George Campbell Hay
One of winter’s last days was passing. It was a smudged world of rain and dusk. I walked along the shore under raindrops as fine as dust. They clung to my skin like dew, and formed clouds when I breathed. Before long I was coated and slick, like a seal pup. Smirr, we call it here.
I trudged beyond the streetlamps and sodium lights gleaming in the haze and mirrored on wet sand. The smirr muffled the sounds of faint sirens and engines, hushing the peep-peep-peep of oyster catchers and cries of gulls. The waves were soft. Looking heavenwards, all was tinted cobalt, around me was horizon-less. The night’s stars would soon come.
In this cocoon I was almost alone. In the distance, dog walkers with silent dogs. I padded onwards, oblivious, until slowly I noticed the sand was dotted as far as I could see. I peered, crouched: starfishes. I lighted the sand with my phone. They were everywhere, reaching far back from the waterline. Constellations of forty, fifty washed ashore as though they had fallen from the sky.
I weaved around them, anxious not to step or squash, still counting in disbelief. This narrow band of the beach my partner and I had previously nicknamed ‘Starfish Point’ as two or three are often stranded here. We would find sticks or shells to carry them back into the sea to save them from dogs or gulls. In their dozens it would be impossible to rescue them all, I could barely move between them.
I looked to the waves. The tide was returning, gradually. In one hour or two it would lick and lap the sand, teasing them back into the surf. The beach was quiet now, any predator was not yet here. Most of the seastars would be safe.
In the smirr I was chilled, and I began to return home. Regret and guilt cloaked me as I left the indigo night and its fallen orange stars behind.