There is, as much as anything within a story can be said to be, a woman standing on the edge of a pier looking out over the cold grey water. She is gaunt and pale, her long black skirt rustling in the sea-winds. She is beautiful, or at least she appears beautiful, but one gets the impression she would have been merely pretty if she had not chosen to let herself go thin and whispy in the salty air, if she had had a life lived inside, with kitchen and kids and other words starting with K.
Instead, she stands there looking out over the sea and she personifies the wait, the loneliness and the loss of all who look upon her, and she is glorious. Boys who see her once on holiday with their family foresee and remember the rest of their lives, striving from then onwards to be the type of man to warrant such devotion and to be always awaited by a girl not quite so striking. Girls copy in one glance for ever the image of her shadow, her long skirts and cloudy wrap, and know that they also desire once to stand just so, be still and calm and terrible, and alone, because the loneliness alone implies a period when loneliness was the furthest from anybody's mind and what more to wish for than the certainty that you are or have been not alone?
She is the inspiration for love-songs and country-ballads, for long slow novels that treacle away drizzly Sunday afternoons when the air presses in and the world is filled with boredom and endless rounds of laundry, for she inspires and personifies longing and the final end of passion. She shows us what we all know deep inside. The knowledge that all relationships end in pain through betrayal or death, that all flowers wilt and that all puppies grow old and kittens grow cranky. To see her is to hear violins and low guitars playing in the distance and to remember the drum of heartbeats and the rasp of skin in the present. In her way she is daughter and sister and mother to all women who wear red dresses with buttons down their backs (who expect someone to be there to unbutton them when the dress needs to come down and who never have the time to stop and sit down and consider the future) and women who wear black and who wear sensible shoes and old hats to work in the garden (who remember buttons and red dresses but know that in the end you are best helped with dresses you can undo yourself and a good taste in tea).
Her frailness is not weakness, but strength, for who would attack one so obviously unable to consider retaliation. Her thinness, that would seem unattractive in another (more approachable) woman, is a boon here, no wind can seem to take a hold of her as she stands on the wooden walkway that leads to nothing but clouds and gulls and she seems not to be buffeted or accosted like the day-trippers looking for a photo-moment that only return with inside-out umbrellas and wind-disrupted raincoats. Here around her, we are told, no reality invades. She is lost in memories of the one across the water and no needs or certainties of the world she stands in can infiltrate the world she sees before her.
She is older than you, but not so old, as she met her love when they were young and they both had all the time in the world, and so she reminds you of how you were when you were young and had all that time stretching away in front of you. She is younger than you, but not so young because her love went away from her a while ago, at least long enough to take the colour from her cheeks and eyes and she foretells you of all the empty days ahead, and you think about the length of life and how much time there is left to fill and how few things you can thinks to fill them with.
She inspires sadness by telling you that life is sometimes sad, loneliness by showing you that it can be lonely and the smells around her are of salt water, of wearing clothes a day too long and tears that have been allowed to mould. She inspires joy because there is joy in the knowledge that love touches you, and happiness by showing you that keeping someone in your heart can mean more than all the people around you, the smells around here are crisp and sea-crunchy, of clothes that you put on again because you had so much fun you did not find the time to go home and change, and she smells of salt and sweat and memories of touches and strokes across bare skin.
She turns around, slowly, as you walk towards her. Her long hair streaming in the wind makes it hard to see her face, and her eyes can’t find you at first.