I got up from the desk, put down my pen and gazed out of the window. The sun was still emitting a comforting light and the room was draped in soft swathes of radiance. I turned away from the sight and walked out of the room. I descended down the stairs, and waited for her to knock at the door. I was not waiting long.
She didn’t even bother for me to answer, she just knocked and walked straight in.
“Hey,” I said. I didn’t trust myself to say anything more as a greeting.
“Come on, we need to go now if we want to make the most of the sun,” she told me, grabbing me by the wrist and dragging me towards the door.
“Um,” I stuttered, “could we not spend a bit of time out in the garden? We’ve got a picnic?”
“No time!” It was decided. No time. We trundled on, down the pathway, her leading the way.
“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” I asked.
“Of course I do!” Her arm reached down from above – she was taller and older than me – and grabbed mine again. “I’ve done this before, you know. I do know how to get you there.” I remained sceptical. I would’ve gone a different way to get to the beach, but she probably knew best. She started to break out into a jog, giggling irresponsibly despite her sense of urgency. I slipped my arm out from her grasp. I preferred the laidback stroll to the frantic run.
I looked back at the house, at the garden, and for a moment, she disappeared into a blur, the evening shadows concealing her. Then she returned. Once more, she seized my arm, and I was forced to run the rest of the way to the beach.
We staggered onto the sand. It was heavy beneath our feet, and we were forced to slow down. As we walked along the beach, the sunset blazed red over the rippling waves. I hated myself for it given how she’d ignored my earlier requests, but I reached, yearned for her hand and uncurled its fist, interlocking our fingers and pulling her closer to me. I needed her support.
A lighthouse illuminated the pier at the other end of the beach. The pier – our goal – was a fair distance away, and my whole body was already aching: my legs from running, my hands from writing, my head from thinking. My heart.
My spirit carried me, my willingness, my knowledge that this pier promised to bestow upon me the greatest experience of my life to date. Or rather, that was the expectation she had passed onto me. We walked together.
The waves crashed their way up the beach, tearing grains of sand back to their watery home. A crab moved in the distance, scuttling sideways, snapping its claws as it passed us. Sideways it continued.
“Are you sure about this?” I asked.
“Surer than I’ve ever been about anything in my entire life,” she assured.
I wasn’t convinced, but I was needed by her for this. We were needed by each other. We walked on, listening to the sea continue its infinite life, mechanically breathing in, monotonously breathing out, moving forwards, moving backwards, soothingly and yet unnaturally being as steady as it ever had and ever would be, never changing, never growing or shrinking or caring or hurting, just being. How blissful that must have been. How unsettling it was.
The pier seemed further away than ever in my mind – or did I just want that to be the case? She turned to me; “Race?” she demanded. I loosened the grip of my hand. She started running, running quickly, so far away from me, her hand so detached from mine, becoming an illusion. I wasn’t ready, but I followed. I had to.
“What are you doing?” I cried. What was she doing? I hated the idea of running. I wanted to savour the walk, the cold air biting at our fingers, the wind messing up our hair, all the little imperfections that somehow added to its beauty. This journey should have been slow and precious. I wanted to tell her all of this, but I couldn’t, and I didn’t, and even if I had then she wouldn’t have listened. I just followed her.
So we ran, into the night, into the intensifying darkness. I had no idea what was ahead of me, but I knew with absolute certainty that I would reach it. Looking over my shoulder, I could see the lights from the houses behind me. A swing in a garden swayed in the wind, rocking gently back and forth. A rich brown, its wooden frame stood sturdily.
I turned around. We were there. The pier. The great structure stood in front of me, and I noticed all the things I couldn’t from far away: the wood rotting away in places, barnacles infesting the lower echelons of the legs… How promising it had looked from afar, how disappointing it was up close. She climbed up onto the pier.
“Isn’t it fantastic?” she asked from above me.
“It’s kind of,” I paused, “stale, don’t you think?”
“Stale?! I think it’s beautiful. Do you really think it’s that bad?”
“Well then you’re wrong.” And that was the end of it. It was beautiful. Not decaying or infested or stale. Beautiful. It had been decided.
We walked to the edge of the pier and looked out across the vast, endless sea. She reached for my hand. I didn’t want to take it, but I still did.
“Ready?” she inquired. I wasn’t, but it made no difference anyway. We stepped back together and took in the surroundings. Millions of stars were beginning to show themselves. The two of us looked up at them.
We ran towards the end of the pier. I let go of her hand.
I jumped, unknowing, into the sea, into the darkness, on my own.