Thalassa, Thalassa

June woke early. He was already awake, with his face nuzzled deep into the back of her neck. She froze.

June woke early. He was already awake, with his face nuzzled deep into the back of her neck. She froze and attempted to undo the signals that her body had given against her will that she was no longer asleep. Are you awake? He asked, kissing her neck, kissing the spot between her neck and chin, working his way around. No, she said sleepily, burying her face in the pillow hoping she’d be allowed to pretend a while longer.

Her heart sank right down as low as it could go. What was she doing here? How would she get out? She wondered what time it was and thought it must have been quite early, as the light had not yet acquired its mid-morning fierceness and she hadn’t had nearly enough sleep.

He stroked her hair and she felt an emptiness spreading through her guts like fists unfurling. Waves crashed in the distance, only just audible through the traffic noise, only to the kind of person who rushes straight for every conch shell to press it to her ear.

Just let him, you can leave soon.

Just let him.

She turned around a little and kissed him, then turned back into her pillow, giving an exaggerated yawn, just one more hour of sleep, she said, her heart pounding in her chest, her breath hoarse and stuck. She felt as though the room were shrinking,
the sun much too bright,
the oxygen running out.

She was desperately thirsty and sensed his disappointment that she wasn’t as excited to begin the day together as he was. He wrapped his arms tightly around her and whispered her name. June, June. He let out a small groan. Oh fuck. He got out of bed quickly and she turned her head in surprise to watch him retreat into the bathroom and shut the door with a swift click.

Relief washed over her and she let herself lie in it for a moment, staring up at the crisp white ceiling.

She heard the shower turn on. Thank god, she thought, I’ve got time. She sat up and looked at herself in the mirror across from the bed.
She looked small.
She looked minute.

She was still wearing her bright orange jumper over her long, ill-fitting linen dress and her brown, bobbed hair stuck out from her head. She tried to smooth it down and rubbed her eyes. Where on earth were her shoes? She glanced around the room, then lay down on her stomach to look next to and under the bed. She found her undies and socks and tights on the floor and hurried to get them all turned out the right way, her hands shaking as she pulled socks out of stocking feet. She pulled on her undies and gave her tights a quick sniff, shuddering before putting her feet in and standing up to stretch them up and over her belly. They were so drawn out from her terrible old washing machine, from being spun and wound into bundles with other stockings and skivvies, that they now extended up and almost over her breasts. She tugged at the saggy knees and went over to the mirror to look more closely at her pale face, grimacing at the eyeliner and mascara smeared under her eyes. She spat on the hem of her dress and rubbed it hard against her puffy eyelids.

Perching on the edge of the bed, she massaged her temples with the tips of her long middle fingers, hoping in vain to rid herself of the red-wine headache tearing at her brain. She lowered her hands into her lap and sighed, staring at a scar on her knuckle, homing in on the fine, white line until her eyes became unfocused. The scar had once been a cut, inflicted upon her by a barbed wire fence to which she had been chained when she’d gone up north to an anti-coal mining protest and had volunteered to be arrested.

She’d come out worse in the scrap than the coal mine.

She had driven there with a woman, much older than herself, whom she had met only when she’d climbed into the car. In the long hours of nothing-to-do except watch the road ahead and talk they’d shared the outlines of their lives. They’d spoken frankly in the way that only strangers can speak—because there isn’t any hesitation over fine details, or worry about retelling a story the other has heard a thousand times, conversation flows easily from the mundane to the profound. The woman had been entirely open with June about the disintegration of her marriage.

I used to have a recurring dream where I was being engulfed by a tsunami. I think it was informed by my childhood where we used to go down to the south coast for family holidays. We'd go to South Durras, to a surf beach there, which had quite a steep decline. So you'd be in the shallows, safe on a sandbar, and suddenly you'd be right under a crashing wave. I nearly drowned so many times. In the dream I'd be there, that exact beach, and a tsunami would come in from nowhere and annihilate me. I'd be right under, drowning, gulping down gallons of saltwater, knowing there was no way out. I was stuck in a marriage at the time, with teenage children, but I knew I was a lesbian. And I spent seven agonising years desperate to leave him, but unable to, completely paralysed. I finally did, after eighteen years of marriage, and when I was completely out and had begun to establish a new life for myself I had one last tsunami dream. I was standing on the headland with my father—how obvious is that!—and I saw it come in, but it couldn't get to us. It crashed on the shore, but we were safe up on the headland, watching it come in.

