“Just a quick one” the old fat policeman had asked. “A young kid like you shouldn’t have to serve time for vagrancy now should she?”
It was the beginning of the end for her; she knew that now. “Just a quick one.” God how many times had she been asked that by the police, the protectors of society?
‘An extended social group having a distinctive cultural and economic organization.’ She had remembered reading up on the word society in a dictionary when at school.
She opened her eyes and shivered in the chill of the morning. Sitting up, she leaned her back against the sandy bank and rubbed the sleep from her still tired eyes. It was not yet light, except for a faint achromatic strip of gray blue on the horizon.
She wrapped her skinny arms around her chilled body, but they gave no warmth, no comfort to her emaciated frame, old before its time. She would not be warm again until the sun came well over the horizon. She groaned inwardly and drew her legs up to her body wrapping her arms around them, resting her cheek on her knees. She closed her eyes and mind to what she was to do, what she had to do soon. It had to be soon otherwise she would change her mind, and the agonizing days of coming to the final decision would have all been wasted.
“I wish that I could hold myself so tight that I could squeeze myself to the size of grain of sand and have the seas wash me away” she thought as she drifted off into a disturbed slumber.
The sun peeked at last over the distant horizon and sent a path of gold streaking across the sea towards her, its glare hurt her now open eyes as she felt its meager warmth. She shut them tight and waited, waited for the sun to warm her chilled body so that she could move her aching limbs more easily. Soon she would never be cold again; soon she would be going home, wherever home was. Not that it mattered for any place would be better then the hard bed of sand, which had been her resting place for the past week. She slowly stood up, her legs barely holding her weight. She reached back to lay her hand on the sand bank so that she might steady herself. She had to regain the strength in her legs to enable them to carry her to the waters edge.
She stood swaying slightly, and then steadied hers self. Her thin cotton dress was grimy and creased. Looking down at it she started to brush the sand from it, but gave up, as the movement made her feel dizzy. For an instant she though of her grandmother giving her house “A quick go over before the cleaning lady came”. So she began to run her fingers through her hair trying hard to put some shape back into it, but even that was too much for her. She just stood there, eyes closed. She began to sing an old Sunday school song that suddenly came into her head. “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam to lighten up each day”. She was not sure of the words and so she hummed most of it. After humming it again she felt somewhat better to face up to what she had to do.
The sun, though not fully raised from her bed, warmed her frail body, as slowly she walked to where the sea carried froth and weed onto the cold sand. Soldier crabs came out backwards from their holes bringing with them a ball of sand and depositing it some distance from their home. “At least they had a home,” she thought. She stopped when a dead Jelly Fish bumped against her toes, its tentacles long eaten by fish as it drifted with the tide. Its semi transparent body lay there like a lump of bluish jelly. She pushed it back into the water.
She was not afraid of what she was about to do. She knew what it was like to be afraid. Since the age of fourteen she had been afraid of her mother’s De facto husband, afraid of the street louts and the police, but most of all she had been afraid of herself, for she no longer had an identity, she was a nobody, a worthless piece of humanity, invisible to everybody and everything. “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam” she hummed again.
“I’m seventeen,” she said out loud. “Seventeen and I feel seventy, God how I hate the world, how I hate humanity. Why God, why, why, why?” She clenched her fists in anger and beat them against some invisible thing. Stooping she picked up the Jelly Fish and flung it as far as she could back into the sea. “Stupid thing” she yelled after it. “Your not supposed to die and have the fish pick at you, your stupid do you her me your stupid”. Dropping to her knees she looked up to the ever-lightening sky, “Oh God let it be quick” she half sobbed.
She knelt there for sometime, and then finally she was calm again and shakily got to he feet. The water was cold as it played around her toes. She looked down at them; her toenails needed cutting, “Why would I notice that?” she thought to herself. “Why at this very moment did I notice my toe nails needed cutting? Silly” she thought as a cold breeze made her catch her breath. The sun was more than half the size a golden dollar piece above the horizon, but still not warm enough to take the nights chill out of her body. The breeze continued to blow, wrapping her thin cotton dress around her thin body. She looked down at herself, and on impulse ran her hands over her small breasts, down over her flat stomach and bony hips. “I was pretty once,” she said to herself. “My gran said I was the prettiest girl in the street”.
She could not remember taking the first step, but found that she had walked further into the sea; her thin dress trying to float to the surface. She closed her eyes again against the glare of the sun, which was now viewing the scene-taking place below its burning eye.
“Why am I holding my dress down?” she thought as it began to billow out around her thighs.
Was it the thought that she had tried so many times to hold it down from groping dirty hands? Instinct maybe; the thought of self-preservation to preserve that, which was most precious to her?
The remembrance of words spoken in a film she had seen a long time ago came to her mind. A prison guard in the gas chamber was giving advice to the man who was about to die. She remembered the words now as if it had only been yesterday that she had seen the film. He said, “When you hear the pellets drop into the water breathe in as deeply as you can and it will soon be over”. “Yes” she thought, “Breathe in deeply”. But she was not strapped to a chair waiting for pellets to drop, she was standing waist deep in the waters of a calm cold sea, but the guards last few words kept repeating in her mind “Breath deeply and it will soon be over”. She no longer bothered to hold down her dress, it did not matter anymore; it was only the sea that lifted it, the friendly, kind gentle sea that caressed her thighs. The sea would soon take her home and away from her misery.
A dog barked somewhere, and a gull screeched overhead. She became aware of the water lapping at her stomach and she laid her palms upon the water as if to smooth the small waves out. It came to her that she did the same to the sand during the night, and in the smoothed out patch she had written the words “Sorry”, repeating the same at least half a dozen times. The only other time she could remember saying sorry was when her mothers De facto had tried to molest her. When she would not let him he told her mother that she had made the suggestion to him. She was made to say sorry for something that she did not do, would never dream of doing. But in the end he had taken her on a number of occasions. “It’s a man’s thing darling,” her mother had said.
She did not panic as the sandy bottom dropped away from under her. She did not even float, but slowly sank deeper into even colder water. She could remember reaching out to touch a curious fish, which came to investigate this strange looking creature whose strange fins seemed to float in motion with the incoming tide.
It was then she realized that she had not breathed. Her lungs hurt, and for the first time she panicked, not because she was about to die, but that she had forgotten the advice of the guard. She took her first breath and felt the cold water enter her lungs. She gagged as she tried to breath properly, but she only succeeded in taking in more water into her now over filled lungs. Her heart pounded in her chest and her head began to spin. Then as if a veil had been lifted she felt an overwhelming peace descend upon her. Her heart had stopped pounding; in fact it did not beat at all. As the last fragments of thoughts came and went, gently she lay on the white bed of sand, her now untangle hair drifted about her face with the movement of the tide, while the last of her breath trickled from her nose and rose to greet the warm sun.
The guard had been right “Breath deeply” and though her past life had not passed in front of her eyes, she was glad, for she had no desire to be reminded of it. She felt at peace for the first time in many years as she looked down at herself lying on the beach which only days before she had slept upon.
“I pulled her up in one of my nets” spoke the old trawler man. “Out there in the bay. Pretty young thing, cant be more than seventeen, makes you wonder why they go and do such a silly thing”
The policemen nodded in agreement as he pulled her dress down over her thin white legs.
She felt a warm gentle hand upon her shoulder. He stood there smiling at her, a man, as bright as the brightest sun and with the kindest smile showing through his bearded face, and eyes as blue as the sea she had been taken from
“It is time” he said “Time to go home”.