Saskia Granton is intrigued by an invitation to visit her reclusive Great Aunt Alessandra who lives on the north-east coast. It's a chance to rediscover her love of the sea and to take time to think about the boring career her parents are mapping out for her. Although believing that she has never met Alessandra before, on arrival at the house something chimes in Saskia's head. She is seized by a great uneasiness, especially when Alessandra tells her that she spent many childhood days with her in this house. Saskia wonders why she has no memory of this.
That night Saskia did remember.
And as Saskia remembered, she dreamed. Of strange sights and sounds, and of the days on the beach below the house. Gathering seashells and other treasures along the shoreline, bringing them into her great-aunt’s house, sorting out her collections, washing and polishing her 'gemstones'.
Familiar now are those sensations, Sand between her fingers and under her feet, bare feet in open sandals. She looks down at her ten baby toes with their pink half-moon nails curled in her little leather sandals. Squirming and pressing down with her heels makes dry sand wedge up between her toes and spill over her feet. The warm gritty granules run out as she walks on towards the water. Smooth driftwood sculpted by the sea is in her hands. Striated stone by the breakwater scrapes her fingers as she pulls away periwinkles and limpets and drops them into her bucket. There are heaps of shells at the far end of the beach, cockles and clams and mussels piled near some huge rocks. They are cool, these pale shells resting in the shadow of the cliff overhang. She is choosy and selects with care, one for its colour, another for its shape, smooth or ridged for difference: her collection will have diversity. At the foot of the tallest rock she finds a real treasure – it is a giant whelk, Alessandra tells her, with a great ascending spiral and below this, a long fluted opening running down one side. Saskia grasps it tightly. It is almost four times the size of her hand - her small fingers cannot curl completely around it, but she holds it pressed into her soft palm. Then she brings it close to her face to study the single caramel-coloured conical whorl, the ever-diminishing circular stairway leading to a dizzyingly minute point. This shape, beyond her defining, beyond her imagining, intoxicates her with its intricacies and its secret places. Who lives within? Just around the curve where she cannot see? In her mind she creates a miniature world inhabited by an infinite variety of beings, all at her command. She breathes on the pink shadowed entrance. Today she will be a kindly giant, her breath soft and warm so as not to disturb the tiny inhabitants.
Then Alessandra stands in Saskia’s dream. Between the child Saskia and the shadowed rocks. Alessandra holds out her hand. ‘The sea is more magical than you or I can believe. There are places in the deep which will always be unknown.’
Salt water is on Saskia’s face, she can taste it on her tongue, but it is not sea spray.
Why is she crying?