Dropped stones, skimmed skin.

Skim. The stone slipped across the top of the water. The sea was a battleship grey with a liver of cerulean, foaming at the lips its puckered kisses smacking on the shore. Dip, dip, the stone, flat and oval skudded across the ocean night, like a satellite on a far flung trajectory, unspun from orbit, now loosed across the dark matter heavens. Dropped.

Barbara took off her clothes. There was always a nip in October. Toes. They curled against the element of wind. Out on the promontory a man was walking his dog or wrestling a whale or hanging onto an umbrella it was hard to tell. Rain spat and she tasted salt. The sea leapt and she drank of a spring. Because of everything before, her skin was crying.

Matthew couldn’t touch her, at first for fear, then out of respect, then apropos of revulsion. That revulsion unsaid of course, caught in the gullet, closed in behind tight mealy mouthed lips, an indigestion of horror. There are phases in intimacy aren’t there? That amorphous amour from a distance, then the jasmine hint of possibility, then that full clothed shuddering, the turning inside out of velvet pockets, swan necks looping. Then there is the breath.

Then there is the turning on the shore, dark sand, the retreat, the furrow, the frown. And the froth ran backwards through the music of pebbles. And the sand hoped. Went dry. Would have wept. Disintegrated.

 They kept pieces of her in kidney dishes, wiped the scalpels clean. And Matthew held her as if he was very far away in history, as if she was in his past, a relic that turns to dust in the light. And back in their bed at night, she felt that kisses could have been glue.

She throws herself into the water. Skims across the frantic surface first. Dip. Dip. Her legs and arms are bare, the suit sagging, this shrivelled skin.

So cold. The foam folds round her body, smooth. The water is sloshing under her suit. Salt lingers on the wound, the ridge of it, like puckered shore shapes. And the tenderness of sea is the inverse of betrayal. How could he forget the press of their souls against one another, the kiss of affinity, the lapping of likeness, the mapping of cells that sung with recognition?

Her head is bare. As smooth as the stone.

She drops. Inside the water she is a whole thing, swims. And the pull of her limbs is the evidence of hope. And her skin wears the grit of the salt, grit, like her teeth when she thought she might die, when they sent the chemical elixir through her veins and it journeyed from the outside in. When she and he kept everything in, screams, protestations, that horror in a purse, turned at last frantically inside out. Where did I leave my pain?

Matthew couldn’t find the words, the associations left him bereft. There was always that smell about her, the signature of decay. Betray, it’s such a hefty accusation. He remembered her dancing at their beginning; the ‘twist’ or something that caught her in his mind like a zoetrope, spinning, unwinding, spinning again. He did not want to juxtapose the light of her with this. Amour inside armour. The back of the newspaper was always fascinating.

He wasn’t a swimmer. Once or twice he had paddled with their daughter Emily, his shins and ankles blindingly white and hairy. When she was two she didn’t like the way the sand at the shore stuck to her wet feet. She was forever trying to wash it off but when she came out of the water it stuck on again. She sat in the foam and cried.

Barbara came out of the water, shook herself like a dog, hairless. The water rolled down the curve of her neck, it rolled into the dip at the top of her suit, kissed the place where her breasts had been. She was clean. The wind was the slice of a knife. The man with his dog was closer now, lifted his hand in a gracious salute. The sand on the edge of the shore was so dark and the foam rushing in was so white.

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21 comments

  1. Wow Alison….just wow. I always try to find a specific line as a “favorite”, but each and every line you create is so magical it’s impossible to choose just one. This is simply beautiful.

  2. You are so so good at writing descriptive prose. I always find myself smiling as I read your work. This was absolutely beautiful, and very sad as well in places.

    I have to ask, is this a follow-up to ‘Petrified’?

    1. Well spotted, Rebecca yes! In the back of my mind I have an idea of doing little snippets of that family’s life and following up also on Emily (the daughter) and Eddie (from the flash called ‘Flash’). I’m letting them just emerge every so often instead of chasing them, so exploring that way getting a longer piece together without panicking about it being a novel.

  3. The more I read you, the more I start to realize who you remind me of: Theodora Goss. If you know The Forest of Forgetting (and if you don’t, I suggest you find a copy). She too wrote in such a lyrical way on such similar things, though with more of a fantasy aspect.

    There are so many fantastic lines here:

    ” Dip, dip, the stone, flat and oval skudded across the ocean night, like a satellite on a far flung trajectory, unspun from orbit, now loosed across the dark matter heavens. Dropped.”

    “He remembered her dancing at the beginning; the twist or something that caught her in his mind like a zoetrope, spinning, unwinding, spinning again. He did not want to juxtapose the light of her with this. Amour inside armour. The back of the newspaper was always fascinating.”

    You marry the imagined, the inner life with the mundane so beautifully – and that last sentence, so perfect:

    “The sand on the edge of the shore was so dark and the foam rushing in was so white.”

    Not a drop of the sentimental, just a life in Polaraids, snapshots drifting in and out of focus.

    A collection of your short stories would be something, I think.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments, they mean a lot to me and Theodora Goss definitely sounds like one to follow up on.

  4. “And the froth ran backwards through the music of pebbles”

    Lovely. Well, the whole thing is lovely, but that especially.

  5. Ahh, such gorgeous prose! This story pulled me right in and held me, riveted by your beautiful, precise language. I liked too many lines to pick them out, the whole piece was just lovely, and heartbreaking.

  6. My goodness, this is good! I love everything about it – your MC, her voice, the pacing, descriptive imagery, everything. The only thing I don’t like is that I missed reading this until this morning. Easily one of my favourite flashes of all time.

  7. Oh Sam, how sweet of you, thanks a lot. Hadn’t done one in a couple of weeks, so very relieved to get this one out.

  8. This is an exceptional piece of writing. I’ve always found the sea to be a healing place and you’ve used that idea to great effect here, as Barbara sloughs off the disappointment and betrayal of a partner who can’t deal with her post-cancer body, with a swim in the cleansing sea.

    Your imagery is superb. Like previous comments have said, there’s so much to choose from that it’s difficult to pick a particular favourite but I especially liked

    ” Then there is the turning on the shore, dark sand, the retreat, the furrow, the frown. And the froth ran backwards through the music of pebbles. And the sand hoped. Went dry. Would have wept. Disintegrated.”

    to mirror Barbara’s own feelings. Similarly, I like the symmetry of the skimming stone being loosed on its trajectory and dropped, and Barbara’s feelings of rejection and being spurned.

    … and I’d really like to know where you bought your magical washing line, if that’s where you are when you get a lot of your inspiration!

  9. Your writing always reminds me of symphonic music, sometimes just the strings, other times with brass and percussion joining in, but always with a strong melodic ribbon. This is a piece I’ll return to. Peace…

  10. Just beautiful, beautiful and so sad.

    Your imagery is breathtaking -“The sea was a battleship grey with a liver of cerulean, foaming at the lips its puckered kisses smacking on the shore.”

    Then as we read on and feel the ‘foam folding around her body’ – the pleasure of the water’s caress, it is almost as if Barbara is receiving the love that her husband is unable to give as well as healing from the sea.

    All the way through I expected that she was attempting to drown herself because of the cancer – so it was a refreshing twist when at the end she stepped back onto dry land. It gave the reader hope that she was ready to keep on fighting for her life and her relationship.

    I take my hat off to you – where is it ? Ah there it is…on…and now off. :))

  11. Such a powerful pace. Somehow slow and hurting before you even realise why. It has a dragging and sucking feeling in the aliteration at the beginning that matches the shore line.
    Superb, as usual, Alison. But there’s something particularly enduring and special about this one.

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