Eldest was with us for a few days during his reading week, but now we're home and he's packing for the train back to university, we'll all be together again at Christmas. "I'll make you something to eat," I say, "for the journey," and I peer into the fridge. There's homemade chicken stock in a jar.
At Seasalter we strode out across the beach, Youngest, Eldest, and I, toward the silver sea which ran away from us even as we approached it, and got stuck in clawing mud, holding on to one another, laughing, listening to the wind, and to oystercatchers calling.
I open a cupboard: a packet of couscous. I measure some out, boil the chicken stock. In the salad crisper there's bits of veg and herbs and a packet of kale. I take a handful of kale, chop it, add it to the stock.
"Listen," said Youngest, as we huddled on the beach, stuck fast in mud, "we can still hear his guitar, all the way from here." It's Middle One, sitting on the bench in front of the little house, playing to an audience of sky.
When we came before, years ago, maybe three or four, perhaps even five, with these three same boys, only younger versions, Eldest brought his ukulele instead of his guitar and played it standing at the open door. I took a photograph: his silhouetted frame against a rippled sky, music floating out across a Magwitch marsh.
I pour the boiled stock with kale over the couscous in a large bowl, cover with a cloth, go to look in the pantry.
We walked to Whitstable again this time, just as we did before, along the same stretch of beach, distant town clinging to the edge of bay, calling us, appearing closer than it is. We ate in the same restaurant as before: fish and samphire, local beer, but this time we investigated the shops after. The boys buy 'vinyl' in a record store, which they didn't last time, and pear drops from the jar in an old-fashioned sweet shop, which they did the time before. Then we return, three pairs of precious hands clutching sweet-filled paper bags.
In the pantry I find two tins: mixed beans, and salmon. Once drained in they both go with the stock-infused couscous, plus chopped veg, herbs, peppers, celery, cucumber, spring onion, fresh chilli, coriander, mint, parsley.
We walked back, sun dropping fast behind beach, a wide sand of pinks and blues, shot through with metallic threads, topped off with eerie calm, three boys running before, wellies scuffing, pools splashing, loping and laughing: the boys they once were, the boys they still-almost are.
A squeeze of lime over couscous, added chilli flakes, glugs of oil, a salt and pepper stir, calculating the nutrition: fish and carbohydrate, pulses, veg, brassica, stock, herbs, oil, seasoning… no nuts or seeds. Adding a handful of pine nuts. Is that all? What else? Stir again. Feeling the need to add more. Finding tupperware. Spooning the mixture. Rooting about for a plastic fork. Sellotaping it to the lid.
"Here you go," I say, "something to eat on the train."
"Thanks," he says. "What is it?"
"Some couscous," I say, "with stuff."
Love E x
P.S. What I don't tell him is, it's chock-full of love.