Rest Yourself Here
Photograph by Catherine Hyland, Story by Grahame Williams
Ballyholme, County Down, 28th August 2020
You can barely make me out but that’s me there, black speck at the top of the dune, running full pelt, boots filled with sand from the climb, camera in my hand.
That’s me come up from the other side of the dune. I remember the feeling alright. Ache in my feet from the sand, beating fear in my chest, breath gone. But to have reached the top. Couldn’t believe my luck. A whole flock of tourists. One of them, I thought, one will help us, come down the dune and back all the way to the taxi with me. What we’d thought was a taxi: me and Clare, Ciaran and Jodie.
Can’t remember what you call it when you show up in somebody else’s holiday snap. There’s the funny thing. How I come to have this photo I’ve no idea. Because I’m in it so I obviously didn’t take it. Eighteen then and all my own shots were black and white. Big dreams of myself as a photographer. You forget how dumb you were.
I got rid of my camera. I’ve tried but I can’t get rid of my photos of that day.
That was the summer we spent pulling the stars from the sky and necking red wine straight from the bottle. Ciaran with his full yellow fisherman’s outfit, didn’t give a damn what the world thought of him. Jodie with her Lennon glasses, so smart I could barely speak to her. And Clare. That was the summer we watched The English Patient and I dreamed of carrying her limp in my arms from a cave in the desert, my face all wrecked with tears. Clare, my wonky-eyed love.
That summer we knew we’d not see each other again, scattered around the world to study. You leave this place and you don’t come back.
So I had the big idea: we’ll hitch from Belfast to Morocco, the four of us. Come on, it’s not as crazy as you think. Let’s lose ourselves in the desert the way we’ve lost ourselves in each other. Still sounds like a madness to hitch from Ireland to Africa. Me all talk like it would be easy. Two boys with two girls, so I said we’d be safe. Lorries where Ciaran and Jodie sat in the cab, me and Clare sardines on the bed in the back, me waiting for the chance to touch her hand. God knows how we made it in one piece. Down France, through Spain, over to Morocco on a deathtrap ferry, feeling so high with Africa in front of us, Europe behind. Me non-stop taking pictures. Click, click, click, that old Canon I had.
I remember the way Morocco made my eyes water, the ripe smell of the place. I remember how mad them three got when it turned out there was no booze. I’d never heard of a dry country before.
The boy picked us up at the city gates of Agadir. That’s all he looked: a harmless boy with a Merc. Old cream Merc like you see in Beirut spy films, all the filthy glamour we dreamed of. I told him we wanted taken out to where the dunes look like a woman’s body lying asleep. I’m sure there was a taxi sign on the roof.
We set off in the pitch black. The others slept and I was the only one noticed the petrol needle pointing a quarter to empty. A two-day drive straight into the desert and not enough petrol to get from Belfast to Dublin. I saw it and said nothing. I could feel Clare in my arms.
The Sahara dunes, you know I thought they would be bigger. And the sky was just like home, the world with a dirty blanket thrown over it.
Five hours out the Merc rolls to a stop, needle full on empty, and the boy’s laughing. That laugh comes back to me burning like sick in my throat.
I must have got out first. I have a black and white shot of Clare getting out, another of Ciaran by the roadside. No photos of Jodie.
The road as far as you look in both directions has nothing on it.
One shot I took when I was stood in the middle of the road. Ciaran looking off into the desert, Clare looking at the boy, one hand behind her back, the boy the only one looking at the camera, dead-eyed at me, hands clasped together.
“You are beautiful because you are fat,” he says to Clare but he’s looking at me..
“And you are a clown,” he says to Ciaran. He’s still looking at me.
Ciaran and Clare dancing in the road, one of them waltz kind of dances, dancing but there’s no music.
Jodie won’t get out of the taxi.
“Give me the camera,” he says and he’s walking towards me and now he doesn’t seem so much of a boy.
Ciaran twirling Clare round in the road.
And I’m running.
“There’s nowhere,” he’s shouting behind me.
It’s hot and I’m running, I’m climbing. As I’m climbing the cloud clears. Then here are all these people. Stood having their pictures taken. Posing. Beautiful clothes. Scarves and fancy raincoats. Watching me.
None of them speaks English.
I see the other car coming towards Clare and Ciaran in the road. None of them will come with me.
I see my friends shoved into the car.
I stand barefoot here on the sand at Ballyholme and let the shells cut into my feet, turn my back on the sea, the ships sheltering in the Lough, and look up at the bench on the promenade with their names carved into it:
Rest yourself here, with Clare, Jodie and Ciaran, 28th August 1997
I paid for those words to be put on there.
You know how much I wanted to be the one saved her? Look close. That’s me, that’s definitely me.
Grahame Williams was born in County Down, Northern Ireland and now lives and works in London. His fiction has appeared in the Stinging Fly, the Letters Page, the Lonely Crowd and on BBC Radio 4. You can find him here on Twitter @jgjgwilliams
Catherine Hyland is an artist based in London. She graduated from Chelsea College of Art and Design with a First class BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art and completed her Masters at the Royal College of Art. Her photography centres around people and their connection to the land they inhabit. Primarily landscape based, her work is rooted in notions of fabricated memory, grids, enclosures and national identity. Her ongoing projects highlight humanity’s attempts to tame and transform nature, both past and present. You can find more of her work here