by SG Mark
Day 144 of www.365stories.co.uk
|Literally just finished this story for day 144 of 365stories - no time to check grammar/spelling etc so any comments on phrasing/style/content would greatly be appreciated!
Sorry it's a bit long... word count 2065
Every year I return to the same beach. The wide open bay greets me with warm, open arms despite the bitter winds and chilling swell. It is never the same every time I go. There is always a different breeze, another tide. The sand is not the same sand I walk barefoot on every year. It is always changing. New birds soar the skies and the horizon always seems that little farther away than normal. Sometimes it is sunny; sometimes it is a gorgeous painting of colour and beauty. Sometimes the rain is so thick the sea is but a sound in my ear.
Today it is grey. My car is parked a mile away. There is no one else around. Even though it is bitterly cold and the middle of February, I untie my shoelaces as soon as I reach the sand. The grains are soft and soothing between my toes. It feels like home. I run towards the tide – it’s on its way in. My feet slap against the wet sand and the shells that little the old tide lines are rough underneath. The waves splash towards me and their cooling greeting envelopes me as I say hello to my old friend.
It feels like home. This is home.
The beach is deserted, as the car park suggested. It is remote. There might be no one around for miles. I run along the tide line, skipping between the dancing waves. The hills surrounding us – the sea and I – hide us from the rest of the world. They are our guardians; our warriors against all that we want to hide from.
It’s a Wednesday. I should be at work, pressing the coffee in the machine and smiling politely to everyone and anyone. All that seems a million lightyears away. There is no rent to pay; there are no bills; no feuds with flatmates; no city noise and relentless social suffocation. Right now I do not rent a top floor flat that absorbs the noise of the streets below. I have never argued with my flatmate, who I wish I knew better. I have no job to go to and I have no money in the world. This is the one place in the world that I am free. But it is also the saddest.
The wind dips and my hair flops over my face again. It’s now tangled with salty air and sand. It will probably take hours to brush later. I cease skipping and come to a halt by a solitary rock. I’ve sat here before – many, many times before. A kneel down and perch on it like a mermaid. I am Ariel – flaming red hair billowing in the wind as I watch the ocean for my Prince.
A train shoots passed me and I’m thrown back into a subway in central London. I have my high heels on; my warm had and my cosy scarf. It is February the fourth, according to the newspaper the man by the pillar is reading. It’s late at night, maybe half eleven. There are four of us in this grubby station. No one has swept it since the morning chaos. The place is strewn with newspaper tumbleweed; fast food boxes and discarded packets of anything you could think of. There is a strange smell of stew about the place, but that might be the heavily bearded, overweight man sitting at the side.
Two dots of light appear from the black tunnel. They come racing in and the train slows to a halt, blowing a warm and suffocating air in with it. The usual nightly routine sequence begins. I sit down and extract my smart phone from my pocket. I check my messages – no one interesting. I check the news (I always forget the internet doesn’t work underground). I find the word game I was playing yesterday and load up the latest saved game. That amuses me until it gets too hard. I then just start staring around, awkwardly feeling obliged to play with my phone every now and then to ensure the world that I am in no way looking at it.
We arrive at my stop. I get out and climb the escalator. My flat is only around the corner from the station. The stairs to the front door of my flat are still tiring, even after three years.
Music is playing loudly from my Jenny’s room. I usually don’t mind it, but the neighbours always complain. There’ll be a knock on the door at some point tonight. A pile of letters has arrived. Jenny has not bothered to pick them up. As I bend down, I notice that they are not only all addressed to me, but are also all identical.
The kitchen’s a mess so I bring them to my room – which is also a mess, but more contained. This is my space. There are ripped posters on the wall and drapes of material hanging down from the ceiling. I turn on my pink fairy lights and my heart tingles with joy. The heating might barely be on, but the covers are snug and I’ll soon be warm. I drop my bag by the door and rip open one of the letters.
It’s handwritten – very odd for a start.
