by Jessica Joy
Consciousness tugs at the hem of my dream, an impatient child. I feel warm breath in my ear. The reality of another day seeps into my thoughts like an oil slick. It contaminates my dreamworld with sticky, smothering devastation.
“Mummy,” she whispers, her fingers stroking my cheek. I want to bury my face in the pillow until it suffocates me. But I open my eyes and smile at her.
She must be quiet in the mornings. I can sense her need to talk. She simmers like an old-fashioned kettle and I brace myself for the shrill whistle of all her thoughts. I bribe her with promises of my time. She skips out of the room. Squeaky voices of a cartoon crescendo and diminish as she fiddles with the TV remote.
I phone my mother. I have interrupted her. The rapier-point replies stab at my heart. I have no energy to parry. If I plead, she would concede to a couple of hours respite from the child. But I will not beg. I resent her inability to hear my silent screams for help behind the small talk. She’ll see me another day. More bribery with promises of time.
Dragging myself out of bed, I pull on some clothes and slouch into the kitchen. The cloying walls of the musty flat make it harder to fight the compulsion to go back to bed, curl up foetal in the warm embrace of a duvet and just listen to the ringing in my ears.
The child waits already dressed. Her expectation is palpable. Resigned, coat and keys in hand, we take the short walk to the beach.
The sea is calm and the smell of seaweed bitter and briny. Tiny waves glint in the sunlight and mimic the shine of the wet pebbles at the shoreline. The uniform ripples tease us. It is as though we could walk out, ankle-deep, for miles until the seabed drops away. I wonder how it would feel to invite the salty water into my lungs, like a welcome guest.
My child slips her warm hand into mine and points at a beautiful cloud formation, like waves, moving across the horizon.
I tell her the sea and the sky are best friends; such good friends, it’s hard to tell where the sea ends and the sky starts. Often, they wear matching outfits and sometimes their colours are so different yet so beautiful together; like today’s brown sea and grey sky. Occasionally, they rage against each other with spits and blusters, but they never leave each other. They are always together on the horizon.
Today the sea was just too tired and the sky said to her, “Don’t worry, go back to sleep and I’ll make the waves for you.” And that’s what she’s doing. Lucky sea. To have a friend like that.
We crunch back up the beach, hand in hand.
“Mummy,” she says, “When I grow up, I’ll do the waves for you.”
I squeeze her hand.
Jessica Joy is a fantasy writer with stories (various genres) published in several anthologies. She has won Faber Academy’s Quickfic competition.
Our Reader said:
Beautiful, poignant, it feels very real. Well worth a read.