You have grown so irritable lately, and you talk so darkly and symbolically that you must forgive me if I fail to follow you. -Anton Chekhov The Seagull Act II
A flock of seagulls have taken roost in the buildings around our flat. (Not THIS Flock of Seagulls). Real seagulls. Real sea birds. They seem to have lost their way and taken up residence in this part of the city on the edge of the Thames.
Some of our neighbours have been annoyed by the birds. They noisily cry out “Ha ha ha,” each dawn and twilight. Perhaps they laugh at their own folly in that they have mistaken London for the sea shore. Perhaps they are laughing at us; enslaved to the alarm clock and the commute to work. My neighbours wish the same fate on the lost white birds as Chekhov’s seagull: shot through and stone dead.
But I like having them here. I like the seagulls’ haughty call. It reminds me of the summers of my youth, making sandcastles and body surfing the Atlantic breakers; the smell of fried onions oozing down from the boardwalk.
Our trips to the beach always seemed to be a spur of the moment decision. If my parents had planned them, the jaunts never manifested as pre-conceived notions. We would wake up and it would suddenly be apparent where we were going. Cheese sandwiches and bags of crisps were packed alongside with a cooler containing jugs of iced tea. The cheese would melt into the American mustard spread in the heat of the car throughout the journey. It would create a combination that still symbolises the taste of good times to me, many decades later.
Buckshutem Road; a long, straight avenue cutting through the southern New Jersey Pine Barrens marked the half way point of the journey. At the end of Buckshutem Road the pines turned to swampland. The swamps were the gateway to the sea-shore. For years a large, road-side advertising sign for suntan lotion rose from the marshlands there. It was a large watercolour of a cheeky puppy pulling the swim suit from a frolicking child.
I would peer out of the backseat window and wait for the soil on the side of the road to turn from pine coloured dirt to sand. We were getting closer, closer. Soon the air would smell of salt water.
The walk from the car to the beach would be eternal. Blankets were spread on the sand and my father would dig the obligatory holes to play clam shell horseshoes. The sea gulls would circle overhead as the melted cheese sandwiches were passed around. I would watch with admiration as my father having returned from playing clam shells would throw a crust of bread high in the sky. The gulls would pluck it from the air to wild applause. It was heaven on earth.
We are now a week from the end of the school year. In working terms, the car has passed the advertising sign and the soil will soon turn to sand. I tilt my head out of our flat window and sniff for the salt air. I can almost see the beach. The seagulls laugh at me. I save a piece of a French baguette from my dinner and throw it high in the air. The bread rises and falls to the pavement 20 feet below. Disinterested gulls laugh at me again, “Not time yet, not yet, ha ha ha.”
Keep the faith,