An Ocean of Stars

For Diana. Because you liked my stories so much, I thought you should have one of your own.

She goes to the beach every morning, come rain or wind or shine. She takes the Book with her, wrapped carefully in a plastic bag to ensure no part of it can be damaged. It is special to her, this Book, for reasons she can’t always explain. The places described and the characters within, she can visualise them clearly. She knows them intimately and in great detail.

The curve of the shore and the shapes of the city are all familiar to her and have been for many years. She recognises that secret place, where the ocean inhales the land. She has walked the pathways through the backstreets and the gardens, embracing all the colours painted in the palette of the Earth. She has her favourite spots, her sacred spaces — damp seats curved and carved from driftwood, sandblasted by the sea wind as it churns and sways. She knows the whispers of the breeze and of the birdsong, the heartbeat of the land.

All this, the Book knows too, and lends its wisdom through its pages. It speaks to her in words only she can understand.

Her son had laughed at her when she had told him how she found it, it was clear he didn’t believe a word she said. It was waiting for her, she had told him, on the beach one moonless night. She had been walking, thinking, missing old friends and she saw a shooting star streak through the darkness. She’d made a wish, then by the waves she’d found it.

Now she sits at the edge of the harbour, perched on the low concrete wall which separates the busy road from the wild sea. The eager wind asks her to dance, but she knows she must decline. She takes a deep breath to calm herself and reaches for the Book. Today, she knows, it will be finished. The last tale has only a few pages left to share. She has tried to stave away this moment, not wanting the experience to end. She doesn’t want this story to be over, but she feels greedy at the thought of wanting more.

She turns the paper, reading slowly as to savour every feeling. Three pages left. Now two. Now one. She could put it back, return it to its protective sheath and save it for tomorrow, but deep down she knows that would be cheating.

Her eyes linger on the last sentence, drinking in emotions as if they are fine wine. The end is certain and inevitable. The last word trips and fades. She closes the Book with sadness; places it reverently in her lap. The sea is shining; a million diamonds of bright sunlight shimmer on the water’s surface. They twinkle like a galaxy of daytime constellations, a moving jewellery box of light.

A movement by the water’s edge surprises her. She squints and tries to see beyond the glare. Something slow and soft is coming — a creature maybe, long-limbed and ethereal in its movements. It lifts itself out of the water with a dancer’s poise, unfolding long and delicate limbs, moving with the pulse and ripple of the sea. She watches, enthralled and curious, unafraid. The creature spies her, bows deeply and makes a beeline for her. Its skin is pale and almost blue, dappled with a silver sheen. Its hair is long and mossy green; great snakes of turquoise blended with thin strands of gold. It moves slowly, gliding over sand and rocks as if it merely floats above them. Like a wave, she thinks. A living wave.

It reaches her and she stares up in silent awe. The face that looks back at her is so beautiful she can hardly bear it, she cannot find the words to describe it. The creature is radiant, it exudes raw emotion. It is a feeling so powerful and unexpected, and yet one she recognises well. Love. This alien, oceanic creature embodies love.

It holds out a hand towards her; slim wrists, long fingers tipped with beams of light instead of nails. She reaches out her own hand in return. Their palms touch. She is swallowed by a brilliant burst of stars.

Her eyes open. The creature is gone. The ocean is calm now, its surface smooth and steady like a mirror. The book in her lap feels heavier, the spine a little thicker than before. She lifts it shakily, flips it open to the last chapter. Confused, she flicks back a page. And another. And yet more. A new story, one she has not read, is waiting for her, as if it had always been there. She reads the first few words and gasps. And smiles.

She goes to the beach every morning, come rain or wind or shine…  

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