(Short story about the past, dealing with regret and guilt, and ultimately of letting go)
Triggers for: death
The steering wheel was tight underneath my clenched palms as the fields whipped past; tall, waving grass, the skies echoing the emptiness of the surroundings, and the rolling hills in the distance…
The place seemed like a long forgotten memory; familiar in a terrible bittersweet manner, yet as foreign as a stranger’s face on the street. It was a painful déjà vu of times that I had refused to look back on for far too long. I wiped my slightly sweaty palms on my trousers and gathered myself, everything from years and years ago crashing back like the waves against land.
I neared the cliff edge, staring at the sand a dozen meters below and the steep winding path down the cliff face. Time was the best artist; the last time the path had been clean and well worn, now it was broken down and crumbling, barely distinguishable from the cliff itself. As the sun rose, brightly reflected against the calm waters, I climbed onto the steps, pebbles dislodging as I walked down, my right shoulder brushing against the abrasive cliff wall. A few minutes later my soles met soft sand instead of sharp rock. The last time my feet were on the same ground, I was still in grade school and my heart was light and eyes bright. I undid my shoelaces and removed my socks, sand warm against my skin. I dug in my pockets for the locket that was there, pressing against my thigh; it was cold and small, the size of a pebble in my palm. Walking towards the line in the sand where the lapping waves approached and retreated from the shore, I sat down cross legged and for a moment nothing more was done.
Eventually, I took a deep breath and placed the locket onto the sand. I let the sea water tentatively surround it, tendrils pushing and tugging at its edges. My memories ebbed and flowed like the tide, and I was slowly tugged backwards as well into time, ten years ago on the very spot…
The heavy storm clouds hung low as we ran down towards the shore. Waves crashed and wind billowed furiously as her laughter rang in my ears. She turned towards me and fiddled with the locket around her neck, turning to face the ocean.
“So mighty and strong today,” she smiled and squeezed my shoulder briefly. “Let’s go for it, shall we?”
I hesitated but didn’t protest as she let go of me and took a step forward. Thunder rolled above as she stood there, taking off her locket and handing it to me.
“Mom’s going to be so mad,” I laughed. She shrugged and placed one bare foot into the water, ruffling her messy hair as a wave crashed angrily against the sand, sending water spraying at our shirts and faces.
“Do you dare me?” she asked. Her eyes were bright and alive, a storm of emotion and excitement. I slid her locket into my pocket.
“Double dare.” I grinned. Then I grabbed her arm. “Be careful.”
She shrugged me off light heartedly as I took a few steps back, avoiding the rapidly rising water. I watched her run into the sea like any other day we came here, arms spread out towards the sky as she continued laughing, her head bouncing in and out of sight as the water swallowed her steadily. I watched her as her figure grew smaller, the sky gradually darkening above. I squinted to keep an eye on her, finding myself retreating to avoid the crashing waves that roared in front of me.
“Hey,” I shouted, cupping my hands around my mouth. “C’mon, get back here! We have to get back.”
Her head bounced up for a moment, facing me. She waved.
The next moment, a wave rose, blocking her from sight, and crashing at my feet. As the wave retreated, I looked back up, and she was gone.
“C’mon! Stop playing around and get back here!”
The rumbling of the skies and sea was the only reply. Chest tightening, I ran into the water despite original hesitation, only to be pushed back by the raging ocean. I stood there for moment after moment after moment, for what must’ve been days or years, world spinning around me as the rain began pouring down, sending the surroundings into an indiscernible chaos of nature. Terrified, I turned away, lightning flashing as I began to run. I picked up speed, scrambling up the cliff path, feeling too numb for tears; I ran and ran and didn’t stop, for miles and miles, and that night when I returned home, I couldn’t say a word anymore.
She was declared missing, and never found again.
The present slowly called back like a distant swan song, and I returned to the warm sun, the lonely call of the sea gulls in the distance. I brushed my hand against the old locket, and took a deep breath, the weight against my chest intertwining with the cool feel of the locket that bridged the past and the present. It was a bridge that had been walked too many times before. Brief flashes of memory flickered in front of me and I pushed them back, an easier job than before. This time I didn’t let myself get caught anymore; instead I untangled my limbs and ribs and shed off the knots back into the present, solidifying the surroundings that were around me here and now.
I grabbed the locket again. It was the first time I had taken it outdoors and the first time I had returned here for ten long years. My bones felt heavy and my breathing tight and difficult, sharp against my ribs. I reached into my pocket again and retrieved a small folded note. The ink had slightly seeped through, and I could make out the shaky handwriting, a confession that I had written ten years back and had hidden away, just like the memories, in a dark recess where I had hoped at that time I would never find again. Yet here it was, in my hand, and here I was, where everything had happened. I had tried to run for so long, and I only ended up running back.
I opened the locket, the rusty hinges swinging open. I half expected there to be something inside, a huge revelation, an epiphany, but there was nothing. I slid the note inside and closed the lid back again, holding it tightly and feeling the metal edges dig into my skin.
I stood up, the chain of metal swinging slightly as the waves retreated slowly again, my feet sinking in the damp sand. I faced the water, my heart beating against my throat, and hands shaking slightly, the sweat building on my palms.
The chain whipped against the back of my hand as I drew my arm back, and with a single movement, threw the locket far into the sea. It landed in the distance quietly, silently, barely breaking the ocean surface as it vanished from sight. The world was still, and the waves continued to lap slowly at my feet, a metronome of the universe. I waited until my heart rate caught up with the rhythm and my breathing steadied; I waited until the ground stood still and the tightness in my chest unwound, the weight on my back slid off, slowly, gradually, sinking through the ground like the locket was into the depths of the ocean. Without a lingering second, I turned around, walking through the sand and picking up my shoes and socks along the way. The voices of the ocean called out to me from all around, and while before the sounds would have hurt like shards in my chest, now they simply drifted past me like a warm, calm breeze. I headed up the cliff side path and back to the hillside, the fresh air billowing around me. Opening the car door, I slid in and without another look, I backed it away from the cliff side and returned to the dirt path, heading steadily in the other direction and onto the highway once more. The sun continued rising steadily, and the horizon swallowed me into its depth as I let out a breath I had been slowly and silently holding for ten long years.