Before She Went To Sleep
September 26, 2013 § Leave a comment
A ‘Moment in Time’ from an unfinished novella…
‘We’re nearly there,’ her father would say; and then, his words having given her permission, Lena would wind down the side window that always squeaked from lack of oil, thrust her chin into the slipstream, and gulp down the saltiness until her eyes watered. ‘That’s enough,’ he chastised. ‘It’s not good for you.’
The sea was hidden behind dunes. Shape changing with the wind, they were always newly formed mountains waiting to be scaled. In spite of her mother’s shouts she would race hard and breathless against the loose sand, the spiky grass slicing at her hands. Scrambling on all fours like an animal, on reaching the summit of the last ridge, she would collapse spread-eagled and victorious. ‘We’re here,’ she would shout. ‘The sea. My beautiful sea!’
Yet she was too frightened to swim. The water was a mysterious thing that harboured creatures intent on harm that Lena imagined on the pages of her drawing book. It seemed then that the sea and sky were only one entity: two things that were surely joined at the horizon – that fine arcing line to be seen on a clear day, but never ever reached.
That was the time she decided to believe in God – and the sky was where He lived. The birds, of course, were His messengers: He told them things, and Lena knew that if she learned to listen she would hear His wise words waiting inside the sea shells or disguised within the shrieks and mewlings of the gulls. Lena did not know then that she believed in the paradox.
She never remembered the weather being hot, and although she knew even then that her memory was not to be trusted, Lena recalled with ease, a greyness, a dampness; even in the presence of a watery sun which made no promise to turn her skin darker than the pale umber in her mother’s painting box. But then her parents avoided the sea in the midday heat, for it was also the time when the beach overflowed with the sound of radios and holidaymakers. They preferred the strand to themselves, and chose to stroll in the early evenings.
As they walked, Lena would lag behind her father chasing the imprints of his boots, placing her own smaller prints carefully within his own. She watched him closely as he took deep greedy breaths and long, vigorous strides, flinging his arms before him as if marching to a private tune. He became an island on that beach, and never spoke to her. Lena would balance on one leg in the indentation his boot had made, then wobble and leap to the next in a kind of hopscotch. Always losing her balance on purpose in the end, she would sprawl headlong into the sand, her body leaving a shadow like one of the malevolent sea creatures she’d drawn in her book. Lena was practicing making herself invisible. Whilst hiding in her father’s tracks she became safe, and ceased to exist.
Sometimes her parents footprints would be close together, which meant they were holding hands; but more often they were separate as her mother paused at the water’s edge collecting pebbles, while her father strode on surrounded by a spraying arc of paw prints from the dogs hungry for sticks to be thrown.
One evening in early autumn a thunderstorm came. Lena remembered the pleasure of the sudden sharp smell of electricity in the air, and how it made the hairs on her arms stand on end. The storm rolled up the coast, the sky above the southern headland turned black, and the seagulls became silent and sheltered in the troughs of the dunes. The lightning sprang like lizard tongues, and her parents ran for shelter, the dogs overexcited and disobedient, their tails in the air like aerials.Lena had so hoped to get wet, but instead she was made to sit in the car as the rain smashed onto the roof and all colour drained from the landscape. How very peaceful she had felt surrounded by that violence. It was at times like those, when the world was angry or disturbed, when Lena felt whole; and now, without her parents to direct her, walking in the rain or standing in a thunderstorm as it fizzed and crackled, gave her a deep sense of satisfaction.