“Did I catch the crabs well, mummy?”, he appealed to the tall figures of mother and grandmother, standing on the banks of the Teign, waiting for the medieval ferry to carry them across the mouth of the river to Shaldon.
And he received his affirmation.
Do we all search for similar proofs of our rightdoing? And do we find more than maternal lies? How do we discern real interest and real concern for our deeds from the ambivalence of a worn-out parent?
I believe it to be difficult. Life is long. And our communication throughout it often becomes shadow commentary, pre-programmed responses we use without even thinking. How often do I habit-speak, how often do I habit-text. When we forget to structure and conduct our conversations and instead turn the controls onto auto-pilot. We rarely crash: we are gifted in unspoken speech, in auto-locution. Call me Alexa, call me by her name, for you may not speak to me.
You are forgiven. Omnes peccaverunt.
The little boy who crabbed on the beaches of Teignmouth had to wait a long while for the black and white boat - England’s longest-continuing ferry - to make its return journey. In the interim, spurred on by excellent crabbing, he proceeded to dig a small trench on the water’s edge. It began with one spadeful of dirty sand, then another, and another. After the second or third he reached the water table. He widened its perimeter and worked against the collapsing edges that broke off like cliffs into the dirty water reflecting the dirty sand and the dirty sky.
As the ground around his feet collapsed, the trench lost its own sense of depth and shallowed into something indiscernible. Just a small patch of water that passing dogs ran into and their walkers skirted.
But the ferry, still far off… The boy kept at his work, his exultant face shone red with the promise of his female relation’s praise, probably later when he asked for it standing in the queue at the Lido. And as the dirty ditch grew wider and shallower, and wider and shallower, until it couldn’t really be made out from the rest of the tideless bank, he rejoiced more and more in his work and ran around and around until he met the sea on one side and harbour wall on the other.
And then a funny thing happened. After all his work, now rendered invisible by its own magnitude, the boy found himself separated from his mother and grandmother who stood the other side of his trench. He gazed over, tears filling his eyes like water in a sandy ditch. He ran to one end and the sea roared at him; he ran to the other end and the wall snored at him.
Meanwhile, dog walkers and runners, like those who pass the Colosseum every day and who, growing blind to the architectural wonders around them, forget to look up, crossed his dyke, forgetting to look down, insensible to the scale of this feat and the impossibility of their own passage.
The small ferry too, arriving now, paid little heed to the vast changes to its embankment, and thoughtlessly pulling up on the fortification’s other side suddenly left the boy panicked. How could he cross his hard work and reach his family again? How could he continue with them? How and when would he be able to review his effort and receive his praise?
He was separated by the gaping abyss of his own endeavours and that left him on the bank as the boat pulled away. The further it went, the trench sank further and further into its own invisibility, until nothing of what had been nothing could no longer be seen by anyone. When the tide, in time, would come in, not only would this nothing then finally become nothing, but so too would the boy. Not able to separate himself from his accomplishment, he sat sculpted-still as the water touched his toes, and reached his knees, waist, his belly button, nipples, Adam’s apple, lower lip and upper lip and, finally... a dirty nose, washed clean, vanishing forever like a sandcastle erased from the annals of history by the incoming tide.