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with the martello journal

We Thought The Sea Was Ours

by anthony o'donovan

We thought the sea was ours. The sandy shore our playground. The tide often left us gifts we’d
search for each morning among neat rows of freshly laid seaweed. We’d find someone else's
rubbish half-hidden in the grey sand and brown-green kelp. The sky-blue frayed ropes a fishing
boat discarded. Glinting glass jars and bottles, their labels long washed off. Mum told us a man
in Norway put a note in a bottle and threw it into the sea and it ended up on a beach near here.
But we never ever found a note. Once, there were lots of strange blue spheres, like dyed tennis
balls which we collected. We played a game to see who could find the most and Maya won.

We could hear the sea from our house and we came to know its moods. On stormy nights
the waves would crash and roar and whoosh and wake us in fury. In the morning, when the sea
was calm again, the beach looked different. Angry waves pushed stones and moved banks of
sand out of its way, like daddy would do with the furniture when he came home late.
The morning we found the whale was such a morning. Even though it was so big we
didn’t notice it straight away, so focused were we on rooting through the slimy seaweed to see
what wonders the water left us. Maya spotted it first. And when we looked at it properly it was
so big, it didn’t seem real. That we were dreaming.

We seemed to shrink, the closer we got to it. It’s blue-tinted skin, sleek like the polished
mahogany on mum’s piano. Maya asked what it was in a hush whisper, as if not to wake it. I told
her and we stared at it in silence. Then she put her hand on its head and I was too shocked to stop
her. The creature didn’t move, didn’t stir, and I pulled her back. She threw me off and put her
hand back where it was. After a moment, there was a noise, a sort of humph, like the sound an elephant

might make if it were swallowing something. We both ran to tell mother and I got there first.

Men came to drag it out to sea, and even they seemed small beside it. Like Lilliputians
with Gulliver. The tide didn’t seem to want to take it back. It stayed for weeks slowly changing,
being stripped inch by inch and we were forbidden to go near it. When the wind was a particular
way, we could smell it from our house. Eventually, more men came and blew it to bits and it
became lost among all the other things on the beach the water had cast out.

I wish I had touched it that day. Maya said it felt cold and firm, like a soft stone. I
thought about when I kissed granny on the forehead for the last time in her coffin before they
closed the lid. Every morning after a storm we look to the spot we first saw it, expecting to see it
return. We didn’t know the sea wasn’t ours, and that we just tended to it.

 I am a software engineer and aspiring writer who is working on a collection of short stories. I have completed a Masters in Creative Writing and I live in Dublin.

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