The International Writers Magazine

Lauren Almey

ames thought that her voice was full of stars.
The December wind whipped his cheeks and lashed his ears so that he thought it might draw blood. His hands were no longer his; they belonged to some wizened, gnarly old man with crusty knuckles. Like a turtle, he tucked his head down further into the fluffiness of his scarf. He coughed.

Alice was gripping the metal bars of the fairground gate, looking in wistfully at the hibernating machinery, her nose bright red, her lips slightly cracked, her scalp and ears kept snug by a dark purple cotton hat, which she occasionally tugged at to cover the back of her head more and more. She was one of those girls complimented by winter; her ivory face shone like ice with both cheeks absurdly, adorably red, her green eyes had added depths when they looked out through rain or snow, and the fact that her hair wouldn’t stay curled properly didn’t matter in frenzied weather conditions- when hanging straight and spilling down the hood of her coat, it looked like glass that had somehow trapped shadows within its layers.
James let her image envelop him. His limbs heated. She was still talking, but she was too far away and her words were stolen from him by the greedy wind. He thought that her voice was full of sunrays that danced on the surface of the sea.

Eventually Alice let go of the gate and walked to his side. She smiled and rubbed her gloved hands over his numb ears, her playful roughness making him yelp and grin back at her.
"Sorry this was a stupid idea, we’d better head off before you catch pneumonia."
"Aren’t you freezing?" James asked.
"Snug as a bug." She linked her arm with his, squeezing him with her elbow joint and patting his lower arm with her free hand, attempting to transfer heat. As they strolled, it was as if winter had fallen away, and there was no kind of weather or atmosphere or planet at all, just the air they breathed in and out like clouds, and the closed pier behind them, and the warm house awaiting them.
"Nice day for a walk."
"I think so. You didn’t have to come!"
"And miss this nostalgic trip to the seaside? Never!"
"Stop teasing. It’s a beautiful day, look at that sky. And the sea, I love it when it’s so choppy and foamy. We don’t have to come again now until spring, I just wanted to see it once more before everyone goes home."
"I guess it’s quite a festive activity." James let out a heavy sigh, and glanced to his right, at the raging sea behind the barrier wall.
"What’s wrong?"
"Nothing, just…not sure if I’m ready to go home."
"It’s only for a couple of weeks James you clown. And it’s Christmas! God, you’ve been such a grouch this past week, do you really hate the festive season that much?"
"No, not at all, I’m looking forward to seeing my family of course, friends…"
"All the food…"
"Yes, sure, the whole thing, the whole…Christmas palarva, I honestly enjoy it. It’s just…"
"Just what!?"

Alice was smiling at him, her face up close, as if she were probing his pores for clues. Her gaze seemed to enter his bones and rattle them, bringing him out of the chill, the dark, ice, wind, time. As the warmer months had faded into the rustiness of autumn, and he had begun seeing her every day again, and mornings had grown darker and nights nearer, and fallen leaves were replaced by coats of white dust, the transition had crossed into him somehow too. James felt himself metamorphosing when he was around her. She made him want to shed his skin and blend into hers.
"We’ve spent so much time together this term Alice. It’ll be strange not to be around you." He spoke so quietly he wasn’t even sure himself if he’d said the words out loud. His feet had stopped moving. He dragged his gaze from the anaemic ground and rested it on her.
Alice was looking straight ahead, her huge mouth spread open with a smile radiating happiness. James could taste his heart at the back of his throat.
"Do you…I mean do you feel…Alice?"

She pulled herself from him, yanking away her body, her heat, and started walking hurriedly forwards along the promenade. With her movement, the warmth in every cell of James’s body melted away, so that each hair on his arm spiked up, and his skin crisped, his torso tensed, his chest had to brace itself again against the onslaught of the tortuous sea-gale. He found himself terrified of looking beyond her.
Alice was running into the hysterical white horses of the sea. He watched as her purple hat was consumed by wave after wave, in a matter of seconds. The wind, which had once been so selfish, now threw back at him across the dulled sands the tinkling of her laughter.

James was, in fact, alone. The pier’s neon glistened behind him, a failed beacon, a guiding light which had not brought her back to the shore, then, now, or ever. Alice existed now only in the seasons; her eyes were the frost that James skidded on whenever he stepped outside, her hair was spread across the sky in late afternoon every day since October, her loss and his grief were manifested in every single blow of the winter’s bluster.
James restarted his walk down the promenade, displaying proudly to the violent waters a crown of memories, bejewelled by a beautiful drowned girl with emblazoned cheeks, now immortal on the wind.

© Lauren Almey December 2005

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