CREATIVE Cath Barton

NWR Issue 116

The Plankton Collector


Take a seashore, let us say one on the leeward coast of an island, where the twice-daily coming in and going out of the sea is, in the main, a calming. There are cliffs of old rock, gneisses and schists, born of a time of greater drama. On the tops is a green sward, pockmarked by holes where rabbits burrow. They emerge at dawn and dusk and nibble the grass back into tidiness. On the cliffs is a congregation of gannets, kittiwakes and puffins. They sing songs from the hymnal of the birds. They are raucous and out of time with one another. On the shoreline a few of them land and strut about, self-important but awkward because they are out of their element.

Here the morning light is pearlescent. There is a shimmer to it. Water laps gently around rocks tumbled long ago on the shore, making the little curtains of green algae move back and forth as if they were opening and closing on the scenes of a play. Which indeed they are. It is the daily play of the creatures of the rocky shore, the sand bubbler crabs which emerge from their sandy nests and scuttle in sideways motion, the cushion stars which scavenge on them after death, and the pink polyps of hydroids which feed on plankton. Much of this, and especially the plankton, is invisible to the man we see who passes by and remarks on his disappointment that the rocky pools are not as they were in his childhood. He is thinking about those long-ago summers of (we remember erroneously) unremitting sunshine when boys wearing long shorts or short longs lifted strands of jellified seaweeds aloft triumphantly, for Mother to take a picture with the Box Brownie. That picture which will be amongst the snaps which she keeps all her life in the old chocolate box, the captured iconic moments of seaside holidays, made happy by a trick of memory.

Cath Barton was born in the English Midlands and now lives in Abergavenny. Her short stories have been published in anthologies in Australia, the USA and the UK, while her flash fiction has appeared online in Fictive DreamFirefly and Long Exposure, amongst other places. Cath was literature editor of California-based Celtic Family Magazine (2013–2016). ‘The Plankton Collector’, from which this is an extract, won the New Welsh Writing Awards 2017: AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella this summer, and will be published in full on our New Welsh Rarebyte imprint during 2018. Our animated trailer for the novella, made by Emily Roberts, can be viewed here Author website:

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