PROLOGUE: The Rock
Illustration by Alan Lee
Oh, my love!
I have wandered the shores searching for you, my eyes sweeping the angry waves, spittle foamed and roaring. Salt has knotted my hair. The cruel winter wind has slapped at my face until my cheeks felt red-raw. I have wandered the shores until my bones ache and my eyes grow foggy and dim. Sea-misted. Where are you? I am lost! Without you I am lost. Please come home to me. Please come home…
And then? Then I see you… hunched upon the sands. I cry out. I call. I shout your name. I cannot stand any longer, my legs will not hold me up.
Oh, my love!
What more can I utter as I sink down upon this black, weed-slickened rock, with my knees bent up to my chin? What else can come but those words repeated over and over and over again. A scream that, stream-like, starts far, far down and wends its way through my own landscape upon the winds of my breath. Coming through in a garbled torrent that spit and bubbles from my lips in incomprehensible sounds. Merges with the salted tears that gush over my cheeks. A waterfall of grief that pulls my lips back over my teeth, skull-like. A grief that stretches my skin tight over my jaw. That pinches my nose and pulls down my brows into furrows so deep that they are as fathomless as the ocean. Contorts my face. Twists it into something strange and alien. Something that lives deep down upon the ocean floor, distorted by the pressure. But what do I care? What do I care if my eyes are red-rimmed and sore with the tears? And what do I care if my flesh is blotched and mottled and swollen? The grief must come in its own way and grief is an ugly beast. It cares not for beauty. Nor for grace.
Oh my love!
How can I bear it? I hold my hands up to my face, splay-fingered, hiding my eyes. Covering my open cave-like mouth that yawns open with silent pain. I dare to peek through, look over at the bulk that lays still upon the sand – loose, lacy-fleshed and ragged. Crab-eaten. Bloated. Unseeing eyes gull-pecked, one empty socket star-gazing and milky. Lifeless.
Death has come to you. It has opened you up and revealed what is beneath the sealskin coat. The soft tissue and the organs. You no longer fit into your sealskin, the very heart that I love is now no more than meat.
No! No, I cannot look. I cannot! It hurts me to see what you are now. The ache making me bend in upon myself and curl so my forehead rests upon my kneecaps. I push my eyes into them, feeling the pressure. It helps plug the water. Stop the tears. And my clothes soak up the excess. I wrap myself up into a ball, arms hugged around my legs. Curled shell-like, pink faced and soft. Boneless. And I rock. To-and-fro, to-and-fro. This is the only thing that makes me feel right. This constant motion, forward and back as if the sea holds me cradled in its arms, as a mother. Gently swaying me to-and-fro, to-and-fro. Comforting me. The sky grows black above my head and the rain comes – fine sea-mist at first that grows as heavy as this grief. And still I rock and sway. The tide creeps up the sands, its thirsty tongue at first lapping at the limpet-laden rock pools. Then all at once gulping pools down in one great swallow so they become part of its mouth. Becoming part of its body of water.
And still I rock to-and-fro, to-and-fro.
I sway and I remember our story. It comes to me as I sit upon this beach on the coastline of Ireland beneath the cruel winter’s rain. How far we have come, you and I. How far I am now from the girl I once was. The girl who fell in love with you in a Cornish harbour on a mid-summer’s day. And I mourn all that has passed. The wasted years and the stories, some lost forever and some kept close and safe, nestled in my heart. Tossed about upon the tides of my emotion: to-and-fro, to-and-fro.