Now, How Shall Coast Beget Time? by Nic Cook

Content Warning: Trauma and depictions of mental illness

And when I think about it now it washes over me as a tidal wave and I am drenched once again and the clinging wet cloth of my attire that heavily drags and drags me down down to the ground and then through, until I’m stuffed up with nowtness, keeps me still.

So I won’t. I won’t think on that time again that killed me so because I’ve chosen to live and therefore I must so I’ll think on something else. I’ll walk as I tell you so I don’t become stuck. It’s difficult when I’m stuck you see as nothing will come out. I simply cannot do it. Cannot say. Funny really. Some of the things that I was thinking, about what had happened. At night in bed especially, thinking and thinking, really concentrating on them so they became terrifyingly real. Seeing them happening to me, terrible things. Awful really. But then it was all of sudden not true and I’m again in the here and now and wondering who it was all that horror did actually happen to and how oh how did I not realise, so that’s where it got to anywhere, anyway, with all that nonsense and I chose to stop thinking it really and it gradually went away. Obviously there were books. There’s always loads of books involved in any kind of crisis if you can get at them. Then it was all this walking and everyday its almost the same path until, again with this, with the walking—it isn’t. I did it and I just couldn’t go back after that. After I’d seen it. So, after all that time spent fucking hating it and blaming it for me not doing it all differently, I went out and walked and saw it all open out before me.

‘The sink hole swallowed up a dog. Aye, the owner couldn’t find it and wandered up there and it was at the bottom. Broken its leg that’s all, but what a massive way to fall. It’s like trying to find a rock amongst rocks.’

‘What have you lost; do you need some…’

‘A turd.’

‘Oh. Good luck with that, see you.’

We stepped over the trail of fencing, the silver bar which had at one time not turned east here, to the sea, but had continued on its way northwards unconcerned of the perpendicular risk it had been more recently approved to avert. The path was foot-trodden to the eye so we wouldn’t be navigating the ambages of this new fence-route our own way. Following it upwards and out of that pebbly cove, so difficult to spot a dog shit in, to the grassy lea. That pointless rerouting, surely not even one step of this coast is safe these days? Stormwaves have battered the belly of the cliff below until its guts gave out and it gulped down a border collie in their place. Into the bowel of a seamade swamp. Sucked beneath the grassroots in and under and out, out to sea then down, we looked, and calm it seemed. A pebbly beach with an inlet. So small it must appear, from out there. Up here we look down onto it where the ocean lets in a wee river with ebb and flow and washes the floor of its newly excavated quarters. A pool in the basement is a clear marker of wealth, they say. I don’t fear falling in, I fear the next gulp. The suckingdown. You see, I’ve been here before. Imbibed and heaved. We stand close to the edge but me closer and wonder if it is we both, thinking, what it would be to push or be pushed and what that would mean to the other. I stay longer than comfortable and a sadness corrals my legs to remain longer still, daydreaming of a plummeting magpie leap of faith, but I’ll turn and climb the path a little higher. It turns west in on itself now so we once more step over, this time onto the sanctioned part and feel a discharge of fear, actually. It didn’t eat me up this time, but I’ll come back and try again tomorrow.

I wonder why I have never before noticed them; in the sixteen years I grew here and in the one that I’ve been back. More of them squeak overhead and flash the black and white V of their bodies, orca-like, before stopping in the air to drift down onto the grass with the other’s. Interspersed with crows and gulls and jackdaws and starlings I am sure there is a raven but cannot seem to convince myself to commit to the idea. These grassy leas that the oystercatchers come to, bar the cliffs from the road keeping the town’s residents and the North Sea far enough apart that one might forget to notice the other, yet close enough to acknowledge their ceaseless presence. The sea is so still, the stillest I’ve ever seen it and in fact the people walking the clifftops in twos or ones and sometimes with a dog, appear as though they are not moving at all. Below lie the velvet beds of Frenchman’s Bay, where a 255 million year-old desert covered by a once tropical sea now waits, its Marl Slate grey and black sands formed by the bodies of dead sea creatures and the silt that they lived in. It is mottled with the scurvy grass eaten by sailors to forestall that disintegration of body and mind so common at sea. I’m sure it is chickweed, no? I hear the roll of waves although I can’t see any, the sea is so still. The traffic rumbles behind and beyond me as does, what seems to be, the roar of a ship’s engine seen in the distance although it, too, seems so still. There’s been noise from the ships out there for a long time, yet there’s definitely sound driving towards land from the horizon. Skylarks in the grass though the grass itself is very short at this cold time of year. I walk back past that sink hole and it doesn’t look as deep as it did before, now that I can make out grass and weeds growing from the bottom of it. It has been open a while, then. These spectacular cliffs can be dangerous if people are not careful. The edge is unstable so do not cross the barrier.

