You reached for my hand as we stepped onto the shingle. The tide was out and the beach was a moonscape of wrinkled rocks. Under the overcast sky the sea glimmered like pearl, and two tankers lingered silently on the horizon.
Perpendicular to the shore, lines of tree trunks had been planted to stop the pebbles moving across the beach. Many stones were trapped between the logs; perhaps they would be freed by the next high tide. The sea had eroded the wood so that the tree rings stood out in ridges. We traced the circles with our fingertips.
You said, do the trees grow a new ring each year on the outside, like a fresh layer of bark? Or do the rings grow from the inside, so the trunk expands?
I pondered this as we walked among the rockpools. Our reflections were dark on the still water. A stem of purple seaweed spurted from a rock, roots clinging to the stone. Look, you said, like a placenta. Down in the shadows, a transparent creature darted to and fro, no bigger than a bubble.
If you paint a mark on a tree, I said, it remains year after year. So the tree must grow from the inside.
Swelling like a balloon, you said. The wind caught your hair and flicked it across your face. I brushed it back.
In the pub we had chips. You licked salt from your fingers while I drank local beer. I thought of the cold sea and the tide driving the stones against the logs. You used your finger to draw tree rings in the water on the table. Only then did I realise what you were trying to tell me.
Angelita Bradney’s short fiction has been published in various literary magazines including Litro, Riggwelter, and Fictive Dream. She’s a graduate of the Faber Academy and is studying for an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. Website: angelitabradney.com Twitter: @AngelBradn