The waves seemed to call to him. Eoin watched them rise up like a whale and roar in one cascade onto the beach. He heard the smooth pebbles scuttle and crinkle before being drowned by another crash. It was a powerful cadence, a familiar one. The same sounds had echoed in his mind for as long as he could remember. Sometimes he was sure the sea had rippled inside him from the moment he was born, whispering through his veins the same perpetual tune.
“I’m here Dana,” he said, but his voice got lost in the salty air. He wandered along the pebbled beach, one lone figure for miles around. His feet were wet inside his boots and the sea’s spittle made his hair stick to his forehead. The sea gale blew all around, so that it felt like he was a blade of grass, with everything rushing through him.
It was as though everything dark and sad and secret inside of him had escaped and exposed itself in the scenery. Finally he could see and touch it; that vague, bitter sadness that had lain inside him for so long.
It all began here, Eoin thought, and it had never gone away. And at the centre of everything was Dana.
He looked along the beach, the grey pebbles stretched as far as he could see. Then Eoin turned to the waves; wild and sloshing beneath the somber sky. He could feel her in every detail, her burning, weeping soul, and he hoped she knew he’d never leave her. He hoped she could feel his guilt pulling him down and she would know that if he could he would give up everything for her return.
Tom would be wondering where he was. He pressed his cold hands to his neck, which was snug under his jacket, then turned to walk back to the cottage.
He felt the pressure of the churning waves, the guilt clenching tighter and tighter as each step took him further and further away. Finally he arrived at the sandy path between the marram grass.
He tried to remember leaving the beach forty years ago. A brief vignette of a boy with a mop of blonde hair scrambling up the sand bank flashed in his mind. But it couldn’t be a memory because the young boy was him. He’d probably stolen the image from an old photo album.
He tried to remember how he’d felt but no emotions resurfaced, all he could feel was the persistent guilt and gnawing anguish. He wondered if he’d known Dana was lost when he’d ran back to the cottage that day. When had he known? And the question burned painfully inside him as raw and as sharp as it had felt when he was a boy. A young, scared voice whispered in his mind, but she’s not lost, she’ll come back, she wanted to swim far away. She meant to.
He made his way back to the crumbling cottage, with its cracked white paint and slated roof. The sea was far behind but he could still hear it. He sighed, relieved. As long as he could hear the sea, he would never forget her.
“The fridge doesn’t work,” Tom said when he saw him.
“I’m not surprised it’s nearly as old as me,” said Eoin, and he sat down to take off his boots.
“How was it?” Tom asked, as he stirred something in a pan. Eoin could tell he was trying to sound casual, and broach the subject carefully.
Tom knew he didn’t like to talk about his feelings, that it made him anxious. He’d tried to explain it once to Tom, that when he spoke it was as though everything flooded out like water, and he was afraid, senselessly terrified, that Dana would be lost with it. Tom had told him that was silly, that what he was holding onto wasn’t Dana, it was unhappiness and he deserved to be happy. And perhaps Tom was right but he couldn’t risk it.
“It was good,” Eoin said, “strange but somewhat cathartic”.
“Im glad,” said Tom, he turned from the hob and smiled at Eoin. “I had a look around, dust everywhere. Think it’ll take a few days to clear everything.”
“Is there much in the rooms?”
“Mostly just furniture, but there’s a few photos of you and your sister in your parents’ room.”
Eoin walked down the cold hallway to the shower and stopped outside the door of his old bedroom. His heart fluttered as his hand was drawn to the metal handle. The door creaked open.
It was a small room, with two single beds on either side, between them was a small brown table with a lamp on it. He was conscious of how much taller he was now, and how dusty and worn the bed covers looked. He wandered across to his bed and sat down.
The mattress still felt hard. Suddenly a memory sprang into his mind like the sound of laughter. That summer his parents had bought them new mattresses. They’d been told not to jump on them but he and Dana hadn’t listened and had launched themselves daringly from one bed to the other. Eoin smiled, and was surprised he’d forgotten about it.
He walked to the other bed and lay down. He rubbed the dust off the pillow and tentatively leant his nose against it. It smelt damp and musty, no familiar, comforting scent lingered beneath. He lay on his side, moving his body to the edge of the bed so that his bare feet stuck out. He stared at the stone wall until his eyes blurred, tracing the lines of the bricks as he’d done as a child.
He spotted something, a thin plastic arm sticking up from the floor. He leant over and looked. There were two action men, lying next to each other, their soft faces pale with mould. He picked them up and studied them. Their smooth plastic bodies were familiar and instinctively he was drawn to the one with blue eyes. That was his, and the other one was Dana’s.
The toys shook in his hands as the fog of the past began to clear. There were so many days spent playing games; shouting and fighting and talking in American and posh English accents, like they heard in the films.
