Not Last Night, but the Night Before: The Esplanade

A summer storm is blowing in and now is the calm before. The air is heavy but not heaving, the wind is a whisper and the sea is not-quite calm. The water, the clouds, the sky are grades of grey and blue. They suit my mood which, at new year, is resolvant melancholy.

(no, you’re right, resolvant isn’t a word, but what then is a melancholic when she is resolved?)

In the houses of The Esplanade – town houses with sea views from front windows and neighbours’ clotheslines from the rest – BBQs are firing, sundowners are downed. I walk along the wide paved path between the houses and the sand. Around me, thin and sinewed runners take straight lines while children on their scooters turn and weave. Babies in prams, on hips, in slings. Men and women grown old together are walking hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm or three steps apart.

Below, in the sand and the sea, families and couples and tribes of young adults (through the eyes of middle age these last are grown up children, aren’t they, but don’t tell them I think that way – they’ll only roll their eyes). Mothers wrap first towels and then their arms around shivering children. There are rubber balls, tennis balls and frisbees. From here, there is no sound when they hit the sand, a splash when they hit the water and, when the throw is bad, the stinging slap against wet skin (ya fkn dkhd, what was that?).

A spotter plane (fixed wing, I know these things) flies close to the shore. This summer, sharks are spotted every second day (it’s the bogans on the jetty chucking the crab nets off the jetty down at Brighton; how shocking sharks in their own habitat what do u expect u moron – this is what I’ve learnt from facebook). I have heard the sirens sound and seen the water cleared while helicopters hover and rubber boats charge out from the shore. Cartilaginous beasts and their teeth are not welcome here.

Dogs, their owners walking in opposite directions, slow down, sniff, then chase. Their owners stand, facing each other, calling their dogs. The dogs run, first to one voice then the other, back and forth, splashing through the shallows and kicking up the sand. The human voices first are high, then as frustration grows they deepen. Who knows why but the dogs stop their frolic and part, running towards their owners.

I have been past the café, the storm water drain (a trickle now but it will gush when the storm blows in), the sculpture. I have turned and now I’m nearly back at the start. My children will be home from cricket and surf lifesaving and needing to be fed. But I’m not ready to go home, not ready to leave this place where the land meets the sea and we are, all of us – walking, swimming, running, calling our dogs, chasing our kids – together but apart.

I sit on an empty bench. It is dedicated by plaque to a man whose name I will never remember by a woman I’ll never know. Now that I have stopped I can hear the sea rolling in. The waves are breaking softly across the sand. That sound must have been there while I was walking but I guess I couldn’t hear it above my thoughts. At my feet are three cigarette butts that were pushed out of shape by smokers’ thumbs before they were flicked to the ground or flattened under shoes. I see smudges of black ash, chewing gum stains and ants on their well-trodden path.

Snatches of conversation sound behind me. I don’t know what she wants from me … I know and that’s the situation in Germany too … yeah but mate, who gives a fuck.

Another plane – a jet – taken off from the airport a few kilometres down, flies out, gaining altitude over the sea before it banks and flies back towards the shore. I have already told you that I love the sight and the sound of those jets, but every day I love them more. They take my love and then they bring him home to me. The goodbye is getting harder but it takes less time to find my equilibrium.

A woman and a man are together in the sea. They are facing the shore, and she is behind him, her arms wrapped around his shoulders while his cannot be seen. He turns his head. Her neck stretches forward.

They kiss.

I think, Who knows what goes on beneath the surface.

Perhaps their feet are buried in the sand and they are grounded.
Or maybe they are floating.

5 thoughts on “Not Last Night, but the Night Before: The Esplanade”

  1. I miss the sea but look forward to tomorrow’s walk round our beautiful lake, when I will see the Canberra equivalents of all your characters. Lovely and might the melancholic perhaps be resolute?

  2. You have this uncanny way of pulling me right into a scene or a place or an emotional landscape. I’m at my parents’ place in New Plymouth, it’s a grey rainy morning (there’s a reason that Taranaki is so green!) and the sea has disappeared, but I’m seeing beaches and sulky waves and people, and feeling a sense of within and without.

    Thank you for sharing this. I love reading your writing.

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