I paced the beach a lot as a teenager,
supposing it was a way of being lost,
going lost, finding my lostness
in the sound of the waves, seagulls
in the eaves of a sky cast black
by fire and onyx.
There were shells stuck in my skin,
bits of them sharp and ridged as glass. Adolescence.
Bottles of Bacardi and Glens
in remnants of lovelorn summers—
each one dug deeper as I walked
and I felt the call of the sea
like a summons. Come back to me
—the waves were strange consolation.
the loneliness of the sea, its sense of otherness,
of distant worlds, blue and green.
in the faces of children;
where we gathered for drinking and smoking,
in the dry ice of shared menthols.
You dig your heels deep
by the shoreline, where your feet sink soft
through the mulch of watery sand,
sinking as if to drift down,
to ease yourself out of matter.
I paced the beach a lot on weekday evenings,
while cars passed behind me, while
normal people went home.
I learned to love
the gulls that croaked on the rocks,
crying cormorants, gannets
and black-feathered auks—
I always longed to spot an albatross,
imagining its body swooping
out of the sea fog
like an omen.
I thought I had forgotten these shores,
the way it felt to know nothing
of what would come; great drawings
dissolved in the tidal pull—come with us.
I thought this world was lost;
I had lost it all.
“I want you to try something new today.” The therapist let the statement hang in the air, chewing his pencil in thought. Jemima sighed. She had not slept for seven nights, and the grey office walls did not soothe with their neutrality but rather reminded her of the inside of her eyelids. Old, swollen, shell-like.
“Well, will you?” She wished she could eat his enthusiasm; chew it and spit it out like rotten food. But Jemima hadn’t the energy to do so. Blinking slowly, she murmured her vague acquiescence.
“Great!” The therapist pulled open his desk drawer and fumbled around before carefully placing a sheet of paper on the wooden surface between them.
“I want you to tell me what you see,” he said. “Be spontaneous; be truthful. Be crazy, if that’s what comes to you.” Jemima raised her eyebrows.
“Unfortunate word choice,” she muttered.
“I – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean –”
“No, you meant quirky and creative and honest!”
“Anyway,” the therapist ignored her sarcasm with an urgent glance to the clock, “just have a look.”
Slowly, Jemima pulled the paper towards her and held it up so the dim windowless light could shine through the whiteness. It was a black gelatinous mass of indefinable shapes; the kind of thing you’d stumble across at a surrealist art exhibition. She was sick of the old man thrusting his avant-garde tricks upon her.
“It looks like… a vagina.” She said bluntly, thinking she knew how to please him.
“Come on, don’t be so obvious – you can do better than that!” Jemima huffed and squinted again at the picture. There was something peculiar about the internal pattern of the outlining lines, something about the way they curved around each other in weird intersections. A hazy sense of familiarity seemed to hover around the gaping middle shades.
She dug her fingernails deep into the soft wood because she was feeling everything slip away; the particles were splitting and the room was coming undone. A gasp provided the sufficient portal through the trauma. She heard the old man speak to her, but only as a swimmer gurgles through fathoms of water, his sound swallowed by the churning current. The walls were closing in…
Silt stuck between her toes and in the clammy air she sniffed the iodine stink of seaweed… Gulls whooping above her in endless, trailing circles. Chunks of wood eating into her nails; almost like flesh they tenderised under her touch.
“Mum!” she shrieked. She loved the sound of her childish voice. The shrillness of sweet innocence. And why would her mother not reply? The beach rang clear with its silence. Just the gulls and their cry, cry, cry. She began running, running out of nothing. She wanted to make it to the rocks. She leapt over slimy detritus, shattered glass, dead crabs, clusters of washed-up jewels and driftwood.
It was night now and a howling came from the end of the bay.
“Mother, I’ve been stung!”
She thought she saw a ship coming deep from the waves; a ghost ship which glowed with the midnight moon. A blue, curious glow from a curious moon. Jemima was a child, alone under the midnight moon. She closed her eyes and all of it glittered; all glittered in fragments of distant pictures.
She looked at her feet where the beached jellyfish still lay. It was a piece of molten mousseline glass, coloured inside with claret and lilac ringlets, the fine membranes strung from the centre like spider-silk. The white light would dance upon the crystal shell, and Jemima could just about make out her reflection in its shimmered surface. In this image Jemima saw her body distorted and bloated. So venomously with a stick she would poke it; piercing a stake through this picture of mockery. But then it became a wobbly, oozing thing: splayed and ugly as a laboratory experiment. Her leg throbbed with the sting and as she glanced at the shredded jelly meat she felt the becoming of her monstrousness.
The wood splintered thinly through the membrane of her fingertips. Something slammed upon the ocean. She looked up and saw the ship collapse through the water in hoary flakes of ash. The waves kept breathing, soft and sullen.
“Jemima!” He was shaking her arms, shaking her as if to send shots of voltage down her nerves.
“What is it you see?” Not bothering to conceal his frustration, the therapist gestured angrily to the picture that lay in front of them. Jemima pulled her nails out of the desk and seized the paper. Without a glance at its contents, she crumpled it into a ball, feeling her heart fall with the weight of lead.