She was tying her laces when he came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel. Are you going already? I thought we could have breakfast. Yeah sorry, I have to meet someone, she said, and I need to go home and get changed. He sat down next to her as she finished tying her shoelaces, then she stood up clumsily, nearly tripping over her feet, steadying herself, looking around for her bag. It’s on the chair, he said. She picked it up and fiddled with the clasp, closing it, opening it, closing it. She slung it across her shoulder. Well, I better go. Do you know the way to the station? Just wait five minutes, I’ll get dressed and walk with you. No it’s fine, I’d prefer… Okay. Well you just walk along the beach for ten, maybe fifteen minutes and you’ll come to it. Okay, thanks.

Well. Bye.

She hugged his head and he wrapped his arms around her tummy, pressing his face into her and inhaling deeply. She felt the warmth of his breath through her layers of crumpled clothing. Have a nice day. Oh, Happy new year. For tomorrow. She walked towards the door, paused to give him a small wave. Happy new year, she said.

She pulled the door shut behind her and leant back on it for a moment with her eyes shut, then looked out into the corridor. Which way to the lift? She squinted right and then left:

Rooms 235 - 239
Lift
at the end of the hallway.

She ran.

She ran until she nearly ran into the wall and she turned and ran to the lift, pressing the button and hopping from foot to foot until it arrived. She would have run straight into the back wall of the tiny cubicle if it hadn’t been occupied. She was afraid to stop moving so she bopped on the spot and dug her nails into her hand and bit her lip as the box descended.

When it dinged at the ground floor she felt the full force of the impact and walked out fast, through the foyer, out the front door, turning right and bolting as quickly as she could down the footpath, her bag hitting her hip uncomfortably so she tore it off and held it in her hand as she dashed across a road until she reached the beach. Her breath caught in her chest and she doubled over gasping for air clutching her side, collapsing on the sand and, she cried.

She cried hard. She wheezed and choked, spit and tears and snot running down her face. She held her hands to her chest, clutching at her racing heart and struggling to inhale into her insufficient lungs. She dug up handfuls of sand and squeezed them in her palms and hurled them back down to the ground. She scrunched her knees up to her face and bit them, her body shaking with the volcanic fierceness of her sobs as she buried her face in her legs.

A seagull squawked and she looked up. He was looking at her with his head cocked to one side. He squawked again and advanced towards her with his body in a forward-lean—a kind of aggressive, warrior-pose—flapping his wings. I don’t have any bloody chips, she threw some sand at him and wiped her nose on her jumper sleeve and as suddenly as she had begun crying she had now stopped. The seagull realised he was wasting his time and took off in a flurry of flapping wings and sneering squawks. She sat and stared at the bay, enjoying the feeling of the sun drying her tears, imagining the water evaporating from her cheeks leaving flakes of salt behind.

On the horizon were three cargo ships in a row which were presumably moving, but they were so far away and the horizon, that endless line stitching sky to sea, is a funny thing. They looked as though they were standing stock still, a permanent part of the landscape. A big black trapezium on the left, a slightly smaller greyish one in the centre, and an almost imperceptibly small, faded shape far across to the right.

June thought she could sit there dramatically, looking pensively into the distance all day. She could watch the ships to confirm that they weren’t moving, as she truthfully suspected, and perhaps she could smoke some cigarettes. People who passed her by would know that she was suffering. But her hangover was ever-present, she didn’t feel like smoking at all, and after ten minutes she began to get hungry, so she took her shoes and stockings off and pulled herself up out of the sand.

The water was freezing—fresh from Antarctica. Penguins dove from ice-floes as she bent over to splash her face. The great blue-green goddess bolstered June with the breadth of her being and with hands on hips and the icy-tide dragging around her ankles she squinted into the morning sun.

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