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Irish Beach Reappears 33 Years After Vanishing Into Atlantic Ocean

by Elizabeth O'Brien

Reuters: May 8, 2017


She hadn't meant to keep it so long.


But in '84, when it had come, she was already thirty-seven, and years had somehow acquired a habit of slipping away before her eyes, here and gone, like nothing.


The Irish beach had arrived suddenly at her doorstep. One morning, she heard a muffled bump at the door, and when she opened it, the beach was there: its miles of sandy bluffs gleamed up at her front steps atop what had previously been the yard. The beach spread around her house and smiled up at her like a puppy.


Evidently, it had wandered away from somewhere hard and damp where it had lived for a very long time, for longer than she'd been alive probably, because now it only wanted to lay about in the sun awhile, spread out languorously. It wanted a small rest from the suck-pull-drop of some relentless sea somewhere. The woman knew this feeling well—of loving one's life but resenting a bit its urgency and constancy—so she didn’t mind indulging it. Let the beach stay as long as it liked.


It was clear someone had cared for the beach before her: it effervesced when the wind blew and squeaked when she touched it with her toes, and it was filled with treasures; there were little dried seaweeds like green bubble wrap tucked in it, and hunks of soft-beaten sea glass, and white, dogwood pink, and indigo shells of every shape, some still with meats inside, tucked away treats for later.


The woman and the beach got along from the very start. She didn't ask how long it would stay or where it had come from. She brushed it smooth and clean with a long broom, and ran a hose over it once in a while to remind it what dampness felt like. Together, they watched gulls and sandpipers swoop down to strut along the sand, flying away when they found only a middle-aged woman and house there instead of a sea.


Days and weeks and months went by, until she could scarcely remember life before the beach had come, beyond a vaguely wet memory of having watered grass then. One day, your body is an elastic band that springs back from anything. The next, it’s zings of little pain from dawn to dusk, thirty-three more years have flown past, and just like that, you're seventy: and so she was.


Now she took fewer walks along the beach. Instead, she sat in the doorway of the house, while sand cozed up to bury her feet. The beach remained ageless, ever waiting for her when she opened her door.


One day, the sun rose, but the woman's door did not open.


The beach waited as the sun rose higher, but she did not appear. The beach lapped at her door. It barraged the windows, pattering tiny fists at the glass, singing and then wailing her name.


Still, she did not come.


The sand paled and grew dry, and there was nobody to run the hose.


Still, nobody opened the door.


Finally, under a full moon that shone the sand silver, the beach gathered itself. It rose, roiling and funneling before the house for a moment. Then it caught hold of a fair wind, swept up and away, and was gone.


With the beach went the feel of the woman's skin. Her fingers trilling through the sand, her laugh. Hair clips, buttons fallen from her shirts, and chips of paint from her house: the beach carried her along with it.


Where? Back to Ireland, to the place it had known before. It wearily returned to its old cliffs and sea, the ones from which it had slowly and laboriously been born. Where else is comfort but in the place where you may hope to still be known?


Shrouded by night, the beach crept onto the rocks, and the cliffs said nothing,only sifted the sand around gently over crests and crevices.


The next morning, the sea whooped in astonishment to find the beach returned. The sea dove headlong, sent waves rollicking over the sand, all champagne surges and playful slaps, joyfully tossing starfish, scattering fresh briny shells everywhere.

Author's Note

This story about the Irish beach is based on a news article—a beach at Dooagh, Achill Island, which had washed away in 1984, did really return to its County Mayo coast in 2017.


When I was a teenager, one of my good friends was a chronic runaway. He was gone more often than he was home. Once, shortly after he’d returned from another part of the country—returned to us, his friends, but not yet to his family—I remember him waxing philosophical about the Cheers theme song. “It’s so true,” he said. “Sometimes you just want to go where everybody knows your name.”

Elizabeth O’Brien lives in Minneapolis. Her writing has appeared in New England Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Rumpus, Wigleaf, The AWP Writer’s Chronicle, and previously in matchbook. She is the author of A Secret History of World Wide Outage, a chapbook published by Diode Editions.

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