Gave it to the sea


The cut between these times was such that I thought it possible I was living in an afterlife.

In louder places we sat in filthy messes, plates and pots scattered about because neither of us felt like doing anything, ever.

‘Why did you – why were you in the bedroom for so long this morning? I wanted to see you before I left.’

L. is hunched and grubby here too, a complement to the room around her. She is snivelling in a dressing gown. Her voice creeps me out.

‘You can leave! You can just leave! You don’t need to see me, be with me, every second you’re here!’

I am on my knees now, patting her arm. I nudge an ashtray out of the way to settle further; settle into a nest of fag-ends, and enjoy the black smudge on my trousers.


‘I just like to get ready by myself!’

The door had been shut, and I knew she had pushed the sofa against it, because I’d thrown the key away.

‘Easy, L, L, easy. I just want to see you before I leave, that’s all. That’s nice, isn’t it? That I would want to.’

She spits at me and I jerk upright and pace around the coffee table, crunching over newspapers and spoons and forks.

‘That I won’t tolerate. That I won’t stand for. This is what we wanted, isn’t it? This is what we wanted! Look, I understand, I – it’s the house, isn’t it? It would get anyone-‘

She is digging the heel of her palms into her eyes. Her hair looks like black, greasy seaweed.

‘Are you listening to me? Are you listening, L? Why don’t we clean anymore?’

She screams and lunges forward, pebble eyes bursting deep in their sockets. I motion another set calming gesture, but I don’t really know what I’m doing, and she flings a cup of coffee at my face. I still have my fingers splayed – as if to press calm into the room – as it burns my cheek skin.

The cut between these times was such that I thought it possible I was living in an afterlife.


The water slid around my neck and bobbed against my chin as I moved forward. Thin grey sheets moved and broke into each other as far as I could see, shifting and colliding in intermittent white peaks. The soft rustle nursed my ears and augmented the simmering throb that built on such days; hundred of tiny ants scratching and piling behind my forehead, grouping into a burrowing forest on the inside of my skull.

I dipped my head beneath the waves and took in the wash of muddy blue-black shapes and when I rose again I felt released. The sky was pale – everything here was pale, and we were always getting used to different sets of colours. I was always getting used to different sets of colours. This wan stretch bled into the distance and spread against the sharp jut of black cliff swelling at the end of the beach. I detested the hulking blocks of black as I detested anything that real and set, and I knew then that time was short and L. would be waiting for our breakfast.

I slid a small penknife out of my shorts and cut a little nick in my forearm to give something to the water, because it frisked around my neck and looked troubled today. I watched the bright dribble cloud into the whole and slow-walked through the waves, back towards the beach. The water felt calmer and appreciative of its gift. Respect is reciprocal.

The arc of grey sky hung like a thick net and slipped into the paper sand of the beach. I followed the same path back to the beach I had followed every day in the seven years we had been here. Quiet and still were everything now and quiet and still claimed the beach and the stubbled fields beyond and beyond them I did not care. Our time was the most important thing, and people said that time makes fools of us all – but in our new life it bent to our wishes and died on the breaking waves, impaled finally upon the clifftops.

I stopped in front of the house and, collecting my stick from its place under the window, scratched out three lines in a circle around the door. It was the best procedure – the first two were for us, and the third was the strongest. Then, as I was still feeling uncertain as to the water’s whims, I urinated in the lines, for extra protection.

L. was still in the bedroom when I entered. She always said ‘I like to get ready by myself’, and I had found ways to honour that. It had been the toughest thing of all here. In all the time before, I had wanted so desperately to string these moments into a continuous loop – it was so thoroughly impossible to survive on seconds meeted out, to make wax of time in this way. I can remember these times, I remember them all and I have tried so hard to scrunch them up and spread them over these bottled, whip-fast years… at points I am sitting cross-legged in the dark in that dirty house, watching her shape in the bed, watching her breath rise and fall. And I guess I can, if I really scrunch them up, adore every second. I can’t unravel these things. What’s the use, anyway? I remember at these times I would want then to lie beside her, and kiss her face, keep kissing it (I wish this was all I could do); touch her hair, her skin, her back –

But the crux of it is, in that dirty place, before, it has to end. I have to go to work, or to sleep, and I can’t commit wholly to this. The loop has to be broken and I am left thinking I should have touched her face a little longer; tried to press into it, to smudge in thoughts. Light cuts long red triangles out of the smacked red walls of that horrible place, and I am left cutting cloth to stitch together a wretched mosaic that will never sustain me.

Here, now, in this place, I am the most hopeful person, and I can deal in seconds. I did learn to be like that (I did). I can adore every second, and I can adore everything about her.


Perhaps L. is ready by the time I nudge the door open. We have breakfast in bed and I talk – I am always too many words. She is more often that not set phrases, or things she finds comfort in saying. I think she says ‘you don’t need to be with me every second of every day’ but perhaps I am muddled today, or the capricious water has made me muddled, and I am thinking about things she has said before. Either way I clear her breakfast and tell her I will gather her some special sand, because I know where the special sand is, and it is good to have some in our home. I kiss her face – my favourite place, just beneath her eyes – and I wish I could do this forever. I think she will stay in the bedroom today, because this is what she does most days.

I clean the plates thoroughly – I can’t believe we stopped cleaning before – and I put them away. The living room is laid out as simple as I can make it – table, two chairs – and there are only a couple of things I can’t quite bring myself to throw away. There is a letter from my mother – this is the last contact we have had – it’s long, and it annoys me because there is a part where it says ‘you have to understand you can’t own someone’ and also it talks about happiness, and this annoys me because I am happy and I am the most hopeful person. But I keep it because it’s from my mother.

