I used to live in a grey stone terrace. It was not remarkable. The girl next door was.
The neighbours had been completely mundane up until that point. They came and went and vanished into their houses, houses exactly the same as mine but maybe oppositely arranged. Then he, Number Twenty-Three, brought the girl back from the sea.
He had been visiting an aunt or a friend or on business, it doesn’t matter which. I heard the diesel chugging of a taxi pull up, like a milk cart pulling over cobbles. We didn’t get many taxi cabs in the street so I gave way to my curiosity and twitched the curtains. And there she was. All silver and reflection. Her hair shimmered in the dishwater morning light as though it were the inside of oyster shells, spun into gossamer. She slipped up the path and disappeared out of view.
The girl would go out every day and everyday I would watch her across the road and down the pavement. She wouldn’t falter or quaver in her route. Not straight, but her line was direct nonetheless. She would return in a matter of hours with no shopping and no evidence of where her feet had taken her. I shifted my desk so I could see more clearly. She moved like mercury spilt on a marble floor. I can’t remember what she wore only what she was. She was the sea, or part of it at least. Number Twenty-Three had not brought back a woman, he had returned with the ocean. Like when children gather too many pebbles and stones on seaside visits. His bucket was brimming over with too much of the sea to comfortably keep
She was brimming over with salty water and weighed heavily on the dry land. I could feel it every time she passed. The pull of her on this inland town and this bone dry terrace.
Then, one day, it rained and I saw her pause opposite my window. She wavered on the spot like a tendril of seaweed in current and moved on. But she had paused. In the rain she had looked at a puddle. The one that always forms there, between the sagging paving slabs. She had given it a look so direct it was almost a command. When she returned the sun had been shining long enough to dry out the street and she returned just as she did any of the other days.
The weather was infuriatingly dull for the next week. I would listen to the forecast as soon as I was up and curse at the clear blue skies for their monotony. When clouds eventually rolled in they were meagre in their offerings. A breath of shower. But she noticed and she stopped once more that morning. The next day was more fruitful. A downpour whilst she was in town, or wherever it was she went. I waited, fox like, at the window for her return and when she did I reaped my reward. A full ten minutes of intensely bearing down upon a silly puddle, like it held the answers to an ocean.
A door slammed and she moved on in a wave of silver hair.
Things seemed to be changing in the street as I monitored the activities of the girl from the sea. The air grew thick and the bricks began to bear resentment. The neighbours scowled more than was usual and the stray cats found other haunts. She was weighing on the bucket, like it was full of seaside stones.
The storm came on her sixteenth day in the terrace. Beating fists of water hammered the roof and the pavement. She left the house as always. No, not as always, for this time she was leaving. She crossed the street and stood before the growing pool in the sagging slabs. Then, she looked up and gazed directly at me, through the rain and the glass to me. I knew her then. I knew the ocean; the currents, the shores, the sound of the deepest Neptune mountains and the desires of the surf.
Then she left.
She stepped forward into that silly puddle, in the pouring rain. They say all water leads to the sea. She left to the sea. She left me for the sea.
Sometimes I cross the street on rainy days and gaze into that puddle. I think I can hear the sea over the pattering drops. But perhaps that’s all it is, thinking. Number Twenty Three moved out a few weeks after she left. Number Twenty-One said he went to live by the sea. I hope he did.