DUST THOU ART

TCWG competition June 2015 – Topic “Heaven Sent”

 

DUST THOU ART

A soft Sunday morning at the end of April.   A parcel of warm air passes over the notoriously cold North Sea, which is just beginning the annual effort to warm up. The wind blows from a direction between north and south east, forcing the fog lurking over the water towards and over Balmedie Beach.

The dogs are running wild, having just done the downside of a huge dune. No seals today. They’re often washed ashore –singularly – but become distressed if approached to see that all is well.

The clear view they had out to the cold horizon disappears under the haar.

“You’d never be found if you were out on a surfboard…. good job the tide’s out. It happens so fast ,” says Max.

The three of them walk at a pace along the completely deserted beach. Nature in Scotland is spectacular and abundant, their compensation for leaving the Netherlands, surely the flattest land on earth. In their four year stint in Aberdeen, they will overdose on lochs, mountains, islands, hills and glens and still never have enough. Aberdeen’s a winter city, at its best under snow. The granite buildings are softened by it, reflecting the pale northern light. But within an hour’s drive, the magnificent quieter places are there to inhale.

This place, together with Mither Tap, is their favourite family walk on Sundays. They’re out at 7.30, collect the papers on their way, then walk a good few hours before going home to pancakes, a glass of sherry to thaw their freezing bones, and a day of sloth.

“What day do your Highers start?” Joanne asks.

“Not Highers, Higher Stills!”

Max is annoyed that she can’t remember the difference, but Joanne finds the names of the Scottish examinations amazing, a mix of ambition and philosophy, for exams all the kids must do. Highers, then Higher Still. The vagaries of language.

Their heads are down as they walk, though underfoot is clear, and they press on having seen the long, clear stretch of sand ahead before the fog descended.

Ahead now there’s a dark shape, green and cylindrical, lying in the sand. Max reaches it, rolls it over with his foot, picks it up and shakes it.

“There’s something in it, it’s quite heavy, but I can’t hear anything. Shall I open it? ”

He’s 17, but they’re not. They’re middle aged parents, cautious and not as curious as he is.

“Maybe its radioactive waste, “ Piet jokes.

“Hang on, there’s a small label underneath…..”

Max wipes wet sand off the label with his cuff and reads a heavily typed, plastified label.

“Remains of Linda McBride, aged 43, cremated Aberdeen Infirmary. Fuck!”

He drops the canister, appalled. The dogs come up to sniff around, pawing it, but without much interest.

“We have to do something, she was only 43…….” Joanne says.

“Well, if you think I’m picking that thing up again, you’re crazy!”

“What’s it doing here, we can’t just leave it,” Piet says.

“OK, you take it then,” says Max.

“What do you think?” Piet asks Joanne.

“What would we do with it, we might be breaking a law if we take it. It’s a body.”

“It’s Sunday, we’d have to keep it in the house,” Piet says.

“We’re not doing that! It’s too creepy…..must be washed up, someone threw it in the sea. It wasn’t done properly,” Max shivers.

They are all remembering grandma’s burial three years ago, how her ashes had been spread on her beloved beach. They spelt her name hugely in the wet sand, then poured the ashes into those shallow letters, and waited until the remains were washed out to sea. Here, there’s an instinct of transgression of the last respects code.

Wordlessly they turn back, spooked, leaving poor Linda on the beach. Did they come down to spread her ashes on the waves to grant her last wish, and then…..? It bothers them.

Piet googles “scattering human ashes in the UK” that afternoon and tells them

“Apparently Jane Austen House in Hampshire has banned people from scattering human ashes there, as there are so many piles of them just dumped round her house and garden. They sneak them in and dump them!”

In the evening Joanne tells Betty, her neighbour, about what happened.

“Should we report it to anyone, maybe the coroner?”

“There are no coroners in Scotland, the Procurator Fiscal handles inquests instead. It’s still the property of the crematorium probably. Tell them, it’s just not right.”

Betty is upset by their find, possibly more upset at them leaving it on the sand. Discarded for the second time.

On Monday Joanne phones the crematorium.

“No, you’re mistaken,” says the man.

“We stopped doing green last year, they’re only in grey since then.”

As if she was ordering a sweater for a private school.

Joanne persists.

“I’ll ask what they think at the Press & Journal then, they might know.”

The local paper comes in handy as a goad.

“Ah, well, let me make some enquiries first, and I’ll get back to you.”

An hour later the man from the crematorium phones back and says in a pinched, formal voice

“Unfortunately, it appears the canister with the ashes of Linda McBride was not delivered back, even though that is forbidden under any circumstances. It was given for dispersal to a relative on the promise it would be returned.”

Long after Linda’s death, three strangers on a beach would always wonder if she was ever laid to rest.

 

A PSALM OF LIFE

Tell me not in mournful numbers

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

 

Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal

Dust thou art, to dust returneth

Was not written of the soul

 

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow

Find us further than today

 

Art is long, and Time is fleeting

And our hearts though stout and brave

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

Funeral marches to the grave

In the world’s broad field of battle

In the bivouac of life

Be not like dumb, driven cattle

Be a hero in the strife

 

Trust no future, howe’er pleasant

Let the dead Past bury its dead

Act – act in the living present

Heart within, and God o’erhead

 

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints in the sands of time

 

Footprints, that perhaps another

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again

 

Let us, then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait……

 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

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