These stories always start in coastal areas.
And they seem to write themselves. And of the people in them I say that they are all of me and all of her. And have you heard this one before? It’s about time travel, and graft
versus host disease, and dolphins dying of broken hearts, and spirit photography and love. But mostly, it’s about
love. Always love. These stories are almost always about love.
And have you noticed that in these stories, and this one is almost ready to start, there are lessons learned and lives lost? Or lives learned and lessons lost? And before I begin I really must ask, have you ever read these stories while facing the ocean? Perhaps you should. And have you also noticed, and these stories are really all the same, that the author quite often wears his or her heart on the sleeve of the book?
Let me finish.
Please let me finish this properly.
SKIN AND LIPSTICK
I had known, for quite some time, that it was I who was killing her. When the lesions first appeared, as purple as the prose I will use to tell this tale, I should have turned and swept myself away. But I stayed and continued to fill her with my blood. Because, as much as her body would crack and falter under the strain of the toxic filth that heaves through my veins, poisoning me as it would surely poison her, I wasn’t ready to let her go.
Now, sitting upright in bed, my arm draped across her fluttering chest, and her breath peeling out from her so shallow and small that I have to hold mine to hear it, I wonder if there is still time to save her. There is more of my blood in her now than there is in me. And time is all that I have left to give.
She opens her eyes for a moment and I have to look away. It is late afternoon. I worry that I have waited too long.
THAT LOVE IS AN ANCHOR
On my way from the house to the dock I pass three fishermen, their beards heavy with salt. Three weeks ago, a dolphin, a female dolphin, had washed up onto the stretch of beach that spills out under the lighthouse. The fishermen tell me that, this morning, a male dolphin was found on the same blanket of sand. There is talk around the town that the dolphin was in perfect health, and yet it seems to have died from a heart attack. I ask the fishermen if they think that the dolphin perhaps died of a broken heart over the loss of its mate. The wind picks up and their replies spill away over their shoulders.
Down on the beach, people have gathered beside the dolphin. Tide foam collects around their shoes. I stand away from the crowd and close my eyes to the wind. And I listen to the swells of water as they lap at the shore. There are words that I should have said. So I say them now, to no one at all, just to feel them hit the air. And I remember so much of the past that I can hardly breathe.
In this wormhole of memory, I see the moments that I will have to forget. The stains that I will have to carve from my skin. I still can’t seem to let go. But I’m trying. I replace one memory with another, and then send it out towards the sea. I continue to do this until there is almost nothing left. But I’m not ready to forget her yet. I’m not ready to forget her completely. I need a distant, singular point to travel back to. So I think of her on the day that we met. And from there I can feel the circle of time spinning still. So I carve even deeper until I can’t even recall the contours of her face, or the seasons of her skin, or the craters of time that I tried so hard to fill. I carve until all that remains is the phantom ache of a missing limb.
The people soon grow tired of the dolphin and they shuffle away. I watch them as they go.
OH WALSH, WHATEVER WILL WE DO WITH YOU?
Should we wrap you up in these sheets of time until you suffocate? Should we take your hand and lead you through the greenhouse of Story, only stopping to smell the prose before moving on again? Should we stand on the pier and wave as your ship punches an arrow through the water? Should we ask you to stay? Should we find you walking a dusty road back to the house, your hands in your pockets, a scarf waltzing with the wind beside your face? Should we take you home?
WHERE THE CREATURES GO TO DIE
Once inside, I gently strip the blankets from her skin and lift her from the bed. I feel the familiar urge to press her so far into my bones that we will be locked as one forever. I hold my breath for some time, until the longing passes. Then I walk quietly away from the bed, the warmth of her body spreading along my arms, her hair resting beneath my chin, her fingers tangled up in the wool of my coat.
I try not to look back on the room as I ease my way out into the corridor. But as I turn to shut the world out with the side of my foot, I catch sight of the paintings and portraits that cling to the white of her walls. I see myself reflected in the glass of a picture frame, and I see her staring out from beneath the glass and searching for something just beyond the confines of the casing. And, for a moment, my face appears beside hers. And I look like a laboratory mistake, like an impression accidentally recorded over one that already exists. And although, briefly, we seem to share the same space in some pinprick of the past, some slice of memory captured, perfectly, in colours so vivid that I fear they will bleed, I will never, never know what she had lost at that particular moment.
Then the light shifts and I disappear and all I see is the flush of her bedroom door as it folds shut.
LESSONS LEARNED AND LIVES LOST
Night has spread its wings and the water looks like marble. I carry her down from the spill of trees and grass that lead to the shore, towards the seaweed and rocks, towards the end of the story that I’ve tried so long to tell.
And have you noticed, in stories such as this, set as they are in coastal areas, and dealing, as they do, in matters of the heart, that there is always a point where the characters have to say
I lay her down against the sand and, softly, very very softly, I begin to peel away her clothes. And I am careful not to wake her, or touch her skin. And I fold her clothes neatly and pile them together beside her hip. Then I kneel on the tide and cup the saltwater into my hands. I carry the water to her lips and let it trickle over her face. I continue to do this until she begins to drink. A million times I sway from the tide to her mouth and back again.
And when she opens her eyes, I am already heading out to sea. Struggling against the waves, shivering, staring only at the moon. Sinking deeper. Deeper. The water licks at my neck and, turning around to face the beach, I see her standing, smiling, I think, I hope she is smiling and I see, the water fills my mouth, I see her, this white light, the moon, and her, I see her glowing brighter and brighter as, as I float away, as I float away from here and I sing, quietly, shivering and my mouth fills with water as I form the words to keep warm so I’m not alone I hope the words are the words are somewhere beyond
in gfor me my on
high to her
I know lead me there soon we'll
meet beyon the
I know we'll meet there