We used to lay down paths behind us as we walked. There was no one to stop us from going where we pleased.
Instead of stones or breadcrumbs we would use the coins we found washed up on the beach by the old pier, spilling out of the rusted machines below the tideline.
We laid the coins down as went through the woods, as we stepped over fallen trees and crossed broken bridges, as we followed half-forgotten paths all overgrown with brambles, the paths we had walked together since we were little, the paths we would have walked forever if we could, if things had never changed between us. If we had never changed those things.
We walked all the way down to the hidden clearing and the cold, shadowed lake that you couldn’t see from anywhere until you came to it and it was there, and we would take off our clothes and step into the water and swim off from the edge, swim all the the way out to the centre.
And we waited there together for whoever might follow our way.
She always called it the pier. I said it was the remnants of an old dragon, its vertebrae fused together to form this truncated path to nowhere, out into the sea. The boat tied up at the end of the pier I imagined was its skull, or perhaps the lower half of its jaw.
I never could decide if it died on its front or its back.
Its wings had been lost to the sea, I said, a faint echo of them painted out in kelp at the line of the tide. The vast caverns of its heart lay hidden, buried deep beneath the beach.
My sister wasn’t listening. She climbed out onto the boat and beckoned me to follow. I watched her swaying there.
“Jump”, she said.
I didn’t want to.
“Come on, jump.”
Rain clattered like stones on the metal roof and we were glad of the shelter.
My sister took some cards from her bag and for each picture she turned over one of us would tell a story, our voices raised slightly so we could be heard over the din. My stories were based on things we had seen and things we had done. What hers were based on I do not know.
As the sun began to set she put away the cards and took out a candle and lit it with the last of the matches, the only dry ones in the box.
I took the candle in my hands and held it as gently as if it was my own heart.
Outside, despite the rain, on the horizon we could see a single blood red star, and beside it a bloated yellow moon.
1… 2… 3… 4… 5…
She had seen it from the cliff top, the dead or dying whale, and wanted to see it up close.
6… 7… 8… 9… 10…
And so I followed down behind as she bounded down the narrow stairs cut into the rock.
11… 12… 13… 14… 15…
Counting each step.
I couldn’t bring myself to look ahead. The steps seemed to fall away vertically below me if I did, gravity welling up almost visible before me, drawing my body forward, forward, to topple and tumble and fall and die.
21… 22… 23… 24… 25…
And I couldn’t look over the side, down to the beach, although I did, I did. I didn’t mean to but I did, and each time its body down there in the sand loomed larger, nearer now, more bloated, deader somehow, deader than before and deader than ever, deader than everything.
26… 27… 28… 29… 30…
I couldn’t even look up at the grey skies in case I lost my footing and slipped.
31… 32… 33… 34… 35…
So I stared intently at my feet, at the tips of my shoes and my careful steps from step to step. Right foot down. Then the left foot next so both were side by side. Then count.
Right foot. Left foot. Count
Right foot. Left foot.
Careful never to hurry.
Careful never to miss a count.
Hoping the stairs would never end.
That I would never reach the sand.
Never have to look up.
And see it.
We sat facing each other from opposite banks. Socks balled up in our shoes and placed by our sides, our trousers rolled up to our knees, our feet plunged down into the cold and clear of it.
The water was deep from the rains, the stones we’d placed suggestively as steps in earlier days now almost completely submerged. The waters ran so strong around our ankles the dirt was scoured from our skin, and it billowed out downstream like clouds of blood from old unhealing wounds.
I smiled. She smiled. In the afternoon sun we had never felt so alive.
She walked ahead of me across the fields, out under the starry sky. I could see her only as a shadow, a deeper darkness in the dark of night that disappeared when I looked straight at it, so to follow her I had to keep looking away, glimpse her form only out of the edges of my eyes.
I stumbled over something, or into something, tripped and fell, the fall more terrifying for not knowing what had caused it, for not seeing where I was about to land.
When I picked myself up and looked around I could not see her at all. I looked away in every direction, concentrated on every periphery, but saw only darkness, uniform, yet without form.
I called out to her.
The world span so fast every star was a blur across the sky and you could feel the whole galaxy turning above you.
1. This was written in April 2021
2. To submit to a thing
3. It was rejected.
4. Also as it’s all taken from An Escape
5. It was really written between 2014 and 2017
6. Please don’t hate me
7. Recycling my past is all I have