We painted the walls together. Alex had already picked the colour. Had some hippy notion that we should blend in seamlessly with our surroundings: be at one with the sky.
A whole summer we spent in this place, our skin turning salty; lickable. Just the two of us photographing seabirds, ticking off lists.
‘You’ll get bored, Cass,’ Mum had warned me. But Alex and I answered the advert anyway. His degree in biological science and my experience at the sanctuary easily secured us the gig.
We couldn’t wait to set up the telescopes that first evening, almost as soon as the helicopter touched us down. Made ourselves potted meat sandwiches with apples and coffee. Celebrated the summer ahead of us, as we listened to the birds tucking up their young ones, hiding our eyes from the strawberry-coated sun. We’d never have believed that when the rain did come, it would pound so hard that we thought the ceiling might cave in.
You were born right there on that battered old armchair. If you’d waited just a little longer, we’d have been safely back on the mainland, readying a makeshift nursery in the spare bedroom at Mum’s.
Alex rang three nines, of course, but the tide was as playful as a bullmastiff puppy: a bunch of holidaying kids had out strayed too far with their nets and buckets – got caught on the rocks, and had to scream and wave for help. And while their parents anxiously watched the rescue, I crossed my legs and pressed my face to the mothballed fabric. Prayed you’d hang on till somebody came.
Like just-wound clockwork, Alex paced from window to window to window, scanning the empty horizon for dots. It was him who noticed first: a dark trickle staining the soft beige upholstery. I was too busy sinking my teeth into it. Calling out for Mum, and timing gaps.
‘Cass,’ he said. ‘Oh God, Cass, you’re bleeding.’
He pulled at my knickers, just as you crowned. You were quick for a firstborn, slippery, uncatchable. Neither of us knew to feel for the cord.
It seemed like the right time to come back here; to do this. How could I not notice the rising damp, or the peeling paintwork, the trailing cables? Or the smashed in windows lining each wall? Your chair’s where it always was, but the seat has gone missing. No one can tell you’ve long been scrubbed away.
I make for the window, the blue of the sky beyond it, as broken glass crunches under foot like shimmery pink shells. My fingers fumble at the clasp of the heart-shaped locket I’ve worn at my neck for the past eighteen years. I take in the blurry coastline, hear the lone call of a cormorant. And I blow your ashes on the wind.
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