It wasn’t being woken before the clinking of milk bottles and getting crammed in, five abreast, across the back seat of our car as the smell of manure wafting in through the open windows, or the crawl behind an endless caravan of caravans, counting sheep to pass the time, it wasn’t the plastic shopping bag my brother filled with vomit that sloshed about in the foot well or the monotonous games of ‘I Spy’ and ‘Spot the Yellow Car’ that caused us to bicker and sulk instead of entertaining us, it wasn’t the wind-ravaged tent that we wrestled to erect, handed down from relatives who’d upgraded to a deluxe eight-berth caravan or the continuous Welsh driving rain, that somehow felt colder than English rain and found every hole there was to find in that tent, it wasn’t the missing bulbs of the tired illuminations that lined the promenade, or the cackling seagulls that dive-bombed us whenever we ate in the open air, it wasn’t the siren-blaring fruit machines that devoured every last penny I’d scraped together doing chores over the previous Winter, or the five out of seven days where the weather forced us to stay in the tent and play card games over and over and over again, it wasn’t the cows grazing in the neighbouring field that kept us awake at night with drunken moos, or clumps of sand that got everywhere and made applying suncream, changing clothes, showering and eating, crunchy, it wasn’t the rough pebbles that we had to clamber over, making monkey noises to reach the only square metre of unoccupied beach, or the dog turds we discovered buried a few inches beneath the sand’s surface. What I loved about Barmouth in the Summer of 1986 was that one Saturday afternoon, before we packed up to leave, where the smell of freshly cooked doughnuts dragged us into a shop and we came out with our lips coated in sugar and clutching oil-soaked paper bags brimming with fried batter, it was the afternoon where the clouds were nothing more than a whisp and couldn’t prevent the sun from browning our shoulders and raising freckles across our noses and, enmasse, everyone on the beach squeezed into swimsuits or rolled up trouser legs to feel the sea against their skin, it was the afternoon where the water was as clear and bright as any exotic location Judith Charmers visited, so much better than Tenerife or Florida or Devon or wherever my classmates would be bragging about when we returned to school in September, it was the afternoon of skimming stones until my shoulder aches and making a dam to stop the sea from coming in with a group of children I’d never met before, and would never see again, but that didn’t matter, it was the afternoon where I swam a little way out and lay on my back, waves lapping around me, and all I could see was blue because the sky had melted into the sea and it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began, it was the afternoon floating close enough to the beach so that I could hear the shushing of waves but also being a million miles away, giggling to myself because I didn’t have the words to articulate how I was feeling, it was the afternoon that was over all too soon but one that I knew I’d come back to, decades later, reclining in a deckchair with a book in hand, I’d steal a glimpse over the pages between chapters and see my children splashing in the same sea, a few yards from the shore and a million miles away too.
STEVE CAMPBELL has work published in places such as Spelk, Fictive Dream, MoonPark Review, Molotov Cocktail and Flashback Fiction. He’s Managing Editor of Ellipsis Zine and is trying to write a novel. You can follow him via twitter @standondog and his website, standondog.com
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