Her toes sank into the silver sands. The waves crashed over them and around her. She closed her eyes and reached her arms out to the sea. Her father snatched her up, bundled her into a towel, and into the car.
Her father refused to teach her to swim. They moved to the middle of the country, locked in by land. She dreamed of waves, of salt in the air, of a soft voice calling out to her. They never spoke of her mother. She had found a picture of a young woman sitting on the beach where they used to live. She was smiling, her teeth white and bright, golden brown limbs outstretched, black hair whipping in the wind, her lovely hands caressing her swelling belly. She didn’t remember her mother, but she knew her. She sang to her mother in the shower, she felt her mother’s kisses on her skin when it rained, she saw her mother’s face in puddles and ponds.
Her father’s hands were chapped and scarred. He had been a fisherman, now he repaired roofs. He coughed and itched. His cheek was scratchy against her lips. She knew he loved her, but it wasn’t enough. She applied to study by the sea. He refused.
In the dead of the night, she left him to find her own way there. The summer nights were cold. She walked through towns and villages, slept on benches and inside bus stops as she headed to the coast. Her shoes wore out and her jeans ripped. The ground was broken glass beneath her feet, her thighs rubbed raw against one another. She washed in public toilets and collected coins from the pavement. She called home to hear her father’s voice but said nothing.
One day as she walked through a new town, a black car pulled up beside her. The windows rolled down. A pale young man with shining dark hair and flashing green eyes smiled at her. Let me help you get to where you need to go, he said. She asked him to take her to the sea, or as close as was convenient for him. He opened the door. She got in, grateful for the softness of the white leather seats under her aching limbs.
He took her to a palace made of marble and gold. Come in for a moment, he said. Then you can go. But once she did, she couldn’t.
There was a large porcelain tub to sink into, but the water scalded her skin. She had delicious food to eat, but it could turn sour in an instant with one look from him. Their bed was soft, made from the feathers of swans and geese, but she struggled to sleep. He gave her fine clothes and jewels to wear, but she felt worthless. She soon found herself being prodded and stitched into a frothy white concoction of lace, silk and pearls. He decided they would wed on his yacht.
For you, he said, although she knew it was not.
The night before the wedding, she was alone. She stepped out onto the balcony and drank in the ocean with her eyes. The black waves crashed upon one another. A soft voice sang through the din. She took off her nightgown and fell into her mother’s embrace.