Beach Walker – Chapter 4
Letting Off Steam
As the pain in my feet ebbed, I grew restless. Swatting away the March flies became a bother and the day was warming up as the cloud cover rolled away eastward. I’d brought neither hat nor sunblock: the plan was an early stroll before breakfast, not a morning on the beach in the full blaze of the sun.
The more I thought about it, the more complications I could see in waiting for Leonard. He was nicer and less strange than I’d thought, but I didn’t want to be obligated. I particularly didn’t want him knowing where I lived, and I could foresee that, having helped me up the steps, he’d offer to accompany me home.
He was a distance off, almost at the next headland, and engrossed in his task, whatever it was, when I rose cautiously and hobbled to the steps. Realising I was still wearing his shirt, I dithered – then hobbled right back to the depression in the sand where I’d sat, folded the garment and left it where he would easily find it.
It took a while to clamber up the several flights of steps. At the top, I stopped to catch my breath and for a final look. I saw Leonard upright, staring in my direction. My confident wave – the wave of an independent woman who could manage just fine, thanks – was acknowledged by a raised hand. I turned my back and limped from sight as briskly as I was able.
In the days that followed I made a few enquiries. Sarah, the chatty girl at the coffee kiosk who always greeted me by name now, was little help. The woman behind me in the queue spoke up: ‘Lenny you mean?’
‘A loner, that one, not very friendly,’ offered her partner. ‘Not quite right, if you ask me.’ He tapped his head. She shushed him.
They had no further information to offer. I made a point of mentioning how kind he’d been. They seemed surprised.
Truth be told, I knew hardly anyone else to ask. I’d made no effort to get to know people in the four months I’d lived in Ocean Grove, allowed a few delicate tendrils of friendship to wither and die. The uncomfortable thought occurred to me that ‘a loner, not very friendly’ was how some might describe me too. Possibly even ‘not quite right’? Hopefully not.
At any rate, my new, solitary existence was a far cry from my garrulous, sociable, bustling life in Wagga – and right now, ‘a far cry’ was how I wanted it.
I didn’t deliberately keep out of Leonard’s way after the bluebottle fiasco. I just somehow didn’t find time to go to the beach around low tide when I knew he’d be there. In honesty, I was embarrassed by the fuss I’d made and didn’t want to get involved – whatever exactly that meant. Diffidence slowly overrode curiosity and I ceased to think about him.
Until the Easter holidays.
It was one of those hazy, golden mornings we sometimes get in late summer and early autumn.
I descended the steps at 7W – the quieter, eastern end of town. School holidays had started and Ocean Grove was busy again with surfers and swimmers. I felt like being alone with my thoughts, so I turned east towards Point Lonsdale. I could expect to see very few people that way.
Dazed by the light, mesmerised by the warmth on my face, caressed by the breeze, I set off into the morning sun.
It was close to low tide, so the sand was wide, firm and flat. The sea was quiet with little surf. I walked and let my mind drift.
In my new beach-side existence, I feel time differently. It has layers and nuances that landbound folk don’t notice. Listen carefully and you will hear the faint rustle of time passing, grains trickling through the hourglass of life.
There’s the swish, surge and crash of the surf – always there, ever changing. There are the tides that advance and retreat, advance and retreat in a twice-daily rhythm. Tidal ranges wax and wane with the lunar cycle. The seasons wheel, bringing equinoctial storms, solstice heat and chill.
These are human timescales, but the Beach has longer cycles still. Over decades, centuries, millennia waves grind rocks and shells into sand; wind shifts sand into dunes. Outcrops of sandstone – fossil dunes – bear witness: geological time will turn the sand under your feet back into rock. You yourself will long since be dust, scattered on the wind.
I can’t say for certain that this was my train of thought on this particular day, but it’s plausible. A walk on the Beach unmoors me from the routines and rituals of daily life, makes space in my head for the philosophical and whimsical.
Whatever my exact thoughts were, shouts and laughter gradually impinged on them. The racket came from somewhere up in the dunes. Kids larking. I smiled to myself and walked on.
There’d been outrage on a community Facebook page and in the local papers about teenagers partying and camping wild in the dunes near Collendina. I’d put the fuss down to middle-class wowserism. There was nothing wrong, that I could see, in kids letting off steam and enjoying a mild autumn night in nature with their mates. It’s what I’d done with my friends down by the creek; it’s what our sons had done on the banks of the Murrumbidgee. A rite of passage. Far enough from supervision to make caring parents slightly anxious – but isn’t that a teenager’s role?
The shouting rose in pitch and volume. Hmm. Clearly someone wasn’t happy.
As I drew parallel with the source of the noise, I could see a group in a wide depression, almost a valley in the dunes. They were variously standing, bent with laughter and capering around. A lone figure was screaming at them and waving its arms.
The lone figure was Leonard and he seemed utterly deranged.
Next week in Beach Walker:
Chapter 5: Fragile
Grace tries to prevent a situation getting out of hand. Her intervention has unexpected consequences.