As a part of Book Week Scotland 2014, the Special Collections Centre of the University of Aberdeen ran a competition asking people to write a story inspired by one of four images on their website. I entered with a story called Remembering The Sand, inspired by the image on the right. Sadly I didn’t win but my entry can be found on their website, along with the entries, here. Later this week I will write my Author’s Notes on the story but for now you can read the full thing below the break!
Remembering the Sand
In the summer of 1932 my mother sent me to work at my Grandfather’s shop in the coastal village of Glenbay. I stepped off my train and breathed in the engine steam and sea salt. At the far end of the platform was my Grandfather.
“Alec.” He gave me a curt nod. “This way son.”
He led me down the station steps and into the village. Every house we passed, he would tell me about the people who lived inside, what they ordered from the shop and how they lived their lives. The only place we stopped at was his own shop. Through the window, I saw the shelves stacked high with boxes while great sacks of dried food menaced the floor. Behind the counter Grandfather’s young assistant Willie was talking to a beautiful woman. Grandfather watched in silence until he said, “that boy needs a haircut.”
Grandfather’s house was marked by a thin red door. The other side was unchanged from my childhood: pipe smoke and family photos decorated every shelf and wall, my late Grandmother’s work.
“You are in your usual room. I’m needed back in the shop before that assistant of mine does something silly.” He looked at the grandfather clock that dominated the hall. “Go out and learn the village. You are on deliveries tomorrow. Back by six for dinner.”
I took the back road that runs along the bottom of the cliff. When it reached the Banks Hotel I could either follow the road out into the green hills or turn back towards the grey buildings and brown beach. Nostalgia pulls me towards the sand.
Whenever we visited Grandfather we would always go to the beach. My sister and I would carve out rivals to the British Empire in sand. Today they slowly shimmered back into life: towers, moats and walls. A seven-year old’s excitement boiled up inside. Grandfather, stood on the rocks, staring out to sea.
My greeting was answered with silence. “What are you doing?”
He stirred. “Remembering.”
During dinner I notice that Grandfather had a photo of the beach on his dresser. Inhabiting the black and white world was a man, with an outstretched arm talking, to a young boy. They are stood in the same place we had earlier.
“Who are they?” I point at the photograph.
“Your uncle and I.”
“Uncle Tam? He died in the…” I stopped when I saw the effect my words had on him. He seemed to have shrunk in his seat. A tear spilled from his eye, down his cheek and onto his signet ring: a block of gold in volleyed landscape of white. The same ring was on the man’s finger in the photo.
“He did,” he finally said. “He signed up too young and died a lifetime too soon. Never teach a boy that war is glorious.”