Flash fiction prompt 17 and 18, because Marker and Buoy really needed to be written together. I had a mild panic at being a day ahead of myself, but I have a photoshoot on Friday so it’s unlikely I’ll get any writing done that day and it’ll all even out in the end. Perfectionistic sigh of relief!
Content warning for mentions of drug use.
I’d like to pretend it was completely out of the ordinary for me to be doing lines of speed at five o’clock in the morning, but back then it wasn’t. It had been a rough year. I don’t want to get into why but a lot of things were normal for me then that I would never have considered before and I’m glad they are now part of my past instead of my present. It was going to be a long drive and I had only had two hours sleep. That was my excuse. I was very good at making excuses. Excuses made me. I was made of excuses. Or some arrangement of those words.
I wore huge dark glasses, partly because the light gave me a headache and partly because I wanted to hide my bloodshot eyes from the world. Red from being awake too much. Red from crying too often. Red from the cycle of amphetamines and sedatives. I looked like shit but the dark glasses made it all seem a bit less nervous-breakdown-and-drug-habit and a bit more this-is-my-quirky-alternative-style. The glasses went with my messy hair and pale skin and bones that shouldn’t have been quite as visible as they were. Totally intentional, all of it. Or so I told myself. I don’t know how convinced anyone else was of that but as I said, excuses.
You promised to take your job as navigator very seriously, although I questioned your sincerity as soon as you cracked open a beer. Travelling in convoy was too complicated so we’d all set off at the same time and agreed to meet at the lodge. Our car was packed with all the things we would need for a week in the middle of nowhere, including a bag in a box in another bag containing all the pills and powders that would keep us in a state of gloriously wide-eyed disorientation for a few days.
When we were about half way there, I realised I’d forgotten my hair brush and phone charger. You told me it didn’t matter and I got angry because you didn’t understand that it did matter, not because I couldn’t live without my hair brush and phone charger but because I’d forgotten them and I never forgot anything and who even was I anymore? I started to cry, then I pulled in to the side of the road and threw up on the hard shoulder.
The further we drove, the more astoundingly beautiful the scenery became. I witnessed this shift from one world to another through tears and tinted lenses, wishing I was beyond my burdens and imagining them trailing by a rope behind the car and breaking into pieces on the road. There were more tears for the forests and the bridges and the mountains, and the white sand beaches and the turquoise waves and the endless sky you said never got properly dark at this time of year.
When we finally arrived after seven hours driving—the first ones there—I got out and immediately sat down on the grass next to the lodge. I didn’t want to unpack. I didn’t want to do anything. The air tasted different, fresh, clean, and a thought arrived unbidden in my head—if I was going to do it, this would be the perfect place. I didn’t know what ‘it’ was. Maybe this would just be the perfect place to do anything.
The party started. Nights and mornings drifted into each other, ecstasy giving way to exquisite exhaustion, to sleeping through hours that didn’t need to be counted. A fire on the beach and light and shadows dancing on the rocks. A theatre of dreams, of memories from before time was measured with numbers. Everything that had been filed under ‘coping mechanism’ during the last few months had, in this place, become simply an exploration of joy. All the chemicals I had been pouring into my body for months to stop the feeling of the walls closing in around me were now nothing more than sparks in an endless, open sky. I felt a sense of catharsis, of something like potential at the edges of my consciousness.
On the fifth night, I walked off on my own to look for driftwood to burn. At some point on the way back I tripped and fell, landing safely on the soft sand but cutting my arm on the wood I was carrying. When I returned to the fire, you asked if I needed something to stop the bleeding. Without even looking, I said I was alright, that finally the bleeding had stopped by itself. You laughed and said I always did have a dramatic way with words. But I was only telling the truth and you didn’t know how to hear it.
On the last morning, I woke up early, bathed in clarity and understanding. I got up quietly and walked down to the beach. The sunlight reflecting off the ripples on the ocean was almost blinding, but it didn’t matter. There was a marker buoy out in the bay and I knew that as long as I could see it, nothing else was important. The water was cold but not painfully so and soon I was beyond the point where my feet could touch the seabed. I swam until my arms ached with a memory of strength long forgotten, out to the buoy, around it and back to shore. Some of my burdens may have broken on the road but the rest I left in the water. A fitting burial.
When I got back to the lodge, everyone was awake and packing to leave. You had laid out the last of the speed on a small mirror, to help me with the drive home. To your surprise, I said I didn’t need it. I explained that I was OK, I was really OK. And for the first time in a year, in spite of everything, I meant it.
About the photo
Although the place in the story is based on a real place (where I went on a real holiday with real people and might or might not have taken real drugs), it is not the place in the photo. The place in the photo is a different beach in a different country, just as meaningful to me and almost as beautiful.