On Crosby Beach by Helen Matthews

Your image evolves on my timeline, reminding me today is your birthday. In the photo, you’re wearing a sage-green shirt and I remember we cropped it to fit your Facebook profile. Was I wrong to urge you to forgo the stock silhouette and annihilate your anonymity?

That weekend, we walked on Crosby beach, feeling wind and spray sting our faces. We meandered between dunes and sea, among Anthony Gormley’s hundred towering sculptures of men, visiting each so none would feel lonely or rejected. Their brooding figures, fashioned in the artist’s likeness, stood sentinel on the foreshore and in the shallows, blank eyes searching the horizon. If they could see the future – your future – they sealed their prophecy behind unmoving lips.

Some statues were buried, thigh-deep, in sand; others raised on pedestals. A few were coated with barnacles and slime-green weed, as if the ocean had woven bespoke garments to shield their nakedness. We ran our hands over their rough, muscular torsos and watched the incoming tide swirl around and eviscerate lower limbs. Over the years, salt had gnawed at their cast iron bodies so patches flaked off, like psoriasis on skin. And yet they seemed transfigured from man-made artworks into geological permanence, rooted in landscape, as elemental as the rocks.

Not you. Age did not wither you, nor did the elements. You were still in middle youth when you last drew breath. Your corporeal part dissolved into dust and ashes. But you had no lover, partner or child to curate your afterlife. And so your image stays, trapped in social media limbo, while an indifferent timeline counts your birthdays and lies to the world about your age.

As each year passes, Facebook feigns your continuing existence, taunts me with your smiling photo, your sage-green shirt. And memories of Crosby beach.


Helen Matthews is the author of suspense thriller After Leaving the Village (2017), which won first prize at Winchester Writers’ Festival, and Lies Behind the Ruin (2019), domestic noir, set in France. She is an Ambassador for the anti-slavery charity, Unseen. Find out more at: helenmatthewswriter.com | Twitter: @HelenMK7 | Facebook.com/HelenMK7Writer.

Image: unsplash.com