Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Empirical
It is a pebble-grey day. We step out of the inn and onto the greypebbled beach. The air is cold brine, gusting our hair. We grimace against it. Our arms are linked, our feet heavily shod. There is no one else on the beach, save the silhouette of a fisherman and someone’s Newfoundland dog.
We came in the middle of down season, and have since lost track of time. Claude’s watch stopped on the first day of vacation. Neither of us would be able to say whether it is morning now or afternoon. We wake every day in a brown-shadowed void. The bed linen is heavy, and has a stale smell that is neither his nor mine. Every day, awakening in that void, my throat is rimmed with despair. I want nothing more than to sleep it away, to lose the whole day in sleep.
Then there is the sickness. It rises in me like a cold sea wave.
Claude has murmured hotly into my ear. He has told me that we are in this together. My conch has been filled with the condensation of his words. Never, ever, did I imagine I’d love a man called Claude.
The Newfoundland is sniffing at something up ahead. Its tail beats the air, a coal-blackened duster. “Perhaps we could get a dog,” says Claude.
We approach the dog. It remains intent on the thing that it is sniffing. The thing is pale, water-bleached. It spreads across the pebbles like a pile of vomit, something choked up by the sea. The smell of it is dull, putrid: a smell of living flesh, reduced to its most shameful elements.
I am still thin, beyond suspicion. I look young and thin in my big coat, almost young enough to be Claude’s daughter. The thing inside me, surely, amounts to much less than the mouthfuls of pale vomit that I have issued into the toilet bowl, morning after morning.
“Barkly! Barkly!” a woman calls the dog from the cliffs above the beach. It continues to nose the glob, the carcass. Claude squeezes my hand and tells me not to worry, that it is probably only the remains of a squid or whale, washed in from the sea.
I do the only thing that I can do; I vomit. It forms a foamy layer, like frogspawn, on the surface of the water. I think that the sea must be full of such waste.
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