Words in Deep Blue - Cath Crowley
Prufrock and Other Observations
by T.S. Eliot
Letter left between pages 4 and 5
12 December 2012
I’m leaving this letter on the same page as ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ because you love the poem and I love you. I know you’re out with Amy, but fuck it – she doesn’t love you, Henry. She loves herself, quite a bit in fact. I love that you read. I love that you love second-hand books. I love pretty much everything about you, and I’ve known you for ten years, so that’s saying something. I leave tomorrow. Please call me when you get this, no matter how late.
salt and heat and memory
I open my eyes at midnight to the sound of the ocean and my brother’s breathing. It’s been ten months since Cal drowned, but the dreams still escape.
I’m confident in the dreams, liquid with the sea. I’m breathing underwater, eyes open and un-stung by salt. I see fish, a school of silver-bellied moons thrumming beneath me. Cal appears, ready to identify, but these aren’t fish we know. ‘Mackerel,’ he says, his words escaping in bubbles that I can hear. But the fish aren’t mackerel. Not bream, not any of the names we offer. They’re pure silver. ‘An unidentified species,’ we say, as we watch them fold and unfold around us. The water has the texture of sadness: salt and heat and memory.
Cal’s in the room when I wake. He’s milky-skinned in the darkness, dripping of ocean. Impossible, but so real I smell salt and apple gum. So real I see the scar on his left foot – a long-healed cut from glass on the beach. He’s talking about the dream fish: pure silver, unidentified, and gone.
I feel through the air for the dream, but instead I touch the ears of Cal’s labrador, Woof. He follows me everywhere since the funeral, a long line of black I can’t shake. Usually he sleeps on the end of my bed or in the doorway of my room, but for the last two nights he’s slept in front of my packed suitcases. I can’t take him with me. ‘You’re an ocean dog.’ I run my finger along his nose. ‘You’d go mad in the city.’
There’s no sleeping after dreams of Cal, so I climb through the window and head to the beach. The moon is three-quarters empty. The night is as hot as day. Gran mowed late last week so I collect warm green blades on my feet as I move.
There’s almost nothing between our house and the water. There’s the road, a small stretch of scrub, and then dunes. The night is all tangle and smell. Salt and tree; smoke from a fire far up the beach. It’s all memory, too. Summer swimming and night walks, hunts for fig shells and blennies and starfish.
Towards the lighthouse, there’s the spot where the beaked whale washed ashore: a giant at six metres, the right side of its face pressed against sand, its one visible eye open. There was a crowd of people around it later – scientists and locals, studying and staring. But first, there was Mum and Cal and me in the early cold. I was nine years old, and with its long beak it looked to me like it was half sea creature, half bird. I wanted so badly to study the water it had come from, the things it might have seen. Cal and I spent the day looking through Mum’s books and on the internet. The beaked whale is considered one of the least understood creatures of the sea, I copied into my journal. They live at depths so deep that the pressure could kill.
I don’t believe in ghosts or past lives or time travel or any of the strange things that Cal liked to read about. But every time I stand on the beach I wish us all back – to the day of the whale, to the day we moved here, to any day before he died. With what I know of the future, I’d be ready. I’d save him, when the danger came.
It’s late, but there’ll be people from school out on the beach, so I walk farther up to a quiet spot. I dig myself into the dunes, bury my legs past my hips, and stare at the water. It’s shot with moon, silver leaking all over the surface.
I want to go in but I can’t. I want to be close to the beach and far away. I’ve tried