A story I wrote about escaping the daily grind…..
I’m playing hooky, skiving, swinging the lead, whatever you want to call it. The sky is black and a stiff wind is getting up, sending frothing waves crashing into the shore. Blobs of foam drift over my head and I paw at them attempting an Ali shuffle ankle deep in shingle. I’m in shorts and a vest kicking up the surf and skimming stones, desperate for that elusive eighth bounce. I’m alone and there isn’t a soul, not even a solitary dog walker or fisherman, within a mile. The car park beyond the dunes is empty with windblown sand weighing heavy against a sagging fence. Without the steady supply of ice cream and burgers the gulls have given up and sought richer pickings in Liverpool or Manchester. I take a deep breath and suck the salt-air down into my lungs. It’s what brought the Victorians here in their thousands and it feels great. It’s what they called bracing.
I cheer and shout something rude about Pickering’s parentage but the wind blows my words and a spiteful sting of sand straight back in my face. My feet are blue and my legs pale like those Mini-Milk lollies we queued for as kids. My skin tingles and burns the way your ear does when someone catches it with a snowball, but I feel great and I feel free.
Out in the bay a cormorant takes flight. For one day at least – and let’s not think about going back yet – I’m that cormorant taking flight from my troubles. It’s Monday morning, just before ten. Normally about now, I’d be sending out the first of Pickering’s reports and sipping scalding coffee – that’s what the label on the machine says anyway – before being summoned into his office.
I grab the flask and take a swig of my own blend and jog back into the dunes. It is still and almost silent here, away from the crash of the waves. I have my own little den far up the beach, protected by millions of tons of golden sand and a forest of spiky marram grass. A Scout camp taught me the grass was once harvested by the cartload to be made into mats and other household goods, but take away the anchoring properties of the grass and the dunes are cast to the wind. Before long the rich and fertile farmland becomes dunes too. Holidaymakers didn’t put food on the table back then, so Elizabeth the First decreed that anyone gathering grass from the dunes would forfeit a hand.
I’m sure Pickering would think that punishment liberal. It’s not failing that hurts because I haven’t – I’m second for sales this quarter – it’s being put ‘out to pasture’ that’s insulting. He wrote our names on a scrap of paper, mine was the only one beneath that heading. Yes, he’d actually written ‘Out to Pasture.’ I’ve got that note somewhere safe, tucked up. I think that buys me today, at least, don’t you?