Youd like to say she was your one true love and you hers, but this is not true. You drifted together and drifted apart, and the only truth between you was silence. Once, at night when your thumbs pressed into the hollows in the secret soft dips of her thighs and she rocked under the heat of your mouth, then, then, you thought it was forever.
You were young, although she was not.
In the wrack and driftwood of the place where she sleeps, in the sea-stiff blankets and the matted rushes of her bed, lie the bones of her life. If you had been wise you could have read them there, the verdigris coins, the seashells, the half-done salt-stained sketch of the woman with long black hair, the snatches of knotted fishnet and the half-moon mother-of-pearl beads and the mirror and the comb. You thought she held stories in the blue of her eyes and the tangles of her hair and if you found the right words to ask shed give you everything, but Suzanne had no tales to tell.
She was the tale.
When she lay under you, your mouth on the nacre-smooth coral pink of her skin and the oyster pearl of the heart of her rolled on your tongue, you thought you loved her. When you looked up, you saw wonder in the liquid brightness of her eyes and the bite of her teeth in the perfect breaking curve of her mouth. You had to tease her thighs apart and you thought her shy, but you were drowning yourself, in the newness of the curl of her hair and the scent of her skin. This, this, her hand in yours, the sting of her smile, the knife-edge delicacy of her footsteps and the way you dreamed her heart held in your hands, Suzanne. Oh, Suzanne.
You were fishing for the moon.
When you look back that summers lost in the wash of the tide. You remember the lucent mother-of-pearl of her fingernails and the sweep of her long fair hair, the sound of the wash of the waves and the pattern of pebbles cast by the sea. The gimcrack gilding on the figurehead outside the bar, the sounding splatter of chewing tobacco spat onto stone, the way her clothes folded and tore in your hands. You said to her
Because you were too young to know that not every woman is your sister under her skin
- what are you looking at? I see you here every day.
Because under the gloss of your clothes and your shoes youre not (youre not) the same girl that they see, the fishermen and fisherwives and fishermans daughters and fishermens sons, when theyre scrubbed up for church or salt-tar swaggering on the dockside. And Suzanne, Suzanne is dangerous, you know it by the scatter of children at her shadow and the crossed fingers of the women as she walks, by the clawed, ragged edges of her clothes and the tiny points to her small white teeth.
But she uncurled her hand and gave you a shell, as small as your fingernail, as convoluted as a wave. You laughed. You said, oh, thats, thats not
Then she looked at the shape of your mouth and the way your hair blew loose in the wind from the sea and smiled. She took your hand and folded it around the shell, and then you thought, oh.
So thats it.
Her names Suzanne. You know it from the whispers that follow you along the street, from the frown of the maid brushing sand from the folds of your sheets and the snap of your brothers mouth in the morning. But when you say it to her when you breath it to her, the first time, her fingertips on your mouth she looks at you as if the word means nothing, although the first time you gasp the word damp against her skin she laughs. Youll write your own name in the palm of her hand, pressed into the underside of her breasts, along the breathtaking curve of her spine. Her name, youll write with your tongue against the sea-shell curves of her cunt, although you will never know what words she writes against yours. You think its her first time, your first time, tentative and unstoppable, and when she runs her mouth along your damp fingers and nuzzles between your thighs you can hardly breath for the fear and wonder. Suzanne, you say, Suzanne, and later the word is nothing but a broken gasp and your hands are wrapped in the strands of her hair and you cant, you cant. You have to pull her away, and she slides up your body with her face damp, smiling, smelling of the salt bitter taste of your own flesh.
Suzanne never swims.
Catch her with your ear to her mouth and your fingers inside her, your thumb against the rise of her flesh, and when she comes shell moan like the sea on a neap tide at the cusp of the year, her thighs snapped shut and her ankles so tightly pressed together the bones leave bruises on her skin. Shes obsessed with the back of your thighs, your hips, the small of your back. Shed run her fingers over and over against the skin, searching, looking, and sigh and pull away. Her fingers creep back, inevitable, as if theres a scar on your skin only she can find.
- what is it?
You are not her only lover. The first time you saw her, under the gasping, heaving body of a man you would recognise later on the quayside, you run. Although you cannot but remember the way her hands clutched at the small of his back, the way she clawed at yours, as if there was something new and strange under the skin. You saw her face. It was nothing to her, the grunts and sweat of that coupling. You creep back: she smiles as if nothing has changed. You spend the summer bruised, waking at midnight to walk the tide line with her hand in yours, crawling into the wreck of her bed.
When autumn comes, you leave.
Ten years later you come back. The houses are the same, the salt-scratched paint work and the buckled tiles and the pink sea-campion along the walls. The road leads as it always did down to the harbour, although the fishing boats seem smaller and dirtier and the stacked creels on the quayside are tatty and worn. The sea, indifferent, rolls against the stones of the jetty and the sand of the beach as it always had. There is nothing to see and two hours before the rattletrap taxi will take you back to the train, will take you back to the city. The sea smells of iodine. The quay smells of dead fish. Its always a mistake to think everything stays the same.
The door to the bar is open.
Through the bottle-green glass of the window you see her walk down to the tide, and beside you a man in his cups says, her. I had her. Someone else laughs. Is she still alive? I swear, I saw her on the rocks by the bay, combing her hair in the light of the moon. The seals were singing.
She looks exactly as she did when you were ten years younger.
did you see her?
Polly, sweet Polly with her curls and her ribbons and bows, Polly leans on the bar and says, Hey Mister
she says, despite the curve of your breasts under your suit and the
fine skin of your jaw. In the city, they see what you are.
You stand at the bar with your glass in your hand and you say, yes, Suzanne.