Stories speak of a ghost on the marsh. I trace a map of old haunts with a sharpened stick, a few shells, some seaweed. Clues lie concealed in rocky crenellations; echoed whispers ebb and flow. I know it can't be far.
After all, you were right here only a moment ago.
Ahead, the coastline crumbles into dust and sand and sea and hurtling sky melt together like candle wax, leaving a small reflective pool high on the cliff's edge. I turn back, but all I see is smoke. Smoke or fog, or the blank spaces that come in-between.
Memories shift like the sun behind stained glass, colours fading with the light.
The trail, growing colder, snakes inland through soggy fields, clustered stitchwort, delicate cow parsley. The blank spaces bloom, become dense thickets slick with shadows. An owl watches from the outline of a ruined farm building as I lose my way. Behind me, on the shore, the tide laps ever-closer.
Everything I thought was set in stone is washed away.
Tempus Edax Rerum
Calcified in black and white we float, jostled flotsam, inert amid a tedious cacophony of crimped hair, crinoline dresses, commiseration served with crinkled sandwiches, insipid tea in tiny yellow cups. Every fucker you ever pretended to like circulates this intracoastal pool, spitting sympathetic epithets past the cress stuck in their teeth while Uncle Trevor waxes on the good ol' days and you wane.
remember | here and gone |
salt of the earth she was | I can't quite | my cousin Greta | do you remember | went just the same | god rest her | uncanny isn't it | like Princess Diana |
do you remember | Princess Diana | salt of the earth | blessed she was | you never forget what you were doing | god rest her |
salt of the | you never forget | that day of darkness and brief snatches | remember | when the fog began to spread |
salt | do you remember?
They drift away. We face each other at the kitchen table like we used to but not quite and outside the traffic fizzes and the sun glitters at the window's edges but you are in shadow.
The Art of Preservation
When I want to remember, I come to the salt marsh.
The past is fragile here, found in glazed fragments — burnt earth, coloured shards, oyster shells. The brine beds dry now, laced with marsh orach, sea lavender, their ancient channels flattened out, lost to time.
Here, forgotten truths lurk in ruined wrecks, remnants of crumbling briquetage. Crouched in shifting sands, I sift the dust of this dark horizon, hopeful for a piece of gleaming gold.
I catch a glimpse of one now and again. It curls away like ashes in the wind and that is enough. Murmuring at its brilliance, I retreat, careful not to look too closely. I know what happened to Lot's wife.
The Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Harty
The ferries stopped running years ago. Riven to dust and driftwood by the water. It's the salt that does it, apparently. Gets inside, pulls things apart. I have my doubts.
A rectory stood here at one time. Majestic grounds, elegant ornamental garden, in the oriental style. Undone by the years, the rise and fall of bricks and mortar, pond dry, cracked earth. On a still day, so stories say, you can hear the children call, chasing each other over the marsh.
The church is salvaged remnants, a patchwork quilt of Kentish stone and medieval grit. Built and rebuilt like the shoreline, its spaces shift and change. Ghosts roam its forgotten rooms. Time has no place here.
Still, over the salt mounds children play, the ferries in the estuary bob on white-capped waves and a small, solitary barn owl, outlined in lead and panes of brown and red and yellow glass takes flight from a high window and soars, screeching, into the gloom.
Vicky Sharples lives by the sea with an enormous ginger cat. After many years in the pub trade, she recently completed a Literature and Creative Writing BA at the University of Kent. Her work has been published by Ink, Sweat & Tears
and After the Pause
. Find her on Twitter @vixta6