By NIGEL FORD.
FOR A WHILE, there is no-one here. All seems sparsely quiet. All seems still.
Apart from what moves constantly – the sea, the small clouds, the birds, the dune grass, the odd hoppity-hop ice cream wrapper.
Apart from what sounds. The beach huts creak, the gulls chatter and shout, the sea slaps and gurgles, the dune grass sighs.
But it definitively is quiet.
It is still because we are not here.
Not a human in sight. A gap in time.
The Attendant returns. It is time for him to take two dozen deckchairs from the stack and line them up tidily along the beach.
The tide has turned. The watermark is distinct. The deckchairs lined up along it, safe as houses.
Deckchairs can only be put up one at a time. Try to put one up with each hand and sooner or later you’ll get in a tangle.
Stacking chairs would be more practical. But what is practical is rarely beautiful, the Attendant tells himself, frequently.
His deckchairs slip easily into position, one at a time, as if they were running on grease, slickly and confident, each one with an expert snick-click sound. Two rows of twelve, quick as you like, evenly spaced. One row slightly above the other on the tyre of the beach. Just right. Both rows with a clear view of the sea.
The Attendant’s work is irreproachable. No-one ever complains. But most pick up their deckchairs without folding them and stagger about until they find the position they wish to choose for themselves. Sometimes a squabble arises, due to a view being blocked.
The Attendant always watches this procedure. The ritual of independence. A job like this, he reflects, it tells you something new about the human race every day.
There’s a murmur drawing in, soft drone, constant, no rise, no fall, you can hear its soft bounce across the dunes, settling down in projection from the urban. Men’s voices, level, sensible and serious. A soft fanfare heralding the coming of Easter. The sacred time. When the blood rises and runs. The advent of Spring. The muse of theories. The sensual holiday of sadness, regret and hope. The Spring. It has been here long before the advent of man. It is here now for all. For a time or two. For plant, animal and rock. The stones warm their veins in the new Sun. There is violence in the air. And love. Desire, hope and despair. The comfy sofa of well-being. The painful bed of nails. All things and everyone feels it. This vanguard of belief and doubt has plagued the souls of all living creatures since the Earth began and will continue until the Earth ends.
They arrive here, moth-eaten winter crows, dipping and croaking, bending and creaking, they grasp the deck chairs with knowing hands and place them where they will. Their knowledge and expertise transform them into a grace of ravens. They have grown above their souls. They settle, bounce up, move, crouch, talk, always talk, the incessant, confident purr, a level, brilliant drone, all-knowing, loving all, nothing missed, nothing gained. It is the congregation of peace, sensibilities and explanation of the past twelve months, the exorcism of panic, the confidence of company. Their bottoms sink onto their enchanted ids. They doze.
It is quiet now. The drone has died. The foot shuffle quieted.
The beach, the beach huts, the dunes, the sea, the sky, the Sun, the vapid croak of gulls, they have the day again.
‘Dead on time,’ the Visitor observed. It was the first time he had witnessed this occasion.
‘As usual,’ the Attendant’s voice was courteous. ‘Always the same.’
They’d formed a pattern of communities, the Visitor saw, these black-clothed men, with their bright white breasts and dull black crowns. ‘Some die, some are new,’ the Attendant elaborated. ‘The pattern is never the same. The purpose is always the same.’
‘All is well with the world,’ the Visitor’s voice shook.
‘Always is. Always has been. Always will be. Until it ends. Damn all we can do about it.’
‘The Nature of things,’ the Visitor’s voice picked up confidence, jewelled with hope.
‘You got it.’
Nigel Ford is English and works as a writer and visual artist. His stories have appeared in the Penniless Press anthology, Howling Brits, and a collection entitled One Dog Barking, published by Worldscribe Press. He has been featured in several literary magazines in the USA and UK. He is now directing a play (“Conspiracy”) in Gothenburg, Sweden, to open in late-August 2018.