Picture Perfect

The beach is almost deserted. We pass by a man painting a beach hut. Ahead, there’s an abandoned deckchair. Otherwise we have the place to ourselves. The dogs run with the wind. Or at least, Poppy does. Millie prefers to sit on the stones, her ears streaming out behind her like a scene from Wuthering Heights. The sea’s intense blue-green. Aquamarine. Slashed with white. Ever-changing. Glittering against the sun. My parents once had a painting of the sea. It was just this colour. So long ago now. The Isle of Wight, off to the left, is hazed but you can see the Needles quite well today. And as for the sky, it fair takes your breath away. Picture perfect.

The waves curl up the beach. Dropping pebbles. Seaweed. Cuttlefish bones. Poppy’s ball. She’s learned to wait for precisely the right moment to dart in and retrieve it. The sea sucks back whatever it chooses. It holds so many secrets. Scientists still have no idea how many undiscovered species live out their lives in the safety of its depths. Strange fish. Flowers and forests. Subaquatic cities. Who knows? The vast majority of the depths of the ocean remain uncharted to this day. Forever inaccessible, despite all our sophisticated technology. We know so little about this planet we’re hell bent on destroying.

Some of the sea’s secrets are less alluring. There are wrecks by the thousand. The bodies of who-knows-how-many sailors and fishermen resting in watery graves. Refuse heaved over the sides of passing ships. Sewage. So much that many beaches are unsafe for swimmers and surfers. Detritus from two World Wars has been washed up right where I’m sitting now. And nobody knows how much waste plastic is floating round out there. It’s estimated that around eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea every year, but no-one’s sure how much has already sunk to the seabed. We do know that the amount is set to increase tenfold by 2020. The sea has become a dumping ground for anything we want to get rid of. It takes the flack. Keeps our dirty secrets and looks pretty. Picture perfect.

We love picture perfect. Fashion. Face lifts. Fake tan. Effortless beauty. It’s never been so easy to look like a model. A Barbie clone. We want to attract our ideal mate. Live happily ever after in a fantasy world, photoshopped to perfection. International corporations are only to happy to help us on our way, by selling us ever-increasing mountains of stuff. After all,the resulting mess can be swept under the carpet. Washed out to sea. Or maybe wrapped in a duvet and dumped in a lake. Like Samantha Henderson.

I’m in a different part of the country from usual, but the local news is depressingly similar. The same the world over. In fact, I once knew someone who’d have done exactly as Samantha Henderson’s killer did. Having finally beaten Samantha to death, he wrapped and weighted her body. He drove to the shores of the nearest lake and threw her in. Well, don’t we all bin stuff we have no further use for? Out of sight, out of mind. Then he called the police the morning after to report her missing. He left messages on her voicemail, pleading with her to come home. If I know anything at all about abusers, he was more than half convinced by his own lies. When the police caught up with him, he turned on the waterworks. Drama. Hysteria. Stabbing himself with pencils. Anything for sympathy. Any way he could find to deny the truth. Charlie used to burn his arms. If only the body had remained at the bottom of the lake, wrapped in a Hello Kitty duvet of all things, this man might have spent the rest of his life playing victim. The poor, hard-done-by, abandoned single father. Look what she did to me. Left me all on my own. Four kids to look after. Bitch. The truth is Samantha’s life didn’t matter a spit to him. He felt entitled to her services. If she didn’t come up to scratch he had every right to beat the crap out of her. In fact it was her own fault she died. If you can’t take the heat, get back in the kitchen. If you’re not picture perfect, you don’t deserve to live.

Every week in this country two women die at the hands of their lovers. One woman in three will experience abuse at some point in her life. The statistics haven’t changed much down the years. Back in the day, you didn’t talk about it, of course. The police might be called if a ‘domestic’ got out of hand. They’d likely do nothing. To tell anyone your husband wouldn’t stop shouting at you was disloyal. It spoiled the picture. You must’ve done something to deserve it after all. So you put up and shut up. You’d made your bed, so you lay in it. Like the sea.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not playing a blame game. I don’t think any woman is a saint. I don’t imagine any abuser’s life’s been a bed of roses. Charlie’s was anything but. The baton’s handed down the generations. But ultimately no-one has the right to snuff out someone else’s life on a whim. Nor does anyone have the right to make a living hell for someone else. No matter how much shit’s been thrown at them.

I scuff through the stones as we walk away from the sea. Millions of them. No two the same. Their colours blend to a glorious harmony of gold against the azure of the sea. Here and there a note jars. A blue plastic bottle-top. The mechanism from a soap dispenser. The cracks in the façade. They remind me all is never as it seems. There were days when I couldn’t hold the tears. No matter how disloyal. I look at the scar on my finger. We live in a world full of dirty little secrets. Bruises concealed by immaculate make-up. Bodies wrapped in Hello Kitty duvets. Mountains of indestructible rubbish below the surface of the sea. We think we’re entitled to take what we please in this world. Just so long as we don’t have to face the consequences. If I can’t see the monster, it’s not really there. Picture perfect.

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