You walk under a pink sky, wisps of cloud are strewn through the air so finely like pieces of candyfloss, that they are almost not there at all. The sand feels nice against the soles of your feet as you follow the tideline, every now and then a foamy rush of water breaking inland past where it should reach, fizzing between your toes, warm and clean and pure. You walk under a pink sky with your shoes in your hands and you yearn for more than you have, for a freedom promised by those long dead. A daughter of Ireland, you do not feel cherished, or equal, all the cells that form your body were never really yours to begin with, you understand that now.
You told no one, kept it contained within yourself for weeks, the knowledge more powerful than the fact, and when you walked past the GPO that first Sunday and read their placards and heard their pleas, you caught the eye of a woman holding a picture so graphic it was hard not to look, and she seemed to know, somehow saw it in you, and you lowered your head and moved between the pillars, grateful for the midday crowd as it swallowed you up. You stopped off at a café and bought a bottle of water, drank it greedily, not stopping until the plastic cracked and you looked around, hoping that no one had seen you, realising then that no one was interested in watching you drink your water, and why should they be?
Your foot touches something soft and cold, you look down to see a jellyfish half hidden beneath the wet sand. You wait for the sting to register, for an itchy pain to creep up your leg, half wanting it to hurt, so that you might feel human again. It is a see-through blob with four purple rings inside it’s membrane, perfectly formed, and you remember from your youth that these ones do not sting so you kneel down and dig it out, and you carry it down to the water where you release it back into the ocean, the current teasing you, not sure whether it wants your offering, until a breaking wave lands and the jellyfish is carried away with a rush of water, the salty spray hitting your face, and you lose sight of it, just how you’d hoped you would.
The web searches, the telephone call, the admission to a stranger from another country, her voice reassuring as she told you of the logistics, and asked whether you would be travelling alone or with someone. Alone, you said, speaking quietly into your mobile, afraid of the walls in your bedroom and what they might hear, who they might tell. Ah, she said, yes of course, well we’ll see you on the 8th then? Two o’clock? Perfect, you said, just perfect, and you turned your phone on silent and lay on your bed, holding a pillow to your breast and hearing your family exist beneath you, your parents in the kitchen laughing about something one of them had said, laughing.
An Ireland of equals, they preach, an Ireland for all.
You move away from the water, up to the dunes, your feet sinking into the dry sand, and you think you can hear him coming after you, calling out your name. Wait for me, wait for me! Before you turn around, you know he is not there, and that you are alone, retracing the steps of someone who used to be you, and you move through the dunes, knowing where the large dips are and where the good walkways are, knowing this land intimately, and you find the spot you think is the spot – it feels like the spot – and you lay down to where the crab grass grows, protected from the wind, and the sky so pink now you can hardly believe that you are awake, that this is real, the crab grass pricking your skin all over, hardly believing anything anymore.
You forgot to check-in online, arriving at the airport late and having to ask for a boarding pass to be printed off, the airline charging you more for the service than the flight itself, the woman behind the counter smiling and telling you not to worry, that it was a silly mistake to make, but people made it all the time. You thought then that life was just a series of mistakes in sequence, and that it wasn’t really the mistakes themselves that made them so, it was the aftermath that counted, looking around and seeing how much damage had been inflicted. As you walked through security you imagined telling your parents, of the three of you standing around the island counter in the kitchen that was too big for any family – especially yours – and watching their faces, but you would never tell them about this because they would never forgive you for it. Then you were queuing, standing in a line beside the other line, the priority boarders feeling cheated. Then you were sitting, the airhostess in front of you asking for your attention and showing you how to buckle your belt correctly. Then you were moving, gathering speed and rising off the ground, your stomach dropping and you wondered whether you would have the same empty feeling after it was all over. Then you were landing, bouncing off the ground and holding your hands out against the seat in front of you thinking that this would be the moment where something could go wrong, but nothing went wrong and the music played out over the intercom announcing your early arrival and everyone laughed, including you.
A voice now, someone speaking, asking whether you’re OK down there in the dune and you open your eyes after a long time to say that you’re absolutely fine, but they have already moved on. Your mouth is dry, the crab grass starting to hurt where it sticks into your back, and you sit up, the pink sky now white, clouds covering everything and you wonder how long you have been sleeping for, and you feel cold air sinking down to where you sit, telling you it’s time to leave.
On the days when you would come here together he’d bring a blanket, a woollen one that he kept in the boot of the car, or you’d use his jacket if you forgot to take the blanket, those times when you needed one another with such urgency that afterwards he would check his pockets for his keys, not being able to remember whether he had even turned the engine off or not, and you would lay your head on his chest and listen to his heartbeat slow back down, and he would wrap his arm around you and you never felt the cold. Not like now, no blanket to protect you from the crab grass, and no him to keep you warm. You used to spend hours here, away from everything else, and you thought more than once that nothing could ever go wrong.
You stayed overnight in a Holiday Inn beside the airport, and lay on top of the bed in your clothes, knowing that you would not sleep. In the morning you drank weak English tea in the restaurant and when the receptionist asked how your stay had been you handed over your debit card and told him it had been wonderful. When you walked through arrivals after you’d landed, you handed your passport over to the Garda who stared at you and then your picture and you had to stop yourself from telling him what you’d done, from shouting it out for everyone to hear. Welcome home, he said, handing back your passport and gesturing the next person up to the window. There was no one waiting for you, and you rode the escalator down to the taxi rank and asked the driver to take you home.
You climb out of the dune, and you breathe deeply before making your way back down to the shore, where the tide has turned, the sea closer, larger, bulging almost, like a blister, threatening to burst at any moment. You start to run, past the midday walkers out with their dogs, past their dogs that bark and yelp, and when you hit the water you do not flinch, you jump into an oncoming wave and you move beneath the surface, where everything is quiet, twisting, turning, until you need to breathe and you emerge spluttering with a mouth full of water. You stare up at the sky and wipe your eyes with your hands, and as you walk back up the beach, your clothes heavy and wet and clinging to your body, you see people staring at you with such confusion, such awe – as if you were from another world – that you can’t help but smile at them and think that this must be like how the Cypriots reacted when they saw Aphrodite for the first time.
Illustration: Sarah Moloney