The beach was quiet. Craig didn't really remember how long it had been since he'd felt this calm. As Suzanne and he walked away down it, the wind blew coarse sand across them. They turned slightly, trying to take the sting away.
"It's always been this way", Suzanne said quietly.
Craig was surprised; they hadn't said anything for the last five minutes and he was unsure what she was referring to. He wasn't surprised, though. Suzanne jumped trains of thought more, and more wildly, than he did, and random statements were something of the norm when they were together. "What's that ?"
"Oh, just this beach," she said, not breaking her stride. She pointed with her free hand, out toward the tankers slowly receding to the horizon. "they're new, of course, but for years - I don't know, maybe millions of years." She looked down to the sand and sighed. "You know - the sand, the shells, the stones... they have nearly always been here. Not as long as the stars perhaps, but they're still here, and they'll be hear for a lot longer after we're gone."
Craig turned to look at her. It wasn't that she looked sad, so much as mournful for having lost something. He squeezed her hand, just to show that he was there with her. She looked at him, almost as if she remembered he was there with her and smiled thinly. "You don't know what I mean, do you ?"
"I'm not sure." Sometimes Craig could follow her, but other times he just had to let her talk. "Tell me..."
The walked on for another minute in silence, and then suddenly she stopped. She let go of his hand and moved in around to face him. She began talking rapidly, walking backwards as she did so, and flicking her skirt from side to side playfully as she did so.
"It's like all the rocks and the stones and the shells... they all have a place, and they know what they have to do. The sea knows that it has to go in and out and in and out, and it has to make all the waves, and wash the rocks and the stones and the shells. They all know where they have to be, and what they have to do. And they have known for so very long. They don't get tired of being what they are, and they seem for the most part to be enjoying it. Have you ever seen an unhappy rock ?" She spun herself around, pointing at the cliffs as she did so. "The big rocks give way to little rocks and still they know what to do. And when it becomes sand it still knows its purpose. And... there, even the crabs as they pick away at the beach, know where their place and where they'll be." She skipped around the little red crab as it made its way to a small pool of water left by the retreating tide. She stopped, and put out her hand to Craig as he reached her. As he grasped it she pulled him quickly down the beach, almost skipping as she went.
Craig saw that the mournful look hadn't left her face, but that there was a brightness in her eyes that was there when she felt that something was important. Sometimes he could see where her conversations were going, but others - like this one - he just clung to whatever he could and tried to follow her. Life with Sarah was never like this. Sarah was easier on him; she was never quite as distracted as Suzanne became, and she always knew where she was going when she started something.
"We're all here... people, I mean... we're all here, bouncing around as we get on with our lives. But do we really know where we are meant to be ?" As she pulled him down the beach she jumped across the sand from dry patch to dry patch, as if to make her point. "I mean, we're all part of the same world and everything else seems to know where it is meant to be and what it has to do - surely we should to ?" She stopped, having dragged him to the top of a small dune with grasses over its brow. She took his other hand and faced him. Craig still couldn't see where she was going with this, and just smiled at her.
"So." she said after a moment, "Why haven't you found what your place is ?"
Craig was actually surprised. Suzanne wasn't usually this direct about things. He decided to try to play for time whilst he worked out what she meant. "I'm here on a dune, right now."
Suzanne shook his arms, a little frustrated that he was being so frivolous when she wanted him to take things seriously. "No, come on. That's just where you stand. It's not your place."
He looked at her. Craig and Suzanne had known one another for too many years to count - since they were at playschool, and he had refused to go into the play house unless she came with him. Since Suzanne had got married they hadn't had much time together, but when they did they really tried to make the most of it. Because they understood one another so well, it was sometimes easier to talk together - other times it became very difficult. It seemed like this was to be one of the latter. "I'm not sure what you mean."
"You're not in your place, are you ?", she looked at him with all seriousness in her face and the mournful look that had passed away as she bounded across the sand returned to her. "You seem to have stopped looking for your place. I mean, that's ok, but it isn't you. That's why you're not happy."
Craig was a little bit startled. He shouldn't have been, he knew. Suzanne knew him better than anyone did, even Sarah. But he thought that he had kept that from most people, even from Suzanne.
"I know you," she said, squeezing his hands gently. "I know how you are. You have an energy and a passion, and you've just let it go. I've seen it. You've /settled/." She stressed the word 'settled' as if it was something he should be ashamed of.
"You haven't found your place, and you've just drifted to where you are. And you know it. Look at where you live and your work. You drifted in to living with Sarah, and I don't quite know why you stay with her." She squeezed his hands again as he started to reply. "Sssh. She's not the one for you. You know that, in your heart."
