Short stories from around Cornwall
This short story was collected and written during a series of journeys through Cornwall that Anna Maria Murphy took in the summer of 2010-2011 as part of the connection programme, which aims to engage creatively with local communities through event and adventures.
Inspired by Elizabeth from Perranporth, who was that young girl, and is still surfing at 83
So picture this. Beautiful Elizabeth. How is she beautiful?
Hair the colour of Perranporth sand, eyes, possibly blue, hard to look into them for long. She’s lighthouse tall and sea-brave.
That’s why she’s so beautiful, the way she strides into it, the way no wave has got the better of her, the way no type of weather will keep her out.
And Ronald Munro, able seaman Munro, loved her. Yes he did. He sat on the sand dunes with the other men and counted the footsteps her feet made on the beach, watched her run as she got nearer the shore, her surf board tucked tightly under her arm.
Near her breast.
Fresh from Dunkirk they were, resting at the Penhale camp.
Trying to sleep
And the dunes where as near as they would come to the sea.
The terrible sea that smelt of men and oil, sea that shouted to them in their dreams,
“I can’t swim! I can’t swim!”
No, the sand dunes where near enough for them, and for Ronald, he didn’t want to breath in the salt on his skin, didn’t want the rumbling roar of breaking waves in his ears.
Barbed wire didn’t stop Elizabeth, as it curled like sharp tumbleweed the length and breath of here beloved beach. She either jumped it, or placed her surf board over it and walked across her wooden bridge, arms outstretched for balance, an acrobat in seersucker.
She knew the men of course, they came into her father’s chemist shop to collect medicine, memory tranquilisers, hand steadiers, nerve calmers. Shy and polite they were, not familiar like the local boys. Not jitterbugger like the Gls.
Ronald Munro sometimes whispers:
“thank you lassie”. Under his breath, barely loud enough to tremble the lips.
They all smoked, the trails rising on the dunes, ghostly signals of their presence. Elizabeth felt them watching her every day, and an uncommon shyness came over her. She would cut herself on the wire, or miss-judge the wave and fall over her board, the fear of the men, rolling down the dunes towards her.
“That’s it!”, she thought one day.( she was a no nonsense sort of a girl).
She turned around and headed towards the dunes, striding with her board.
The men shifted on the sand, looking down, stubbing out their woodbines, adjusting their shirts.
She stood before them, beautiful Elizabeth.
“Whose coming then?” She said. ” I’m going to teach you to surf.”
She looked straight at Ronald.
“You”, she says, “trousers and shirt off, come with me.”
And over the barbed wire she takes him, his chest pebble white, her board a bridge for him.
He rides an infant wave, holding her hand, she can’t see the tears, salty as they are, that mingle with the spray.
Beautiful Elizabeth. She didn’t marry or even kiss him.
But she taught him to surf.
Holding his hand.
See her now, Elizabeth, eighty three, hair sea foam white, she fancies she sees the scratch of wire tattooed onto the sands, and steps over its invisible claw with her new board, one arm outstretched.
It’s a wonderful gift in this life to share with others.