We went to Ōtaki Beach from Wednesday to Sunday. Even though I was born in Paraparaumu, and went to secondary school there I never went the twenty kilometres up the road to Ōtaki until I was at university and had a friend who was from there. Mind you, you’re not missing much if you haven’t been to Ōtaki.
C. works with a woman who owns a beach house at Ōtaki Beach, and we stayed there. It’s a small, simple house with one big bedroom and another very small one. There is a fair bit of section and a garage. Although it’s perhaps two (three?) blocks back from the beach you can always hear the sea when you are at that house. It was this sound that inspired me to write the beginning of a story. Here is the story:
“What does the sea sound like?”
“It sounds like a relentless machine, grinding at its work, its business of turning stones into dust.”
The day is slowly brightening. The clouds which were heavy and grey and uniform are beginning to tear open leaving fingers of charcoal coloured cumulus across the widening pools of blue. Soon it will be completely blue and the cicadas which have whirred and stopped, whirred and stopped through the morning will rise up in a constant din, their engine finally catching and starting.
“Does it sound like the trees?”
“Yes. Like the trees pulling their heads back and forward under the pressure of the wind in the night leaving that feeling inside you that is small, and lonely and sad, that makes you scuttle home and turn on all the lights, and the TV and the radio and call a friend and joke and laugh until you feel big again, and undiminished.”
“It’s a bad sound?”
He sighs. They went into the town that morning and drove past the teenagers lingering outside the shops, swapping cigarettes, all dressed up in their very best sneakers and caps, checking out the boys that cruise past: the poor boys on foot, the boys on bikes, the seventh-formers in cars. And when they go to buy a drink or a packet of chips those kids don’t recognise themselves in the heavy breasted, hard bellied adults inside that are considering the price of bananas in the supermarket, and talk about cutting back. They don’t notice the old, bent figures with their belts cinched at the waist slowly shuffling to the checkout ahead of them with a packet of biscuits and a box of tea bags. That is also the sound of the sea.
“No, it’s not a bad sound. It’s an honest sound. It’s like a detuned radio, a radio without the hot angry buzzing talk about parking tickets, and immigrants and forward passes, without the irritation with life that overtakes you sometime after thirty-three. Just the roaring of nothing; steady and empty.”
But it also reminds him of running with his daughter when she was two across the hard packed sand and feeling love rise up like a bursting bubble in his chest. The way she ran on the edge of a small fear of falling, not quite able to keep a sure foot and run and throw her sunny glances up at him; a teetering, giggling run with hair flapping about her face. He remembered standing on the beach afterwards near the dunes and looking across the sand to Kāpiti Island. He wasn’t used to seeing Kāpiti Island from that angle; from that beach the island seemed to bulk up and squat in the waves with all its length foreshortened and compressed into a dark, hunched form. Further down the beach there were kids playing and a dog. The dog ran in long arcs, it’s wet, sandy nose down at the level of smells and shells, while the children crouched over a mound of sand and a hole sometimes skittering away on the balls of their feet to collect driftwood.