My new neighbour tells me all the places he has walked. He boasts about finding a dead gannet, waves to a spot on the opposite headland where his dog unearthed a set of antlers.
‘Up there,’ he says, ‘you get a good view from up there.’
He is pointing now to some cliffs in Lednagullin, somewhere I’ve never been.
As I head off on my walk, Tone plods behind. On the beach he lingers over oarweed. I catch him gazing at the sea, tongue lolling.
‘You’re too slow,’ I tell him.
I know the path up the headland my neighbour speaks of, but there’s a stile to cross, and Tone’s paws are too big for its plinth. His belly catches on the barbed wire. We tried once – it didn’t work.
While Tone sniffs the weed, I listen into the lulls. And then the crash, from somewhere in the unravelling white, growing higher in pitch as the wave consumes itself. A final tinny flourish, then silence.
We could follow the burn inland, cross the bridge, look down at the tea-coloured water. Or we could explore the overgrown bit at the other end, the jungle-like thatch of moss and marram, cross into the farm where the fence buckles so low it’s buried in sand. But we’ve done all that before.
I sit on a rock and Tone drags his sandy drool over my jeans.
‘Four years,’ I say, ‘and we’ve never been further than that stile.’
He pants, a pink oh of tongue hidden in his jowls. With each breath, he gently nods. I put my cheek to his ear, so that we share the same view of waves unfurling, and feel the space between fur and skin charged with so much stillness that it’s hard to pull apart.
The tide is so high we have only a ribbon of sand to walk. A wave turns itself inside out on the steep beach, a ruffle of froth on its fringe, a glint of turquoise, and it’s quashed, the sliding out unspeakably flat. Wind billows through the dunes, all in green shadow but for a ridge of light along the top.
We turn for home and the rhythmic hush of sand thrown from my heels. I catch Tone’s head from the corner of my eye, keeping pace with me. It’s always like this – his silence accompanies me everywhere, giving the quiet the texture of something soft and well worn.
The oystercatchers at the mouth of the burn take off at our approach, flickering black and white, and then the young gulls, heavy and lumbering. Between waves, the sea is so still it reflects the headland, yellow fields shining in the shallows.
At the top of the hill, I look down on the beach. Tone and I are casting shadows on the sand, and I see the two of us as others must: I’m all stick arms and legs, but the creature following me is the size of a lion. My neighbour’s terrier is small – quick black eyes and wiry legs. Glancing back at the opposite headland, I trace the fence up to the faint brown of the stile.
‘It’s like that song,’ I say. ‘You’ve got to love the one you’re with.’
And he nods, and nods.