I hear the gulls, said Janice, they cry above our heads, swoop over the beach and sea, dive off and up and away. We have eaten our fish and chips in the cafe near the beach, we are free to go on the sands and sit or play, but not to go in the sea or get wet, the gospeller One-Eye said, stay near to each other do not wander off. Benedict is with me, we walk the sands, the wind is calm, the sea rushes slow up and down the beach, the tide swishes and shushes. Benedict runs to the edge near the tide, he stares out to sea, hands behind his back, like some ancient ****** of old. I watch him with my staring eyes, my heart pounding lest he fall and drown, imagining his arms waving through high seas. One-Eye the gospeller calls him back, beckons him with a pointed finger. I watch and see, Benedict moves back from the edge, come to my side, his mischievous grin ablaze, his eyes like fires of excitement. He talks of pirates and Jolly Rogers, and tall sails and high seas and walking the plank, his excitement brings his hands to clap. I smile, my heart beats fast, I am near to his side, his hands clap loudly, he laughs at the gulls that cry above. I see a ******* the beach making a sand castle with a piece of wood, her hair moves in the slight wind, her skirt lifts in the wind's hold, she laughs and laughs. A boy chases the gulls that settle on the sands, they lift off making loud cries, he chase them off and away. One-Eye and other gospellers stand in a group watching the children play, one a woman, with dark hair and a blue dress sings some hymn in a loud voice. My grandmother said not to get wet or ruin my shoes or clothes, to do as I’m told, eat all my lunch and behave, or she'd tan my hide. Benedict brings me some shells, large and small, colourful and white or grey, he pours them into my palm, they are cold and damp, I sense them there. I move them with a finger, sort them out like a jeweller does pearls. Benedict talks of ***** and dead fish on the sands, and seaweed and sea creatures hanging on for dear life. I put the shells in my bag, I brush off the sand and damp, watch Benedict searching the shore for more. I watch the sea come in, the sound of the tide and shush and swoosh, and the wind getting up, getting stronger, it blows at my face, at my red beret, my hair moves at the edges of my head. The woman in the blue holds down her dress against the wind's pull, the sea's call, the gulls' cry. Benedict comes to my side, his hands holding tight his coat about him, his hair moves in the wind. Rises and up and the quiff jumps in the pull and push of wind. I hold on to Benedict’s hand, feel his chilled hand in mine, his voice carried off by the wind's harsh blow. The sea is rough, the waves race and rise, the wind sings a chorus of sounds, gulls call in the wind's flow, swoop and sway and dive and fly away. I hold tight to Benedict’s hand, feel his grip hold mine, his fingers wrapped round my hand, his hair a rising mess of dying kings, his voice held by the wind, his legs holding firm on the sand, his feet dug deep in the sand's grit. One-Eye moves us back to the coach, too strong to stay much longer, too dangerous for children to stay behind. We climb on the coach, take our seats, sit down and huddle each in our way, looking out at the sea's swell, the wind's scream. One-Eye and the woman count and call our names, we are all in place, all as we were, hairs in a mess, faces flushed, hands cold. Benedict rubs my hands in his, gets them warm, blows breath on them as he rubs. The coach moves off along the front, we wave at the sea and gulls, at the people left behind, at the man who walks on stilts dressed like a clown, swaying, almost falling down. I watch as the seaside moves away, the sea gone from sight, the gulls swaying overhead, then away over the rough seas. I sense Benedict beside me, his hands rubbing mine to keep them warm, his warm breath warming my fingers' chill. I am eight and a half years old, my grandmother keeps me safe, she keeps me in the lines of right and wrong, tells me to be good or else. Benedict is nearly nine, he lives nearby in some London flats, we are friends of a feather he says, me maid Marian to his Robin Hood, me Annie Oakley to his Wyatt Earp or Billy the Kid. The coach moves homeward away from the seaside town and sea, far from the wild wind and the gulls' cry, the sea's sounds and smell of salt and fish and *****. Benedict talks of Long John Silver and bottles of *** and dead men's chests, and knives and swords and sea and ships. I listen to his words and dreams and tales, feel him beside me, elbow to elbow, arm to arm, his hands making gestures of swaying ships and pirates' gold and treasures on island far away over seas more wild and rough. I watch him my sailor boy, my pirate with hazel eyes, and brown wild windswept hair, hear his voice talk of tall ships and desert isles and buried treasures, feel his arm next to mine, strong in his boyhood way. He talks of me as a siren of the deep, one who sits on rocks and sings sailors to their doom and laughs, his hand holding mine as we sail our ship on oceans rough and wild, wind in our hair and eyes, we both the ****** and yet at the same time the child.
A BOY AND GIRL AND THEIR SEASIDE ADVENTURES IN 1957.