The engine of the little ferry slowly quietened to a purr as it
came alongside the quay. Passengers disembarked with their shopping
bags and walked off chattering to each other. The final passenger
stepped off onto the slimy steps, ignoring the ferry driver’s
proffered hand. She looked as though she had left somewhere in
a hurry. She was wearing blue scrubs with an old woollen jumper
thrown over the top. Her dirty hair was escaping it’s bonds.
Her rather handsome face was free of make up and there were deep
bags under her eyes. But she was smiling. Caroline Swithe didn’t
waste smiles, they weren’t issued without good reason. But
as she stood on the quay and looked around at the small Cornish
village of Flushing she found she was beaming.
She hadn’t been here for twenty-five years. Everything was
totally different but exactly the same. The pattern of the little
houses, threaded by secret lanes and alleys that she and her brother
knew off by heart, was still the same. There were children crabbing
off the end of the quay, just as she had.
She was thankful the sun was shining. She knew there must have
been times when she’d come here and it had rained but she
couldn’t remember them. Her memories were drenched in sunlight
and brushed by a cool breeze with a hint of salt.
Caroline felt something she had not felt in a long time. She felt
butterflies in her stomach.
She set out purposefully, she always walked purposefully, even
if she didn’t know the purpose, it always did to look that
way. But now she knew exactly where she was going. She walked
along the road that wound by the river edge before turning up
hill. Instead of following it she turned left down a narrow lane.
After a few yards the ground abruptly stopped and she stood on
the edge looking down onto Lucie’s beach.
She smiled. It was a dump. It had always been a dump. A small
expanse of seaweed in between Quays, littered with lighters and
washed up bottles. But she and her brother, William, had always
preferred to play here than the clear watered, sandy beach on
the other side of the village. They would spend their days creating
complex worlds. The scrubby beach could be transformed into an
underwater kingdom, a battlefield, the site of buried treasure.
Sticks were swords, washed up glass was a precious jewel, and
seaweed always provided a good but pungent wig. She wondered when
was the last time her imagination had a chance to run away like
that. She couldn’t remember, she didn’t have time
for that nowadays. Back then it had seemed effortless.
She slowly walked down the stone steps and stood on the oozing
carpet of seaweed. The tide was out, the seaweed stretched onwards
gradually turning to mud then transforming into twinkling turquoise
water. Behind her were the cliffs. She used to scramble over them
like a mountain goat, almost giving her watching grandmother a
heart attack. In fact the rocks were only a few metres high but
they had seemed colossal when she was younger and managed to clamber
all the way up to the top. She could still see the two smoother
parts that she and William had used as thrones. Hers was higher
She made her way along the beach stepping over and under the ropes
that moored the dinghies to the rock. Her soaking feet kicked
something hard on the floor. Amongst the seaweed was a rusted
piece of curved metal. All her nurse senses screamed at her not
to pick it up. But a small voice in her mind, a voice that had
been dormant for many years, spoke.
That would be a good tool.
She picked it up. It had probably once been a rowlock, but now
it was unrecognisable. It was sharp and mangled, and perfect.
She scanned the wall of rock and found what she was looking for.
Ungracefully she hauled herself up onto the damp rock and sat
in a wet groove. A seam of crystal ran through the rock, if one
looked carefully they ran everywhere, like a blood network. Caroline
selected the biggest crystal she could find and, using the rusty
tool, started to scrape away at the rock around it. She and her
brother used to do this for hours, digging for treasure. They
had really thought they were diamonds at one time. Even when they
found out they weren’t valuable they still went on digging.
Her mind was numbed, the only important thing was freeing the
crystal. She scraped at it persistently, digging and gouging.
Eventually, like a lose tooth, she was able to prise the crystal
free. It sat in her dirty palm and she stared at it with ridiculous
She wondered what she was doing, but it was as though she was
thinking through cotton wool. She had always filled her days being
busy and productive. At work, head nurse in accident and emergency,
she had to be and she thrived on it. There she felt alive, she
was fearless. It wasn’t a job it was her. But at home she
had felt as though she was asleep. Especially after the children
left home and she and Mark were left alone. She would always be
busy so she would never have a moment to stop and think. And wake
up. But slowly she had done. And she realised that they weren’t
living they were existing together.
She had made the step and they were through the long divorce,
she was free. So why, when she had finished her eight-hour night
shift, did she suddenly decided to take a six hour train journey
to a tiny Cornish village where she had spent childhood holidays
with her Grandparents?
She leaned against the wet rock, closed her eyes and began to
cry. Great sobs shook themselves out of her body. She cried because
she was scared, scared of the new found freedom that she feared
and relished. She cried because she didn’t know what was
going to happen next. She cried because she’d found the
part of her she thought she’d lost. The scruffy tomboy who
could pass her days in daydreams.
Crying had always seemed like an indulgent past time, never actually
helping a situation. But as her sobs gradually subsided she felt
she had been drained of something toxic. She felt light and empty
and better. Everything seemed sharper, more defined. The light
was brighter, she could feel the sun on every part of her skin.
The rock she was sitting on felt more solid, more real. She looked
out at the water. She didn’t know what time it was, nor
how long she sat there. Time was usually a very precious thing
to Caroline, she had to make sure it was filled with something
useful, she hated the feeling of wasting it. But now she couldn’t
think of a better way to fill her time. In fact she didn’t
think; thoughts floated in to her head and out again. She had
the strange sensation of her body feeling relaxed yet tingling
with a current of excitement at the same time. She had done this
when she was a child, just sat and watched the water. Wasting
time. Yet those days seemed to have more time in them, they shone
out in her memory. Whereas the days where every second was filled
merged together and were lost.
Soon she would have to get organised, find somewhere to stay the
night and buy some new clothes. She’d have to go back late
the next day for work but before that she might walk around the
village and maybe go up on the hills to look out to sea.
But now she just sat. She closed her eyes and smiled at the sun
on her face.