by Saoirse Ní Chiaragáin
I still listen to the shipping forecast before bed, the old radio left tuned in on the side table. His side of the bed. I sit on the edge of the mattress and undress while the next day’s conditions are announced, and despite myself I still feel my stomach lurch when I hear the promise of a storm. Tonight, thankfully, all is still and will remain so for the foreseeable.
With the window open wide, I can smell the harbour, the thick fish-skin fog of it. He’d come home stinking of it, and it would gradually chip away in layers until he was himself again. I could enjoy the fullness of him for a week or so before he was to ship off once more. Then the loneliness, the fretting, and eventually the man reeking of saline and fish flesh. Returned, at last, tickling my bare skin with his work-worn hands. Callused fingertips stroking like a cat’s tongue, a full and sharpened love.
The night obscures my nudity. I can stand at the window, facing the sea, without shame or modesty. The breeze meets me, carrying the whisper of spray, barely settling on my face and chest before drying and disappearing entirely. Gooseflesh ripples across me, teasing at my nerves, and I know the hour is near. I turn off the lights and lie still above the covers.
It always begins with the radio, its voice dropping to a hiss of white noise, echoing the waves beyond the window. A hushing sound, like a theatre audience before the curtain rises. A prelude of excitement, quickening the beating of my heart. Soon I am wrapped in the crashing sibilance of it, suspended in it, transported somehow. In the room, but not quite. Somewhere hidden, somewhere the two of us can meet.
Without the door opening, without any sound at the window, he’s here. He’s here! My body knows it before I am even fully conscious of it, rising to his presence, sparking synapses between my flesh and his bodiless self. There is a current that passes between us, an electricity that sets my hairs on end and draws us closer, so much closer. Thunder rolls on the periphery of our congress, its cry carried across the calm of the real world beyond.
I feel the pressure of him, his weight flush with my own, bearing against me – through me – as we coalesce into one writhing form. We are within one another, indistinguishable and inseparable, buoyed by wave-crashing pleasure and grief, a wrenching reunion. And I can feel everything. The calluses of his hands, the scrub of his beard and the sure-blooded heat of his sex. I can smell the fish and taste the salt on his mouth – or is it my tears, cascading in joy and sorrow, wetting my lips and worming between his stiff whiskers? I drink it in, all of it – all of it. And though his breath is not warm against my ear, his breath is not there at all, I can feel for a moment that he is with me again. That maybe he can rest between my arms, my legs, forever instead.
He dips in and out of my body, buffeted by the waves on which we meet, and when he rises above the surface I can see his eyes. My pulse thunders in my ears, heart pounding like that of a frightened animal, and I see it all again. I dive into his eyes, breath caught in my rising chest, and I live his life from first to last.
From plump pink infant to bruise-kneed boy, I am privy to every milestone and memory. I feel his mother’s hands caress his face as he weeps, I hear his father’s enthusiastic cries – You’ve got it! You’ve got it! Reel it in! I meet his past loves and oh, I do love them too, my own heart skipping with the adolescent rush of so many firsts. They are so young, so beautiful, and so is he in that moment. On the threshold of becoming the man I would someday know, his shoulders already broad beyond the awkward lankiness of his youthful form, his legs not yet balanced on the deck of a ship. I grieve his losses and celebrate his triumphs. I feel myself grow aged, tired, the weight of all those memories filling me and stretching my skin. There is only so much I can hold but I can’t stop, I am voracious. I must have all of him, every moment of him, as much as I can take.
I whimper as he meets me, and I see myself as I then was. I feel his need for me, and mine for him, and the exquisite pain of all that desire and dreaming. How it once felt, and how it is now. I feel him stifle tears as he sees me down the aisle, how uncomfortable he feels in a suit, how his posture slackens with relief when the ring is on and the deed is done. Every night we were apart, cradle-rocked within his cabin, my nausea and his.
I swim through his life, let every day of it wash over me. I have watched it all, felt it all, so many times. Every year to the day that he was lost to me. What a miracle, a blessed thing, that he finds his way back from that lost horizon. Crossing oceans to find me, ready for him and shivering in the dark, waiting. Ready to swallow him, take everything I can before he leaves again.
The thought occurs that perhaps it isn’t real – can’t possibly be real. There are stories he never told me, secrets that died with him, things I can never know. But if it isn’t real, it is at least mine. It is him, my experience of him, and it can’t be torn from me. We are enmeshed, this vision of him and I, and in my heart it feels like truth. It feels like every inch of him, frozen in amber. It is the only thing I want to believe in. If I could live within his life forever, I would. If I could leave myself and have us joined like this for all eternity, I would know peace.
And always, beyond the slipstream of his experiences, my eyes roll in my head. Like a dream, the sensations heightened and irreal but so vivid, I know all of him. And in our thrashing, our love-mad embrace, he knows me too. He can see the girl in my eyes as surely as I see the boy in his. Without bodies, without minds, we exist together somewhere apart, somewhere we are one. Always.
My hips rock, twitching upwards towards climax, and I shut my eyes tightly to avoid what comes next. It always comes and I am helpless to stop it. I feel him clutch me closer, phantom fingers dimpling my waist, unseen nails digging into me with fervent need. He quickens his pace, we are almost at an end and the sky above us, dark and heavy, opens. Even with my eyes closed, I see it. Oh God, I see it all and how awful it is.
The storm and the ship tossed within it, somehow delicate and fragile. How large it had seemed at the harbour. How strong and invulnerable. How much I hated it for taking him. Did I know it would be his coffin? Thrown about as easily as a toy. Steel giving way to the tempest, filling up, driven down into the dark. The rain pelts against the deck, his face, mine too. I am submerged in pleasure, its cold waters rising through my chest, and I cling to him for dear life. I feel him, those panicked strokes and kicks beneath the waves, and hear the cries of those who’d made it to the surface – muffled, just beyond reach. Water pours into my mouth, and out of my eyes, and panic and ecstasy meet within me and it feels as though my heart will stop.
And he holds me, holds me with his body that was never found and never will be, nothing for me to cling to. The ocean pours out of me and my body sings with the relief of it. Drained and exhausted, wet with tears and sweat and the imagined spray of that terrible sea. When I catch my breath, he is gone.
I find I can no longer cry. There is nothing left. There is no storm, and I am returned to the still real night and all its disappointing calm. Without the waters stirring within me I feel empty, hollowed out. It occurs to me, as I listen to the waves and catch the faint smell of the harbour, that I need not wait another year.
I do not dress, I have no need. My skin glows bright beneath the streetlights as I walk towards the shore. If anyone sees, let them see. The sand is cool beneath my feet, just a touch of moisture to it, and the sea opens itself to me against the night sky. Little gold-capped waves reflect the lights of town and guide me. The foam kisses me upon entry, and my breath is knocked from my chest by the cold. When it gets too deep to walk, I swim. When I grow too tired to swim, I rest.
Lying there, floating just at the surface as the sea laps at my ears, my nose, I think of him. Lying as I would atop the bed, waiting for his return. Now I return to him. I close my eyes and know I will find him.