When he first saw the ocean, he thought he would feel something. For instance, when he gazed up into the night sky, with all those little pricks of light, he usually experienced vertigo. Here was an expanse larger than anything, larger than the world. Cold and beautiful. He had always imagined the ocean would instil a similar sort of awe. It was greater than he, and it joined other seas and oceans, encompassing the whole world. Dark blue and cold, like the distant night sky.
Ryder spit sand and rubbed his lips with the back of his hand. A wind had swept in, off the cliffs, and brought along loose sand. The granules scoured his bare feet and calves. He’d been quick to cover his face until the wind had passed. Not fast enough to avoid eating sand. He wrinkled his nose and spat. His girlfriend, Irina, was walking down the coast, south. She was just a dark outline against a backdrop of sun-soaked water and blue sky.
Ryder followed her footprints as they turned from furrows in loose sand to near-perfect impressions. Then the prints disappeared entirely as the white foam waves crawled up over them. Here and there, patches of ground were sloppy: firm one moment, soft the next. At least he had an easier time walking here. No loose debris to blow in his face. Ryder didn’t like sand. He’d spent too much time in deserts to have any illusions about the stuff. “Ocean sand is different,” Irina had claimed. Thus far, ocean sand had yet to impress him.
Irina waved at him from down the beach. “Ryder!” Her voice barely carried over the roar of the waves. “Hurry up!”
He grinned, and ran. He felt light, without boots or rucksack; the ground cushioned each step, and the chill water threatened to sweep over his feet. All too quickly, he reached Irina.
“Look!” she said, shoving something white and round too close to his face. He took a half step back.
“What is it?”
“A mermaid coin. You never see whole ones like this.” She smiled. “We must be lucky.”
Irina took his hand and placed the mermaid coin on his palm. It hardly weighed a thing. Like an eggshell, but rough like sandpaper. Tiny holes dotted the domed top, almost in the shape of a flower. He turned it over. The flat underside had a single hole in the center.
“A sea creature actually lives in there,” Irina said. Ryder almost dropped it. “But it’s empty now.”
Irina chuckled and took it back, stowing it in the purple cloth bag she’d brought along to collect beach debris. Well, she’d said treasures. The girl was a magpie: anything shiny and she had to have it.
Irina slipped her hand in his as they walked south, toward the rocks. Her fingers were warmer, and softer, than Ryder’s. He smiled. Then he realised she was looking at him.
She nudged him with her shoulder. “The ocean: what do you think?”
The wind had picked up again, from the west this time. Cold droplets of sea mist spotted their clothes, their hair. Ryder wiped the side of his face with his free hand.
Irina paused on the sand. “Nice?” She laughed.
Ryder didn’t see what was so funny. “How are you not bored? You’ve seen it so much.”
Irina just laughed harder. She kept walking, towing him along.
“It’s so flat,” he continued. Featureless, really, unless he counted the crests and troughs in the water.
Irina stopped again. Ryder took a few steps more before she pulled his arm. She let go of his hand and pointed. He followed her line of sight. He saw water. And more water.
“Look at the horizon,” she said.
He glanced down at her, then back to the ocean. The blue of the water seemed darker where it met the sky, like a line drawn in coloured pencil.
“It’s not flat.” Irina smiled. “You can see the curve of the earth.”
Ryder looked again. He frowned, turning his head left and right, taking in the new information. He blinked away salt. Oh. She was right. That was new.
He still didn’t like sand, though.