Coal On The Windowsill.

I know a girl who keeps a piece of coal on her windowsill.

It’s just an old lump of coal that was found on a beach, it’s almost smooth. It’s fortunate that unlike us, who get lined over the years, it has shed its rough edges on its journey and now only bears the finest of scars to let you know where it’s been.

If you lick your finger and rub the coal it looks shiny and new for a while but then quickly goes dull again. Like it’s embarrassed to be pretty.

The coal was found while walking a big daft dog, in the rain. Some people would say that was a big daft thing to do, to go walking on a beach in the rain. But the dog didn’t mind and neither did the girl.

Sometimes the rain makes things special, some places look nicer with a grey sky and mist in the distance, and the beaches of Merseyside always benefit from a filter on the lens to hide the dead seagulls and summertime beer can carnage.

And that day, the day that the coal, the dog and the girl met was one of those days.

Foggy and rain shrouded windmills waved in the distance like aliens drowning in The War Of The Worlds, the tide was so far out it looked like god had tipped the Earth on its side to look for his keys and then forgotten to put it back when he remembered where he last had them. Forlorn seagulls stood staring out to sea wondering what they had said to offend it so, like jilted lovers under the station clock in a black and white film.

The girl and the big daft dog pushed on through the rain, the dog would have followed her anywhere, he was in love after she had bought him a blue bone to squeak and fetch.

He danced around her splashing through sandy puddles and tiny rivers. His feet wet and smooth, the pavements hardness cured by the touch of the sand, polished like the coal and made smooth like a puppies, the puppy he had become again for the day.

A big daft dog and a beach are made for each other, had it been a dog that took the evolutionary step and crawled out of the water all those millennia ago we would never have evolved beyond that. A species destined to spend its existence running backwards and forwards and barking at birds.

She wondered if that would have been a bad thing?

The big daft dog and the girl stopped a while and stared out to sea, both blinking as the wind pushed tears into their eyes and then onto their cheeks, they watched as a ferry headed away from the land, no doubt onboard someone stared back, through a double glazed air conditioned window shaking their head as they cradled their glass

“Look at that girl and that big daft dog, they must be soaking”

At the girls feet lay the piece of coal, staring up, waiting to be found. Untouched by human hand until the moment that she bent down and showed it to the big daft dog... who waited for it to be thrown, but she held it, studied it, rubbed off the excess sand and sniffed it... it smelt of the sea and of memories.

She normally wouldn’t pick things off the ground, the words of her mother telling her she didn’t know where they had been echoed down the years and caused her to wipe her hand against her jacket sleeve and study her palm for signs of dirt.

All she saw was a few grains of straggling sand and she clapped her hands together like a percussionist who had forgotten his cymbals.

The big daft dog looked at her for a moment, tilting his head, confused at the clapping sound, in sympathy he shook himself in a vain attempt to dry off the still falling rain, took a moment to stare back at the ferry and then dashed off again, chasing something she couldn’t see.

She smiled, just, and put her hands back into her pockets, balling her fist around the coal.

“We are all chasing something we can’t see”

She said, softly to herself, surprised at the sound of her own voice, she glanced around but there was no one to hear her... again.

She started to walk again, following the line of the sea, further away from home, following the big daft dog.

She squeezed the coal tightly, enjoying its strength, something so small being so tough made her feel better.

She noticed the big daft dog had stopped, he was watching something behind her, she turned to follow his gaze and saw the tall guy, she hadn’t seen him in weeks, she hadn’t been there in weeks.

Big daft dog wandered over, he stood close to her leg, after a moment he leant against it, she felt his wet fur through her jeans and gave a little shiver as they both watched the tall guy get closer.

The tall guy waved and she moved her hand, still inside her pocket, back to him. It made her coat look like bats wing and she regretted not taking it out and waving properly.
She turned and started to walk again, big daft dog didn’t run off this time, he held steady, a couple of feet away, glancing back at the tall guy every now and then.

