You are engraved in the lines on the ceiling
You are engraved in the eyes that I love
You are not quite poverty
Because the poorest lips condemn you
With a smile
Love of kindly bodies
Power of love
Whose politeness surges
Like a bodiless monster
Sadness beautiful face
P. Eluard (The Immediate Life)
In the morning there is a veil of redness draped across my eyes. I lie enjoying the peace which comes after waking in a new room, when I don’t know where or who I am.
The sheets are heavy. I push them off. As I dress, I think back to the night before. I dreamed that I was a whale, and I kept on trying to find someone I knew but they kept on being the wrong kind of whale for my purposes. Then I got lost in the deep and saw a gigantic, ancient hammerhead shark swim slowly over me, and it was so terrifying that I had to get up and stand in the darkness until I calmed down. That’s not like me.
I head downstairs where the coffee machine is on, and there’s a half drunk mug on the table. Dad must have gone early. I hold the cup in my hands, and feel the lukewarm china, and smell the coffee. I pour it out, then run the cup under the water, and go to stand on the cool tiles looking out to the sea. I’m not even sure what my dad does, these days. So many things are lost. Maybe I am still dreaming. I shake my head. Something feels different this morning.
Changing into my swimming costume, I unwrap from a pillowcase the small shell that is so smooth with its brilliant pink and blue pearling. I head down to the cliff to the beach, and pace along the sand slowly into the clear water, which is warm as it drapes around my feet. I hold the shell to my ear, and listen for a while – through the shell the waves seem to be repeating the same phrase over and over again in whispers, but always completing – ‘hello,’ they whisper first as they draw back over the shale, then ‘sadness’ as they crash and collapse forward to run through my toes. ‘ Hello… Sadness… Hello… Sadness’.
The water is cold as I dive to the blue sand in the deep of the cove. I hold my nose and equalise my ears as I sink, and when I can reach, I place the conch shell on the seafloor. I stay there, watching the surface shift and undulate, until my lungs start to ache and I surface. In the depths I see a hermit crab begin to move around the shell and test its size.
I look up. There’s a small and battered sailing boat at the opening of the cove, and a familiar dark face is smiling at me.
– Sal! I say.
He brings the boat to the shore and beaches it, and soon we are lying next to each other on the sand.
– I really, truly, missed you, Ceçile. How are you? he says.
I don’t respond. I’m just happy to have some company that isn’t my dad for the first time this holiday. I feel something like an oppression begin to lift.
– Listen, I’m so sorry about what happened last summer, Ceçile. It was just a moment with Elsa, in the woods, the pines, her… I don’t know what came over me. You seemed to want me to be with her. And we spent so much time together. I’m sorry. I came to Paris to apologise.
That makes sense, I think. So much life was packed into so little time, it was confused and tangled. So young and beautiful together. With all that happened, there must have been things that I missed.
– It was the sun. I say. The sun made me do it.
Sal looks at me strangely.
– I think I know what you mean, he says.
He reaches for my hand, and then we lie next to each other for an hour, watching small clouds flee under the harsh light.
– I couldn’t do anything after she… did that. I say.
Sal sits up and stares at me, his brow furrowed.
– She didn’t do anything, it was an accident, Cecile.
– She killed herself and it was my fault! I say. He shakes his head, his eyes welling up.
– She was a grown woman, Cecile. She had more going on than just you two. She swerved to avoid hitting someone.
He squeezes my hand. Everything is going slowly now. The sea seems to have stopped speaking.
– I killed her, I say.
Sal’s head is shaking.
– The sun, and the sea, they both have this in common. They are vast, and indifferent, and dissolve us. You’re strong, Ceçile. But if you hold on to the kernel of yourself for too long, you will shrink and curl from holding too tight.
What ideas I once had about myself are like indistinguishable wrecks in the sand.
– Come dancing with me tonight, he says.
– But my dad…
– Forget him. He’s the third thing like that. Sun, sea and parents…
We spend the day sailing and wander to the town slowly. I see things moving in the sea, as the waves rise and fall. Something grey and slippery jumps up and vanishes before I can see what it is. Somewhere under me, a thing moves in the refracted sun.
At dusk, lights glitter along the coast and people on the beach are shouting, enjoying the warm evening. The club is open to the air, and the music pulses out into the night, in its throbbing and shifting waves. The crowd moves like one organism, with cells that leave and rejoin, in enigmatic patterns. Soon we are absorbed and Sal’s body is against mine, then separate as we dance, and we drink. The darkness and the flashing lights, the lasers. I catch Sal’s dark eyes. I go to kiss him, but he pulls away, shaking his head.
Later, we talk by the bar –
– It’s been so long. Mum says you’ll need time. She always… she wants you to come round so she can see you again. You left so quickly.
I look everywhere but at him, and drink my sunrise.
Under the drunk stars, soon Elsa is there too. She comes to hold my hands and smiles, joining in dancing with Sal. We shift and jump and I think of Anne, how she might have forgiven me and maybe in another world danced too, or at least I could have seen her on the beach with my dad, sat with her head on his shoulders looking out into the dark, and then it hurts so much that I have to scream, I scream and Elsa and Sal are hugging me and I’m holding them. We fall to our knees on the sand and they hold me as I cry, as the music climaxes, and then, as the night goes on, and the morning is touched, it fades away.
In the quiet morning we sit, watching as the horizon lightens. And the sea is calm, and thawing, almost. Beautiful and serious, with gigantic shadows moving under water. I look at it like I’ve never seen it before. Then, the sun