Winners 2002: First prize

Anna Lewis (Winner)

The Blue School, Somerset

Into the Distance

I used to bring my boys here, I tell him,
back when the sea was further from the village
than it is now, and they used to run into the
garden of the b&b early each morning to scramble
down the bramble-clogged bank at the back
onto the narrow beach. Even in the rain,
pearls of water flying from the thorns, they
never slowed, but dashed to meet the moon-cooled
new tide each day, carrying their footprints
to the grey waves.

Thanks, I say, as he places another pint
on the table. I suppose their footprints may
still be there, beneath the water – one morning
the tide must have climbed the beach and
never fallen, never taken the imprints of
my boys back to the ocean – it’s a slower
process than that, he says, as though he were
a geologist, not merely a hoar-bearded man
growing stout drinking out his last years in
a dark damp inn by the sea.

Maybe, I consider, I in fact quite like the
thought of the current dragging their footsteps
backwards to float beneath the waves –
the old echoes of my boys’ feet drifting in the
sea, stamping from here to Cape Horn – maybe,
watching on the southern shore, I’ll see them walking
past someday –

-maybe, he says. His seaman’s eyes, flat and
grey, stare beyond me as though already
tired. Who wants a woman who can only
talk of motherhood’s slow erosion, I suppose,
when one lives here? When the cold
ocean creeps to your threshold each night,
beckoning you from your worn-down years into
the waves’ chill path, their slow territorial
yawnings swallowing churches and
graveyards, silencing bells and sowing ice along
the streets? Perhaps he sees footprints in the
pock-marks down my cheeks. It hardly
matters – already he turns from me, as though
I drag him too fast into the distance, faster
than the subtle ebb that pulls him
closer to the low sky each year.