The boy ran across the sand, calling out to the dog. But it took no notice and just kept on chasing the seagulls. They would leap into the air and wheel around just out of reach, squawking, then flutter back down after it had passed, and smooth their wings again, and go back to standing on one leg and looking stupid. Not as stupid as the dog, though.

It was one of those days when the sky is clear and a rich blue with perhaps one small very white cloud so you could tell against it just how blue the blue really was. When the sun is so hot that out of the wind it's like an oven. When the breeze off the sea, even when it's gentle, carries the chill of the ocean, a chill that would cut into the middle of you, except that you can turn around and put your cold side to the sun every so often.

The boy and the dog didn't care about that, though. They gambolled and ran, shouting and barking, from one end of the small beach to other, keeping on the wet sand where it doesn't burn your feet. Sometimes rushing into the shallows after the birds that landed to float in the water, in the calm spaces between the low waves. Waves so gentle some didn't even break, but just surged a little way up the shore, then slid back, uncovering little shellfish and crabs with their passing, and setting the gulls fighting among themselves to divide those spoils.

The valley, with the beach as its end, fell steeply from the bushy mountains. Only at its foot was there any land flat enough to farm, and that only enough to barely support one family. Today was Sunday and they had walked down from the house, carrying between them all they needed for lunch, and now the adults were setting the food out while the boy and the dog ran off some of their exuberance, and the girl fossicked for coloured shells to add to her collection.

The children weren't small any more but they still weren't allowed on the beach alone. Not and go into the sea. They had both been taught to swim, well before they were big enough to reach the high latch that would let them get to the water. They both knew about the rip, too. Only last year a boy, one of the day trippers, had got swept away, and was only saved by chance because he was noticed by a couple of men fishing from their dinghy anchored out beyond the channel.

Soon the lunch was ready, and the children were called to go and sit on the rug. They had cold bacon and egg pie, lettuce from a big glass jar, bread and butter and then fruit cake and a glass of milk. The woman had made the pie, the bread and cake. The milk and butter were produce from their farm. The eggs were from the hens, that the children looked after before and after school, and every other day as well. The children looked after the kitchen garden, too. The man dug it over once a year, and the woman kept the garden book that showed what was to be planted where, and taught the children what to do.

The man and woman had been on the farm since before the children were born. They had financed it with his rehabilitation loan, after he returned from the war. He had been overseas for three years, and they had known each other for two years before that, while he had still been too young to be called up. It hadn't been a farm, then, of course. Just coastal scrub with a title and a debt. He had had to ride an hour each way on his motor cycle, twice a week, to the evening classes on farm management. They were a condition of the loan.

Some of the others at the classes did it tough, but his father had been a farmer, still was for that matter, so he already knew the practical side and learning how to do the accounts was icing on the cake. They hadn't made him go to the courses on cropping and husbandry and that left extra time to put into clearing and fencing. They were getting some small income almost a year before the others, but it had been four hard years before they were able to say it might just work. Some of the others had given up by then.

Now the truck from the co-op called every morning, carting off the big cans heavy with milk and cream, and leaving the clanking empties. They had reduced the loan a little, and they had improved the farm value, so they were able to get a finance extension and bring the power in from the road. Already they had a milking machine and a radio, an electric stove and a vacuum cleaner.

But they both had faces wrinkled by the sun, hair bleached and brittle, and hard hands. He limpled a little, from where a heifer had stepped on him at the end of a longer than usual day, when he was tiring and wasn't quick enough. You could tell from the way she put her hands to her back when she stood up, that she had spent more than her fair share of time working bent over, indoors and out.

You would guess they were farmers.

But it was when they looked at each other, when you saw their eyes as they looked at the children, that you knew what they really were.


Copyright 1998 Peter Leon Collins
v2, 5/4/97.