by Elisa Webb
We didn’t go up for Christmas, too cold, too fucking far, Pa said. But this year we were going. The train rattled over the bridge, across the bay. I hoped to see snow. I hoped to see frozen ocean. I was disappointed. Glad I didn’t mention it to Pa and Ma. They would just laugh: you’ll be expecting polar bears next.
It wasn’t even cold, just very windy. We stepped off at the small station, someone’s house really. Their washing slapped in the breeze, cheap T-shirts and ratty pillow cases.
‘We’ll walk,’ said Pa, adjusting his rucksack, passing me mine. We always walked even when we had suitcases. It wasn’t there weren’t trucks on the island; people just didn’t use them for nonsense.
We braced ourselves against the wind, the air smelled of salty seaweed. Gulls wheeled overhead. It was fierce along the causeway. The sky grey, the sea even greyer, choppy round the edges. No good expecting a Christmas tree. Molly Lucas didn’t hold with trees and shit. I wondered if we’d live on porridge and toast.
‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph,’ said Ma. ‘If we don’t take tins we’ll die of the scurvy.’
Tins clanked as she jumped down from the style.
Molly Lucas appeared up on the bluff, holding her apron against the wind. The dog, Pot, ran towards us, his black fur broken by bald patches. He jumped about nipping. Pa kicked out, ‘Gerr out of it.’ Pot retreated, pretending he was interested in a sheep’s skull, nesting in the long grass. The kitchen was warm only because Molly Lucas shut out the wind.
‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ said Molly Lucas, running the tap full blast. Water thundered into the enamel kettle.
‘You’re to go up and drop your things, same room as always,’ she laughed at her old joke.
I banged up the stairs in protest. Pot jumped ahead. Then he tried double back, so he could nip me from behind. Poor bastard, the boredom had done him in. Welcome to Boredom Isle. I dumped my rucksack by the bed. Pot growled and ran towards it hoping it was alive. He lay down and began to chew the straps. I sat on the hard bed, the faded eiderdown slithering under my jeans. The window gazed out to sea, even the room wanted to escape.
Later I went down for tea. The house smelt of Wright’s Coal Tar soap. It was toast, and very brown tea, already steaming in mugs. There were some pink biscuits on a chipped green plate. Ma sat holding a mug for ballast. Pa stood with his back to the range. Molly Lucas stopped talking and stared at me.
‘It’s OK Molly Lucas,’ said Ma. ‘We’ve been open about…your sister who’s dying. We’re very sad… you’ve a dying sister.’
She said it like she was reading a note.
‘Well,’ said Molly Lucas, pushing the butter dish towards me. ‘She’s dying…up there now. Dying…she may come down for a hot chocolate.’
Molly Lucas glanced at Ma with raised eyebrows. Ma sucked air through her teeth. I had no idea hot chocolate was on offer.
The next few days I spent wandering the bluff staring out to sea. I used to hope a ferry would hit the rocks. This would give us all something to do. We could run about shouting. I would call the coast guard, Ma the emergency services. Then Pa and I would drag people from the sea, rescue flotsam and jetsam, whatever that was. I wouldn’t be able to save a cat trapped in its basket. Shame. They’d spent cash at the vets getting it fixed, typical outlanders. But nothing ever happened. I poked at rock pools and pushed my boots into dark sand. The sea was miles and miles away. The beach was so wide it made me tired just to think about it.
On Christmas Day I saw her. The Dying Sister. She was heading towards me. I stopped poking limpets. She didn’t look dying, just thin, but not skeletal. Skeletal: a good word, a beach word. Later I wrote it in the sand in giant letters. S K E L E T A L.
‘Hello,’ she called.
She held out her hand. My hand was gritty. Her hand was cool and fine. Her hair whipped about her face. She shivered in her black sweater and folded her arms.
‘Shall we walk?’ she said.
So we did. We walked for ages that first time. She hummed and picked up small pink shells. She kept some. I did the same. I found a yellow spiral and a black pebble with a white vein.
Pot bounded over to join us. I wanted to shout fuck off, away with your nonsense. But she picked up a stick, threw it as far from us as possible. When he came back, all hysterical slobber, I threw the stick even further. She laughed. ‘He’ll burst.’ Then she yawned. ‘Enough. I’m back to bed, tiring.’ Or did she say dying? The wind had burned my ears. Pot was back rubbing his head down my legs. I rubbed his head. When I looked up she was away by the bluff.
The last time I saw her, I almost didn’t. There was a storm overnight. The beach was strewn with seaweed, tangled red nets, and rusty beer cans. I caught the smell of cigarette smoke. She was sitting on the rocks, just below the house. She frowned and offered me a fag, like a big fool I shook my head. She was watching four men struggling down the crumbling steps. A peeling dingy rocked in the surf. They were carrying a long box, like an outsize suitcase. She laughed. One of the men slipped and stumbled; the box slid forward and hit the heavy sand. I didn’t understand. The box dropper swore. Then glanced over, nodding. The men stopped, then with a tired effort wrenched the box free and slapped their way across the rills. I sat down. Pot sat next to me. I rubbed his back. She drew on the fag, blowing out smoke. The wind whistled through the dry grass, cutting into my kidneys. The men shoved the box into the boat and pushed off onto the sea. She waved. The man who dropped the box saluted.
‘I want to go by sea, not down the causeway. They’re practicing,’ she snorted. ‘Trust Molly Lucas.’
She stubbed her fag out on the rock and flicked it into the air. It landed in a small puddle, floating like an exclamation mark on the freckled beach.
Elisa Marcella Webb created and managed the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Law at a top London School for 8 years before taking a gap year graduating with an MA in Creative Writing in 2013. She is currently a part-time Ph.D. student at Kingston University. Her first novel Darkling Park, published by Patrician/Pudding Press, will be out Halloween 2016.