Subconsciously, I’d pulled the goggles from my face, feeling the familiar discomfort around my eyes as the suction released. They dangled weightless from my fingers.
Above the seafront buildings rose a hill and a town. A road led through the near buildings to disappear into tiered houses that fronted a low hill. I was stunned. Tiny Annestown rested well back from the sea on a road up a hill, a village so small that it had neither a shop nor a pub nor a church and only a dozen houses. Bunmahon lay beyond a stream behind a beach. Stradbally was a kilometre from the shore, and anyway I knew all those villages. I just kept thinking; “I know this coast, I know this coast“. Those villages had tarmac roads, cars, electricity. Modern buildings. All I could think was to seek explanation, comparison, but I had none. My mind whirlpooled around the same vortex. “I know this coast”.
I stood there, a middle-aged slightly overweight man, on a sunny warm afternoon, wearing nothing but Speedoes which were already almost dried in the warm breeze.
It was quiet. Not silent. Peaceful. The breeze was barely audible on various surfaces. The Sea muted its gentle song behind me. My bare feet scraped the sand. I heard the guillemots croak. But I saw no-one. It felt empty. But not deserted. Everything was well maintained. It felt how the Guillamenes feels on mornings I am there by myself. Not abandoned, just that I arrive and swim and leave, without ever seeing anyone, or being seen.
You can feel a temporary emptiness, feel the lack of people, even when you can’t see all the possible locations where they may be. You’ve stepped into your own time and space in a location. Your house isn’t really empty, it’s just that everyone else is out. As I was here. Everyone was out, and I was here alone.
I didn’t look back at the Sea, but I moved forward. I ignored the building on the seafront and entered the lane leading up to the town.
By now I’d dried, but I wasn’t cold. No Afterdrop, no chill. But this was Spring wasn’t it? I should have chills, should need to be dressed. But actually I was warm. The Sun gently warmed my face and chest, feeling like a good Irish late July afternoon. The Sun not strong enough to burn. The swim cap started to feel tight and I took it off also, catching and snagging a few tiny hairs on the back of my neck in the now dry folds of the silicon.
My head scanned left to right, right to left. I was on the main road. Occasional lanes snakes off between houses. At a fork, the right hand road seemed to leave the small town and lead along the coast until it quickly curved back left out of sight. I stayed on the main road up through the town.
I looked at the houses. Individual, well maintained, but overall similar, even differences in size or shape weren’t so broad. The houses were stone of various grey hues. Roofs of slate. Brightly-coloured doors, some full, some half doors. Some half-door tops stood ajar, but I did not consider entering. Square and rectangular wooden-shuttered windows on ground level. Two or even three-storeyed, the lower floors had narrow mullioned windows while the upper floors had circular windows, and many upper floors had hints of turrets. There were flowers in window pots and stone troughs along the roadside.
There were two predominant sounds. The breeze soughed across the slate, a slight susurration. Everywhere was the murmur of water. There were small fountains between houses, and dotted in the centre of the road, with surrounding pools and low walls. Embrasures led from the fountains and narrow runnels ran down stone coursings in the lanes, joining but never widening, only deepening. What happened when there was a rainstorm? There were shallow open rain gutters in the stone on the road sides but the house were without downpipes. The streams gurgled, fed into and out of the fountains, casting a melody of gently-playing water over the town.
On some stone beside doors, over windows, in the street on slender obelisks, were graven character or letters or runes. There were no hard angles, instead they seemed organic, flowing. I couldn’t comprehend the origin. They weren’t the ancient pre-Celtic Ogham runes. Were they addresses or names or titles? There were no apparent commercial buildings. No signs hung outside. No windows to display wares or attract custom.
I continued on. The lane wound around and switch-backed upwards.