen, to be full and bold and challenging because, for now, they are everything. Now we are reminded.

You sit in the paddling pool in the garden in the rain, stale water starting to smell of eggs, leaf detritus littering the bottom. You really should empty it out and start afresh but letting go of the water feels a waste. There are twelve hours, twenty-five minutes and twenty-four seconds between the tides. You sit in the paddling pool beneath the moon and wonder why you waited till now, when you could go nowhere, to do something you’ve always wanted to. In the sun, you watch waving reflection lines dance on your thighs as you move your hands across the surface. The sea touches every continent. You sit and you wait and you think.

Where will you go, when lockdown is lifted? Where will you go, if you can go anywhere? Would you fly away? Would you go to a city or a museum or a restaurant or a bar or the house of a friend? All those things, in time.

But first, to the sea, to the sea.

By Bonnie Radcliffe



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