That flat summer light. Across the grass he moves towards her friends, and watching, I know what that feels like. The deep sinking tread of moss, the whispering crocosmia, and the part shade from the turning walnut leaves. She sits heavily, glass in hand, dress too wide for the seat, light reflecting off the spray in her hair. Her friends are on ringed sections of pine I cut and left to dry in the late May sun. They are dressed in themed celebration too. Tigers and dogs and elephants and fish.
I sit by the house, my back to the white wash, and warm my bare feet on the slate. I watch. His arms. The chatter-scream of swifts dipping into the bowl of garden. Next to me, Dad leans against the wall too and takes up my gaze. After a while he says, I like him, and the garden and the marquee and the birdsong blurs.
That night we decide not to stay. Pack the car in the June twilight with a tent and blankets and drive to the coast. We’re running out of time to make it with daylight and so we don’t stop, barely talk, load ourselves with bags and hike up the coastal path, over three fields and down a walkway to the beach. Barafundle.
There’s music in my head from the dancing and the faint tang of alcohol behind my eyes. In the fading light, sad and melodic. The birds fly low over the headland as we make our way and the sea rushes at the shore, making a show. The dog runs in the dunes smelling rabbits, maybe snakes.
And it’s just us and the cool sand and the wind.
It isn’t right. It’s brittle. Something has happened to us, and so quickly everything is desperate. I don’t know what to say because I’m afraid of solidifying it. I look out at the sea and the way the water breaks and then foams up and licks the beach, the way the waves run up the cliffs and leave a darker shadow of damp on the rock. The way to one side a dry stone wall marks the walkway we’ve come down and, at the other end of the beach, the path leads into woods. The tops of the tree branches shiver in the wind.
And even so, I’m waiting.
He drinks from the bottle, a little frantic, and night falls quickly and softly and brings with it the deep smell of the outside. Fresh and stinging and animal. In the dark of the tent we lie next to each other not touching and he turns his head and begins. And the words blur with the outline of his face and how the sand is lying in ribbons beneath me and how heavy my limbs feel and then, obscenely, how familiar my pillow smells. Like when I was tired as a child.
But however much my sad, shocked body concentrates on the external, I still echo the words. Like syllables to a song I don’t know the meaning of. Quiet and strong and painful. As if speaking them aloud casts a spell.
Before I’d met you. She’s keeping it.
And I curl myself around the curve of his spine and hold his shaking body and tell him it will be alright. And later, when he is quiet, I let go. Separate myself from the scent of his body, from that warmth I know, and slowly face away. Listening to the sea hushing the sand in repeat.
Hours later, when the light comes up, that noise is still there: constant and familiar and life-giving. Reminding my heart to open and close and rush blood around my body. Reminding my diaphragm to pull air into my lungs.
We pack in silence and at once I want to get away and also never leave, because this was the last place we were whole. But the gulls are cawing, and the sun is painfully bright and the broken shells cut the soles of my feet as we walk.
And briefly I hate it all.
Anna-MarieYoung is a doctorate student at Cardiff University in creative writing. She is working on an upcoming collection entitled Flight which was long-listed for the New Welsh Writing Awards: People, Place & Planet.
© Anna-Marie Young. Image © Jo Mazelis.