by Meg Beaumont
December in Belgium; I’m stood beside my father at the edge of a perfectly circular frozen pond. There’s a man made island in the centre, housing a few lacklustre trees and shrubs. A little girl in a lilac coat chases a blonde Labrador in laborious circles around the outer perimeter of the water, watched by her parents. It is so dead cold and still that I can hear her ragged breath as she runs round and round, stumbling a little on the uneven ground. It feels like the nucleus of winter.
After years of going about our lives either side of the English channel in splendid isolation, my father and I have recently fallen into the habit of seeing each other twice a year; London in the spring, Belgium in the winter. I wonder what this pond looks like in the summer; what my father looks like in the summer. We were farmers in this region for hundreds of years, he told me yesterday, as we drove through the frigid, foggy countryside, where on a clear day it’s flat enough to see for miles. I keep thinking about that we, hundreds of years of another family unravelling in front of me like a pulled stitch, a language I still don’t speak.
He tells me in his flawless English that the pond was dug over a hundred years ago, and that they would float miniature ships in it. Boys, orphans mostly, would be brought here from further inland, and trained in all things seafaring, then sent to the coast. Can you imagine, my father says, watching the girl and the Labrador continue their slow orbit. Imagine learning to sail a ship on this pond, and then seeing the ocean for the first time.
Meg Beaumont works in arts marketing and is based in London. She writes a lot, almost exclusively on the notes section of her iPhone.