Craig looked past her, toward the sea. He knew she was right, and that she'd seen something that he didn't want people to see. He stayed quiet and just let her talk.
"You've given up trying to find that place that you should be. The place where things /fit/. That's when you'll be happy. Because you're not happy now are you ? Are you ?"
She spoke to him as if he was a small child, and he could only nod at her.
"Sarah's nice, and we get along, but there's something missing when you're together. You try to pass it off as being comfortable with each other but you're not really that - you're just together. Maybe that's all some people want, but not you." She let go of one hand, and they began walking back down the dune toward the beach and the sea.
"I like her; we're good together and it seems better than before.", Craig said, finally finding his voice. "You remember what I was like before I was with her, don't you ?"
"Yes, I remember, but it wasn't her that made things better." Craig looked questioningly at her. "Well alright, it was her that made things better, but that's not where you should be. You settled for something less than you deserved. I think you know that you did. I'm not sure why; maybe out of gratitude to her. Maybe you felt you owed her something. But it's not your place."
She turned sharply and pointed back up the beach. Craig tried a response. "I don't... I mean, I haven't settled for less. It's just the way things are and I'm comfortable with things as they are."
She laughed. "Yes, you're comfortable - you've 'settled' for something that's comfortable. Where's your place ? You know - you've just said that it's not with her, so where is it ? You gave up looking for a place. I'm not sure when it happened, but not long before you met her, I think."
Craig tried to turn the subject around, just to get away from his own embarrassment. "Have you found your place ? Is James your place ?"
She released his hand and bounced around him on the sand whilst he turned on the spot to follow her. "James is part of my place. My place is so many things - moving out here by the sea, that was one part of it, James is another part, but there are still others that I'm looking for. You're a part of it. It's like a jigsaw with so many, many connecting pieces and you feel when its right. That's why you're not happy where you are; you need the other pieces around you. You can /feel/ them when they're wrong. It's like a bad note in an orchestra - you just know that there's something not quite right."
She stopped bouncing one way and tried bouncing the other. "You know, at one time you wouldn't have just stood there on the beach to watch me. But you've not lost that. It's still there, in you. You just need to find it again. I don't know where it is. Maybe it's been so buried that you can't see it. But it's there. If you find your bounce, maybe you'll hear the rest of the pieces. Right now you can't hear the right notes because all your surrounded by is the wrong ones."
She spun on the spot and then stopped to breathe for a moment. "I'm not sure," she said between breaths, "what it is that holds you back. You talk in your sleep, you know ?"
Craig jumped a little. Nobody had told him he talked in his sleep ever. Not that there had been that many people that would have, but Sarah had certainly never mentioned it. "I do ?"
"A little. Just the odd word now and then. It's like you want to say something but you can't find the right words. It's all real words, though. You remember a few months ago when you were here last ? You fell asleep in the sun ? You were talking then."
Craig wondered what secrets he might have let slip whilst asleep. Then decided that given how much Suzanne already knew of him, there probably wasn't much that she didn't already know in any case. Suzanne slipped her arm around his waste and the continued back up the beach.
"Something about things not being right. You couldn't change things. Then there was something about seeing things differently. And at the end you said something about the helping the rabbit." She looked a little puzzled. "I don't think that last bit wasn't related to the rest, though. But it all made me think. It's only when you look at someone properly that you see who they are. Just spending time with them isn't enough. You need to put together a picture of who they are not only from what they say and do, but of what they mean. The things you said whilst you were asleep weren't all that much, but they let me think about you differently."
Craig could see the car, parked up by the pier. Nothing else for miles around and just this one pier - a partial pier, at some point it must have actually reached the sea, he guessed - and a small car park.
"If you're right, then what do I do ?" he said, searching for something to answer to her with.
They climbed the steps up toward the car. "I think you need to listen for the pieces." Craig looked carefully at her. "They'll sound right. Not just your pieces, but the pieces around you. Sometimes you'll hear a piece and it will sound right. It's not just for you - other people will be looking for their place too. They'll be listening for the right pieces as well. Maybe they will find you."
They sat at a table beside the car and knocked the sand from their shoes.
"You need to start looking. It doesn't have to be much; just try to find for the right pieces. They're out there, you know. And if you don't find the right pieces, then the picture won't be right. The picture changes, but if you're not in the right place then maybe the changes will take you to a worse place."
Craig knew that Suzanne was strange. Some of the things she believed weren't ever going to be things that he could believe, but he knew that was just the way things were with beliefs. But maybe this one was right. It sounded right to him. There was something of a completeness about that way of looking at things. Maybe this was what he was looking for.
"Come on," Suzanne called to him, "you're making tea tonight."
He got in to the car and they drove away. And the beach was quiet again.