She had only meant to swim a little way out when a rush of movement thrust her forward. In her final moments, it wasn’t the water that got her, it was the cold. It mangled her limbs into excruciating uselessness, no matter how much she fought to keep her head above the water, foaming waves pushed her to the ocean floor. Her heart thumped a single heavy beat as she was propelled into the thick seaweed.
She had always been athletic, but she couldn't compete. It jerked her about and bent her arms behind her back. She opened her mouth in a silent scream, and the burning liquid filled it, making her eyes feel as they would burst from her head from the pressure. It hit her lungs and she knew that was it, there was no saving her now. Thrown sharply against a rock, she flailed, trying to work her way up to grab for the last breath but she convulsed and the black mass surrounding her pushed her further, faster. The corner of her skull cracked against a boulder.
So she will die.
She will die alone.
Her body was heavy against the covers, thick and soft under her blue fingertips. Salty smelling water soaked the pillows piled beneath her slowly throbbing head. The edges of the white duvet were tucked into all four corners.
Taking in breath after racking breath, feeling each one rip against her raw throat, she reached out with her tongue to lick her swollen lips. Nothing came up as she choked on the water that had lodged itself in her lungs, hurting like hell against her chest, still unable to dispel the water and breathing as though she hadn’t coughed up lava.
The rest of her body felt disabled, her bones feeling as though they’d been run through with iron rods that rendered her immobile. Eve’s eyelids felt as though they’d be sewn shut. She thought she could feel her skin tearing as she gradually peeled them open and blinked for the first time in…she didn’t know how long it had been. She even has a distant sensation of momentum, her body rocking back and forth as though she has been in a boat.
A blank space met her when she thought of anything else but what surrounded her.
A ceiling, blackened with damp, was the first thing her eyes focused on in the tiny room. A wooden chair sat across from her, the essence of a recent sitter in its cushioned seat. She lay uncomfortably in the unfamiliar bed blinking and turning her head with difficulty. The room was definitely smaller than her own, but darkness makes everything smaller.
An internal jolt made her feel as though she was on a boat, the sound of waves echoed in her ears, peacefully reminding her of shells. But there were no windows, nothing but the four grey walls that surrounded her. She blinked like an owl in the dim light.
The wardrobe in the corner had a paneled mirror down its front, reminding her instantly of the one her Nan had. Eve caught herself in the mirrored surface, her face pale and bruised all over, the skin warped and stretched by a gash that stretched all the way from her left eyebrow to the bottom of the left side of her jaw.
Something in the back of her head pulsed like a faulty light bulb, her thoughts fading in and out.
Achingly, she hauled herself into a sitting position, every muscle in her body seemed to stretch her skin, burning as though each surface vein were injected with fire. Confusion battled with pain and won, throwing her pulse into a drum beat. She stood up, wobbling on her bruised feet.
Eve was aware of two things: One, that she was completely alone, the room still with silence and two, that she was completely naked. Her breasts pointed to the floor and her arms hung limply by her sides as she just stood.
“I hope there’s no one out there,” she thought to herself, her skin burned at the idea of anyone seeing her naked. She reached out a shaking hand toward the door, its brown wood chipped and shedding its dark paint. She reached out warily and was surprised to feel it give beneath her grip, opening into a darkened corridor. Deathly conscious of her own nudity, she tried her best to cover herself up, wrapping one stinging arm across her chest.
Dust stuck to her damp skin as she walked down a long landing, motes circling her. As she went, she disturbed what she realized were mountains of socks that hung from the candelabras that lined either side of the corridor, now brightened with the amber glow that flickered behind its scratched glass.
Walking forward, she warmed to the sight of something as familiar as her own face. But she could not name it. Her thoughts came and went as slowly as the slow drip of blood or honey. A radiating warmth surrounded her like a blanket.
She wandered aimlessly, listening to herself breathe in the silence. Momentarily, something caught her eye. Something that glistened when it hit the light, a knot of necklaces drooped from the chandelier, the tangle glittering with the diamonds that mixed with it.
The floor was bare but the ceiling was covered, the chandeliers practically dripping with torn and dirtied shoelaces, bracelets wrapped themselves around the crystal drops that hung from the rusted light fixture. Reaching up she tried to grab one but it slipped out of her hands, the diamonds cutting her tingling fingertips.
She carried on walking, her body still comfortably warm.
