Choiceless Beach, in The Sea (anthology)
An Excerpt from
© Anna Reith. All rights reserved.
The brush spun in pirouettes like a dancer, every turn and arc described across the canvas as a series of steps, each faultlessly complex and yet designed to dazzle with the lie of simplicity. Its bristles, matted with stiff globs of oils in muddled greys and greens, alternately swept and stuck on the painting’s surface; here gliding across some smooth wash, there jabbed with vicious force into a ridge of texture.
Meera propped her chin on her palm as she watched him work. Some days, she was certain Jordan entirely forgot she was there. He could be like that. Ten minutes, he’d said. He just wanted to finish this one thing, just this one part before he lost the image from his head. Ten minutes, and he’d be ready for her.
She didn’t really mind. It wasn’t as if she had anywhere better to be. So, she stayed silent and watched him moulding shapes and adding detail, eking false reality out of a ten-inch square of his work, sketching out the rise and swell of waves across a canvas approximately two feet by four. Propped across two large easels, it took up most of the attic studio, which was not a large room or, rather, was not a large room once Jordan’s clutter had been piled into it. Shelves filled the wall behind him, laden mostly with books and pieces of driftwood, stones or whatever other detritus that washed onto the shore in time for one of his morning walks, and he had decided was more treasure than discard. Strands of shells hung near the window like strings of clean-picked teeth, bleached by the sun and rattling faintly in the salt-stained breeze.
If you leaned far enough out of the window, you could see past the garden—with its overgrown hedges, rambling shrubs, and pervasive odour of cat pee and lavender—and past the concrete hinterlands of the other houses that fringed the new extensions to the village, spilling out past the old boundaries like the slow leach of rising damp. You could see past all of the bricks, the stones, the little human hives…all the way to the glimpse of the sea, in its vast and changeful intensity, ever shifting and yet entirely without care for that which it touched.
One day it would eat away the cliffs, lick the sandstone rises down to nubs, and subsume all of this. England was an island, after all, and the nature of islands could never be more than a transient whisper in the geological life of land and sea. They were born, they rose, and they fell. Volcanic landmasses erupted from the oceans and, in time, the oceans claimed them again, swallowing up low-lying land the way they ate up ships.
Boundaries were illusions. The sea rose, the sea fell; ultimately, it was constant, if not entirely changeless. It had its moods, its alterations…but it stayed true to itself. Besides, Meera reflected, as a rule, most changes were usually less dramatic than they seemed. Life was full of patterns, and even the most unusual things fitted into some wider rhythm. All that was truly new was the motion of time: the unyielding surge against which all change was plotted, the wave carrying all those patterns forward, like the lace of foam upon the surf.
The future was encroaching onto this place, for what good it would do it.