I’m fleeing from you to the very skirts of the valley
Where I’ll press my feet to the ground
Until they sip dewdrops of grass
I’m fleeing from you to a deserted beach
Where on the lost boulders beneath dark clouds
I’ll learn the twisting dance of the ocean’s hurricane
From: The Wall by Forugh Farrokhzad
There was a new kind of peace that came after telling the truth. Mel cried as she walked, until she felt like her whole body was emptied out and her mind was blank. Peace, of a sort. She’d told Mam exactly what she thought, and Mam would tell Dad, and together they’d tell all their relatives and everyone would think she was a liar and a disappointment. Somehow, she didn’t really care.
Her feet carried her to the beach, where waves danced in the pink glow of the sun. Out of habit, she checked her phone, wondering if Jackie had broken her silence yet. Anne had sent her a “Good luck today!!!” text with three ambiguous heart emojis. A news report reminded her that oil was now washing up on northern beaches and trapping wildlife in its clutches. She put the phone away.
She took out her binoculars and observed the plovers from a distance. Penelope and her mate were hunting along the tideline while their three chicks made their first clumsy attempts at flight. Sometimes it still hurt when Mel remembered the first clutch they had buried in Cleadon Hills, but not as sharply as it had before. Mel watched as the nearly-adult chicks stretched their wings and wobbled through the air.
“You did it, Penelope. You’ll be an empty nester soon enough,” she said.
Penelope wasn’t paying attention.
Far down the coast, a tiny raptor hovering over a patch of saltmarsh caught her eye. The bird dove suddenly, disappearing behind the rushes and emerging with something clutched in its talons.
“Common kestrel,” said a voice behind her. “They can see near ultraviolet light, did you know?”
Mel recognised the voice at once.
“I didn’t know that, John.”
“Hmm, quite interesting, you know. It helps them to find areas with large vole populations. The voles leave scent trails outside their burrows, which the kestrels can see in UV light. Have you finished your exams?”
“Not quite. My English exam is today.”
He sat down next to her, binoculars lowered, gaze soft. Together they watched the plovers darting in and out of the waves.
“Why are you afraid of the ocean, John?” Mel asked
He paused, as if to dredge up some long-forgotten memory from the depths of his past.
“My father was a coal miner.”
“A coal miner?” Mel had always assumed that John had been born middle class.
“A coal miner. And a good man, too. He got the black lung when I was a wee boy. This was in the late fifties, early sixties; medicine wasn’t nearly what it is now. When it became obvious that he wouldn’t recover, he left one morning while we were all in bed. He put a note on the table saying he was ‘going for one last boat ride’ and to have our chores done by the time he got back. He took my granda’s fishing boat. Honestly I don’t know how he got out of the harbour, weak as he was. But he never came back. I never knew whether he meant to drown or whether it was an accident, but either way, I blamed the mines and I blamed the sea.”
They sat in silence for a while, listening to the waves. Hush hush hush, went the sea. The plovers shrieked and the grasses stirred and a gull cried victory over a bag of onion crisps.
“I’m sorry about your dad. I don’t blame you for being afraid of the sea,” said Mel.
John shrugged. “When I was a young man, my mam wanted me to work on an oil rig. She said it was good money. But I couldn’t do it. Can you imagine, me on an oil rig? No, I wasn’t going to challenge the sea like that.”
“My ancestors were sailors,” said Mel. “I think they loved the sea as much as they feared it.”
John nodded thoughtfully. “If you can love something as dangerous as the sea, then I don’t think you need to be afraid of anything else.”
About the author: Ella Shively is a writer and wildlife technician in northern Florida. You can find her online at https://www.instagram.com/shivelywrites/.
About today's featured poet: Born in Tehran in 1934, Forugh Farrokhzad was a bold poet, filmmaker, and advocate for women's independence. Alternately praised and shunned for discussing taboo subject matters, Farrokhzad's poems are still studied, debated, and celebrated today.