It is true to say that rising over the dunes and seeing for the first time the lights in the shallow waters is a thrilling experience. Tonight they spread from pier to headland in a wide swathe, about five hundred meters wide and reaching about a hundred meters out into the bay. The green iridescence which each of these jellyfish contributes swells and falls along the shoreline in a pulsing rhythm which runs through the massive shoal. Further out in the bay, the turbine blades turn slowly like ghosts waving their arms.
‘There must be millions of them,’ a little voice says.
‘Aoife Needham, are you following me around.’
‘No I just came to see how you were.’
‘You’re very kind, where is your mum and dad?’
‘Behind me,’ she says airily. ‘How many do you think there are?’
Pier to headland it takes me less than two seconds to do a particulate scan.
‘Guess,’ I say, ‘guess to the nearest million.’
‘One hundred million,’ she bleats.
‘Not bad,’ I say, ‘ one hundred and twelve million.’
‘You counted them all?’
‘Every one of them?’
‘I’ve had a CPU upgrade since last year. An ocular and visual cortex augment was part of the package.’
Aoife’s eyes are wide open. ‘So what else can you count, the hairs on my head?’
‘Yes, but not in this light.’
‘The stars in the sky?’
‘No, not the stars in the sky. Not even I can see that far.’
Eithne and Aoife’s older brother Adam come down over the crest of the dune and take up position beside us. One moment later Aoife’s father plunges his way down the soft sand and steps in beside us, both arms crossed on his chest.
‘It appears you lied to us Sophia,’ Eithne says
‘Oh yes,’ she says with a broad smile, ‘you said the future wouldn’t be pretty. If this is not pretty, I don’t know what is.’
The light from the sea has intensified now, concentrated in a ribbon which is moving out into deeper water. You do not have to reach too far to see that this is indeed beautiful.
‘So this is what it looks like,’ Adam says. The note of adolescent belligerence in his voice is clear.
‘How do you mean?’
‘All hell breaking loose, this is what it looks like.’
‘That’s what you said last year,’ Eithne replies.
‘And the year before,’ Aoife adds.
‘It’s a classic,’ Adam says, ‘material like that will never get old.’
For a moment Adam seems content, happy apparently to have taken a good rise out of both his mother and sister. But his contentment does not last long.
‘Lets just see it as it is,’ his father says.
‘We know what it is,’ Adam blurts in sudden rage. ‘Jelly-fish! Fucking jelly-fish all the way from the Azores where they are boiling in their home habitats. And them migrating north to find a home in latitudes that should know nothing about them.’
‘Adam!’ Eithne implores, but it is too late. Adam is in full spate.
‘And we stand here admiring them, the beginning of the end, the end of the world coming not as a bang but as a light show along this coast, the northern lights drawn down to earth and fallen into the sea.’
‘It’s Christmas Eve Adam, give it a rest for gods sake.’
Adam draws into himself, plunging both hands down into the pockets of his jeans. He tilts his chin up to open his mouth behind a huge yawn. It was now almost one thirty and most of the people along the dune are turning from the sea to walk back to their cars. Aoife’s father takes her hand
‘Come on little lady, it’s time we were going, Santa will be here soon.’ He hoists her up into his arms and starts to plough up the incline. Adam is already five paces ahead of him. Ethna takes a step towards me.
‘What are you doing for Xmas day Sophia?”
‘Oh, I have the usual things planned, calls to friends and so on.’
‘You’d be welcome at our house, I hate to think of you lonely over there.’ There is a knowing smile around her lips. ‘I know you’re not lonely but I still can’t bear the thought of you being alone on Christmas day.’
Her offer is genuine and it comes from a good place. People describe Eithne as a kindly soul, someone who would not see you stuck. Nevertheless, my mind is made up.
‘I think it would be better all round if I stayed with myself. But I might call over for an hour in the evening, I have a present for Aoife.’
‘You shouldn’t have but she’ll be thrilled.’ The face of the dune is moving now with the shadows of those moving away. Eithne moves closer. ‘Has anyone spoken to you, anyone said anything?’
‘No, you’re the only ones who’ve spoken to me.’
There is no mistaking the disappointment in her face. ‘Christmas Eve,’ she says sorrowfully, ‘wouldn’t you think…. I’m sorry I ever asked you to do that. I should never have asked you.’
‘Yes, you should.’
She nods. Her lips tighten as she walks away.
I wait a while to let the last of the people move off. They pass around me but do not speak. From this distance I can see the Xmas tree glowing in the window of my cottage; below that I can see the cliff face that is slowly being eroded back. I know the projections on that; in ten years the distance between the cottage and the shoreline will be halved and the high water mark will be less than thirty meters away.
The ribbon of light is looping further out into the bay now and it looks as if it’s tethered to the pier at one end and the headland at the other. In another hour it will light up the turbines from below, the blades turning slowly in the warm breeze, drawing the green light up into the night sky. But I won’t wait for that, the sooner I get back to the cottage the sooner I can make a couple of calls. This is the time of year to reach out to people, people like myself who find that even as the world gives us a glimpse of its own end, it does not cease to dream up entirely new ways of leaving us alone.
I head off.