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Darkness is not what folks think about when they hold the word seaside in their mouths. They are licking a stick of seaside rock with the word sunshine that goes all the way through as you eat it. They are seeing pink and white candy floss clouds in the blue sky. This place is only sunshine somewhere in the middle, after you’ve sucked that candy stick for months waiting for it, or at the end of a wet day when the sun punches a hole in the grey cardboard sky just when it’s time to go inside for dinner. It’s bitterly cold here most of the year. In winter the sky begins to darken around three o clock and the black pools in the morning sky don’t empty until at least eight o clock. The grey sky can cover this coast like a tent all day. If you grow mostly in the dark and sunshine is something which warms your body for a day only to hide the next, you quickly learn not to rely on it for warmth. You learn to move well in the dark, to open your eyes under water, to find other sources of warmth. You learn that sunshine is a shiny toy, something else to lose. So I choose the bright edges of the day to go swimming, before the sun disappears. Before it dazzles enough to rub you out, or shines too brightly, exposing the futility of your small world.
The water is cold in May for swimming although the sea is shallow here and the summer sun heats it quickly. The sea here is higher than the land and land is either half liquid or just borrowed: man has drained it for his own purposes but the sea will take it back. A few metres nibbled away each year but the sea can take its time. We fight it with walls of stones, holding the sea at a distance.
The wall turns the waves to ripples. I find a heavy stone before slipping out of my clothes. I weight them down and run as best I can, the wind chasing me, catching me each time it breathes out. I don’t fight its hold except to keep my balance. As soon as it begins to breathe in, I seize my body back and run faster until I reach the sea. A moment’s hesitation prepares me for the numbing cold before I quickly plunge in until only my head emerges. The grey water has swallowed the rest of me. I can only see my hands as my arms rise to form each stroke. I swim quickly, using my muscles to generate heat. The sea begins to feel warmer. My body tingles and light floods my eyes. Some mornings the sun is an amber circle, a painted jigsaw piece which joins the sea to the sky. Sensation overwhelms me. Here I am strong and the sea carries me. Back there I am weak, fighting shadows, fear riding on my back.
Only one thing counts in this grey liquid land. Stay afloat. Keep moving to keep from freezing. Stay strong as you push through the water. Break the rules and you sink. One choice. Swim or give in.
You learn when to turn around, head back to shore. I used to swim out too far. I can still taste the salted fear, the final sweetness of lying on my belly on the sand, satisfied in that minute just to breathe air and know there was more. The feeling lasted all day.
The rules are not simple once you leave the sea. So I swim every day.