Fish Ladder

Me as baby

She lives near the fish ladder, he says as we walk. The fish ladder? I ask. Yeh, he says, you know for the salmon. I don’t know. I don’t know what he is talking about but it doesn’t matter. I am content to listen to him talking as we walk, my arm in his, in the winter sun. What a day. What a glorious day. Perfect sky. Perfect blue. And the sun. How are you two love birds? asks the man in the estate car. He doesn’t know him but he says he’s seen him most days parked on the Prom. He plays classical music on his car stereo with the window open so he can hear the sea. Listen to that swell, he says, smiling. He has an East End accent. I think I recognise him from somewhere. It must be love, he says, inclining his head towards our linked arms. Or it might be decrepitude, he replies. Now, now, says the man, no negativity. No negativity. He’s only joking, I know it. It is love. Love birds, we are.

He is a generous driver. He always stops to let people in. Sometimes a car behind will beep with frustration. I’m just keeping the traffic flowing, he says. They won’t get out if I don’t let them out. I like that about him. We collect the gestures they give him in response. You know, the thumbs up, the wave, the nod of the head. It makes us laugh. Some are cool, a finger lifted off the steering wheel, others are more emphatic, a wave of an arm, a tooted horn, flashed lights. Women are less demonstrative, often distracted and the gesture is cursory, or tentative, their minds on other things. We play them out in the car, copying them. That’s a new one, I say. The other day we watched a man with his old beagle. It had started to rain and the old dog had just managed to make his way onto the beach. It had taken him an age. His legs slow and dragging. With the rain his owner turned back. We couldn’t hear him but just saw his gestures. A cross kind of waving, beckoning the dog to follow him back onto the path and into the car. Poor dog, didn’t know if he was coming or going.

We bought hyacinths. They will soon go over. Top heavy they tilt. I love the scent. Heady and cloying. It’s stronger in the summer evenings. In the winter you have to get up close, your nose touching the flowers.

I saw the woman with the red hat again yesterday. She was talking to herself as she walked. The string with her keys around her neck, flapping as she ambled.