They lay there in bed together in the pale sunlight of a seaside morning. He woke first, and she after him. Her head was a warm weight on his chest. She could feel his heart beat slowly; slowly, at least, for a heart. They lay together entangled in white hotel sheets: soft, thin and cool.
She was the first to get up, swinging her legs around and over the edge of the bed. She let out a little gasp as her feet touched the cold tiles, tiptoeing as quickly as she could to the bathroom. He squinted out at the balcony, which forecasted good weather, judging by the sunshine on the white plastic furniture. His eyes slowly adjusted to the daylight as he ignored the dimness of the room and continued to watch the balcony.
The nothing was said without much meaning, absentmindedly and morning slow. He moved himself to sit on the edge of the bed and stretched his shoulders as he yawned. She took her phone off charge and scrolled through a feed with lazy concentration. He searched through a bag on the floor for clothes for the day.
“Did you see?”
“Joany’s sister, she got her thing”
He began to get dressed, slipping into a pair of shorts and a shirt, and after a couple of confused mid-morning misbuttons he was ready. The fabric felt fresh and tactile on his skin, his holiday clothes were nicer than his everyday clothes, which struck him as impractical at that moment. He asked her what she fancied doing today and she said that she didn’t mind. She tossed her phone somewhere into the swell of sheets on the bed and went out onto the balcony. She watched the wind whip the water further out at sea, the sun making millions of dazzling little pinpricks of light on the surface.
“Actually, I fancy a walk, down to the beach maybe”
She could see the water lapping gently over white sand at the shore. It wasn’t like the beaches back home. Back home most beaches were rockier, long strips with floors of wet pebbles clumped together. It seemed strange to her to use the same word to describe them both. She remembered swimming in the sea back home, so much colder, both of them would come out of it all red, panting and laughing. Then they’d sit together in warm dry clothes, still a little wet and shivery, eating bland, watery chips in a cafe. Loading them up with sea salt was the only way to eke a bit of flavour off them. She almost started to ask him if he remembered the chips, the phrasing came together in her head, but the words died off in her throat.
He always said she looked beautiful with her hair wet. It would go from brown to black and form a tight cap on her skull, leaving dark tendrils clinging to her back. The sun there had dried her hair out a bit, she was aware of its frizziness but unbothered to brush it.
“Gimme 2 minutes”
“Alright, I’ll wait outside”
He stood waiting for her in the corridor outside the room. The hallway was long and anonymous. He always found it strange how hundreds of people were staying in these rooms and yet he never saw anyone in the halls. He felt the same way about estates. He’d said this to her before and she’d made the point that they themselves only spent a few minutes each day actually traveling through the estate, coming and going. They were as invisible as their neighbours. He’d said she was right, he just wished they somehow weren’t such lonely places.
“You look nice”
Their sandals made a slapping sound as they walked down the hallway to the lifts. The first lift they called opened to reveal a maintenance man with a large bucket and trolley filling its space. After a little while another one, empty this time, gave off a soft ding as it reached their floor. It was cool and silvery in the lift and music played from somewhere. She hummed along with the tune, he didn’t know it.
“I used to be scared of lifts when I was a kid”
“I remember you told me that yeah”
That had been a long time ago. He’d wanted to take the stairs and she had said that it was too many to walk up. When he told her she asked was he still scared and he said no, he was just very used to taking the stairs now. He said he used to lose his sense of orientation when the lift moved, and was left feeling like he was vibrating in place, falling and rising at the same time, being phased out of existence. It had made him very uneasy; he had thought it felt like dying, but he’d only been a child and didn’t really know what that meant. Poor baby, she had said, smiling and taking his hand to lead him to the lift.
The lobby contrasted the corridor greatly, it bustled with the life that hotel hallways and housing estates lack. Children ran between cheap, ornate couches, being chased slowly and laboriously by bent-over parents. The people sitting on the couches watched the two large televisions on the wall, one showing a football match, the other a 24hr news channel. Groups of people stood together drawling the day’s plans back and forth at each other, streaks of suncream visible on their faces which were shielded from the sunlight by the brims of large hats, receptionists beamed friendly smiles at guests whose own expressions ranged from polite to confused and enraged, porters wheeled trolleys of luggage back and forth between it all, weaving through the crowds without ever changing course, on a separate plane of existence to the rest. They made their through the lobby, not talking to, or taking great notice of, anyone within it.
