At night, she could hear it breathing. A gentle, soft sound, whispering around her ears. On stormy nights, it roared with the wind.
Time and time again, she returned to the same spot. The sea would reflect her mood. She began to rely on the mirror the sea gave her – whatever words it used to describe itself she would take for herself. She fell in love among turbulent, tumbling waves, all the while railing against the waves’ insistence that it had to be true.
It has to be him, you have much to learn from him, now go, they commanded, just go.
His kisses tasted of salt.
Folk spread rumours about her, and her mother. Wild, unkempt, never the same since… Something about her mother shedding skin, starting afresh. She couldn’t quite follow. Her mother had never seemed sadder, hardly ‘starting afresh’. So she lost her mother in the sea too, on the days when melancholia seeped into every brick in the house and she had to escape. She would take an image of her mother with her to the sea, and ask the gentle calm water to pull her away in the tides and drown the sadness.
She came to the sea whenever freedom from chores would allow, hours spent skimming stones and challenging the still pool of the ocean to wake and throw them back on shore.
When it was warm enough, she would run barefoot and half-clothed into the surf to dive as far as she would dare, only to turn and find the beach a sliver of pale gold away, far away in the distance. The sensation of brutal cold on warm skin, sunshine crystalizing salt onto her bare shoulders and eyelashes, and the strange feeling of something dragging past beneath her feet, swirling the depths where the colours shifted.
She loved the sea-light, the colour tipping under each curling wave, and the metallic other-world of the shoreline at midsummer, when dusk and dawn became indistinct. She dived deep one day and flipped onto her back, found the sand suspended in light shafts, drifting like gold dust, carried in seams of sunlight.
So, when he came back years later he took her straight down to the sea, held onto her hands, and told her he was sorry. Truly sorry, for all he had done. She turned to face the waves, and knew he was lying. There was no trust in the sound of the water that day, the waves drummed into the back of her skull and insisted she listen to them, only them. They drowned out the soft lilt of his voice, that velvet touch that had cost her so much.
You can love him all you like, the sea told her. You can come back to me and scream and cry all you like.
I will always be here for you. The waves call, beckon, caress. It can’t be him, you have too much to lose, now stay, they commanded, just stay.
Tell him to leave.
Tell him to go.
Stay, stay here, with us.