Back in August, we asked all wordsmiths to dust down their laptops and send us 'The Letter I Wish I'd Written.' Hundreds of incredibly emotive entries poured forth, and after much deliberating from the ELLE panel, we chose a winner, as well as four finalists. Read finalist Tamar Hodes' letter below.
White waves curl and roll, lifting themselves before crashing on the shore, frothing like simmering milk. The beach is fringed with sweet-pea coloured houses, and the sand stretches itself out, a golden tablecloth, unironed.
After years away, I have returned to you, treading tentatively on your soft grains and gaze out towards your blueness, where a boat, white-masted, crosses you in a neat line.
When I was a child, Nell and I played on the beach all day, every summer. Time had no meaning. We worked as a team, Nell collecting water and I, older sister and chief architect, filling the buckets with dark sand, tapping the base until the insides came away like heavy cakes, turreted. Our fortress grew, seaweed decorating the sides, its slimy green ribbons shining like plastic.
Behind us, our parents reclined in striped deckchairs, my father pretending to read, his book open but his eyes, shut. My mother, her pretty red-lipsticked mouth obscured by a wide straw brim, would recline in her black costume, cross-legged, flicking the pages of a glossy magazine, occasionally glancing up to where a seagull tore the air with his shrieks or a pink-tailed kite flirted with the sky.
My parents’ philosophy was let children be free (a reaction against their own restrictive childhoods) and so the long days filled themselves with trivial activity, all of it pleasant and time-filling.
Until that day.
It was just another lazy afternoon. Nell and I made the beach our playground, as usual, writing our names in the sand with sticks, the letters large and loopy. I let Nell cover me in sand from the chest to the feet and we laughed at my rigid body encased in the beach like a mummy. Once I was released from my sandy coffin, we started on another castle. We were industrious, me patting the sand with my grainy palms, Nell back and forth to the sea, carrying water in her bucket. Our parents, as usual, were seated behind us at a distance.
‘I’ll get the seaweed,’ called Nell.
‘’Okay,’ I responded and that was the last conversation we ever had.
I looked up briefly from my project to see her little body, her blue swimming costume, her podgy legs, her polka dot bucket braceleted on one wrist as she walked into your deep waters. Minutes later I looked up; she had not returned.
Time had no meaning on the beach. I do not know how long I continued to build for, preparing the moat for Nell’s water. The sky darkened as if in warning. I turned to my parents.
I cannot remember the rest of that awful day. It smudged. It blurred. There was a lifeguard and a lifeboat and my parents screaming, my mother’s magazine abandoned at a shiny page on the deckchair.
We never saw Nell again.
For years after that, we did not go to the beach in summer. We shunned the shore and I am sorry to say, we avoided you. Your cobalt-silver sheen was distant to us, merely a blue line edging the beach. We spent more time in town, and did not even look your way. We crossed the road to avoid you, had nothing to say to you, blamed you. You had taken Nell away, deprived us of her joy, destroyed our family. There was no dialogue. How can you sue the sea?
That was many years ago. My parents are elderly now. I have a child of my own. Luca is a delight, loves to explore.. But I keep a careful eye on him, watch him when he dips into your vast waters. I have learned my lesson.
So that is why I have written to you after all this time.
I forgive you, Sea, for taking Nell away. It was not your fault. You stole where we neglected. You took your chance. We should have known that you have that capacity to steal, be it messaged-bottles, ships, shells or Nell: all missing at sea.
Please, Sea, may we be friends again, albeit cautious ones?
I shall throw this letter into your crinkly waves and wait for your reply.