I shout to remind L. that I am going to get her some special sand and I walk out to the place where the grey sand meets the dried wall of cliff. The water paws curiously nearby and I throw it some special sand as I collect. It will be happy with me today, and it will be proud to know I am trying to make it happy as well as myself.

It is cold by the time I get home and I am nervous for the food delivery. I scrabble about the shelves and pour the special sand from the cup I gathered it in into L’s favourite cup. I think about taking it into her, but I know then I will want that time to be longer, and then I think perhaps it will be a safe thing to put the cup outside our room during the food delivery. I put it down on the wooden floor by the door and it looks and feels safe, then I run outside and scratch deeper into my three lines. It doesn’t feel enough so I nick my forearm and squeeze red droplets into the last line.

When I am crouching by the door, inside, I think that my arms look terrible.

The food delivery is once a month and I hate it like I hate anything that real and set. The man knows the pattern now, but I have had to drill it in over seven years with notes. I kneel beside the door and listen for the approaching padding and dry thump of boxes. I wait another half and hour after the padding has receded out of earshot, to be sure. Then I race across the beach with my cup and gather water and hurl it at the last footprints and stamp them out of existence.

Later, in the dark of night, I make us dinner and bring it to L, and take in her special sand. I think she is pleased by this, and either way it is good for her to understand that we are safe. Afterwards I kiss her face beneath her eyes for hours, and I wish that this was all I could do.


In the spill of morning I leave her for the water. I think she says something like ‘I like to get ready by myself’ so I leave her for a while.

I walk out into the water and it is calm; thick, shifting grey panels. There are no new colours to get used to today. In the still rises I wish for time to move like the water, shifting back and forth and washing inwardly on itself, and I look forward to kissing her face. I do not leave any offerings, because everything feels as it should.

As I step out the water I see a sudden, small black shape cut from the grey beach and I am shaken. I see it worming its way towards me over the slice of sand, a rigid black pin clarifying as a little person. I am shaken, and I run. I run towards the house and my new colours frazzle and distort around me and I crash through the door and slam it shut. I have not had time to scratch out my lines, and our house is not safe. I crouch by the door and cry silently and suddenly blows are striking it and I crawl to the bedroom and tell L. to hide behind the bed with me; that we are in danger.


It is dark by the time I feel safe to venture out but it is a new, terrible kind of dark. It gathers in waves around me as I kneel by the door and I know that it is the waves of the water manifesting in anger that I did not placate them today. I did not keep us all safe.

In the crushing still I find a letter.

‘Dear _ ,

In our lives we will all make mistakes, and continue to make mistakes. So much time has passed, and I do not want you to stay out here by yourself. I am so worried for you. Your mother is worried for you. You must come back into the world and try to find ways to be happy. I know I am not the right person to help you with these steps, but I still care about you, and I can’t bear the thought of you here alone. Please, it is possible to be happy again. This is not a way to live.

I will try to be there for you in the beginning,


The cut between these times was such that I thought it possible I was living in an afterlife.


8 thoughts on “Gave it to the sea

  1. Good God, I should never read things like this in the early hours. I am convinced he is not alive, a ghost, I am thinking of some purgatorial sentence, and the girl is the last tangible believer in his existence, and now she’s gone. It’s a cycle of OCD there, people make light of OCD but the distress of it is palpable here. Good work and even better to share it like you do!

    • thanks so much for reading Jennifer! haha, sorry for late night chills…I have been trying to write more real-life, but don’t seem to have a weirdness off switch :-/ glad you read the ocd side, thanks so much for the comment! Hope your book is coming together, exciting πŸ™‚

  2. Wow! Deliciously creepy, Stephen. I didn’t realize until near the end what was going on. Well done, my friend. πŸ˜€

    • Oh, and by the way, I hope you are never able to flip that “weirdness” switch. It’s what makes you stand out from the herd, Stephen. Be true to you. πŸ™‚

  3. This one, as pretty much all your fiction, Stephen, will take some time to wrap my mind around. My thoughts, probably because of all the sea imagery and what I had been reading a few weeks ago, are that it’s a kind of almost reverse Awakening (Kate Chopin; in that context a feminist manifesto), with this presumably male protagonist going into and out of the water, repeatedly, in attempts to cleanse himself (whether he knows it or not) of various demons, if you will, either real or mental. The blur (or “cut” as he terms it–wonderful diction, and I love how it bookends the story, front and back) between the figurative waters and the literal ones is part of the allure of this dark and blood-troubling story, with such lush and studied language, that puts the reader on shifting sands, just like the protag. Is L. real, has she already left? It’s hard to tell, and I enjoy that you make me think and question and perhaps still never arrive at ‘the answer.’ Great work, Stephen. Hope the writing and music lives are treating you well!

  4. This is one of my favourites Stephen, to me the rituals involved remind me of the ‘magical-thinking’ we all sometimes do in order to make us feel in control of outcomes – here it is what keeps the protagonist feeling safe, but it is also what keeps them recluse, as they become more and more reliant on their little rituals and the protagonist becomes ever more isolated.

    I hope to catch up with you soon and that you are doing well friend.


    • Cheers mon ami, much appreciate your thoughts, really well read, absolutely what I was going for. Haven’t done any scribbling in ages, must do some soon. Hope you’re having a great summer – was hoping that comment would have a link to your music blog! Catch you soon for a jam and an on-stage boogie. You can get drunk for my amusement too. :p

Thankyou for reading, feedback/constructive criticism always welcome :-)

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