The market is an isthmus, and for a small moment I wonder if I ought to wait for the tide. But then the light goes green. I cross, not looking, not breathing, and my heart is the swell of a wave pressing against the lip of a shell; the kind of shell we found that day at the beach by his house, at the spot with the rockpools catching sunlight where he said he saw a man fall from the clifftop. He was looking from his window at the top of the bay, and the man was so small as he fell, insubstantial as a piece of litter, thrown carelessly over the edge. Just the smallest scattering of light. No movement in the shingle. No sound. The ambulance came in twelve minutes. No sirens. People fall all the time, he said. Don’t they jump? I asked. He said nothing. Just looked out over the bay and into the sea. I wanted to kiss him. I didn’t. I should have.
I have a letter in my hand. I press it against my thigh. The market-sellers are a clamour of multi-accented voices, and I consider buying a mobile phone charm, for luck. Pretty charm for pretty lady, very cheap, the shop-keeper tells me, with a wink. A train shudders over the bridge, and somewhere a child is screaming at the top of its lungs that it wants ICE CREAM NOW. The air smells of burnt candy floss, curry powder, petroleum. A large family jostles past me, plump and wrapped in matching colourful cloths, their dark hair shiny in the sun.
When I reach the house, the door is yawning open on its hinges. There’s no doorbell. I remember walking up to another door, years before this, another envelope in my hand. Dear Ed. Happy Birthday! I remember walking through the door, into the house in the curve of the bay, overlooking the clifftop. And I remember walking out of it in the early morning of a January day with my clothes tangled and my head feeling full of birds and my mouth full of stones. I wanted to kiss him. I didn’t. I should have. Dear Ed.
A boy I don’t recognise comes to the door now, at this new house, miles from the sea. He has a towel slung low on his waist and sweeps a hand lazily across it.
Alright, he says. Is Ed in? I ask, and my voice sounds strange and faraway. Nah, says the boy. Want me to give him a message?
My heart is a wave, crashing. A small figure, falling from a clifftop into nothing. I crumple the letter into my back pocket.
No thanks, I say. No message. What’s your name? the boy is asking. But I’m already walking away.
This Is The Place
Juan stands in the garden, haloed with moonlight-filtered smoke from his white and red 21-pack, which protrudes from a chequered shirt pocket. The smoke, however, is blue. ‘Tropical’: 50 cents. He sways gently forward, like a rowing boat not securely moored.
At the Mitad del Mundo, the guide demonstrates the force of electromagnetic waves on the forward progress of feet on banana-flavoured gravel: ‘See. Impossible to walk straight.’ We try. We fail. Emily balances an egg on a pin-head.
Juan is swaying. The cloud of smoke sways too. I think of the dream sequence in the film ‘Dumbo’. The moon hangs low and enormous in the sky. It is ringed with red. Luis cannot explain why. I learn the Spanish word for bat: ‘murcielago’.
We pile onto the lawn and stand in a line, listening. Luis thinks he heard an owl. There is only insect sound, close and complicated, and the steady rush-rush-rush of water. La Esperanza is pregnant with last night’s rain. The bridge has fallen. Juan hums the chorus to My Way. He is drifting further forward. The boat’s rope is stretching like muscle.
In a hut thatched with straw at the Mitad del Mundo is a low-walled enclosure fluffed with guinea pigs. The air is thick. The smoke here is not ‘Tropical’. It is harder, and I can taste it in the back of my throat. It tastes bitter; almost like coffee. It is not blue.
The top of Juan’s head glows pale pink.
The guinea pigs are to be baked. The woman in a lace skirt and black velvet espadrilles fans the embers. Sparks fly. I imagine the sound of flint, striking. In front of the hut, a mock burial has been set up. Inside, the body is foetal. The Kichwa word ‘Quito’ means ‘Middle Land’. The San Pedro cactus produces mescaline, which is a psychedelic. It is illegal to consume mescaline without a Shaman present. The Kichwa people are represented by plastic mannequins.
Juan has come unmoored. He is falling slowly away from the world, towards the moon and away from the moon, and the dew-wet grass, and the owl which now suddenly hoots, and the glowing end of his Tropical cigarette which is falling too.
‘Welcome to the centre of the world,’ the guide says.
Aki Schilz is a writer and poet based in London. Her work has been shortlisted for the HG Wells Prize and the Fish Prize, and she is the winner of the inaugural Visual Verse Prize, supported by Andrew Motion. She tweets micropoetry at @AkiSchilz and writes stories in her bedroom.