There’s a permanence in this November rain. You can’t tell where it starts or finishes, you only have to be outside for a few seconds and it’s all over you, cold and inescapable. A fine mist that cloaks every blade of grass in the garden.
It’s a day for the house. But it’s also the last couple of days of the mid term break and we don’t want to waste it. We watch the weather through the smears on the window.
‘What do you want to do today buddy?’ I enquire gently.
His small, round face is twisted in concentration for just a moment. Then he brightens. A breakthrough.
‘Let’s go to the beach daddy!’
I shiver involuntarily.
‘The beach? It’s not really a beach day buddy? What about the cinema? Shall I see what’s on?’
‘No daddy, I want to go to the beach, please!’
I glance at mummy but she just shrugs her shoulders. I turn back to my son and can see the hurt coming into his features. I soften.
‘OK buddy, the beach it is. But we all have to wrap well up.’
We’ve got the beach virtually to ourselves. Of course. There’s the occasional dog-walker and a haughty seagull which looks big and nasty enough to pluck out your whole eyeball, but they are just hurrying through. Seeking shelter.
The fog rolls across the top of the tide like a thick sauce. There are piles of dark, slippery seaweed creating formations like military defences on the sand. Our nostrils are full of the scent of its pungent brine.
And we’re playing in the sand. And at the edge of the water. My son loves to play dare with the sea, creeping out as far as he can, where the sand is softest, and then retreating quickly with delighted squeals as the waves come in.
Soon his wellingtons are glistening with glassy sand particles and there are spreading dark patches of moisture on his jeans. His cheeks are ruddy and his golden hair plastered across his forehead. He glances at mummy and I regularly, just to check we’re standing close by. He’s still young so makes no effort to disguise the enthusiasm and joy in his expression.
We stay here for some time and eventually the weather begins to change. The plucky sun begins to poke through the ubiquitous blanket of cloud and a gentle breeze scatters the mist, exposing MacNeice’s Smoky Carrick on the far side of the Lough.
The new lustre also reveals colours. The ochre and rust of the leaves on the hard path, the pallid yellow and dirty shale shades in the expanse of sand. The grimy water washing just a little bit further up the shore each time.
I’m aimlessly throwing stones into the foam. My son grabs a fragment of a branch and begins to draw shapes on the flat sand which is pocked by pebbles, fragments of shells and discarded plastic.
I notice he is drawing a large shape which might be a heart, might not. Inside it he inexpertly begins to scrape the outlines of letters. James. Debs. Jonee.
We pass some more time this way but soon the rain returns, harsher and more persistent than before as if to make up for an unexpected interruption. It falls now as fast moving sheets which sting your face and make your clothes cling to your skin.
It’s time to leave the beach.
My son is the last one to exit the sand. Moving a few steps behind us as he keeps inventing new games and mischief, trying to delay his departure for just a few more seconds.
Soon it will be time to return to work and school. But not quite yet.
Mummy and I are on the path, close together, arms linked as we walk back to the car. Our boy moves level, forcing us apart and taking his place in the narrow gap between us.