Stevenston Sea, between Largs and Glasgow.
When I decided to get off the train midway, he was reluctant to follow. I promised to get him back in time, in time for the nothing he had planned for himself. For the something of mine.
But before I could note the name of the sudden town, Stevenston, he was running, away from me, away from the going train. The railway gates opened in time, to let him pass and I saw his spirits rise.
He yelled out my name but the sun he was feeling wasn’t shining on me. In minutes, my spirit had become his. In the salt of the air, I saw an emptiness, in me, like never before.
It was a movie – those few seconds. I had my nose to the window of the train, watching my breath form a slate for me to draw on. The coast appeared, wide and flourishing.
One after the other, towns passed, beaches passed. People got on, more than they got off. His face reflected the intensity of the book he was reading – Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.
I was writing. As if a true sentence hadn’t been written, I closed the book. I closed writing for the day. He noticed. A mendacious chatter began – the question was: Are we dishonest people?
I kept quiet as I watched him vehemently deny our dishonesty. His long hair swung about his face as his neck imitated my usually hysterical denial nod. We are. We are. We are. I insisted.
The gulls in the air displayed tact in their movement. They pranced about, no constant movement attractive to them. They made my eyes prance along. He went back to his book.
Slowly, as the train approached the said stop where I’d quickly urge us to disembark, I saw a wide whiteness, an abundance of whiteness. A light whiteness. A whiteness which could purge.
The Firth of Clyde as we had noted earlier was no longer suited for a warm dip. But in my head, as I grabbed our coffees, books and bags to run out of the train to the Stevenston sea, I saw myself afloat in it.
Afloat – purged. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know. Perhaps after the purging, Hemingway’s command could be followed. We got off.
He ran. I froze – those who repent often repent often only because they have to repent often. Repentance was the only constant in my life. Repenting now, here, would only be another lie.
When I didn’t follow, he came back to me, pulled me by my wrist and forced me to run along. When we came to the sands, he instructed me to remove my shoes. I did. Then we ran again.
Warm sea sand is prelude to warm water, he said. I did not believe him. The whiteness was snow around us. There was emptiness on that shore – two bags, two people, the flying gulls.
The cold waters began to lick my feet as the sun glazed my face and wind danced with my hair. The vastness had silenced us. The islands we had left behind were far away. Now, let’s be still.
We didn’t hold hands. But the spirit that was in him slowly settled in between us. That’s why I distrust nature, I told him. He listened, as if I was spewing out an eternal lesson. Just the sea.
I distrust the sea. I distrust these emotions, these rampant pleas of forgiveness in front of it. These mood swings. I distrust how in front of its touch, I feel no other need. I can give up.
In front of it. I was determined not to repent. But out of the bag came a bottle of Islay. We took turns, we took giant swigs. By now, we were seated on the lapping waters, the tides rising.
Raising us. We forgot time, the nothings we were going back to. When the sun was right over our heads, we spread out on the beach. The waters touched, carried and killed us with its chill.
In time, we felt cradled, rocked and in pleasant mid-day sleep, afloat. On the sea-shore. When we are full – full of sin – let’s come here, remove our shoes and do all of this, again, he said.
I was wet head to toe, salty, sticky, smelling of whiskey. Then as if we needed anymore from this part of the world, the sands rose in a quiet trod. They marched in front of us, at the Stevenston sea in swirls.
The crept like a velvet blanket. They walked past us in ghostly silence. We were out of words. Each touched the other by the tip of the finger. The sea commanded us then, to quieten, repent.
I said out aloud that we’d only go back to our ways. That all our promises were meaningless, we’d never know the good from the bad. Then come back, the seas said, come back to repent.
We got the last train out of Stevenston. Months later, fumbling through a coat pocket, I felt the sands lining them. I remembered the silent sleep as the sea felt me from below.
Feet first. The calves. Straightening blunt hair. The thighs. Splitting where my butt pressed into the sands, then joining again, above them to run above the spine, to the neck, scale it.
The coldest touch of the sea – the moment I repented – was when it touched my scalp. And filled my head without filling it at all. It runs to the centre of the head, stays there for a minute.
Drains back to your feet. For that one moment, that one doing, I would repent over and over again. After all, the only truth we were capable of, were the ones we spewed out in repentance. To the sea.
Location: Stevenston, North Ayrshire,