The huge impulse to be enveloped by the under. How dark by day and night that would be. Delicious insidious deciduous charcoal endless energy down there, I suppose. When did I begin this sinking again? I hadn’t noticed the trip stop flopdown into the pit. Thoughts or feelings, never been great at separating those even after rounds of NHS CBT. NHSCBT Not humanely sensitive crumbling beneath terra firma. Never hurting someone can be terrific. Now, how shall coast beget time? 

Now

hear 

spalling 

clay

below

trembling

I’m certain I feel it. Is it just me that shakes with the falling earth or are all these amblers shook too? Why wont they stop to help?

The day is grey and the fret has rolled up onto the leas to such an extent that you can’t see where the path drops off down steep limestone to the North Sea. She had seen dolphins here last week walking alone. Even had a conversation with a stranger who was watching them through binoculars. She won’t tell Jamie this nor suggest that they watch for them today. The mist feel’s warm. Too warm for a day when half the town already have their Christmas trees up. Though with plastic trees you could have them up all year if that was something you wanted to do. Jamie said that he was so depressed that she had married him when she didn’t love him. She said that she did love him and that it was just very hard being married to someone who had caused a lot of pain and was only just now beginning to sort himself out and that thirteen years really is an awfully long time. He walks off across the green to the side that isn’t the sea. He’ll collect Aiden she assumes. There had been many times that she had run away before and after they were married. Too many times beforehand really and in fact those fleeing’s were red flags, probably. 

Scurvy grass is not chickweed. It is spoonwort, or cochlearia. I know now because I looked it up in my Wild Flower Key. I read recently that there are so many types and subtypes of seagull with subtle changes from one to the next that even birdwatchers sometimes struggle with identifying them. It made me realise how inane Jamie must have found me going on and on about which type of gull it was we were looking at that day. At least I know now that I just have to accept the vast mystery of gull identification as something unknowable, like love or hate.

Why did you bring me into this world, she imagines him saying and she herself replying I didn’t mean to; for what else would she have to say to such a question?

Aiden gets her to write his father a letter on a scrap of paper. She is still lying in bed. I hope you have a happy day. That’s what the letter says. She hears her husband read it aloud to himself again and imagines his gleeful and astounded expression. A happy day- for little old me? He is singing to himself now. It really bothered and seemed to her, that his happiness was dependent on others telling him that they wanted him to be happy. She knew she did not mean those words as she wrote them out for her son, she did not want to play her part in the game of coddling Jamie’s happiness, giving him permission to feel some joy. No, that would not be her role today. 

They take Aiden to her Sister’s. They have gone the entirety of nine months with little more than a few hours free of their son to themselves or each other. Jamie takes Aiden in.

She can’t be arsed with talking to her sibling or having the fretful handover where Aiden wails and clings. Does he do this with Jamie too when she is absent? She has never asked. She’s never not there. They have planned to walk along the coastal path. Usually, with their son with them a walk means a long time with little distance or actual movement, so it never feels like a walk. She has long legs and it needs to be a big walk to feel like one at all. She can tell that Jamie wants to use this time to be intimate in some way but thinking of that makes her chest pound and her teeth grind. A few months back she had gone to hospital with heart palpitations. Nothing to worry about he’d said, the doctor. An ectopic heartbeat, nothing to worry about. Some people never notice they have one. It had stayed a few weeks but had been happening again lately. Jamie had been using the quiet and still moments between the chaos of the nothing of the days, to come very close to her and had started to touch her even. He always touched her too gently and it made her body quiver, but not in the way that she wanted it to. She so desperately wished for him to take care of his own needs for happiness and intimacy and to simply accompany her all the while knowing that this was entirely impossible and probably devastating for him or her or them, together. 

They walk the three minutes down to the coastal path and sit on a bench looking out, for a moment. He is grinning as he reaches over and grabs her thigh and say’s hello in a sigh, as though he has been waiting to greet her for days, or weeks even. Maybe forever. She grimaces. He saw. He definitely saw. She holds her body still with so much tension that it aches.

About this piece

This section of prose is from a longer story, yet finished, which explores the links between the instability of nature and human thought and feeling. It follows a female character through what appears to be a breakdown, but a breakdown from what, is unclear. She seeks solace in walking in nature, not finding the peace she expects, but something much more destabilising. But is this the very thing that might free her, in one way or another, from the bind she feels herself to be in? The writing explores place, rooted on the North East coast, and the coastal erosion that changes its shape in perpetuity.

Author Bio

Nic Cook lives and works on Tyneside. She writes about nature, and the entanglement of human thought and functioning in it. She is interested in the impossibility of separateness; from nature, from motherhood, from self, and explores these themes in prose and poetry.

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