I can’t play the waiting game anymore. I can’t get through another day. The clock on the kitchen wall stares at me, blank-faced, as I watch its slender hands gently tick past. The sink cluttered with dirty dishes and remnants of last week’s dinner screams at me, begging me to stand up for once and get my act together. But their cries fall on deaf ears. Every morning, I make myself a cup of watered-down coffee, and then perching on my stool, I watch the hours drift away. I ignore the buzzing of my phone when I see the contacts of family and friends, who pretend to have time for me. I block out the cheerful shrieks of the neighbour’s children from next door, as they play never-ending games of football in the street.
As the clock slowly shifts to 5pm, the little cuckoo hops out and gargles its way through a horrific rendition of a familiar tune. Gran’s cuckoo clock. She’s the only one who has ever loved me. She was. Mum and Dad didn’t have time for me as a child, forever flying abroad on so-called business trips: for my thirteenth birthday, I woke up to a voicemail from Mum and a cheque in the post from Dad. But Gran loved me like her own child: she would wake me up in the morning with a bowl of steaming hot porridge and brush my hair as I hastily shovelled it down. She would iron my uniform and help me slip into the pinafore and cardigan, tidying away loose strands of my hair with her favourite pink butterfly clips.
In the afternoon, when all the other boys and girls ran into the arms of their parents at the end of the school day, I would slink over to the bench where Gran always sat in the school garden. When she started to cough blood into her hankies one winter, I started to feel that something wasn’t right. Gran laughed it off, saying that it was just a little cold, but when I was called out of school to go to the hospital, I knew it was something else. I still visit her sometimes, when I’m in one of my happier moods; she was laid to rest in the local church and I like to leave her three roses. One from me, Mum and Dad.
As the cuckoo abruptly finishes its wailing, I finally pick myself up off the stool. I tug on a jumper and jeans, trying to hide my emaciated form. Like anyone cares. Tucking the easel and canvas under my arms, I step out of the house for the first time in weeks and head to the sea. I can smell it before I see it: a breath of salty air, the sweet scent of ice cream and the sizzle of battered fish and chips. The smell gets stronger and I stop in my tracks as I finally gaze into the emerald basin. The waves softly slide, like the swish of a curtain, onto the powdery sand as the sun casts shafts of gold onto the sea, a kaleidoscope of light.
I breathe the fresh, salty sea air deep into my lungs, almost in an attempt to wash away all my feelings. Something black near the edge of the water catches my eye: he’s here. I come to the sea to feel at peace, to paint but also to catch even just a glimpse of him. James Morris – the person I had convinced myself was my soulmate back in primary school. He had probably not known I existed, yet every day after school, I had snuck my diary out of my secret hiding spot, and had written pages and pages, confessing my undying love for him. Although it has been years since I last spoke to him, as I slyly gaze at him now, he stills seems to send flutters in my stomach.
But no one can save me now – I am helpless. I set up the easel and canvas, whilst carefully unwrapping the brand new paints. My last painting before the end. I mix various shades of blue and green, and start with brushstrokes across the canvas. Gradually, the picture I want to portray begins to form before me. I slave away at the painting for hours, until the sun sinks beneath the surface of the sea and the sky fades to a dusty pink. Finished.
The beach is relatively empty, save for a few dog-walkers and children playing volleyball; I know that it is time to make my move. I etch my name and the date onto the bottom of the canvas in thick, black acrylic paint, and eventually make my way towards the shore, where the sand starts to meet the water. The stars are out now, glistening in the evening sky, unaware of what I am about to do. I slip off my socks and shoes and dip my toes into the transparent water. Taking a deep breath, I stumble further into the mouth of the sea. My jeans cling heavily to my skin, dragging me down until the water is waist-deep. I cannot stop now – it is almost over. I use my last bursts of energy to wade further and further until only my neck sits on the surface. My ears sear with pain, as a heavy pounding starts to grow louder within. I gag at the metallic taste in my mouth, unsure if it is salt or blood. My arms are tired now and my legs struggle to keep up with the merciless magnetic force of the waves. Now.
The water is everywhere – in my mouth, in my nose. My body screams at me to go back up to the surface but my heart reassures me that it is almost over. Just a few more seconds; just a few more seconds and all of my pain will be washed away amongst these very waves. I won’t have to hate waking up every morning, dreading another day of living. Just a few more seconds…
Strong hands envelop me and pull me out of the water, clutching me to their chest like a new-born. I’m still alive.
My throat is on fire, but I manage to croak out: “Who are you?”
A voice shouts a reply, telling me that I am safe and loved. It sounds familiar, especially when he whispers my name.