The black rocks stretch out across the beach, speckling the sand. Each craggy stone is covered in slick vivid green algae. You can’t walk over it. Instead I zigzag my way between the pools, seeking safe passage through the quagmire. I kneel down, placing my hands on the edge of the pool, curling my fingers over the lip. I can’t resist it. I trace my fingers over the verdant slime. I imagine it’s mermaid’s hair, that she’s lying in the rock pool, resting her head on the side, fanning out her hair in an arch around her as she relaxes in the sunshine.
A brittle star squirms along the bottom of the pool. It stretches out its long spindly arms, each covered in a thousand tiny barbs as it skates across the floor of its own little ocean. I wonder if it knows how confined it is in this little microcosm. Does it think that it is safe behind these great city walls of this world, that looks so magical and magnificent to me, or is it just a prison? Does the brittle star stare up at the sky and wait with anticipation for the tide to come rolling back in to set it free? Imagine every ripple ricocheting off those fine hairs on its legs.
Several little fish dance around near the surface of the crystal clear water. Poor little things, the common blenny. They look terribly unappealing – muddy, slithering little snakes. They are speckled with little black dots, but their eyes – they glimmer like amethysts. There is something in their faces, a sadness in their eyes that turns their fleshy lips into a withering pout. They are tiny. They dart through the water, flitting about from rock to rock, hiding in the shadows. If they were beautiful they would be the hummingbirds of the sea, fluttering the thin spines that run down their backs and bellies. They have pale, white, yellow-belly undersides, and just below their gills are the feet. They scuttle about like beetles on their little legs. The combination of their worried expressions and their frantic movements suggests that there is something sinister in the pools.
The orange crab clambers from one rock to the next, side-stepping its way over seaweed and pebbles and sea glass.
My favourites are the limpets. Lilliputs I called them as a child. They cling with all their might to the slippery walls of the rock pool and nothing can dislodge them. I love their tenacity; they must have such determination to stand their ground against the almighty pull of the waves. They weather every storm. They have no protection save the coat they wear, and yet they withstand it all. They are a symbol of strength. They live in the intertidal zone, that liminal space between land and sea. They are part of two worlds and yet part of none. They exist on their own plain. I envy them for it. They have the best view in the house. The tortoiseshell rings on its shell camouflage it, conceal it within the very fabric of the rock. If you do manage to pry one from the rocks and invert it, you’ll find that the creature itself is soft, like a slug, like jelly. I like to see myself in that sluggy little creature, hard and impenetrable on the surface, but beneath the tough exterior, the armour I’ve built up in response to hurt, there is a squidgy jelly heart that loves and hurts, wants and needs. I imagine their position affords them clarity, the certainty that they can endure regardless of the turmoil that rages around them. There is the certainty that the tide will come rolling in every day without fail, that the sun will rise and set, and they will carry on.
The tide is coming in now. I am forced to retreat from the beach up onto the concrete cycle path and the slope that leads up to the top of the cliffs. I lean over the fence at the top, ignoring the brambles that spike and snatch at my arms, watching intently as the water pervades each rock pool, consuming them one by one. All too soon the beach and the rock pools are gone, and I’m staring out at the sea. It comes in so quickly that it’s hard to believe the pools were ever there at all. They present no obstacle to the encroaching water. I walk back through Memorial Park, and though the sea is hidden from view by a wall of green and the only indication that it is there at all is the sign that reads “danger cliff”, I can hear the waves all the while. It spurs me on down the tarmac until I am through the park, and I can once more gaze down these white chalk cliffs onto the ebbing waves beneath.
© 2020 Emma Standon
Emma Standon is a writer who loves to travel and explore the world. She is passionate about beautiful places and telling new stories.