WRITTEN BY DELLA GALTON
Nothing in this world lasts forever, but there are some things which endure for longer than others
Caroline took a lungful of briny air, the smell of seaweed and summer as she walked along the beach, her trainers sinking into the soft sand. Behind her was Brownsea Island and to her left was the blue of Studland Bay.
She’d got the early ferry across from Sandbanks. It was a Tuesday. She’d been first in the queue. Unable to sleep, even though she wasn’t working today. She hadn’t slept much since he’d gone.
It was so odd not having him beside her – Seamus, her beloved wolfhound, the lope of his tireless legs, the shaggy grey head. The endless approaches of strangers, drawn by the great grey hugeness of him.
Wow! What sort of dog is that? Is it a wolf? This to be followed by her amusement and explanation that despite the name, he was too big for a wolf.
Not many people were scared of him, which had often surprised her. Seamus had been bigger than some Shetland ponies. She had a photograph of him nose to nose with one. If he stood on his hind legs he was taller than her, and she was five foot ten in her stockinged feet.
A few weeks ago, such images would have brought pain with them but it was starting to ease. She had lost him six months ago when winter had touched the sea with its icy breath. Natural causes. He had died with her beside him at the end of his life. It didn’t get better than that when you lost someone you loved. Not for him – and for that, she was hugely grateful.
Today, there was no icy sting in the air. It was warm and windy so there were white horses and a windsurfer’s scarlet sail skimming across the blue. Small boats dotted the glittering sea.
Ahead of her were Old Harry Rocks, great chalk stacks that had once broken off the headland. Local legend said that the devil and his wife had once paused there for a nap.
Caroline had walked a lot since Seamus had gone. Mostly alone but occasionally with Mike, her other half, who had loved him too but wasn’t so much of a walker.
Mike was the reason Caroline hadn’t yet got another dog. Well, he was partly the reason. Mike hadn’t been a fan of dogs when they’d met. It said a lot about him that he had accepted one the size of a small horse into his life.
They didn’t live together, not yet, but things were going that way. They wanted to be together and they spent most of their time in each other’s houses. The obvious thing to do was to rent out Caroline’s house as it was the smaller, but this was where her dilemma lay.
It was all very well turning up with myriad boxes and packages, but could she really turn up with a dog? A big dog, at that? She couldn’t imagine not having a dog, and she couldn’t imagine having a small one after Seamus.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sight of a small crowd up ahead of her. They appeared to be gathered around something. Galvanised into action, she quickened her steps to see what they were looking at.
Through a gap in the throng she saw a young guy bent over something on the sand. His face was intent, his tongue poked out of the side of his mouth in concentration as he worked. Caroline realised he was putting the finishing touches to a sand sculpture,
It was a horse, almost full size, lying on its side. Its head was raised, one hoof bent as if it were about to rise up and gallop away down the beach.
It was stunning. A golden horse with strands of mane twirling on its neck. The sculptor was working on the mane now with some kind of tool while his own dark hair flopped over his tanned face.
Caroline joined the other admirers to watch him finish before he finally stood up and looked slightly surprised, as if he hadn’t been aware of how big an audience he had.
As spontaneous applause broke out, he gave a small bow.
“That’s amazing,” a woman in a dark jacket said. “How long did it take?”
“A few hours.” He smiled at her. “I think I’m getting quicker.”
“Where do you get the inspiration?” asked her friend.
“I like horses.”
“How long did it take to learn to do it?”
“I’m still learning.”
“Do they ever collapse midway through?” This was from a young boy.
“Sometimes. But then I just build them again. That’s the beauty of sand.”
“Shame the tide’s gonna wash it away,” said a guy in a back to front baseball cap.
There was a collective sigh and suddenly Caroline felt impossibly sad. She turned away before she heard the sand sculptor’s answer and carried on with her walk.
At lunchtime she stopped on Ballard Down and had the cheese sandwich she’d brought with her in her lightweight backpack.
The sadness had gone, swept away by the rhythm of walking, the mewls of the gulls, and the fabulous beauty of the day. There was coconut-scented gorse everywhere, and families out walking. And there were dogs, of course. Dogs everywhere, of all shapes and sizes. She saw a red setter with its coat gleaming in the sunshine, some spaniels racing everywhere like mad things, Labradoodles, greyhounds and the French bulldogs that seemed to be on trend these days with their scrunched-up faces and huge ears.
There were all manner of dogs on the South West Coast Path today, but no wolfhounds. One part of her was glad of that.
While she ate her sandwich, she read a text from Mike.
Hope you’re enjoying your walk, lovely. I’m just finishing the legs.
