by Andrew Davis
Wait. In this moment, patience is key. The wave reaches a crest, falls and breaks, collapsing in on itself. The pebble is flat and round, the sea in front of you now perfectly still. Your wrist snaps, and the pebble skims across the water, one-two-three-four-five. Then, like the wave, it too breaks its course, and sinks beneath the surface.
You learn the importance of waiting when you are a little girl. Wait, watch and listen before crossing the road. Wait patiently in line in the dinner queue. Stay in your room, and wait for mother and father to stop shouting at each other before going downstairs.
You stoop, sorting through the shingle as you look for appropriate stones, discarding anything that is too thick, square, or uneven. After a time, you find four pebbles in your right hand, and once again, you wait for the wave to break. When the time is right, you cast the stone towards the sea, and it skims across the water, one-two-three-four.
Aged seventeen, you sit in a waiting room, thumbing through an old, crumpled magazine, trying to avoid the discomfiting stare of the middle-aged man sat opposite you. You asked to go with mother, but she said you are too young. Just wait, she said. I’ll send someone when it happens. There is an agonizing creak as the door opens, and a nurse steps through, calls out your name. Her voice is soft, sympathetic. You ask her if you could have a moment alone before joining your mother. Of course, says the nurse. I’ll wait right outside. It’s finally happened. Father is gone. Just for a second, you give in, and let a guilty smile tug at the corners of your mouth.
The next pebble is larger than the others, and feels strange in your hand, slightly uncomfortable. You consider discarding it, moving on to another, but reject this option. When you throw it, you cannot get the snap of your wrist quite right, and it bounces against the water just one-two-three times.
You are twenty-five years old, and Robin is teaching you to skip stones. “The trick”, he says, “is to wait. Take the time to find one that is flat and round enough, then take a moment to line it up with the water.” The picnic basket sits a few feet away, underneath the old oak tree. You do as Robin says, and cast the stone out, inches above the water, until it skims across the lake, one-two-three. You squeal with joy, exclaim I did it! and spin round to kiss him. As you pull back, your hands in his, you notice he is shaking. You are not ready for the words that form on his lips.
“Will you marry me?”
Your reply is a stutter, an apology, almost.
The champagne you bought for your second anniversary sits unopened in the picnic basket, glinting in the sun.
There is a tight, constricted feeling in your chest. Only two pebbles remain. You close your eyes, and throw one, no longer waiting for the waves to break. You open your eyes, watch the stone bounce one-two times before disappearing in a rising wave.
It is two days before you go to skip stones at the beach. Once again, you and Robin are celebrating your anniversary. You idly wonder how he will propose this year. It has become a routine: every year, on your anniversary, he asks you to marry him, and you decline. For a moment, you consider saying yes, this time.
There is a knock at the door. Robin enters. He speaks, and his voice shakes.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he says. “Unless. Just, please, just give me a reason to believe you’ll say yes one day.”
You remain silent. You hear mother and father shouting at one another while you wait in your room, alone.
Just wait, be patient. He’s having doubts, but those will pass. Don’t let things escalate. Just wait.
After he walks out of the door, you continue to wait. He will come back. You know he will.
You breathe slowly, deeply. Tap your fingers against the last remaining pebble, one at a time. Just find it, that patience, that ability to wait, and hold onto it. But a scream builds inside you, starting in the pit of your stomach, until you open up your lungs and throat, and let it out. As the scream carries across the deserted beach, you hurl the final pebble towards the sea. You fall to your knees, the edge of the ocean soaking into your jeans. There is a distant splash as the stone hits the surface of the water for the one and only time, and sinks.
by Andrew Davis
We met while hiding from a party. When you share our condition, hiding at parties becomes rather a necessity: the living get something of a fright if you try to join the festivities.
“I’m Joshua,” he said, with an awkward half-smile.
“Aiden,” I replied.
His face shifted into an expression of discomfort.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
“My back is killing me.”
“Killing you? That’s the turn of phrase you’re going to go for?”
“It is, though. That’s the thing they don’t warn you about, when you become a ghost. You die with a sprained back, and you have to, for the want of a better phrase, live with it, for the rest of time. Imagine that, being in need of medical attention for eternity.”
His face scrunched up in the most adorable way when he ranted. Deciding to take a chance, I offered him my hand.
It’s hard holding hands, when you’re a ghost. The translucent space that used to be your fingertips reaches out to the translucent space that used to be his fingertips, and you curl them in, holding them next to one another. Then you close your eyes, and pull the memory to the front of your mind, a memory of warmth, of skin against skin, of the palm of someone’s hand pressed against your own.
Andrew Davis lives in Wales, and works in education. He writes a mix of prose and poetry about everyday life through a slightly off-kilter lens, what it’s like to live with a mind riddled with self doubts, and how the world could be if people were kinder. Three poems are published in an anthology by Roath Writers, To the Sofa And Back Again. And a number of short stories have been published in: Black Pear Press, Fictive Dream & Visual Verse.