Ours was never a beautiful town. The same streets, the same shops, the same pubs as anywhere. The same people too. Strong, saddened folk. Not given to optimism. Stoics, drinkers. Violent, given half a chance. There are good people everywhere, and those who are not so good, and one town is not so different to another. But I have lived in many places, stood on many beaches, and the sands which lie at the edge of our town, the waves which wash against them, and the stunted cliffs above them, are like no others for a man like me.
When I was younger, I’d walk along the beach at night, imagine myself romantic, feel myself windswept, see myself from above, the hero in the final shot of a film.
But like all heroes, I had to leave, and the night before my leaving I picked a stone from the beach. It sat well in a closed fist, and had only the significance I imposed upon it by seeing it, selecting it, washing it in the waves and slowly kissing it with salted lips.
In the morning, I had it with me as I left, and this is not a story about anything other than that leave-taking, and my return.
Some will tell you that fifty years is a long time in the life of a town, and it’s true: things change. That first day back I found myself lost amongst streets once familiar, and I looked upon strangers in a town I had always, in my heart, called home.
I was soon at the beach, the water’s edge, soon taking that old stone from my pocket, shaping to throw.
This is how it ends: as the tide pulled in, I crouched at the edge of the waves, and I placed the stone amongst others at my feet. I closed my eyes, thought of the places I’d been, and when I opened them again I couldn’t tell if the waves had taken my stone or if it sat there still with its brothers, relieved of the burden of significance a fool had placed upon it half a century ago.