Between the breakers
By Neil Beynon
He wobbles across the uneven rocks, scattered like broken teeth across the beach, until he reaches the smooth compressed sand beyond. He pauses for a moment, turns to look back at the cliffs behind him. If he is looking for something he does not find it on those rocky peaks looming large.
The tide is out and it takes him a little while to reach the edge of the ocean. He walks between the twin rows of breakers that line either side of his path like watery sentinels. He does not pause as he steps into the water, heedless of the cold saltwater on his shoes and trousers: it is not the first time he has done this. He wades out further into the water, ignoring the persistent slapping of the waves that almost push him back and his breath coming in short sharp drags.
When the water reaches his belly he stops but he does not turn back.
He looks down at the seabed; the sunlight breaks on the water casting small fragments of rainbow into the brine. She is waiting when he lifts his head. There between the half drowned breakers she stands, head and shoulders out of the water, face looking back at him. She looks exactly the same as she always does. He does not move as she draws close.
“Yes,” he answers, “I said I would be.”
“And you are such a keeper of your word?”
The woman’s hair is slightly wrong, just a hint too dark, the texture just a step the wrong side of smooth but beneath that she is slim as ever, gazing on him with beauty sculpted from high cheekbones and eyes that shone azure.
“You want more?” she asks.
“I want you,” he says. They are close enough to touch and he reaches forward, his hand running down her arm as if reassuring himself she’s real. “I want this.”
She does not flinch, as her eyes suggest she might, but steps closer. She raises her own hands, they slide up over the side of his face, she is cold to the touch but he sighs as if slipping into a warm bath. She holds him by either side of his temples, stopping him moving or looking away.
“It hurts,” she says.
“This form, her skin, it is not my shape.”
“What is your shape?”
“Is it even her shape?”
“I have missed you.”
“I am not her,” she says, letting him go. He could run now but he does not. “Why did your kind…? Is this how she felt?”
“Even now, second time round, you will go again and carry on as normal. Until the next time.”
He says nothing for there is no answer: she is not wrong.
“It hurts, this shape hurts.”
“It’s not the shape,” he replies. He is tempted to look away, guilt coiling round his stomach and he fancies he feels something brush past his skin, an eel perhaps.
“No: it’s not,” she replies, staring at him with unblinking eyes.
He does not resist as she pushes him down under the water. It’s like a sheet of moving glass has been put between them as he looks up at her holding him down, the light splintering around her like a halo. From this perspective he can’t even notice the differences, she is the woman he remembers but not, he realises, the woman he knew and not even the salt water burning in his nostrils can distract him from her stare. He can feel the anger in her arms pushing him down, the proof of feeling, of caring enough to rage, and it is wonderful.
His chest is bloated tight with carbon dioxide and his hands do a frantic crab dance across the seabed, divorced from his mind and in search of a weapon. He finds one, pulling it free of the suction of the sand before letting it drop back to the floor. Afraid it will break the spell.
The tide is starting to turn and before long there will be no sign of his tracks as the ocean’s sweeping journey up the beach wipes clean the stains of his passing from the sand. Light is exploding behind his eyes warping his view of her, melding her into something else, his lids grow heavy and it’s hard to remember to keep his mouth closed.
She’ll let him up soon. She always does.