Saturday, 21 October 2017

Lí Ban

The memories rise above the surface of all others, overwhelmingly clear. She stands on the small pebble beach off the woods by the Blackwater River straddling the border between county Cork and county Waterford, bright in her old, waxy yellow raincoat, staring out across the dark swathe of water at the opposite bank heavy with foliage. Near the water, a small shack has become consumed with shrubbery, rendered inaccessible.
            Admittedly, as I traipse down the wide promenade receiving a forceful flow of sea gusts, my memory of that visit to Youghal years ago isn’t impeccable. I remember that to get to that little beach we had to walk along the motorway verge, which made me well and broil with anxiety. I remember a small rocky bay in Youghal itself, and the great green beach head jutting into the sea on the opposite side of the estuary. But I can’t remember visiting South-East Ireland with a girl in a bright yellow raincoat, and, until this day, feel that the view from the small pebble riverbank was uninterrupted by such a dandelion figure; I had stood at the edge and watched the swarthy weeds swirl in the dark water. I had skimmed stones across its flat surface.
            Two years ago? Three years ago? I feel that it had been September, and in a year where I had embarked on some sudden bout of small adventures abroad, after a decade grounded. I found myself quietly walking down the streets of Oslo, Reykjavik, Copenhagen, Warsaw, Edinburgh… It was for the cities in the night-time, preferably freezing cold too. At least that’s what I remember most from these cities; beautiful lights in a cold night sky that felt light, and silent.
            I dig my hands into my pockets in futile protection against the winds that bring in winter. I find that they are littered with holes. Barely anyone is out on the coast, but it doesn’t feel empty. What does feel empty? Concrete car parks. Corridors in Dental clinics. Shopping malls after close. I  tread from ‘empty spaces’ to ‘humanless spaces.’ I can see fields of spider webs lying low on the grass, rippling in an autumn ray of sunlight. I can see a deer browsing in the boundary of a wood, raising its head in alarm at a twig crunching. I remember the dense bramble on the other side of the Blackwater river, devouring that small shack, aswarm with kittiwakes and crabs and the occasional heron, when I see her, luminescent in that raincoat amidst the November grey in early evening, on the coast, in the real, filled out and fleshed in front of me. The yellow of her coat obliterates the greenery that gently rolled in my imagination; it reasserts herself falsely into my benign tidings over my trip to Youghal. My throat readies to pulse out questions; who are you, have we met, have we stood on a small pebble beach on the Blackwater river straddling county Cork and county Wateford in the Republic of Ireland and gazed at the heavy shrubbery on the opposite bank, when her hand quickly rises to my face, placing a single finger on my lips in hush.

            Slowly, she cranes her neck to look over the coast. I’m trying to remember her but there is sadly nothing to remember, just a blaring image in my brain of an event somehow spliced with imagination. I look at her face, which stares sternly over the water swashing onto the beach. I feel a drop, then a downpour gushes upon us, and her finger is withdrawn from my lips as she relents her serious face into a smile. The rain dribbles down the outside of her waxy yellow raincoat.

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