Skipping Stones




We go there, as usual, to that place near the lighthouse where the crusted water wheel sits above the edge of the shore, dripping fresh water with such wastefulness into the sea. We always come here at least once among our holiday days, to spring as alien along the shore as fresh water might, pitting ourselves against things and wearing them away; to go shouting into the wind and collect small treasures that will dry dull in the crevices of the car.

It is always cold and mostly raining and the two savage seas that come together at the lighthouse point are always fighting back against rain, against rocks and against children and the spring water that feeds the waterwheel. It is hard to tell who is winning.

We leave our mother and grandmother in the car, roll up our jeans and scatter among the rocks, barefoot and breathless in the face of the wind. Don’t run my father says, more than once, more indeed than twice.

It is slippery on patches of greeny slime and one brother feels his foot slide, catches himself, grins into the salt gale and jumps on; on across the rocks and the tide pools to the place where once we saw a seal sitting mournful at the edge of the water and threw small stones at it until we were called off like dogs.

I don’t run. I step careful across the tipping points of granite flakes and creep my way down the steep sided cracks to touch at anemones and prise at limpets. I find three pink and pointed shells and give them to my father’s pocket for safekeeping. Don’t run shouts my father and my brothers jump and balance. They want to reach the serrated edge where the sucking pools of deep dark blue swell and sink, where fish can be seen and stones drop quick and disappear.

I don’t run but follow behind, picking my careful way, obedient and sensible, watching my feet. My brothers are flying in the fine rain.

I am behind when I see him fall, sharp against the sky, dark as wet granite, spinning, arms out like a water wheel.

And I hear him. Hear a noise that I catch and can’t put down, an animal noise like a seal under thrown stones, like two opposing seas might make on hitting hard against a lighthouse, like a breath might makes when it is forced to leave you.

I don’t know what to do, for a moment. My father has disappeared into a crack between rocks, I heard him hit and know I am too small to lift him. I turn then and run. I run along the ridge tops of tilted granite slabs, leap over fractures and fissures, sea dark and orange with small crabs, run and run with the wind in my jumper and my jeans wet and unravelling. I never once slip or falter and do not feel the slicing sharp of shell edges. Don’t run said my father, but I do.

When I reach the car and my mother, quickly I say, Daddy! Daddy has fallen on the rocks. I turn and see him pulling up to stand, holding himself, dark against the gray sky, pale against the rocks. I think then that perhaps I should have gone to him first, helped him up, shown him a careful way back. Would that have been the right and sensible thing to do? I want to have done the right thing for I love my father fiercely and more than anyone else. But I was frightened of the noise and of blood that might be coming and instead I ran surefooted and strong for help.

I carefully don’t watch as my mother washes the blood gently from his head with the fresh water from the wheel race. I stand close though and wriggle my fingers into the pocket of his jacket for safekeeping. A fisherman who has pulled up nearby offers to drive us to the hospital. My grandmother stands on the edge of the car park and calls my brothers from where they are skipping stones into the waves, oblivious.

We climb, sandily subdued into the back of the car. Did you see me run? I whisper, as I show them the tiny stinging cuts on my feet. Did you see me run?