The heat wave has broken: I know because I wake up beneath the duvet rather than sprawled on top and sticky with sweat, like I have for the last week.
We knew yesterday it was going to end. The sea front was covered with a rising mist, blurring the horizon all the way out to Cornwall, the Navy ships, the breakwater. Eerie: mist that sheened the oppressive and heady heat of afternoon. The tide was one hour into its recession, revealing algae coated steps one after the other. The smell of barbecue smoke wafts from the rocky outcroppings where bright bathing suits congregate, and the people who wear them. Beyond that, the chatter of French and Spanish, Radio 1, the stomach jolting splash of a too-high cliff dive, the tinkle of laughter as the diver surfaces and the relief in my own throat as I watch.
We stand on the first step, cold sea water lapping our ankles. I feel hundreds of barnacles press into my soles. Then to the next step, I reach my toes out but find no footing, land at waist height. My whole body feels like brain freeze, like this summer ocean is ice cream and with each step deeper I’m overcome. I imagine a sea of ice cream. I grin, for no reason in particular.
We push off from the steps, our arms parting the kelp that blew in with the afternoon wind. I gain my stroke. My body goes numb, then wakes up. We see a jelly fish, but it’s plastic. A tourist barge passes a kilometer out and we ride its wake, rolling, floating belly up like we are plastic ourselves. It’s far to shore, now. Maybe the furthest from shore I’ve been in my life with only my body to save me. The symphony of beach goers is distant now, just a rolling hum, like listening to my neighbors’ music through the wall. Everything becomes secondary to weightless. Lapping. Salt on my tongue. Mist like lace. The dull and pleasant ache in my shoulders.
I want to keep this moment, the longest day of the year, held in the green black seawater, 6pm on a Wednesday. I’m not of here, but I learn quickly: a British heat wave is interminable when you’re in it. A population flocks to the rocky shore, strips. But it’s a blink. It’s a fluke, even the sea splashing on barnacled concrete knows it. It’s a moment to be tied up, held onto, a generator of wistfulness.