Caught by the River

Pleasures of…April

30th April 2019

Poet & author Jessica Andrews shares her most delighted-in moments of the past month

It is April, and I am in Cadaqués with L. We are clambering up a cliffside covered in orange cacti and rubbery pink daisies. The rocks are sharp and dangerous, ridged like the backs of alligators. One wrong foot and we will tumble down into the dark-bellied sea. We climb, fast and reckless, daring our ankles to twist.

L tells me that climbers who find passages through difficult caves string threads behind them for future strangers, who will see someone has travelled the route before them, and know that it is safe. This method is called Ariadne’s Thread, after the string Ariadne gave to Theseus so that he could find his way back through the labyrinth after killing the Minotaur.

We have both just read a re-telling of the Circe myth. We talk about Pasiphaë and Daedalus conceiving the Minotaur, how it clawed its way through Pasiphaë’s body and so Daedalus had to build the labyrinth to contain their monster. Their love made something they could not control, and they were afraid of it.

*

We are staying in a damp-walled house on a cobbled street in a town being eaten by the sea. We are sleeping in a bedroom with a toilet in it, separated only by a sliding sheet of chipboard. Eventually, we stop the pretence of sliding the door closed, preferring to piss in sight of each other, faking bravado, but really, we both like the intimacy.

Light falls across our naked bodies; pink and full-lipped with morning. We are on holiday and do not have to get up, so we stay in the sticky-sweet sheets. We have sprawling conversations, dream-ridden and furred with sleep.

I tell L something a clever friend said, about how often in families, behaviours are passed down and repeated. I tell him there have been generations of things falling apart. There have been dads who drink and grandads who gamble and great-grandads who leave their families to fend for themselves. I tell him I can feel all the women who came before me clamouring in the mirror to apply their lipstick before work, rubbing cold cream into their sore, cracked hands, easing aching feet into worn shoes.

My friend said that sometimes, in families, there is a person who comes along and does something to break the link. Someone who, by chance, or luck, or fear, or determination, does something different and changes the pattern. She said that this person might carry a lot of weight.

We are quiet. I know that L is thinking of families; of bad dads and hurt sons and their mothers and daughters linking arms across the years like paper dolls, holding everything together.

*

We walk across the beach and the wind blows our hair. We dive into the water, so cold that afterwards slivers of ice shoot silver through my chest and I have to put on four jumpers. We walk out to a lighthouse and press our hands to the warm, wise stone. L tells me the heat from the sun that rocks and buildings hold in their skin is called trace-warmth.

I have a packet of cornflower seeds in my jacket pocket and I pull them out and suggest that we plant them here. L says softly that they might not grow on the cliffs with the salt and the gales. He says that maybe we could keep the seeds and plant them somewhere we can watch them grow together. He is telling me he wants to stay still with me, to put down roots. This is something I have always been afraid of, but here, out on the cliffs, in the wind and the spray, there is a shift.

*

It is night and we get ready together in our damp-riddled room. Our joy is mercurial; hot and pure. We dance to Depeche Mode in our underwear, doing our eyeliner together in the strip-lit mirror.

We check our phones and see images of the Notre-Dame burning, centuries of history and symbolism going up in flames. Smoke seeps through our screens as the spire collapses. The ease with which it falls is thrilling. I watch it over and over again.

*

We go out to a restaurant and the waiter is kind and knowing. Our hope comes off us like a stink. I order salmon which is something I have never done before. It comes on a bed of avocado and as it slips down my throat I think of my grandma, her raw hands chopping and slicing fish on a market counter for all of her years.

We talk about our past year; how it has been tough and chewy, but we have found our way through it. There are no threads to guide us, there is no map for the place where we are going and that is hard but it makes us free.

After dinner we walk by the sea. The tide is high and the waves crash up onto the pavements. I grew up by the water and I tell L that teenagers were often killed by waves that rose up over the pier and pulled them in. L asks why no one did anything to stop that happening. He asks why they didn’t build a wall to keep the water away. I tell him I don’t know, that’s just how things were, still are, perhaps always will be.

L strings his fingers through mine and squeezes them gently. We turn and leave the sea behind. We don’t know our way home through the old, dark streets, but the moon is full and we walk in its luminescence.

*

Jessica Andrews’ debut novel Saltwater is published on 16 May by Hodder & Stoughton. You can order a copy here. Jessica will be reading from and discussing the book at our fiction-centric Trades Club event on 6 July. More info/tickets here.

Visit Jessica’s website here/follow her on Twitter here.