I look at you lying there and my heart swells like my belly was once swollen. I hover between relief and love: relief that you’re finally asleep, relief that now we can both finally rest. Your arms splayed out carelessly tell me you’re comfortable, that you’re safe. Splashed across the sandy cushion, dark brown locks float to the surface around you, a halo of protection, supporting your head. I see your mouth is slightly open, like a fish’s mouth and your lips paler and your rose-tinted cheeks whiter than usual. I watch your belly, exposed since your red rainbow T-shirt has ridden up under your arms in the battle to put you down, but your stomach is still protected and warm under your chalky white vest, creased and worn. Since you left my swell and became your own, the baby-swell has not left your belly and it rises and falls, rhythmic and reassuring. Feet together, legs slightly apart, one dashed carelessly against the sofa, one standing erect, ready to spring up. Your socks, where you’ve pulled them, make your feet look distended, longer, almost reaching for me, like fingers clawing desperately for a shore.
I look at your feet and I’m taken back to when we had a day of firsts: we took you to the beach with your cousins so you could experience sand and the sea; so you could see how close I lived to the feeling of freedom. I splashed in the sea with you on my back and you loved it, kicking up the waves as they lapped at me, at us, we were one and the same. We wanted you to experience everything so took off your shoes but you couldn’t put your feet in the sand so you drew your legs up into yourself: it was too new, too much, too cold, too sand for you.
As you stretch out to touch me with your distended feet, turning your head to the left, sighing in your sleep, I see her. She went to the beach too. Her spotty dress and grey leggings are peppered with a light sandy blanket and her head is turned in relief, relief that she can now rest. She is about your age. Her eyes, like yours, half-open, look brown and shiny. Her mother knew she might be cold at the beach: she’s wearing a full-sleeved vest under that blue and white polka-dot dress, leggings to keep her legs warm. There’s a wet sandy pillow beneath her head, turned to the side. Ocean-blue lips, open and enquiring tell me about her day at the beach: splashing, so much splashing. It was too much, too cold, too wet.
Further along the same stretch, an older girl went to the beach too. Her red shirt ridden-up under her armpits, exposes her smooth chalky white skin, her vest-less belly swollen and distended, not a baby-swell. She lies face down in her crumpled foamy pillow, arms strewn carelessly under her head, eyes closed, face turned slightly to one side, mouth covering the relief that she can now rest. Her dark hair forms a halo, billowing to the surface; her hands, burrowing into her gritty pillow, hold on. Wet pink jeans sit atop a camel-coloured mattress, clinging soapily to her legs, desperate to stay on as the waves lap at them both. The foamy sheets and her wet clothes tell me about her day at the beach: splashing, so much splashing. It was too much, too cold, too wet.
When you’re all grown up, I’ll tell you the story of how you went to the beach. You went to the beach. Just like them, they went to the beach too.
Please, if anyone feels compelled to share this, do not attach pictures.