She stopped where she was.
Her feet picked up pace as she squinted in the hazy light, carrying her forward almost under their own volition. Her brain worked like old clockwork, well worn and slow under her broken skull.
Another door now faced her, its faux wood panelling white and written across. Instantly it was familiar to her. That was it. It was the room to her sanctuary. Her bedroom. She stared at it with a feeling not unlike ecstatic happiness, which brought tears and the sense that she’d found something she had been looking for for years.
She opens the door, even the handle felt ingrained in her own mind, the gold metal lined with a rope design pressed comfortably against her palm. The orange painted walls were just as bright as she remembered them. Only they were messy. Papers covered the patterned bedsheets, strewn across the beige carpet in place of her clothes and boxes were piled up against the walls. She frowned, stepping into the room and feeling another blanket of comfort fall over her. Memories of getting ready at her dressing table each day came to her in wispy clouds. There wasn’t a window, or a light bulb that lit her passage through the room, but a mass of cardboard boxes, piled high like the walls of a fortress.
Reaching for the top box, it jumped into her arms with a surprising heaviness that threw her to the floor and covered her with its contents. The pain in her body was surprisingly lessened and she lifted herself easily, pushing the papers off her body quickly.
Scanning the papers, her eye was caught by an image, the most easily identifiable thing in the entire world. Her brown eyes stared mutely back from it. Her name glared at her from its base in a fat red font.
And then she remembered. The first moments of her death came in quick, incoherent flashes: a memory of icy water and a blinding pain, the twisting of joints. Eve’s eyes blurred as she tried to focus on the writing that curled and twisted on the paper. Slowly, she started to read, her heart beating like a jackhammer. Heat flooded her entire body, flushing her skin a bright ruby in the dim light of the room.
Have you seen this girl?
17 years old. White, 5”5', blond hair, brown eyes. Please call South Yorkshire Police if you have any information.
She took the words and crunched them in her hands, satisfied by the sound of the crinkling paper. She dropped it on the floor, leaving it with others stamped with her name. She grabbed another box., heaving it from its cardboard tower and throwing the contents over the bed. The same words over again: ‘ missing’ ‘ dead’ ‘sad’ ‘missing’ ‘missing’ ‘missing’.
The flimsy newspaper sheets flapped as she breathed a heavy sigh. Her mind was empty but, somehow, she felt she understood. She had drowned. She had been, engulfed by the sea, alone and cold and broken by the waves.
Just then, an inkling of something more tickled the corners of her memory. She reached a hand back to touch the place where it hurt the most. She felt the cold wetness that coated her fingers, against her skull and then something else. She jumped at its feel. Something sharp and hard. Bone?
She understood it. She’d broken her skull when she’d hit her head. She remembered the rock slicing through skin to the bone. The feeling of something being punctured. Her hand came back red, slick with watery blood that gathered in the lines of her palms.
A sudden tiredness fell over her and she settled against the wooden bed frame. The bed was small. Her bed. She pushed the papers away, pushed away those pictures of herself she didn’t remember being taken. Pictures that had her staring out, Bambi-eyed. Her thoughts floated above her as she started to fall into sleep. She realised she felt better.
Her skin was coated with a layer of sand when I found her, she was a rainbow of blue and purple beneath the granules. Blood washed over the stones like crimson paint that soaked into the sand around her head, the slow trickle getting slower and slower and slower until it stopped altogether. The liquid dying the stones brown until the sea reached up and washed it away, all evidence of this accident gone. All I could do was watch her go, a silent witness, a lone bystander witness to this horrendous thing.
The ambulance arrived and I saw the paramedics in green fly in with stretchers and bags of equipment strapped to their backs. I was long gone by the time they picked her up like a broken doll from the sand. The contents of her collapsed skull spilled from its beautiful bone casing like the juice of an orange crushed by a vice. It wasn’t like it is on TV, no news crews, no fainting parents, no tinfoil blanket, nothing. Just me, doing what I’ve always done, but this wasn’t the worst I’d seen. It was actually all rather calm. My job really reaps its rewards. The sea’s gentle background rhythm and its flow rushing in to cleanse, the pleasant breeze twisted her drying hair.
Her face was in the newspaper, a picture in the obituary, listed unfairly amongst the elderly. Eve Azaryan was no longer the physical person I had never met, but a crippled body on the ground and another soul for me to carry.