This Heart In My Hand.
The beach is unremarkable. Unremarkable as a medical term: nothing abnormal. It is exactly as expected. I need something more, it is a thirst, but not for fluids. My interoception is poor, I need to see something for a synaesthetic high, a visual salivation. I am centred in a mild, damp, drizzly mist, a faded colourless photograph of sand, sea, and sky, of cold, earth tinted, greys. It is neither dry nor raining: there is no contrast or sharpness here, no darkroom or filter could fix this moment, and, if it were a gift, I wouldn’t be able to conceal my disappointment.
I follow Siri onto the firm sand, it has not dried between tides and holds our footprints like a stiff cement. Siri, whose dichromatic vision seems to make her indifferent to this muted palette, is as excited as ever. She chases the dirty yellow nuggets of spume, as the wind teases them off the shoreline, only to return confused, with a face full of foam, tongue hanging, panting, smiling.
We walk across the bay as fine sheets of water creep towards us, etching in the sand, sectioning the sky reflected at my feet. I let the dog go ahead as I examine the overtaking layers, edged with effervescence they scrabble at my toes before sinking into the ground.
Spontaneous stripping to retrieve the dog from the shallows before we get cut off is not the serene, open water experience I would normally choose, but she is oblivious to the urgency of the tide. I paddle out of the sea after a playful rescue, my fingers hooked under Siri’s collar, trotting her alongside. The sea has done its magic, the euphoria is here and I’m grinning as I press my face into the soft, foxy, velvet behind her ears. I knew nine years ago, when we collected her at twelve weeks old, I would be very fond of her, but I was quite unprepared for how much I now adore this malamute collie cross. Returning after shifts, the rest of the house sleeping, I would be greeted with a stretch and wagging tail, a silken red head of fur and a ruff of down to whisper my night into.
On the way to retrieve my boots at the sea wall, the glossy sand is pulled taught by the receding waters, our tracks disappear, ironed with no creases, mirroring the cloud. The image is interrupted by a pebble pressed in the surface, its matt grey upper side still dry. Unremarkable, not pretty, not what one would collect. White lines are drawn into its uneven form, sketched over each other, layers and folds, crossing of paths, and finer, more delicate trails. The end of a shallow wave rolls in and crawls over the stone, washing it a deep charcoal, its white lines now glistening, as if the sea itself has advocated for it. I excavate with my fingers and pick it up.
It’s cool weight is more than I had expected and it seats itself perfectly in my hand. This piece of “melange”, greywacke Cambrian rock from the headland, millions of years in the making, is a heartstone. Not the valentine’s shape often prized by beachgoers, but a true anatomical illustration. It is nestled between the palmaris brevis and abductor pollicis brevis at the apex, and the base of the superior vena cava and aortic arch are cupped neatly by the first and second digit annular ligaments, supported by the adductor pollicis. Laid over a part of my hand with no scarring, I can see the markings of my palm traced through. I give the stone a firm squeeze and I relax my grip slightly, letting my arm drop at my side. I can feel this stone heart’s beat; with my veins engorged in my hanging arm, I palpate my pulse against the proper palmer digital artery of my imperfect little finger.
There’s an inlet of fresh water ahead, culverted through concrete, a rough mix of landscaping with pink stones and deep grooves, its untidy, just like the melange, a man made utilitarian structure. The outflow had carved sharp lines through the sand, twisted like unpicked plaits. I rinse the stone, and clean its crevices. I place it on the striated aggregate and take its picture.
We continue to join the coast path, the ascent is muddy, and the gorse is unkempt, with stray branches snagging in my hair. There are sloes too, fat and tight, with a slate blue bloom to mask their inky purple tones. A flash of pink foil catches my eye, I look down to see a birthday balloon tugging at branches growing from the earthy cliff. A retrieval attempt would be foolish and it irks me to leave it.
I am aware of my heart gently thumping between my lungs as I climb, my post Covid breath still short on exertion. I am luffed, a deep hollow flutter in my chest and a pause, I’m waiting for the ventricular thud, a reset to assuage these palpitations. The pause unsettling, like chronostasis, waiting for a second hand to tick. I think of my brother’s heart which stopped too soon, my father’s bypassed heart, and my grandfather’s, which failed working in the fields. It beats again. He died harvesting near Louisburgh, Mayo, my father finding out some weeks after the letters stopped. On a clear day one can see Ireland from this coastline, the Irish Sea keeping my Atlantic waters at bay along with secrets I want to know and stories I want to hear.
Left to right: Cambrian greywacke, veined with quartz; the same rock with pencil drawing on drafting film; pencil, greywacke ground, and gold leaf on drafting film.