I’m in pursuit of the silver shapes, they swirl and pirouette through the murk, above us is the pale sun, glinting and churning. I’m moving swiftly, up and down, a galloping gait through pearl-bursts of air bubbles. I pass through a rocky gorge, where bushes are tossed back and forth by the wind. No - not bushes, not wind - the current. I break through the membrane into the other place, glimmering fish in my mouth, and I bash it, bash it, against the surface, breaking it into pieces, then devour it.
I had that dream again this morning and awoke as dawn was breaking; its cold light was seeping through the crack in the curtains and I knew I wouldn’t get back off. Jim’s a fisherman, so I’m used to disturbed sleep and early mornings. I decide that I may as well get up and start on my chores; scouring the worktops and kitchen table and sweeping the floor. Through the window I see that the pebble grey sky is brighter now. Towards the coast it has taken on a pale peach glow – in my mind’s eye I see a trail of sunlight glinting on the crested skin of the sea, warming it briefly.
That tells me it’s time to make Jim’s breakfast. I unwrap the greaseproof packet and stroke the kipper’s gilded outer membrane. The herring’s eye is flat like a silver sequin – I push a thumbnail under it, plucking it from the socket and pop it into my mouth.
“Mornin’ love,” I say as Jim lumbers into the kitchen, already dressed. His red hair shaggy and uncombed, his thick ribbed sweater smells of the ocean. He grunts and scratches and sits at the wooden table waiting for his mug of tea; his raw, chapped hands cupped in readiness. Once, I loved the roughness of him; his bristles and hard briny skin. Lately, though, he’s softened to flab around his middle, walrus-like with blubber, where muscle used to be.
I prod the kippers, simmering in the pan, and they twirl widdershins in the shallow water. The night I met Jim, we whirled and jigged in the moonlight, the sand beneath our bare feet. He was more limber then and I was ‘lithe and lovely’, says Jim. As soon as his colourless quartz eyes fell on me, dancing with my friends, he wanted me for himself.
I sit opposite and watch him eating his breakfast and slurping his tea.
“You’re not eating?” he asks.
“I’ve had some toast,” I lie.
I have no appetite just lately and can only pick. I feel as though I’m pining with an unnamed yearning; like a hushed voice in another room, calling, but I can’t quite make it out. It makes food seem too heavy, weighing me down inside, when I need to be light.
The scraping of metal against crockery stops and Jim gets up, giving my cheek a kiss-rub with his fish-oily beard on his way out.
My housework done, I decide give our border collie, Silkie, a run on the beach. She darts across the sand, then chases waves in the shallows, skipping after the slippery strands of thick kelp I throw for her. I head for my favourite place, the pools, where I rest on a wet rock embroidered with barnacles - ivory French knots on green shot silk. I feel their soft suck under my hand and trail the other into the cold water. I spy the jewels of fat red anemones, amber-shelled limpets threaded with streaks of iridescent blue, mussels strung together with green weed like jade lanterns. I pluck one from the pool and find myself bashing its shell against the rock, prizing it open and pulling its coral flesh from the cracked carapace with my teeth.
I begin to sob, letting the fat drops of my tears mingle with the sea water. My increasingly strange behaviour is starting to distress me. Only raw fish satisfies my hunger, only the rhythmic crash of the surf on sand calms me. The pink mottled body of a butterfish shoots across the rock pool and I find my reflexes are as honed as a predator’s. I snatch its writhing eel-like body from the water, bite it in two, and swallow it down.
I think of drowning myself.
Then I hear muffled laughter behind me, and what seems like the shadow of a man, slip between me and sea. When I look again, all I see is the retreating shape of a common seal, its dappled form sliding back beneath the waves. Silkie starts barking like a maniac and the seal looks at me from a safe distance through sad black eyes, tearing my heart in my chest. The distance between us feels like a chasm, an unbridgeable divide.
Back at home, I am overwhelmed with a maddening desire. A torment. A yearning that makes me tear the house apart. I tip over baskets, fling open drawers, turn out cupboards – searching for something. When I find it, I will know that it is mine.
There is nothing to be found.
I throw myself onto the bed, wracked with grief and let the hot tears wet the pillow, run down my face into my mouth, salt water, brining me.
I cast my mind back to a younger Jim - his knowing smile, his possessive eyes – mother of pearl, glinting with secrets. ‘I knew I had to have you,’ he said. ‘I would do anything to keep you.’ I run my hand along my thigh, expecting oily fur pelt, not soft human skin. Then I remember the smell of bonfire smoke on Jim’s clothes, that night, when we first met. My heart ebbs away and I am left desolate.
I realise with that I am his - this world’s - now and forever.