Seaside Gothic

Fiction | Poetry | Nonfiction

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Low Tide at 5:24 a.m.

Low Tide at 5:24 a.m. by Nikola Hall

Minutes before it left, I stood on the cusp of water and strand, wondering whatever happened to the doctor who said: There will be time to have another child, in a way that suggested a fruitful summer, and I remember, sitting there with my bare back to the window, my eyes fixated on the ultrasound of a creature, the screen reflecting the silent world past the window, to which I became a voyeur of the other emptied women, their bodies resembling question marks of gloom and detoxification, their heads hung, realising they—it—made no difference to my actual life, our life, the life we had curated, we had painted the walls yellow, well he did, It’s a neutral colour, he said. I once read that yellow angered infants, with all their toothless mouths and furrowed bald brows, that I spent a whole morning painting over the anger with grey, the sky blended to aged roots for a few seconds as the sun slid behind a cloud, vexing the people on the beach to my right; a couple playing table tennis, with a red ball, no green table, they, within the corners of my eyes blurred into an elderly couple, chomping on sandwiches with camel mouths, their joy heavy with the expectation that it could be their final rest at dusk, at which a seagull had evidence, swooping down to pick up a crust, then up again to circle above heads as a vulture would, its yellow eye met mine at a distance, as if we had met before on one of my daily walks; from bed to table to door to pathway to seafront to tide, I found eternity amongst that daily routine particularly during previous summers when the high tide occurred at 11:38 a.m., alarms rang by my head, to ensure I would make it to the shore to sit on soiled steps and eat ice cream while beady-eyed seagulls nibbled at dead flies, but when I once stood in the middle of the ocean at a very low tide at 5:24 a.m., and walked further and deeper reaching a lighthouse until only my forehead was visible in the distance, my body found a few weeks later, nori skinned with stick white insides, unfortunately, the latter did not happen; but what did the day I met the very low, came a message: I want you to come home now, a pathetic gesture since he started bringing me a flask of coffee, It is nearly that time, to accompany my routine, when he handed me the flask, he ruffled my dark bobbed hair, stubborn hair that stuck to my neck, as much as my thighs chaffed when I walked leaving dark traces of raised melanin, an unwelcome stranger to my lap, like the unread book that often accompanied me too, its pages unturned for hours, pages soaked and sodded by seawater and sand, and upon its silent return back home on its shelf, dripped upon the carpet leaving a damp smell; There will be plenty of time to read, he said when we found out and took the opportunity to drive to the coast, I, sat shotgun, waiting for the red lights for me to seize the chance to pluck at his clothes, a mating ritual previously seen and unconsciously noted on a Sunday evening nature programme I watched under duress, There will be plenty of time to sit on the beach and sunbathe; There will be time to have another child, until the time was no more, I had made an habit of eyeing the microscopic balls, the pills, on all his clothes, I thought I had changed the detergent, obviously that had failed. The car journey took three hours, with each wave of the tarmac instigating nausea, a sickness that started from morning with the view making sicker, when we came to a halt a seagull, Was it the same one?, landed on the rear view mirror that yellow eye, that intimating wingspan, before I had a chance to gasp it flew away, and I looked up to see them all circling, mimicking, a return to his family, while in my mind’s eye our house looked further and further away as small as a crossword square, How long will he be, we no longer have any time, he was probably sat at the kitchen table smoking and watching our neighbours, a growing family, loading their minivan, his smoke turned the walls to the colour of legal pads, a colour he knew I hated, he smoked last night I heard the lighter go click, he slept downstairs, I heard the crack of leather, as he wriggled into the sofa’s nook, I was upstairs wide awake already in pain, sweating, staring into the space, again, waiting for this moment, the sun seemed to glide past the grey cloud and melt towards the sea, horizons futile, the sun gave me, warmth, its full attention, seconds later I spread my arms into a T, waiting for the water, to cool me instead, as seagulls pecked at red seaweed strewn across the sand.