Under the pier, there is darkness. At first I think it’s the river, its surface reflecting the black sky, but where the cloud is broken the water has clear patches and these shimmer. If I look past these reflections, I can see the bladderwrack that blots out the pale riverbed. Smoke comes to me from the house on the hill, but as I brush stray hair from my cheek, the smell is replaced by a mineral one, my fingers silty from throwing Tone’s ball. He swims back to me now, his wake rippling the calm.
It’s the end of the year. A time for reflection. When memory’s shadows light up at things recalled. And while Tone and I fill in time, waiting, I’m thinking of all those other winters you’ve brought us here to this beach, as though each summer is just one long trough in a wave. Those days I’ve sat in the van in my hat and gloves, listening to you change in the back, your rash vest draped on the heater’s vents, and then the door sliding open, and finally the rumble of a block of wax on your board; how I’ve watched you on the long paddle out, a black speck in the acres of blue, while all the time breath condenses on the scarf at my chin. You say it’s like taming something wild, but shouldn’t I worry when the spray from your board is just a hangnail on a giant?
Walking back to the van, I check my watch. Still an hour of daylight left. Currents etch the river’s steep banks – swirls and trenches that gleam wetly and themselves reflect the sky (or perhaps reflect the river reflecting the sky, like circus mirrors). At this time of year, the landscape sinks into itself, one brindled mass with a streak of tar and chip road. It will grow paler and paler over winter. But the rivers and burns will still shine. It’s their reflections that bring the land to life – the upside down hills cast blue, yellow fields gleaming, clouds tumbling from every lochan on the moor.
But now it really is getting dark (the darkness I felt earlier only that of seaweed and rock). The gloom rises from the moor, seeping between clefts in hills. And all those reflections die back, like experiences passing into memory. The other surfers have packed up and gone. But you are still out there – happy that you have the waves to yourself. You will stay until the last bit of light fades, and the ocean blushes, and just as in those other winters, grey days that I remember all of and none of, I’ll take the torch and I’ll find you trudging up the hill, your board glowing in the dusk.