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  • Mathilde Fongen

In a Way It’s Like a Wave

In a way it’s like a wave. It washes over you, not enough to drown you, but for a moment you feel like you’re drowning as you helplessly heave for air and there's nothing to breathe in. Salty water is all there is. Salty water that you gulp down because there’s nothing else and it makes you feel sick. The water isn’t clear and beautiful like Sally told you it would be, but ice cold, murky and polluted. It envelopes you and you lose track of which way is up. It feels like drowning, but then you finally catch a breath and you don’t drown after all. You feel your head aching and your stomach twisting from all the murky water you swallowed, but you are breathing still.

Photo: Luke Norris

In a way it’s like a brick wall. It appears out of nowhere and there’s no way to break through it. There’s no climbing over or walking around it. There is no tearing it down. It just stays there, never moving, stubborn like you know she can be. Or it’s a thick, impenetrable fog that there’s no way out of. There’s no seeing through it. It’s all that’s there, all you can see, until it’s not there anymore and you don’t remember seeing it clear away. It leaves you disorientated and confused. You hear her voice in the distance, but you can’t make out what she’s saying. That fog, that pain, leaves you feeling strangely changed. You feel careful and heavy and slow and incapable, until you slowly start to feel clearer. You carefully return to yourself, knowing full well that it will return.


Sometimes Sally lets me sleep. As I sink into the mattress, into dark, the feeling fades away, like Sally’s voice in the fog. I wake up having forgotten about the wavelike brick-fog. I remember it in my body, in the tiredness and the headache, in the nausea, but I don’t remember it. Not really.


I remember asking Sally to take the scissors out of the room, because I’ve used them before, to make it go away, the pain. I’ve chipped away at the brick wall with them and little pieces have come off, but scissors are useless against brick. They’re even more useless against fog or murky water. They cut through me, but I can’t cut through them, so sleep is where I go to. In hindsight I think I would have left the scissors in peace, but hindsight doesn’t exist with this kind of thing.


Sally is sunshine in human form. She is May and flowers and lavender and holidays to the seaside. I was always November. I sat with her once, in her home, on her balcony, in the sun. It was the first day of the year where it was warm enough to sit outside without the cold piercing your bones. The sun warmed our cheeks and I watched her lean back in her chair, letting it soak into her face, her skin familiar with the blinding light. She smiled behind bright yellow sunglasses that covered most of her face and she sipped chilled white wine.


“This is the life, babe,” she said and let out an audible sigh. I was still waking up, my coffee growing tepid at my feet.


I nodded and looked over the balcony railing. Flowers dotted the grass below and the trees had started to bloom. It was far down to the flowers and the metal railing protected us from the fall.


A seagull cried, piercing through me.


“I love the song of seagulls," she said, "they remind me of summer. But maybe I love waves more. There’s nothing more peaceful than the sound of crashing waves, you know?” I’d never thought of crashing as a peaceful thing. “They start out dark and a little mysterious,” she said about the waves, “and then they lift and grow lighter. They show you they have nothing to hide until they transform into white foam. They hug your feet.” I could picture her running into the sea, the rim of her dress soaking up the salt water in childlike play.


That’s what a wave was to Sally. Not threatening or overwhelming. Not something that makes you feel like you’re drowning. She didn’t want to escape the waves. She ran into them and crashed into them, taking away their power in playfulness. Clear seas was all she knew.


“You know, right? Feeling the sand between your toes, watching the shades of blue in the sky and the sea?” I often thought Sally would make a good poet, had she not been so cheerful.


I looked down at the flowers in longing. I frowned at the sun. Maybe letting the waves wash over you by crashing into them first, catching them in the act, could be a joyful thing. If it is, in fact, like a wave, it can be turned, folded into something beautiful, a sheet of origami paper. I could feel Sally trying to fold me as she looked at me, but I knew I would tear if she folded in the wrong place.


My fingers ran across the rim of her skirt and I couldn’t imagine it would stay dry for long. She never stayed away from the sea longer than she had to. There was a line running along the floral fabric a few inches up, dried salty water she had played with recently. I wondered if all her clothes had lines like this.


Then she took my hand, twisting her fingers around it like ivy around a tree until it was hidden inside hers. Her fingertips traced the grooves on my skin and for a moment we sat in silence. I felt paper thin when she held my hand like that, more paper thin that usual when she looked at me, and I felt my edges fraying as she touched me.


I pulled my hand out from hers and stood up, grabbing hold of the railing. I needed its support to keep me standing. She stood up quicker than I and knocked over her glass as she did. The wine ran along to her bare feet, filling in the gaps between her toes. I could see it drip down to the flowers far below and wondered if the flowers would mistake it for rain.


She stood close enough for me to feel her breath, a fresh breeze on my shoulder. Her arms alined with mine and she held on to my hands with hers. I let go of the railing and let her hold me. Just for a little while, I thought, until I don’t need to be held anymore.


In a way it’s like a wave in the way it washes over you. A brick wall. An impenetrable fog. It’s all that’s there until you’re left, careful not to tear yourself into pieces as you fold that plain piece of paper into an origami bird that can cry out and remind Sally of summer.

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