A little girl, with pigtails and intense green eyes appeared in his mind. She sat across from him, legs crossed. She spoke seriously and then exclaimed something dramatically before trying to snatch the toy from him. Dana had always been the boss, she’d always decided what they’d play. Eoin had always followed her because he loved her and also because she’d slap him if he annoyed her.
He’d forgotten what she’d looked like. He’d forgotten the stubborn little girl his sister had been. Eoin shivered and his heart felt like it was burning. It made it hard to swallow. He dropped the toys and went through to the kitchen.
“Right on time, dinners ready,” Tom said. “How’s the shower?”
Eoin didn’t say anything, his throat was too tight and his damp clothing pulled down on him. He collapsed into a chair and tried to catch his breath.
Tom turned, a plate in each hand, and looked at Eoin.
Eoin panicked as he struggled to inhale. The waves surged in his ears and he wondered if he was drowning. Tom was next to him, his hands clasping him, holding him up. He was saying something but Eoin couldn’t understand. Thoughts and emotions collided and scattered. He couldn’t breathe and think. He couldn’t breathe.
“I can’t breathe,” he said, over and over.
He pushed past Tom and stumbled to the door. The past blinded him as he walked, and he remembered the door with fresh paint, his childish laughter echoed, and a pair of welly boots pinched his feet. He staggered down the path, his legs slow and heavy. That day he’d ran after Dana down the grassy slope and climbed over the fence at the bottom of the garden.
The wind raged around him and sand slapped against his skin. He felt as old as the grassland stretching along the coast and as weary as the jagged rocks disappearing beneath the rising tide. He stood at the top of the sand bank.
For a moment he felt like falling, and tumbling down the bank as he did when he was eight years old.
“I’m a pirate,” eight year old Eoin had cried, as he and Dana danced on the smooth stones.
“No Eoin, I’m the Sea Queen,” Dana said, “and you’re the Sea God!”
“But I want to be a pirate!” protested the little boy.
“But the Sea God can control the sea,” said Dana, “pirates can’t do that! I can control the sea too!”
The little boy, with fair hair stopped pretending to wave his sword about and looked at his big sister. She stood a few feet from him, her dark hair matted like sea weed down her shoulders.
“I can control it,” Dana said, “Watch!” She grabbed a pebble from the ground and tossed it into the sea, immediately it was swallowed by the waves. She put her hand in her coat pocket and pulled out another pebble. “It’s the same stone! I asked the sea to give it back to me!”
“That’s not the same Dana!” young Eoin had whined.
“It is!” Dana insisted, her face sincere.
“Is not! And I’m still a pirate!” the boy said.
“Fine! I’m not playing anymore,” said Dana and she turned away from him.
Eoin slide down the sand, not caring if it stuck to his clothes, and stepped onto the stones before the waves. He stared into them and tried to imagine his sister wading through them, her head held high and her thin arms outstretched. Eoin balanced across the stones, until his feet grazed the froth of the waves.
He’d never seen her in the water. It was as though she’d just vanished that day.
He stepped forward, the sea rushed in around his ankles and he stared at the furthest wave he could see.
“Where did you go? Where are you?” he whispered.
He crept further, dragging his legs through the water as it rose higher and higher; past his knees and around his thighs. The water cooled the burning in his heart. She was just a child, she’s just a little girl. His chest heaved and he fell forward into the rocking waves. If only he’d agreed to be the Sea God. “I’m sorry Dana,” he wept, “I’m sorry.”
The sea numbed him and his tears got lost in it. Perhaps it was always going to end this way. Maybe they really were Queen and God of the sea. It was too strong and his old limbs were too heavy. He thought of Tom, poor Tom, and his dead parents.
The sea was around his neck and the waves towered in front of him. Was he ready? He thought maybe he was because there was no fear when he stared out at them. Dana was gone, she’d died so very long ago. He’d twisted her into something she wasn’t and now she was clear again, her memory was so real.
He closed his eyes and let the sea cover them. He felt sea weed wrap around his ankle and hold him down. The water filled his ears and nose and the lines on his forehead. He felt a tug and he knew he was gone.
Eoin opened his eyes and saw the grey sky. His body swayed softly and he sighed peacefully. He could breathe. He sat up and then felt the stones beneath him. He coughed and spat on the ground, his lips tingling. Something had lifted.
He stood up and stared at the sea, his whole body quivered but a warmth glowed inside him. He was alive, he could feel his wet clothes against his skin and his tired legs. He laughed aloud. Then he turned and walked up the sand bank.
At the top he stopped and looked back. The sea seemed quieter now. His eye caught a movement on the rocks. He squinted, it looked almost like someone was sitting out there.
It was a girl, with dark hair framing her face. She raised a hand and waved at him, then, before he had time to react, she jumped into the sea and swam away.