Ashore

At the edge of the beach there is a hexagon of ice and she can put one foot on it.  Another step and another.  Floating walkway to me.  There’s her boot – laces crossing, crossing – holding her small foot.  She’s placing it so carefully. I’m willing her to balance well there – keep herself from the water.

The night is clear.  The moon, almost full, throws white light on her coasting steps.  I know she can do this.  I’ve watched her before, making the crossing when the sky was darker.  Taken her hand to pull her ashore on colder nights than this.   I don’t call out.  I know she needs to concentrate if she’s going to make it.

And she knows I’m here on our island. I’ll wrap her in wool and we’ll sleep on a pocket of moss between the rocks.   Our fire spitting sparks at the sky.   She knows the stone owls on the shore will turn to feather and beak as we sleep.  They won’t let anyone near.  They can bite to the bone.

And in the morning I’ll take her to the tower again.  We’ll walk across the island, jump tussocky grass and stop by the stream.  Once she saw an otter.  She tells me every time that once she saw an otter and every time I smile because she forgets that I saw an otter too.

We’ll be at the tower when the sun is highest in the sky.  The tower stands on its shadow and there’s one way up into the light.  It’s a climb.  I tell her, every time, just look at the next step.  I’ll be behind you.  And she takes that turning flight, pressing on her burning thighs, gulping at life, spliced with sick and dizzy.  Come on.

And from the top there’s our island – our stone beasts and waterfalls, our caves and pine trees like arrows to the sky.   The ramparts are flecked with lichens.  They grow so slow, you know?  I do know.   She forgets.   She forgets so much when she’s out there.   But at least she remembers the way back to me.

I take her to the shore and she climbs into the yellow rowing boat.  In her pack there’s a new jumper, pens, stamps, cheese sandwiches and mint humbugs.  There’s a thermos of coffee and a blank map – folded over and over.  I tell her, try to remember to fill this in, and I know she won’t.  Like I know the boat will be lost somewhere.  But, it doesn’t matter.  She’s feisty, she’s solid, she will find her way to the water’s edge again and she will walk across ice floes to the island.  She will come when she needs to.

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