The coast was being battered by the first full-blown storm of autumn.
From her fourth floor window she could see across the wide bay to the town and the cranes of the small harbour beyond it. Safe and warm in the stillness of the apartment, she watched as the sea raged towards the yielding trees and grasses of the wetlands. The last traces of summer were being blown away, reducing the modest south coast resort to an abandoned bleakness; abandoned by youthful visitors, but not the elderly, who would continue, once the weather calmed, to mooch along the promenade and into the half-empty gift shops for several more weeks, in dribs and drabs, sensibly clothed, slightly disgruntled with the leftovers of the holidays season. Today there was not a soul in sight and few cars ventured along beneath the sea wall, a sturdy construction that had been built several years earlier to prevent pebbles from being hurled onto the road by such mighty seas. There were strong cross-currents in the bay. Far out on the murky horizon, waves boiled and tumbled from east and west, colliding in mountains of grey water before hurling themselves shore wards. Pebbles became heaped at the base of the wall, which was an extension of the promenade edging the town; a pleasant walk in clement weather with seats for the weary and those who enjoyed watching, rather then participating in, the antics on the beach below. At the town end, where the promenade was wide, the beach was of fine yellow sand sloping gently into shallow water, ideal for paddling and messing about. Serious swimmers and boating enthusiasts favoured the steeply shelving pebbles on the east side of the amusement pier, where the waves on fine days rolled seductively beneath bobbing heads.
The world in turbulent movement before her suddenly made her feel dizzy; the result no doubt of gazing too fixedly at one point. She shut her eyes for several seconds, before looking once again at a certain spot midway along the wall. There, every so often, in what appeared to be a random rhythm, a massive wave, made up of many smaller ones which had embraced far out in the bay, roared onto the beach, swept across it and leapt at the wall, as if determined to breach man’s puny efforts at defence. Thwarted, it shattered and fell back into the seething tide, leaving an even larger mound of gleaming stones.
If anyone were foolish enough to venture along the top of the wall that day, surely they would not survive such a furious onslaught. Sensible people would use the bus or walk along the footpath beside the road, sheltered from the blast. Only a person of stubborn habits, arrogant in pride, revelling in their physical fitness, would battle out from the town along that exposed rampart in the teeth of such a gale. Julia was waiting, intently watching for that very person.
A single-decker bus appeared followed by a slow convoy of three cars. They approached and gradually disappeared from her arc of vision. The bus had not stopped at the shelter next to the car park belonging to the block of flats. She had not expected that it would. She stirred slightly in anxious excitement and wrapped the long cardigan more firmly around her slender body, hugging herself protectively. One of the monster waves was forming out near the horizon beneath a black cloud, which had joined the madcap race to the land. Faster the wave sped, gathering force and height as it drove nearer, rolling beneath a head of turbulent white water, her mounting excitement riding with it. It roared onto the beach, herding the groaning pebbles, flinging itself upwards to explode high in the air against the wall, before subsiding with a mighty crash.
Julia shuddered with anticipation. Leaves and litter were flying past the window, blown inland with the clouds. A grubby plastic carrier bag, a grotesque balloon with ears, wrapped itself around the wrought iron railings of the balcony, clinging on as if for dear life, writhing and flapping like a wraith in torment. Julia became irritated by it. It was distracting her from her vigil. Her eyes kept going back to it until she could stand it no longer. She wrenched apart the heavy glass doors allowing the wind to tear past her into the living room, blasting noise and cold air into the carefully controlled environment. It tore at her hair and clothing, forcing the breath back into her lungs, trying to whip her up and away with the rest of the detritus. Gasping, she braced herself against the blast and managed the few paces necessary to reach the railings. Hanging onto them with one hand, Julia fought to release the bag with the other, but as fast as she untwisted, so it twisted again, slippery and cold in her numbing fingers. At last it was free. It tore away on the instant, sailing up and across the road towards the flattened sedges of the narrow strip of salt-marsh, like a giant bird in the leaden sky, at the mercy of the wind. It would come to rest sometime, as everything must, one more piece of rubbish in a landscape littered with dead things.
Julia regained her post, once more calmly immured behind double-glazing. She scanned the length of the beach and there, there at last, was the object of her vigil. She was certain of it. A sudden flurry of raindrops pattered against the glass, annoyingly blurring the scene for several minutes. Then she was able to spy, at the far end of the curving wall, a black comma, slowly resolving into a human shape as it approached, leaning into the wind, wound about by dark clothing. Even at that distance, Julia recognised the familiar defiance in the posture. The figure kept lifting its face to take the full blast of the lashing air, when most people would have plodded on wearily with their eyes to the ground. (…)
From the novel Cross Currents, by Barbara Masterton – Il Moscardino