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A Sea Symphony

Helen Chambers

A Song for All Seas, All Ships - allegro

Face pressed against the car window, you strain to be first because you’re the oldest. You win, because your brother was dozing. ‘I saw the sea before you!’ you sing.


‘Where?’ He rubs tired eyes, squinting.


This holiday-time sea, this blue Atlantic, is different from home. At home, you crunch across brown shingle which digs into your bare feet; you tumble quickly down the shelving stones into the churning, opaque saltiness. You’re the oldest and surer-footed, but you don’t like the cold, so he’s always first in.


This holiday sea glitters with a net of diamonds in the sunshine. This holiday sea has sandy beaches spreading flat for miles, and the rows of waves line up, waiting their turn to sweep in. When you climb the steep cliff path and gaze down, dizzy-kneed, this sea is so clear, you can see right down to the bottom.


It’s as cold as your brown North Sea. Even the sand is cold. Without the steep shelf, it takes persistence to wade deeper, and you cheat, diving to make sure you’re in first. But when you watch the pair of them holding his small hands in their big ones, jumping him over the breaking waves, one either side, you realise no-one noticed you were first. You look away, pretending to be too grown up to make a fuss. You don’t stay in long.


You watch the tide dismantle the sandcastles you’ve made, drag them into the backwash. Yours was biggest.


Then he wants to swim again, so you go too, to stay evens. It’s too cold and you hate it.


Later, you hardly give them a backwards glance when you set sail to discover other seas:  mild, green Mediterranean seas; icy, blue Northern seas and fierce-surfing rollers crashing on faraway beaches. He stays home, near them, by the North Sea.



On the Beach at Night, Alone - largo

You wash up somewhere else, crawl inland, hundreds of miles away. You no longer know what his life is like, nor he yours. You’re ‘too busy.’ You’re ‘working.’ You’ll ‘visit soon.’


In the wakeful small hours of yet another lonely night, you stare at the stars; a clear, endless sky. When you locate the North Star, he drifts into your thoughts. Perhaps you’re missing the steady beat of rain. Perhaps you’re missing the racing clouds and drizzle-filled days. Perhaps you’re even missing the North Sea.



The Waves - scherzo

All land is one beneath the sea, so they say, and your children run around squealing with his on the beach, watched over lovingly by your parents. He drove them here. They treat all the children equally, you notice. You’d chosen this sandy beach, a long drive for both you and him. You blow up inflatable toys, grimace at the sand in the sandwiches and frown when he and the children drip seawater over your carefully prepared picnic. You don’t swim, in order not to mess up your hairstyle.


You return to the choppy waves of family life, too busy looking inwards to worry about anyone else.


Your children grow up and leave home taking their energy and achievements. Life flows onwards. You’re busy living the life you chose, head just above the surface of your own sea, far away from the North Sea.



The Explorers - allegro

It’ll be his idea to meet here, it’ll feel strange without the children or your parents. You’ll move more slowly, so will he. You’ll wonder if you’ll have anything to say. Rain and sea-spray will spot the grimy café windows (not the tea-room you’d have chosen) and sprinkles of sand will grit the floor. On the distant horizon, sea and sky will blur into one grey cloud.


You’ll find you can’t stop talking, neither can he: the confluence of your words form an unstoppable flow. Late that afternoon, you’ll both be asked to leave so they can close.


‘I saw the sea before you!’ he’ll laugh. Looking back together, you’ll share gems - precious jewels belonging only to the two of you and no-one else - and you’ll polish them with the gloss of joint memory.


You’ll agree to explore together, reinventing yourselves.


You’ll scramble after him over the shingle shelf down into the sea: slow, unsure, wincing at the pebbles digging into your bare feet. He’ll be first into this familiar sea, the North Sea, which will be grey, brown and churning-cold.

Helen is a writer from North East Essex, UK. She won the Fish Short Story in 2018 and was nominated for Best Microfictions in 2019 and a Pushcart Prize in 2021. She writes flash and short stories and you can read some of her publications at:

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