Mike was making a coffee table for her dad out of ash. He wasn’t a carpenter by trade but it was his passion, and it was Dad’s birthday tomorrow. He’d been working on the table for weeks in his spare time, in his workshop. He’d taken this afternoon off to finish it. He was like that. Kind, thoughtful. Generous of spirit.
There was a photo of the coffee table beneath Mike’s message. It was chunky and elegant and would look great in Dad’s lounge.
Gorgeous table, she messaged back. She took a photo of the surrounding countryside – a snapshot of grass, sea and sky – and sent it to him with a caption. My lunchtime view.
The reply came back immediately. Stunning. Do you fancy a takeaway tonight at mine?
By the time she was back on the beach again the tide had turned and was starting to come in.
The sand horse was still there but there were no people now. Even the sculptor had gone, and small waves were creeping up the beach.
Caroline estimated the horse had less than ten minutes before the sea reclaimed it. She wondered what it must be like to make something so beautiful and then to see it washed away.
Maybe that’s why its creator hadn’t hung around. She wouldn’t have stayed to watch either.
But actually she hadn’t gone much further when she saw him standing on the shoreline, his hands in the pockets of his cut-off jeans, staring out to sea. On impulse she stopped.
“Your horse was amazing,” she said.
“Thanks.” Close up he was older than she’d thought. Mid-forties, maybe? Closer in age to her and Mike.
“Do you feel sad when the sea washes them away?”
He met her eyes, then glanced away.
“Lots of people ask that. Usually I tell them no. I tell them nothing is forever. That everything in this world is temporary.”
“You’d be right.” Caroline nodded, thinking of her beloved Seamus.
There was a little pause, filled by the endless rhythm of the sea as it inched closer to their feet. The sculptor looked back at her and gave a rueful smile.
He took a pebble from his pocket and skimmed it across the sea. It bounced four times before disappearing.
Today I can be sad. But nothing, even sadness, lasts forever.
“Tomorrow I can build another horse. Or maybe a lion. Lions are good.”
There was a cough from behind them and when Caroline turned, she saw a young woman clutching the hand of a child of no more than six or seven. She smiled at Caroline and touched the sculptor’s arm.
“You ready to go home, honey?”
“Yeah, sure I am.” He kissed her and scooped up the child. “But first, do you wanna come and see Daddy’s horse? If we run, we should just get there in time.”
“Yay, yay, yay,” sang the child and the little family raced back down the beach in the direction of the sand horse.
Caroline watched them go with a smile on her face.
An hour and a half later she was back at Mike’s, complete with a takeaway swinging from her arm in a carrier. Indian, their favourite.
She let herself into the big old hallway which smelled as usual of wood shavings and linseed oil and Mike.
It would be amazing to live with Mike, she realised. She wanted to be with him. They could work out the dog thing. One of the things she loved about them was that they could talk.
After they’d eaten and Mike had stacked their plates in the dishwasher, Caroline told him about the sand sculptor and showed him the snap she’d taken of his work.
“Awesome,” he said. “What a skill. Although it must be sad that it’s only temporary. All that work.”
“I said that. He said he could build another one tomorrow.”
“Well, that’s very true. Nothing is for ever.”
“I can’t wait to see the table.”
“Step this way.”
It was even better in real life. The smooth paleness of the wood. The curve of the legs.
“Oh, Mike, it’s beautiful. Dad will love it.”
“Do you think so?” He was suddenly vulnerable. He had no idea how talented he was.
He kissed her. “I’m so pleased you like it. I’ve been making something for you too. A surprise.”
He took her by the hand and led her to the back of his workshop, where there was something covered with a blanket on the floor. He bent and whipped it away with a flourish.
It was a large wooden box with low sides and an even lower front, carved from ash, with a blank brass name plaque on it.
Is that what I think it is?
“Yep. It’s a dog basket.”
“Enormous enough for a puppy that could grow quite fast – or maybe more than one puppy if that was what you decided you wanted.”
“Are you really, really OK with that?”
“I can’t think of any other use for it. I thought maybe it would fit nicely in the kitchen beside the Aga. Dogs like warmth, don’t they?”
“Thank you. I love you so much.” Unbelievably touched, she swallowed back the tears.
“I love you too.”
She thought about Seamus, gone but not forgotten; and about another dog with his name yet to be engraved on the brass plaque, snuggling up in his bespoke basket, built for him with love. Maybe a wolfhound, maybe not. She took Mike’s hand and kissed it.
Nothing, even sadness, lasts for ever, the sand sculptor had said, and she knew that he was right.
After every night that turned the sea to inky black came a new dawn that would turn it back into the pearly grey of daybreak once again.