The five of us are crammed inside a holiday unit, the two older girls thumping around upstairs, every footfall and shriek echoing downstairs where the baby is trying to sleep.My patience has worn thin. It requires immediate medical attention.
In desperation I take them by the hand and tell them we are going for a walk.
We step outside. The air is fresh, the sun warm and the breeze light. I feel my mood begin to lift as I let the girls choose the direction we will go. Even though they have complete freedom, they still steer themselves towards the shore, like baby turtles returning to their beach of birth.
The roads down here are without curbs, the bitumen running to grassy edges. To me it is a marker of a seaside town, a reminder of summers past spent in Dongara with my cousins. Swinging our arms we march towards the beach. Cardigans and jumpers are peeled off and handed to me. They gain momentum and speed as we hit the grassy dunes. Little pink sandals are removed and lined up at the edge of the track, marking our path home, like Hansel’s breadcrumbs, only these are covered with patent leather.The eldest runs out across the sand, feet barely touching the ground as she heads towards prime seashell hunting territory. The smallest is more cautious and insists on holding my hand as she bends to investigate every pile of seaweed, every cuttlefish.
She is afraid of the water. The ocean at home is rougher, it grabs her ankles and threatens to pull her under. I tell her that the water here is like a little puppy, gently licking her feet. The water at home is the boisterous older dog, jumping up on her, pushing her down. She pauses, considering the puppy analogy – she loves puppies – but shakes her head. She remains unconvinced and will stick to the sand.We are hunting shells. The eldest picks up anything and everything, regardless of colour, shape and integrity. Nothing is deemed unworthy - even if it’s broken. Everything is a treasure. Everything must be collected and recorded and kept.
The youngest wants to keep wandering up to the grassy dunes. I do not know what she is looking for, but I am concerned she will find something that bites. She is not interested in shells until her older sister finds her one that is still connected, its two halves spread like butterfly wings. She holds it carefully in her little hand. She is not allowed to break it.The ocean spreads before us, rich blue, blurring at the horizon where it melts imperceptibly into the sky. Completely flat and still, it must seem larger than anything the girls have seen before, but they seem unable to see beyond their own feet, eyes trained downwards. The magic of the stillness is lost on them.
I though, stand and take in the peace. In the distance the jetty stretches over a mile into the water. We are completely alone, in complete silence. I can’t remember the last time I have been in complete silence and not felt a sense of dread.
I realise my breathing is mirroring the gentle movement of the waves and I feel my mouth move. I am smiling. I am at peace.
There is something in my hand. I look down. Two little girls are curling their fingers into mine, their other hands brimming with sandy treasures.
It is time to go back.