Have you ever visited the beach at night? I remember warm summer nights when we went for night swims with my cousins. We wanted to scare ourselves. The sand was cold and soft on our feet, as if the beach had died and turned into a lifeless corpse. The pebbles were the only objects that could reflect some of the faint light of the moon. As they descended into the water’s edge, they disappeared into a black fog: showing us where the water was. It was in the blackness. But just like a blind person, when you can’t see in front of you the distances don’t matter anymore. They become infinite. You feel safe, because you don’t know.
This is what happens to the sea at night. It becomes infinity. It becomes the sky, the stars. It becomes the air that you breathe. The gates of the underworld open wide, but you don’t even know it because you can’t see them. You are standing right at the entrance of this vast new infinity. Infinitely wide, infinitely deep.
The sea at night is the movie theatre after everyone has left. It doesn’t care about impressing anyone, anymore. There is nothing to show. There are no sounds or images. But there is the humble, honest, understated silence. There is the faint, warming glow of the faded red velvet upholstery, finally feeling free from all those bodies that have been pressing up against it. As the final lights go out, the darkness that has been hiding under the seats comes up from its hiding place. It expands and fills the room. It becomes the sea.
In July the moon emerges only very late at night. Flickering momentary cut-out daggers of light on the water point you approximately to where the surface should be. Or they mislead you. The darkness becomes more trustworthy than the blinding light of the moon. In the darkness we all wear the same, dark cloak. In the darkness we are all equal. Landscapes lose their colour. Trees become grey. Everything reduces itself down to a black and white drawing, tired of trying to impress. The Earth rolls on its side, embracing the dark side of the universe. It looks out away from the solar system and into the vast space, into the ice-cool LED light of the stars of the Milky Way, as it wonders where it came from. And what its future may hold.
We would take stones from the beach and rub them against each other. They would produce light that would shine all through their quartz crystal. It is called triboluminescence. A salty, warm smell of dynamite would emerge out of the stones as they lit up, as millions of electrons in their crystal structures fled to new positions, sending out photons in protest. The stones reminded us that our world had been made out of fire. It had been made violently, and each stone, no matter how small, had retained that memory.
The next morning everything was forgotten. The light had covered all the evidence with colourful lies.
To be continued …(or not)
George is a chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , join his mailing list, or read his books:
5 thoughts on “Night Swim”
I look forward to the next instalment!
Just read this. What a great read as the sun is going and night is creeping in. Your descriptions are vividly cool. Thanks for sharing. Have a great evening. Peter
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Beautiful. It’s been so long. The sea at night is home.