It was a blustery day – the kind of day when the sea gives up unwanted detritus from the slumbering deeps. A day when the wind blows the tops of the white horses onto the shore and the waves cast up strange dead creatures, old pieces of oak; plastic in all its forms, bottles, bags, tubs and tags.
Most of this disintegrating jetsam was dragged back as the tide receded, to be washed up randomly on another shore, another tide, another day.
There are always leavings and back home in Newhaven I have a clear crystal bowl half-filled with tiny shells, worn striated pebbles and fragments of ancient timbers. It is my treasure hoard from years of beachcombing.
The blood in my veins is the blood of a family which has dragged its living from the sea for centuries. The compelling call of the sea sings ever in my ears.
Between the tides I search this shore in sunshine or in hail.
I move like a snail, sea wall on one side, sea on the other.
From time to time I stop, hoping to find something new and rare. Canny I am, to keep my footing amongst the welter of slippery stones, seaweed and shingle.
Most of my finds I discard, but what pleasure there is on those rare days when I can pick from my net tiny conch shells, white and perfect.
Coming round a jagged, black slab, I glimpsed beyond it a pale shape, half in half out of a large pool. A white and naked body lay face down, one arm bent and pointing to the sky.
A sudden scattering of rain stung my eyes. Wiping a hand across my face, I moved towards the body. Blinking the rain from my eyes, feet slipping, for a moment I lost sight of the body, as I moved carefully past the coffin-sized rock, covered in slime. Having passed it, I had an unobstructed view of the pool but I saw no body, no naked man.
I could see nothing. I could not see what I had just seen.
My vision swam and I reached out, steadying myself against the damp rock.
I went around the other side and my foot slipped. There was a sudden shock of freezing water in my boot.
When I looked again there was something there, not white, but gray.
Moving towards it, I could see a shape covered in spotted fur, as shiny and sleek as vinyl. Bending down close, I examined it. A whiskered muzzle was submerged in the water. The eyes were open, round, black and lustrous, as deep and dark as the depths of the sea. There was no life there. A flipper stuck up at an angle, broken and bloody. I knew what I had seen, a man’s body prone on the tumbled, jumbled beach, head and shoulders in the water.
Yet this was no human corpse.
Only a dead seal.
Andrew James Paterson