Salt Water Dreamings: Translating Sensation into Language

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The water brings sweet relief; like ice cubes on a sweltering day, or warm hands placed on sore shoulders. It is not a feeling she can adequately describe to others – more of a sensation that is without language, yet still, the words come precisely because the sensation lures in the language, makes her formulate it into sentences she knows will never be adequate. They comes like the waves – swell and rise like yeasty bread and then sink again below the level of her conscious mind. Down there they float, seaweedy shapes that lose their sharpness beneath the glistening surface where all is crisp and technicolour.

She is of an age now that she is ignored in the water – not hooted at and encouraged like she was as a younger woman, nor even glanced at. Occasionally, a more attentive surfer will nod and let her take the wave, or glance at her impressed when they see her take off on a bigger wave, jettison down the indigo face confidently, rise up to the translucent lip made turquoise with light. Whilst she does not entirely need it, it is nice to be seen. It is a paradox of sorts – she would rather be out here alone, but it has always been nice to share joy with others. As a teenager she’d surf with her best friend (who now meditates in a jungle somewhere in Burma, no longer needing the intensity of physical exercise or the attachments of the physical world) and it would often only be the two of them. So many waves; so much screaming with unbounded delight.

She is of an age now that she is ignored in the water – not hooted at and encouraged like she was as a younger woman, nor even glanced at. Occasionally, a more attentive surfer will nod and let her take the wave, or glance at her impressed when they see her take off on a bigger wave, jettison down the indigo face confidently, rise up to the translucent lip made turquoise with light. Whilst she does not entirely need it, it is nice to be seen. It is a paradox of sorts – she would rather be out here alone, but it has always been nice to share joy with others. As a teenager she’d surf with her best friend (who now meditates in a jungle somewhere in Burma, no longer needing the intensity of physical exercise or the attachments of the physical world) and it would often only be the two of them. So many waves; so much screaming with unbounded delight.

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Time passes. She holds these two versions of herself within the same ribcage, or perhaps between her eyebrows, the centred eye. The child woken at dawn, the car already packed by her father, the cold sand on her feet on a winter’s morning paddling out behind him. Him both attentive and not – always the fine line between being held and being a separate being. She thinks about paddling out with her son, forgetting he was there, then worrying he was half drowned when a bigger set came through and she couldn’t spot him. Now he leaves for Europe and he is further from her than he’s ever been. Still, the ocean forms some kind of link between them. As if he could stand on another shore and touch the water, and the ripples would turn up under her board, make her think of him. Metaphysics makes her think that when her father leaves this mortal coil that he too will be there like a pale ghost beside her, encouraging her to paddle. Out here they are all one in her heart, just as the line between her own skin and the natural world is blurred.

She wants to divide into a million parts, each cell, each atom licked by saltwater. As if each part of her could be held by it all. She wants the seaweed to wrap around her breasts, sand to gather in the corner of her eyes, between her toes and in the tiny cups of her ears. She wants seaweed to catch between her thighs like lover’s fingers, crabs to scuttle across her abdomen and send tremors from abdomen to pelvis, fish to slide past the soft underflesh of her arms and leave silvery scales behind.

She imagines they will find her bones one day, cliff side, beside a shark carcass left by fisherman, torn in half by propellers from the morning fishing boats. The pale grey of its underbelly will speak of vulnerability, it’s entrails trailing across the boatramp and onto the sand. Beside that, perhaps, a metatarsal or something bigger, more ominously human. Perhaps they will feel pity for the woman lost at sea, food for fishes. They won’t realise she wanted this annihilation. To be nothing, adrift.

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