“I didn’t want to see him today”

Big daft dog glanced at her then the sea then the tall guy

“Not today dog, why today?”

Big daft dog didn’t answer. He was a dog.

“Hey! Slow down!”

She turned and the tall guy was jogging towards her,

“I was shouting, didn’t you hear me?”

“The wind”

“Yeah” he looked around, like he’d only just noticed he was outside “it’s pretty awful today”

The girl didn’t answer, she took her hand out of her pocket and pulled some hair from her face, looked at the sea and then back at the tall guy, managing a thin smile.

“How are you big daft dog?”

The tall guy bent down to the big daft dog who wagged his stumpy tail and bowed down on his front paws playfully

“I’ve not seen you for a while”

The girl didn’t know who the tall guy was talking to until he turned to her

“I was worried”

“Worried?”

“Yeah” the tall guy turned back to the dog and ruffled his ears “last time I saw you, you seemed... upset”

This time the girl knew he was talking to her; he didn’t need to look at her for her to know. She shrugged, even though the tall guy wasn’t looking at her.

“I was worried”

He turned as he spoke and this time she shrugged and he watched

“I’m sorry, it’s nothing to do with me, I shouldn’t have mentioned it”

He stood up from the big daft dog and smiled; the big daft dog sniffed his leg and watched the girl.

She stared at the big daft dogs eyes, they looked worried, she wondered if hers did.

“Tough day”

Was the best she could come up with.

The tall guy nodded

“Yeah, it gets to you sometimes. Do you know something?” his turn to smile and look out to the sea “we’ve chatted here for months and I still don’t know your name”

He turned back to her and smiled, embarrassed, she knew what had just happened and that this was the moment she’d also known was coming, like it always came.

The tall guy waited, his smile fading slowly, like the sun behind the horizon.

The girl knew he was a nice guy, he was handsome, dressed well, she liked the way he walked on his own on the beach. He didn’t need a big daft dog as an excuse to walk nowhere.
And she’d known that he was going to ask, eventually.

She shrugged again, the smile thinner than before, she flicked at the strand of hair and wished she’d worn her hat. The green woollen one that made her head look like a roll on deodorant.

The girl wished he would stop digging, to save them both embarrassment, but he didn’t, he ploughed on, like the waves against the shore just to her left.

“Do you have a name?”

His smile was just dipping below the horizon, if it wasn’t so cold he would have blushed.

“I’m Peter,”

She smiled and nodded her head, the tall guy, held out his hand, and big daft dog moved closer, so close the girl thought, for a moment he was going to jump up and bite it.

“It’s just a name, I won’t stalk you to death!” hollow laugh “I just thought... well you know...”

She did know, but didn’t want to, she was cold now, and sorry she had chose today to come back outside, maybe in a week’s time she would have shook his hand, told him her name and they might have gone for coffee, swopped numbers, laughed, linked arms and walked along the beach to nowhere together.

But not now, now was too soon.

Her skin was too thin for names and coffee and linked arms. Her voice was too reedy for laughing and chatting and whispering nothings.
She was as fragile as one of the paper thin shells that dotted the beach when the tide went out.

It was too soon.

She shrugged and watched the tall guy put his hand back into his pocket; he tilted his head like the big daft dog and then looked at the sand as if he’d dropped something.

“I’d better... erm, you know”

Said the tall guy, flicking his head to show he’d best be going, the girl looked at her feet, and when she looked up he had already turned and was leaving.

“See you soon big daft dog” he said, the big daft dog didn’t answer because he was a dog “see you soon girl on the beach”

She didn’t answer either, she waved, hand in pocket, to his back, because she was scared.

She clutched the lump of coal tight again, felt its strength, and turned for home.

On the way she took it out and looked at it and smelt it again, it still smelt of the sea and of memories.

And for that reason it ended up in her pocket and then on her windowsill.