The road to Maenporth, which has been shut for months, was temporarily re-opened over Christmas and New Year. On New Years Day, the very last day before the drills are taken up again and the yellow diversion signs are set back on roundabouts, we take our dogs to the beach at low tide. We put them in the boot of the car and settle into the front seats. The dogs bark excitedly all the way. I have my wellies on.
The beach is busy as we park in the beach car park. Dad opens the car boot – ‘I’m going to try and grab Maddy. You take hold of Sandy. I’m going to do this quickly, so one, two, three-’ and we each grab a dog. We clip leads onto collars, and when we are a little way down the beach and away from the road, we unclip them.
This is the best bit, because Sandy, our golden retriever, goes bananas in a way that I wish I could emulate when I myself experience joy. Freed from her lead, she bolts but cannot settle upon a direction: she runs towards a gang of black headed gulls which scatters and disperses into the cliffs; runs to the beach stream that cuts across the sand like a crack on a plate; runs back to us in loops and swirls, checking up on our progress, eyes glinting with craziness, tongue escaping from her mouth. Her paws print the damp, compressed sand with her movements, which perhaps replicate the direction of thoughts in her own mind. Maddy, the collie, is fully focused upon the ball which my Dad inserts with wet, sandy fingers into the ball launcher, and tears off down the beach every time that he raises it in the air and brings it down like a scythe. We walk to the beach stream and begin to cross it. The water threatens to break over the top of my wellies; the current is strong, strong enough to momentarily paralyse me in the middle of the stream with the fear that I will fall. We reach the other side without incident, however, and have to ourselves a part of the beach where caves can be found in the cliffs, where pebbles form concourses around much larger rocks and where rock pools are, for a few hours, exposed.
Sandy heads first for the sea, running over sand only recently exposed by the receding tide. Low tide sand is never land for long: in the hour in which it breathes in the open air, it is so saturated that a thin layer of water lies upon it like a mirror. As Sandy runs, two dogs are visible, one in this world and one in an exposed world underneath. I mooch around in the shallows and amongst the rocks, from time to time calling the dog to me, rewarding her with treats as I go. I take to standing in the sea, the waves passing over the top of my boots as the tide turns and they start the ceaseless tasks of cleansing and erasing. I watch as a trail of my own footprints are lost, then a deep scuff in the sand made by the hind paw of a dog taking off in another direction, perhaps after a ball.
My brow loosens and I uncurl toes that were gripping the insoles of my boots. Out on the horizon two great container ships, painted red and green, manage to look jolly. The sun breaks through cloud that for weeks has been thick and heavy with rain; so bright is the light that as I move back among the pebbles and the rock pools, I feel like I am walking in an Instagram photo. Reality feels more colourful, more yellow. It has been a long time since yellow has been here.
After half an hour, my Dad tires of slashing the ball launcher through the air. There is satisfaction written into the creases of his face: his eyes are more open than usual, and his shoulders are relaxed. The sea moves its way up the beach, shooing us inland, and we make our way over the stream and reach the car. Dad opens the boot – ‘come on Maddy, in’ – and shuts it.
We settle into the front seats, and as we drive back up the road, the dogs begin to bark. The noise rings in my ears and is so loud that it is all that I can focus on. It seems to hold something open all the way home, something that is trying very hard to close.