I’d been a sailor for years before I realised it isn’t the ocean I love, but the edges of things. Sandy beach or salt marsh. High sandstone cliff or low wooden jetty. Makes no difference. They all make me yearn for something… other.
I’m writing about edges a lot in my novel The Orphan Age. Thin places between worlds, known and revered by the ancient Celts. The ones I’m writing about are all at the edges of things.
I once spent a week on the edge of paradise.
This is my memory of it.
A crescent of fine pink sand in a tiny cove in Bermuda. High rocky walls jut out into the sea on both sides and hide it from the adjacent coves. Dense palm tree cover hides it from the quiet road 60 crunchy feet back inland. The beach can only be seen from directly out at sea, and there is seldom anyone out there in this part of the bay.
I was 28, and a stranger in the Royal Navy frigate that was tied up to a big jetty a mile away. Not one of its crew. A professional visitor, onboard for a single trip.
So when some piece of essential equipment got damaged and we had to wait a week alongside in Bermuda for the replacement part being flown out from the UK, I had nothing to do except read borrowed novels and run the quiet roads around the island.
On my first early morning run I found the hidden cove, and after that I swam there every day before breakfast and in the afternoon. I did lengths for about an hour, a steady front crawl back-and-forth between the high rocky walls, about 100 feet per length.
I swam naked that entire week, all alone, and I really was in paradise.
All alone, until the afternoon when two American women found my cove and sat on the pink sand while I swam.
I’d noticed a huge cruise liner parked across the harbour that morning. Thought nothing of it. Certainly didn’t expect anyone from it to wander so far off the beaten track and sit on my beach.
Don’t know how long they’d been there before I finished my lengths and saw them.
I stood chest deep in delicious turquoise warmth, bare feet on the sandy bottom, swaying with the water’s movement.
My towel and shorts were halfway up the beach, on the bleached driftwood log I always used, thirty feet from the water’s edge and fifteen feet from where the women were sitting.
“Hello?” I called in Polite British.
“Hello!” they replied in Amused North American.
They were in their mid-50s, I guessed. Wearing casual day clothes and good quality sunglasses.
“Bit of a problem. My clothes are up there and I’m naked in here.”
Wide smiles. “We know.”
They were going nowhere.
They watched me walk out of the surf and up the beach to my log. They smiled, enjoying the situation no end.
I smiled back and towelled myself dry as if nothing unusual was happening.
If they had been two men and I’d been a young woman, I’d have felt horribly vulnerable.
But they weren’t, and I wasn’t, and there was none of the inevitable ribaldry or suggestive remarks that would have scared me had our genders been reversed. I didn’t feel vulnerable, or even uncomfortable.
In fact, I put on a show for them.
I know. Just for those few minutes, I was a proper young tart.
I flexed, and flaunted, and dried myself slowly and thoroughly while they watched. I enjoyed the whole thing as much as they did.
Eventually, with my running shorts and trainers back on, I grinned a “Bye.”
“Bye,” they called. “Thank you.”
I couldn’t help chuckling at that, and jogged away through the palm trees, enjoying their delighted laughter behind me.
Often at the edges of everyday normality.
It’s where, and with whom, you find it.