The train took me alone down south to meet you. You were already there at the station as I stepped onto the platform, and it was almost—but not quite—like I never left. All the force as you hugged me, so I nearly overbalanced with the weight from my backpack, but you anchored my feet to the ground and I knew I was safe.
Fast tracked into town on the bus, and you paid my fare while I dug through my backpack for my purse. And it was like I never left, like I’d been with you the entire time, and the seagulls and the cars and the hum of conversations, just the same as I remembered them. We passed where the RSPB shop used to be, trying not to make eye contact with homeless people as we walked by jewellery shops with rings we used to imagine some prince would propose to us with. I followed after you, through the narrow lanes and all their cobblestones, and in the close confines of the crowds I remembered how it made me feel so lost. You always knew which way to go because you could always find the sea.
Fresh air tinged with salt, and over the road we tried not to run into cyclists on the lane by the crossing. Heading towards the marina where the children weren’t squealing at the sight of the sea, and the stones clicked under our shoes so it sounded like we were walking along a treasure chest.
“Little one,” you said, voice like a sea salt breeze, “what do you want from life?”
I thought about it a second, tested the weight of it.
“I want to fall hard in love and have my heart broken.”
You snorted as you laughed.
“You’re such a masochist.”
“Maybe,” I said, dismissive shake of the head and a sideways smile.
Maybe it was something else, picking up the rocks worn smooth by waves lapping their tongues along chalkstone cliff sides of the Seven Sisters, and throwing them into the sea. The plunk sound as they sunk below the surface, the backsplash that speckled saltwater on my legs. Sometimes, even at only a metre away, the throw would fall just short of the sea, and there’d be a kind of clack as it hit another rock, and rebounded in some other direction.
Lips dried out from seaside air, and I licked my lips and thought of the fish and chips we used to get every time we came to visit you here, at that place on the corner of the road. And that time when Mum mistook sugar for salt and sprinkled it over her chips, and how we laughed even as through her smiles she told us that it wasn’t funny. A grumbling stomach, and you looked at me and grinned.
“Right now,” I said. “I want food.”
Warm doughnuts from that place in front of the pier, and I promised to pay you back later but you said it was ok. Holding the paper bag in both hands, grease seeping through and staining it grey, and we spoke a little about when we used to visit the pier with Dad and ride the bumper cars. We walked together along the blue-green gate, and past the closed clubs and the stones that stood for sand, the blue-green waves were swimming towards the shore. Sitting with you on the concrete steps as families and tourists decided it was getting late, and you said nothing so it was just the gulls, and I imagined you falling in love with this place. The starlings could flock behind the west pier as the sun set, and it would light it all on fire like the perfect photograph.
I imagined telling you I was sorry. For moving north, for not staying there same way I can’t stay with you and fall asleep with my head on your shoulder, because we both know I haven’t slept through the night in months. There’s this itching in my feet and this whisper on the horizon and my backpack gets heavy if I stay in one place for too long. Call it something like masochism, if it helps. I’ve given up finding names for things I can’t hold onto.
by Katie James