On the brink of something big, author Evie Wyld headed back to the seaside town of her youth.
I caught the train from London to North Berwick, a seaside town I used to visit as a child, when I was eight months pregnant. I packed for waters breaking and backache. I didn’t pack well for Scotland in winter – my coat would not fit around me and my jumper stopped at my navel. At the hotel, the woman at the front desk peered at my stomach and upgraded me to the accessible suite, which was vast and had red cords to pull for help if something happened. On a walk I clung to the walls of back gardens that ran along the golf course to keep out of the worst of the wind. I stopped outside the house my family used to stay in. I could see the window of the room I slept in with my brother, right at the top, where the glass wobbled. In my notebook I wrote: John Muir Way – light salt spit, westerly wind. I took the footpath across the golf course down to the beach, the ghost footprints of me and my brother as children and my father as a child, too. I imagined the golfers found a pregnant woman in bad taste and I had the urge to fake labour. The wind took my hat, blew my coat open, my hair horizontal behind me. When I reached the shore it flung my hair into my face. I captured it with the hat, pulled it down low over my ears. The beach was empty.
The smell from the rocks: gannet shite and seaweed. Tar. On the Bass Rock birds like a covering of snow. Memories of an oil spill and the birds caught in it, washed up. The dead puffin and its kind face after a storm. The dog rolling then racing up the beach with parts of black bird stuck to her fur. I scrambled over the rocks at the low headland, peering over my gut into the rock pools. Sea urchins – pale pink, shod crab shells, limpets, fat blue starfish. Hermit crab!! Two exclamation marks and underlined. I like hermit crabs. The beach was fudge-brown. A small quantity of top sand moved and made me unsteady on my feet, the wind wailed. To breathe I had to cup my hands around my nose and mouth. Right between the shelter of the cove and the town is the wildest wind, like a dog running with its jaw full of something stinking and dead. No golf, no pikelet, no diamond print or tartan and tweed. Hair and sticks and dead salt-crusted things, seaweed dried and wet, crabs rolled like spinning tops. In the pub I ordered a Guinness and the bartender considered my stomach for a moment before serving me. I stayed too long, made the note I have convinced myself that I can’t stand up, the sun low outside and the pub nearly empty. My son turned over in his still water and the rain rattled the windows in their frames.