A day at the Beach with the Little Green Men
However long I live, I’ll always remember that day we went to the beach…
The one they called Joki knocked at the door. He was carrying a breakfast tray that he set down on the table.
I was sitting on the edge of the bed, my elbows resting on my knees, my head in my hands and looking at nothing and the grey floor. I suppose I was just waking up but I had the feeling I’d been sitting, doing nothing for quite a while now.
“Today a special day,” said Joki.
“Yeah?” I said. Their constant good humour and eagerness for the most ordinary things just got on my nerves. And you could shout and scream, break things, stay in bed all day, and they’d always be there, smiling, clearing up, encouraging me. I should know, I’d tried all of that and more.
“Today we go to the beach.”
I looked up. I saw what I figured passed for a smile on his face.
“For real? But I thought…”
“It all arranged. You eat breakfast and we go when you want.” He stepped backwards.
The breakfast was the same it ever was: orange juice, a fresh bun with a small pot of butter and another of jam, a bowl of muesli, a jug of milk, and a fruit. Sometimes a knobbly orange, or a twisted banana. Once a mushy kiwi. I even had a sickly tomato once, so I had to explain that it was generally considered a vegetable, not a fruit. They just smiled. The fruit always seem to have been chosen by someone who had only a vague, second-hand or theoretical idea of what fruit should look like.
“Great.” I looked at the tray, trying to muster some enthusiasm for the meal. “Thanks.”
“That alright. You take your time. Enjoy”.
Joki backed out of the room, the door closing after him with a slight hiss.
I wondered whether to switch on the screen, just to pass the time, but I was sure I’d already watching everything that was available. And some, more than once.
I drank the orange juice and sat down at the table.
The vehicle came to a stop and the windows depolarised. We were parked by a stony cove, looking down at the beach. Everything looked frightfully normal: the blue-grey sea lapping at the sand and stones and black splashes of seaweed; a few whiffs of white cloud in a blue sky; spiky sea grass and brambles twisted around the concrete blocks edging the car park.
The door opened with a slight pop, and the smell of ozone, of rotting seaweed, and a salty tang that I had always associated with fish, wafted in, gripping me in the memories of hundreds of afternoons at the seaside. Involuntarily tears pooled at the corners of my eyes.
Joki looked at anxiously, his fixed smile slipping at the edges.
“All good?” he asked. “All OK?”
“It’s nothing,” I said. “I’m fine.” I rubbed at my eyes. “Probably just an allergic reaction of something.”
“Allergic reaction,” said Joki flatly. “Not good.”
I looked out the open door, down the sloping beach, remembering sand castles and splashing in the water, walking on the stones, and afternoons just laying in the sun. I remembered storms and great breakers tearing at the beach, the howling wind and driving rain. I remembered exploring the rock pools for crabs and sea anemones and tiddlers. I sat and looked and remembered.
Joki stood opposite and watched patiently.
There was no wind to speak of. I realised later that this was probably why this particular day had been chosen.
Eventually I stood up, and stepped down onto the warm tarmac. I felt a bit giddy feeling the ground under my feet. I fancied I could feel each crack and bump, even through my shoes.
I stepped up and over the rough concrete curbing where groundsel and sedges and dandelions grew in clumps along the edges, then onto the shingle. The pebbles crunched and shifted underfoot. I walked straight on, over the low dunes, the tide line where the sea had stripped away the stones exposing the sand underneath. Then across the yellow-grey sand, raked with drain-offs from the shingle, until I stood at the water’s edge.
The waves lapped at my feet, small waves breaking spreading and dying and pulling back over and over and over.
I stood and watched the sea rippling and flowing, lightening and darkening as it folded and creased, reflecting the light from above.
Apart from the gentle lapping, all was silent.
I turned and looked.
Where were the gulls?
There was always seagulls, bobbing on the waves, wading in the shallow, standing on the rocks, squawking and squabbling.
“Where are the gulls?” I shouted.
Joki came running down the beach.
“It OK,” he said, putting a small hand on my arm. “Gulls come back soon. It all right.”
I twisted away and collapsed into the damp sand, crying.
“Where are the bird?” I sobbed. “Where’ve all the birds gone..?”
Joki stood over me as the waves licked at my feet and legs.
“Next time,” he said. “Next time you see birds.”
I cried, tears streaking my face, snot dribbling from my nose. Eventually I felt Joki’s hand on my shoulder. He was waiting for me, as patient as ever.
When I did finally stand up, he lead me back to the car and the compound.
They had arrived, from nowhere as far as we were concerned, to find a few survivors scattered and hiding on a ruined planet. They nursed us, cared for us, and set to work cleaning up.
It was only later, a lot later, I realised the time and effort that, selflessly and tirelessly, they poured into healing us all.
And don’t remember saying a work of thanks. Not then.
That trip to the beach was the culmination of months of labour just to clean and restore the isolated cove, and then wait for a day when they could be sure no wind or rain would blow in and compromise the environment.
For me, that was the turning point, the moment I stopped moping and started pulling my weight. Helping them to help us. Sure there were days when I doubted. Days when I wanted to die like the billions of others. Days when I wanted to say curled up on my bed and do nothing, nothing at all. And, of course, there were days when I did just that.
Today, looking back, it’s still not finished. Perhaps it never will be, this looking after a whole planet. And they’re still here, still helping. Not Joki, but his great grandchildren, I think. They don’t live for too long, the little green men. Which makes it even more amazing in my eyes when you see what they accomplish.
This story fell into place, ready-formed you might say. I miss-read the title of a book in a French book catalogue my part-time daughter had left lying around as ‘A Day at the Beach with the Little Green Men’ once translated into English. And there it was. There’s not much I can say about this except it was written in late December of last year, just after I abandoned another story.
Last edited: Wednesday, April 28th, 2010blog comments powered by Disqus