It’s been four years now, most likely. I’m finding this hard to write and in fact now that I have finally sat down to write it, I have no idea what to say. With you I don’t even think I need to say anything at all. I hope you don’t miss me. I hope you don’t think of me at all. I hope you’ve forgotten that it’s been four years. Please don’t bring me flowers or stand over me. I would hate that for you. It pains me to think about it. I can’t imagine the future the same way you can. Dying is a hard thing to understand if you’re not dying. I don’t want to eat, I don’t want to sleep. I cannot bear to see you, even though I crave you every second. I might have days, hours, weeks. I’m sorry for putting you through this. But I wanted to tell you, four years later when you’ve forgotten all about me, to clean up that bloody room of yours. It’s a state – what will your mum think! I wish I could be there to see you smile right now. That might keep me going. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
Do something with your life, Mel.
P.S you might get ten copies of this. I’m going to ask the post office to make copies and keep them. You know I don’t trust anyone to do anything right. X
Tears were streaming down my face like rain. The date was written on the top right hand corner of the letter. James died the next day. I felt sick. I had collapsed on to my bed clutching the letter in my hand. Four years. I had not forgotten – how could I? It was James. I could never forget James.
Back on the beach, I found that the tide and swarmed all around me. My legs were submerged in water – I really did look like a mermaid. The tiniest of slivers of light sparkled on the surface of the sea like crystal. James would have said there was buried treasure down there.
I looked behind me and saw that there was a man and his child on the beach now. They were flying a kite. It was red and blue and with a bright yellow tail. It was tail diving and riding the wind with such grace. I paddled back towards them. They seem to be looking at me rather than the kite. As I got closer I realized that the boy had his mouth hanging open. I smiled as I passed them and heard the little boy turn to his father and whisper, “Dad, is she a mermaid?”
There is a slight warmth in the sand now, compared to the icy waters. I should probably head home, but I don’t feel like it. There’s a long drive ahead of me, but I would rather stay here. I watch the boy and his father dart around the beach together, giggling and laughing and just for a second I forget what day it is; I forget where I am and why; I forget like he asked me to but then I remember the letter and all that it said and my chest feels heavy and I’m too exhausted to cry.
The next day looms ahead of me like a foreboding shadow. I never look forward to it, but I look forward to it even now. At least I have tidied my room. Maybe Jenny has cleaned her dishes. Maybe this year I will forget.
From my back pocket I take out the letter he wrote me. It seems natural to read it here – more natural than to open it in a messy London flat that he never saw. I re-read the letter and looked out at the bay from over the top of the letter.
The way the waves crashed on to shore; the way the cliffs looked; the grey skies ganging up above and the curve of the beach sparked a memory. It was here. It was in this very spot. The sand may be different; the skies may be darker and the sea may have changed, but this was it. This was the spot where he had stolen his last look of the world. This was where he had died.
From all the previous years I had never seen it before. Of all the hours I had spent roaming this beach alone, I never once strolled up here to this sandy bank. Maybe I knew, though. Maybe I knew.
With all my strength, I struggle to block those images from my mind: the limp hand and the dead eyes. I read the letter over again and strive and strive to bring him back to life from his every handwritten word. The way the pen flicked the paper; the way he almost misspelled his words; the way he wrote that final kiss – he was all in here. A ghost of a person trapped in parchment and ink. I could bring him back; I could tear him away from the afterlife and bring him back to where he belongs. He was not meant to die – he was too young, too clever, too witty, smart and fun… too close to me. Everyone dies but why did it have to be him?
The boy and his father had gone now. It was growing almost too dark to read the letter. I didn’t care about the cold. I didn’t care about being alone here in the dark. For the first time in years I felt close to him – I felt close to someone. His heart might have been beating just inches from my own. Maybe if I closed my eyes and stretched out a hand I could touch him, but my hand fell and my fingers held nothing but sand, which was quickly snatched by the wind.
It was the happiest day of my life to come here. We spent the whole day here. Snow bit at the edges of the beach. It was the coldest day of the winter that year. We splashed about in the water and we chased each other down the dunes at the far end. He had so much energy that day – that day of all days. Looking back on it, I think he knew. We sat down to watch a boy and his father fly a kite and he looked up at me to say something, but I hushed him. We held each other until I felt his grip fail and his arm slip down mine.
I read the letter again. I read past the part to forget him. I focused on the one thing that made him real to me again.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
But then my eyes read on and I saw something that I had read in only a glance before.
“Do something with your life.”
A warm wind whipped around me suddenly and I felt it curl round my arm tenderly before whisking off towards a horizon that always seemed so far away.