People who know about these things maintain that time is not linear but in the form of a circle. As with the past, the future is there for all to see if only we are sensitive enough. Hard to swallow! And yet -
But listenlet me tell you about a picture in Grandma's room.
Most of her pictures were of lakes and mountains. Those dark Victorian oil paintings in their heavy, gilt frames suggested a brooding stillness that sowed a vague uneasiness in my young heart. Mysterious Highland cattle with their fearful, alien horns stood eternally in silent lakes reflecting stormy skies. The deep mists that swirled around about the mountaintops hid unknown terrors, and my eyes would swiftly glide away.
The picture over the mantelpiece was somewhat different but still held its own peculiar menace. It was a view over a wide estuary. The tide was out, revealing a vast expanse of dark sand stretching to the farther shore some miles away. Here, low white limestone cliffs separated a gloomy wooded area from the deserted sands. The river entered the picture on the far left, and the block-like buildings of a lonely village huddled on its far bank. In the left foreground, separate from the shore, was a small raised area of rock that partly concealed a dilapidated mansion.
But it was on the distant right of the farther coast where the terror lay. Here, a livid cloud obscured the land, but behind the cloud was a gleam of vibrant light. This was so intense that it seemed to pulse with a life of its own, as if striving to break from some restriction. It projected a malevolence that permeated the whole scene, and I felt afraid. How grandma could live with such an evil picture was beyond my comprehension.
Thirteen years later that picture came vividly back to mind. I remember the date exactly: February 15th, 1941. I was in the army and on a troop train travelling between Portsmouth and Gourock on the Clyde, where we were to embark for Bombay. We had been on the train for almost 24 hours, travelling slowly through the night, with numerous hold-ups and reroutings. To pass the time we played interminable games of Monopoly.
The morning was bright and clear with a touch of spring in the air. Soon we realised that yet again the train had been diverted. At about 10 in the morning we found ourselves travelling slowly along the edge of the sea.
And then the train stopped at a small open-air station, and on the far side of the white painted wooden paling we could see a neat promenade lined with rock gardens and yucca palms. The tide was fully in, and a wide expanse of bright blue water stretched to the farther shore. Here, the sun gleamed on low limestone cliffs, and the woods behind held a hint of purple mist. On the far left, in the distance, was the mouth of a river, and on the far bank was a village of white-painted houses, Italianate as they basked in the balmy air. In the foreground was a small island that seemed almost tropical in the bright sunshine.
I had an overwhelming sense of deja vu. The picture in Grandma's room! And yet there was a marked difference. Here there was a feeling of warmth and tranquillity. I immediately looked across the bay to the far distant right, but there too was nothing to cause unease. There was no evil cloud, just a long line of pleasant hills.
Although all the station's name-boards had been removed, the glass in a nearby lamp post still bore the name, and that too was in keeping with the idyllic scene. "Grange-Over-Sands," it read.
How I should love to live in such a place, I thought as the train started again on its slow journey north.
My wish came true. Ten years later I moved to a seaside town a few miles down the coast, and my wife and I came to know Grange and its surroundings intimately. Some of my happiest memories are of walking along the promenade on warm Spring days, from the car park above the open-air baths to the little railway station, and back via the sleepy town.
But now that Im alone I visit the area less frequently. The place has changed; there is no joy there nowadays. I look across the bay to the massive ugliness of the nuclear power station that has been built there, and I think of that fulminating cloud in grandma's picture.
And I wonder .
Ron is 80 years old and served with the British Army in India (and Ceylon) during World War II. He retired from the teaching profession in 1985 and, following his wife's death shortly afterwards, took up creative writing as a hobby. Since then he has had short stories and poetry published and broadcast. The North West Network of the B.B.C has broadcast seventeen of his stories.