Alice stumbled across the rocks, stepping on the dry stone and slipping on the wet green seaweed freshly soaked with sea water. The sharp edges dug into the balls of her feet, her flip flops a distant memory away on the sand with her friends. Ten minutes ago, she was lying next to them (the flip flops and the friends), hat placed over her closed eyes, body burning in the sun. The girls were talking around and above her; ordering their first, second, and now probably third cocktails of the afternoon.
The itchy feeling in Alice’s feet and the static noise in her head had led her to the rocks at the end of the beach. The small line of sand, with an even smaller bar, was littered with young couples in scanty swimming costumes and topless old women with leather breasts.
There was flat plank of wood on the outermost point of the rocks that almost looked like it was sitting in the water. Alice reached the make-shift bench and sat herself down. A quick glance over her shoulder told her that the girls hadn’t moved, and she would have some time before they noticed her missing from their conversations.
Across the water in front of her, was another area of land, atop which sat a mountain that reached so high its peak was white with snow. The blue of the sky that the tip of the mountain pierced was almost a reflection of the blue of the sea below it, and Alice imagined that if you drew a line through the middle of the two (from the sky’s very top to the water’s very bottom), it would go straight through her, piercing through her middle and splitting her in two.
Alice was sitting, staring, watching the world float by. The shifting lights of the sun echoing off the slow ripples of water were like a shimmering mosaic. The slow flowing traffic of boats painted pictures of people running away from somewhere, not knowing or caring where they were heading. Alice could hear the rhythms of mother tongues and second languages swimming in the air, mixing with one another as they travelled the waves. She could feel the wind in her hair as if she were on one of the boats sailing across this patch of water, as if she were looking out at a small beach and seeing the shape of a person sitting at the end of the rocks that emerged out of the sand.
A new boat arrived in the water, emerging slowly from behind the cliff face to reveal its wooden frames and white sails. On this other side of the beach, the rocks ran parallel to Alice’s left but reached further out into the sea. In the time that she’d been watching the floating traffic of the water, she had noticed a few smaller boats that she thought would crash into these outer rocks and crumble. But this fear was merely an illusion, a trick of perspective. The rocks weren’t really as far out as they seemed. This new boat announced its arrival into the waters with a silent grandeur, an aura of old-fashioned respectability. The type that couldn’t be hidden or bought with money, but that had always been, and always would be. It breezed through the waters, smaller boats rushing out of its path caught in the waves it created. By the time it had sailed across the stretch of water that covered the beach and was in front of Alice sitting on her make-shift bench, it had drawn a line straight through the sea, creating small waves that danced along the top of the water until they crashed quietly onto the sand. The sun bounced off every little shudder, like glitter sparkling on a made-up cheek. Alice noticed a small black circle, a dull of colour in the sea of silver and blue, caught in one of the ripples that had come from the boat. It bobbed in the water, and as Alice continued to watch it disappear and reappear, in and out of the waves, she realised that the shape was a person.
A flailing hand attached to a waving arm.
The person was near the other tip of rocky land to Alice’s left (the place where the small boats had nearly crashed), and Alice waited for the two to come into contact. She waited for the person to clamber up on the rocks, stumble across them, and then stride along the sand to the bar and order themselves a drink. Perhaps a martini or, more fittingly, a scotch on the rocks. No doubt if he was a man, the girls would be all over him and he would come back to their rented apartment (a man who had faced death in the day surely deserved a good night). Or maybe the person would be a girl, showered in glances of jealousy and frustration as the lifeguard ran over to make sure she was okay and offered her a ride home (not that Alice had seen such a saviour-in-waiting on the beach earlier, but it was easy to imagine such a figure in her head). Maybe, the person was no person at all. It could be a floating piece of driftwood or a buoy. The flailing arms another trick of perspective, a shadow cast by the clear sky.
Whatever it was, it was now gone. It had disappeared underwater and had not come back up. First the shape that resembled a head; then the waving arm and its flailing hand. Alice had watched it happen. She had sat still on her make-shift bench they had stopped floating. She imagined their flight down to the bottom of the sea, their collision with the deep surface of the Earth. She saw the disturbance of sand and stones, animals and plants. She heard the soft bump they made, a sound that she could only imagine, impossible for anyone to hear.
With the motions fully played out in her head, and the once floating mass settled to rest at the bottom of the ocean, Alice looked over her shoulders back to her towel and forgotten flip flops. Her friends were now all lying down, their mid-afternoon tipsiness giving way to sleep. She stumbled back over the rocks, the shapes and shadows of objects along the sand becoming more verifiably human-like as she got closer. She made no sound as she walked back to her friends, lying her body back down on her towel and placing her hat over her face. She wondered which was darker: the colour inside her closed eyes, or the bottom of the ocean?
By Emily Walden