“Yeah, wow, hot out”
The sun swooped down on them as soon as they came out of the hotel, cloistering them in muggy feathers of heat. They felt the breeze brush over their skin, the air was hot and crisp. They began to make their way downhill, toward the sea, sauntering along steadily, their sandals sometimes slipping on the smooth white tiles that lined the roadside. At one point she almost came tumbling down, as her yellow flip-flop slid too far on the surface and upset her balance. He reached out to help steady her, a little too slowly. Instead she grabbed hold of a nook in the wall beside her to avoid falling.
“Yeah… just, my hand, a bit”
Her palm was slightly grazed. Furrows of torn epidermis had been traced across her hand, and at select points, little blooms of blood were coming through. She hid her hand from him. She knew the sight of blood him made nervous. He’d always get a bit faint whenever he saw anyone bleed, whether it was from a nick he’d given himself peeling potatoes, or a gunshot wound staining a shirt on the television. The only time it didn’t bother him was around the water. The seasalt stung and sealed, it smarted and healed. This was just as well, they were always coming out of the water with little scratches and scrapes. Little cuts, from the thrust of the waves, the craggy rocks that lined the beach, the detritus of the shore. Little cuts, on arms, and on elbows, and feet.
One thing that had mesmerized her was when his feet bled. She felt there was something so strangely beautiful about his feet: broad, pale and wrinkled, with trails of blood swooning down them, the deep red turning almost orange as the seawater met and calmed it. Something so strangely beautiful about his face: usually distant and panicked at the sight of blood, especially his own, smiling and satisfied, prepared to let his blood stain the sand, to let himself be content and things to run their course.
Upon reaching the beach she was forced to revisit her tiptoeing motion from the morning, this time to skip across sunbaked sand. He kept his flip-flops on, and walked calmly behind her. She always put them in her bag once she got to the beach, to save them getting sandy. He followed her further down the beach, closer to the water. She found a spot a little back from the lapping waves and seemed satisfied. She unfurled her towel, and when he got there, he unfurled his, next to hers. Then they lay there for a little while, in the sun, silent, little drops of sweat beginning on their foreheads.
“Do you want to go for a swim?”
It was the night after a swim the first time she’d said it.
and this first time she’d said she loved him it had been a shout. Her words had floated across the dark, like wind in a void; the first and only thing he would ever have called magic
“Hmmm, not really”
and when he said it back he said it quietly. He said it softly, like he was afraid of breaking its bones. His words exploded in the vacuum and she thought that she could see him by their light; the first and only thing she would ever have called real.
“Yeah… don’t feel like getting wet”
and then they’d kissed and since then the days had skittered by electric: running for the train their coats fluttering behind them like capes and drinking wine in bed at night and holding hands in the dark of the cinema and walking along wet and lonely streets at night and laughing and shouting and warming their hands with cups of tea and he’d drink earl grey and she drank breakfast tea and she’d hold him when he cried in the mornings and he’d wait for her bus when he had nowhere to go and she called him at odd hours whenever they were apart and his voice made white noise of everything else around her and night after night and day after day and they’d burst up out of the water together like geysers and send spray up to the heavens and they’d ignore the current whenever they swam towards each other and
“Is this about last ni-”
“Please, what is it?”
I know, It’s okay.
The nothing was spoken, and in itself, as a word, hadn’t much meaning there, particularly. But words and meaning were different… words changed, broke down, drifted away… somehow, meaning, was always preserved, like ancient honey; insects in amber; bogbodies. Water lapped at the sand, the sun retreated and gave way to cloud. Now there was meaning.
Slowly, the sky became completely clouded over, and they were dwarfed beneath its cover, as if under the foliage of great trunkless grey-leafed trees, lost in a forest, it’s leaves and branches dampening the sound of nearby sea.
Jamie Stedmond is a young Irish writer, currently based in Dublin. Jamie is pursuing an MA in Creative Writing at University College Dublin, through which he is working on a debut novel. Previously published on Paragraph Planet, and Cagibi, as of January.
Image Credit: Sam Wheeler