I wake up early and sit with my doubts in the pre-dawn purple hung over the sky. Traffic waves wash up and down the street, the reassuring rumble reminds me of my childhood beach, and down that tract, latterly the lake. Frozen in my memory, every grain is sharp, the edge foam crests perpetually, sky a vivid blue, hawks hung on currents, her hand on my shoulder, warm but for the cool, thin band of metal, silence taut between us, warn like a shawl. I sit a minute in the haze, visit elsewhere, ready myself for the day.
It’s hard not to watch her, the water beading at her skin like sea pearls sloughed by the ocean onto a beach made of glass. You’re beautiful, I say, ignoring the shower spray hitting my face. She spits a mouthful of it in the air like a childish cherubic fountain and smiles under the downpour. ‘I’m so wet,’ she says, laughing harder than the liquid’s porcelain patter. I mean, I say, your skin looks like freshly turned ochre spread by coarse, artists fingers. ‘Shush,’ she says, get my back. I put my hands upon her gladly and drink deep.
The beach has always been cold to me, no matter how I’ve loved it, but I go there often and take my loves with me. Like Caleb, confidant and strong with beautiful form and numbing passion. ‘You can’t help me,’ he said, stripping to skin, ‘even if I’m struggling,’ and walked into the waves without hesitation. I’ve always respected the tide and its wishes, the soft inevitability and reassuring repetition of predictable chaos. So I sat above the water line with the prickled edges of pre-glass sticking to my flesh, thinking of love and watching while Caleb drowned.
She fixes things and loves them again. Beautiful, I say, like they were never lost. The feel of a secondhand memory brushes by me, repurposed and romanticised, the beach, under my breath. She catches me sliding and opens her smile, breaching playfully with her eyes even while trouble breaks behind their blue. Caught in a rip, I say, struggling seems wrong. She tilts a little, reflects and resets. Things can be different, she tells me, with effort. Later, I will lick my lips and hope for the taste of salt, I will remember and life will crash over me.
They’re not other voices, they’re my voice. They don’t sound like me, they sound like what I sound like on the inside of my head, speaking in the narration tones I’m all twist-wired up to trust. I don’t know if other people get that, probably they do. And they say all sorts of shit that I couldn’t possibly have thought. Fathomless dark, so dark and playing constantly in surround, only wrong somehow and static in the round like radio in vacuum, too loud without sound though and it makes it hard to think. God, sometimes I just wish I could be alone. Proper alone, they way silence feels unheard. I want to sit somewhere and be empty. I can see it, myself by the beach, sat up high in the dunes with my legs folded below me and the tree line running at my back. Even the waves are reverent, their flagellations hushed into the sand and soaked up inside the earth, the waters of the world behind it backed upon the sky so too perfect shades of blue kiss out a horizon. I sit in this, amidst all this, and I am empty. Nothing touches me, not so much as air disturbs the tranquility of my skin, and I do not need it, I am sustained by my own absence. Removed, so far removed that I float. Inside and out, scaled to infinity inside existence, sealed by convergence in the void of all things, I am absorbed absolutely. The purity, such nothing. And then the sharpening of the knives, they tell me I must die. The sky withers and the waves start to squall, sand burns to glass before an ever screaming maw and the blackness widens its breach upon the distance. Consumption all consuming, they take me apart with their presence and I feel so isolated. So alone with myselves, caged in paralysis by the binding of my insides. I can’t do anything from here and though I sit with a passive face, I die inside in myriad and the screaming could be mine but it’s impossible to tell when all our voices sound the same.
Janey sits beside me, seeped in the scent of coconuts and honey. I dig my hands into the beach and try not to pay attention. I tell myself it’s the sunscreen not her skin. I want to lick her to be sure. Probably she doesn’t want that. I’d say her boyfriend and my girlfriend wouldn’t care much for it either. I’m the only person who wants it and it’s something I don’t do. I lay back on the sand and let the sun close my eyes. The tidal hush strokes across the pads of my feet, cooling my heels.