Photograph by Rhiannon Adam, Story by Giovanna Iozzi
You give me that look and tell me it will be rough down at the shore again today.
Maybe you went earlier to see for yourself, as you do when you can’t sleep, when it’s still black and feels like the world won’t ever open its eyes again. Sometimes I hear your bedroom door open, the light pads of your feet, the front door below wheeze shut. As soon as you leave, my heart aches, I’m back in a half sleep and the cottage is a boat unmooring, shifting slowly down from the village, following your steps, over the sun-bleached grass cliffs and when it reaches Prawle Point, we are all sucked into the churning froth.
The sea has been wild for weeks, bright thrashing animal green and odd muddy shades of mustard and oil. Sometimes hundreds of jelly fish come in, trailing tentacles like ragged rainbow cellophane, mostly dead, as a man with his dog told me, ‘They’re coming in to die - like the whales.’
We haven’t seen a whale for a while. The seals were the worst, some babies too. I touched their sweet puppy faces and whiskers until they began to smell. The foxes and the stray dogs who scavenge on the beach tore them up. Sometimes we get the foam, flubbering along the shore for miles. It’s cool. The first time it came, I dived in and started chucking it back at you like bubble bath. You screamed, slapping my hands away.
Later, more softly you said, ‘Don’t go in when it’s like that, promise me, Kit.’
I promised but you don’t come to the beach anymore, so how would you know?
Your body is so thin now, the silky bulges I liked to stroke while I sucked my thumb when I was little have melted away. You shrink and I grow and everything feels tight. I have the training bra you managed to get off a woman in the village with older girls, but I’m already popping over it. You look at me and sigh. You told me you’d like to take me for a proper fitting just like granny did with you.
‘Bet you’d hate it, having an old woman looking at your buds…’
‘Argh, Mum, don’t!’
But I was sorry because your laughter was over too soon and the frown folded back into your face.
Today is one of those frowny days, your expression lost in knots of thoughts. Your back is tense through your shirt as you scrub some carrots and potatoes from the garden.
‘So small again,’ you say, ‘Pathetic, how are we going to…?’
You stop. The stopping is for me. But the messages still come through your body.
Today I do my usual route. it’s only a short way down from the village, the rocky path that winds up and down over the cliffs. I like the third beach along, Pig’s Nose, because there is a scramble down a rope like a rusted orange plait. You used to tell me not to go down by myself, the tides on the South Hams can be wild you warned. And not just the tides.
‘This is pig country,’ you said, ‘And plenty of pigs about these days…’
‘Pigs are clean and intelligent mum.’
You gave me a look but I’m 12 now, almost a teenager and you’ve almost totally given up telling me to do things.
I have some bread and scraping of butter from the last batch we got, one of your paperbacks in my bag with the page corners turned down for the rude bits. Before I would have taken my phone but when I turn it on it’s still frozen with that message, your phone is charging. Once there was an unexpected power surge and I managed to scroll through to old messages from the Year 6 girls. Ghost girl chitterings.
The humid air turns my skin to slime, but I’ve taken my jacket to please you, just in case. You think I don’t swim but I do when the tides are still doing something like normal. It’s like being in a steaming bath, in the middle of three tidal whirlpools with the vapour creating drama. I try not to cry out at the bits bumping against me in the water.
When I turn the grassy rib to look down at the beach today, it looks different. There’s more sand, bluish-grey, shining like a mirror. I can’t see much else as it’s foggy, thicker than I’ve seen it, cutting off the horizon. Everything’s quiet, the normal drumming of the water and wind gone. I scramble down the rope, standing on the rock at the base to get a better look. I still see a bit of water if I squint to where the fog begins, but it’s silvery and acting funny, like little waves breaking backwards.
Tenting my hand over my eyes, I see them on the sand. Dark lumps, all kinds, up the beach in the glassy dips in the sand. The smell hits me, fish and the piss tang of sea rot. I jump down towards them, seaweed, birds with caked yellow feathers, eels, fish, all shapes and sizes, not silver, but blue black. They look toasted, as you would say. I pick one up but it’s only half a fish. It’s beautiful though, blue silver and the inside is pink plush. We could eat this one, get the fire pit going again.
The quiet crouches. I shiver, it’s cold now and a wind lifts its breath. Looking out towards the channel again, I see the water is all gone and it’s just the blackened sea stacks.
The vibrations start like the buzzing of a battery through my toes, looking down I see the sand jumping about like water on a hot plate. The air dampening darker, a louder vibration, a cold shadow gathering and a long roar begins through the fog.
I look up, yell, hold up the fish, hold my breath.
Giovanna Iozzi writes and teaches fiction and memoir and is completing a creative writing PhD at Goldsmiths University. A winner of the Pat Kavanagh Prize for her short stories, her first novel is on submission and she’s working on a memoir. You can find her published work at https://www.joiozzi.com and on twitter @gioiozzi
Rhiannon Adam was born in Co. Cork, Ireland and was educated at Central Saint Martins college of Art and Design (London), and at the University of Cambridge. She is currently based in London. Her work is heavily influenced by her nomadic childhood spent at sea, sailing around the world with her parents. Her long-term projects straddle art photography and social documentary and has been exhibited internationally as well as being widely featured in the press. You can discover more about her and her work here - www.rhiannonadam.com