And Half Across Again
She bit her lip as she read the word in the clouds. It faded, came back. Five letters, one word. Pulsing there, like a heartbeat. The same thing, over and over, like a child.
She went and fetched her gun.
He was charming, at first. They all are, of course. He gave up his flat and moved in with her. He cooked some of the time, drove her everywhere. Paid more than his share for their holidays. Threw the Sunday paper away before she had a chance to read it. Left his plates beside the sink.
Took a new job. On an island. In the middle of the sea, with nothing but surf and gulls to listen to; rain driving across the land like grit. Everything blue and grey so alike they seemed the same. Something happens to your eyes out here – they stop registering colours. Even the sunlight worked in greys.
Only the grass reminded her of life; and that was short and gristly stuff, like the strange and tenacious plants that clung to rock and sand, and grew there, as if in defiance. A shade of green that made looking at it difficult. An off shade, like something someone had thrown up, and then crawled away to die. It grew everywhere. It whispered with the wind. She thought one day she might understand it, this secret language of the greenery, and she would realise something beautiful and strange and then walk into the sea, and keep walking until she had no words left.
“You made it liveable, then?”
He was walking around the coast as she marched up the centre of the island. He was wearing his grey jumper and faded blue jeans, so she hadn’t seen him. She’d forgotten what he looked like, and now she remembered.
She turned to him, the wind at her back. The island was only that wide, and that much longer. His hair was going grey. Soon, you might not be able to see him at all.
“There aren’t any windows on your side of the building.” The wind carried her voice in his direction. It carried it past him and over the sea and into the sky, where someone might hear it. “I got your message.”
He smiled, because he was charming, and he thought he had been charming. “I thought you might.”
The wood was smooth where she held it, and the metal cold against the underside of her finger. The metal was smooth, and her finger ran gently back and forth, against the texture, until it too was warm. The whole thing was warm in her hand.
She turned her head and squinted up at the lighthouse and its new letters of thick black paint, eight feet tall across five panes of glass, and the great turning light behind.
She walked to him. She took half the required steps to traverse the island at its widest point, and then half more again. Half that, and she would never reach him. She reduced it down to mathematics, so it made more sense.
“And you said I never learned how to apologise.” His voice no longer needed the wind; it just needed him. He was charming, as they all are. His grey, the grey of the clouds; his blue, the blue of the sky.
“No,” she said. ‘You never did.”
When it happened, the gulls startled from the island, and the wind carried it away. It sounded like a bark of surf, echoing.
Through her tears, the sea seemed very blue.