Photograph by Toby Smith, Story by Andrea Bennett
Kentish plover, Kentish plover, Temminck’s stint. He read, and I quote, ‘This scarce stint is often difficult to connect with.’ He’s not wrong. The dry skin of his palm catches on mine as we walk hand-in-hand down the lane, looking for the stint. It’s annoying. But right now, everything is annoying. Bird-watching is annoying. The dark is annoying. He’s annoying. I want to be back in the caravan with a glass of white and a paperback, to be frank. But I said I’d come, because I said I’d try.
We come around a bend and out from the cover of the hedge and the wind blows straight into me, heavy with the scent of the cold North Sea and something else even less welcoming.
‘Do you see it?’ He stops and points towards the dark-smeared sky.
‘I don’t see it,’ I say, and I screw up my nose to look harder. He drops my hand and points again, this time with both hands, fingers like gun barrels, jabbing like he’s rattling bullets into no-man’s-land, as if that will improve my eyesight, or our relationship. I said I’d try harder, so I’m going to have to pretend. ‘Hang on,’ I say. ‘Is that…?’ My lying finger rises like a ghost into the dusk.
‘No! Over there!’ he says.
I am none the wiser, so I nod. He doesn’t know I’m nodding, because he’s staring out to sea, or is it sky — the dark blue, anyway. His anorak sighs as his hands push into his pockets and he rocks back and forth on his heels. I stare for another thirty seconds or so. A gull calls high above us, covering up for my inability to see the Temminck’s stint, my inability to see what he sees, and my lack of anything to say about it. Come on, gull, keep it up.
‘Why don’t we—’ I begin, but don’t go on because his anorak makes that sharp, farty noise and he’s marching away down the lane towards the beach, leaving me in my own patch of silence, aching for warmth and the radio and spag bol.
‘Shall I go back, then?’ I say, more to myself than to him, but neither of us answers. I stand there and look back up the lane towards the yellow halo of the caravan park, and then the other way, where he’s gone, where the lane sinks down, disappearing into the dusk. And then I see it: not the thing he wanted me to see, of course, that was never going to happen. I see a meteorite, a shooting star, a streak of white fire tearing the Norfolk night, so I make a wish, and I wish it well, fingers crossed and all. The words are still dropping out of my mouth when he comes stomping back up the lane towards me.
‘Did you see it?’ I say, ‘the star?’
He mutters about a storm brewing and a big tide and that we need to make sure we lock all the windows tonight and walks straight past me, back inland, a big sullen silhouette, receding again. I can’t even hear his footsteps now. It’s like he’s on the moon.
It’s not a loud noise that wakes me, not really. It’s just odd; a sound that shouldn’t be there. I ease myself over and nuzzle my face into the pillow, and then I hear it again, a low rumble like someone’s shifting a wardrobe across the floor of the flat above. Except now I remember we’re in the caravan, and there is nothing above. I sit up. It’s dawn, and I can hear the sea.
I creep through the kitchen, past the blood-splatter patterns of pasta sauce and the pile of dead washing-up, to the lounge where the curtains are wafting like they’re on a washing line. But the windows are closed. We made doubly sure. Goosepimples rise on my arms. As the curtains move, and the sound of the sea gets louder, I feel like I’m on a ship. Now I call him from his bed. He’s a heavy sleeper, but it only takes me one shout today. I can’t move my feet because everything, suddenly, is unreal. If I start walking, I might float off into space, or fall down a rabbit hole. I’ll end up somewhere I am not supposed to be.
He appears, crumpled like a massive old tissue in the doorway, and asks what I’m screeching about.
‘Look,’ I say. ‘Do you see it?’ I point towards the lounge windows and he steps forward. The caravan rocks.
We kneel on the sofa like two little kids and lift up the curtain. Where the grass should be, shivering in the morning wind, there is an edge, a gap, a drop; a nothing. Our waste-water pipe is sticking jauntily out in mid-air. The barbeque area has disappeared. I look over towards the lane where we were last night, and see it is hanging like half a sentence, never completed, its tongue lolling onto the new, never-seen-before piece of Norfolk beach.
‘Christ,’ he says, face pale like the sea that is eating away at the chalk and mud as we breathe on the window.
‘Christ,’ I say, my hand creeping into his. ‘We could have been washed away.’
‘Told you it was going to be a bad one. But I didn’t think—’
We dress, trousers over pyjamas, and stuff our possessions into holdalls. We don’t bother with the washing-up, the site manager can do that, if he’s keen. We tiptoe away from the caravan and head for the office, but there’s no-one around. We’re too early. There is no-one to tell that the end of the world has crumbled into the sea. No-one to tell that our short-breaks here are at a – permanent – end.
A small brown bird flutters over our heads and he punches a number into his mobile.
Spotted at last. On our last trip. Maybe wishes do come true.
Andrea Bennett's first novel Galina Petrovna's Three-Legged Dog Story' was published in 2015 by The Borough Press after Andrea won their open submission competition for un-agented, un-published authors. Her second novel, Two Cousins of Azov, was published by The Borough Press in 2017. She is currently looking for an agent and working on her fourth novel. Andrea lives in Ramsgate with her family and a Border Terrier. Find her on twitter @andreawiderword
Toby Smith brings over 10 years of experience in photography, video, research, academic, editorial, campaign, commercial and experimental methods. Find him on instagram @tobysmithphoto