It's been sunset here for a while now. Days, maybe. I don't remember.
The sand is warm and comfortable beneath my feet and the sun is the same color as the sand. It's all very relaxing, very surreal. The water is calm. It smells briny, and occasionally I'll sit down next to the line where the water and sand are brother and sister and I'll wiggle my toes in the sea. I've been here so long it seems as though we're old friends, the sea and I.
I like it here, in the warmth, next to the water. I like it where the sun can reach me. I'm afraid to go back, behind me, to the train station. It's open to the elements, and all the benches are rusting. I've never seen a train pass through here since I arrived, but I can feel one coming, just behind the wind, the same wind that picks my hair up off of my shoulders and tickles my ears.
I don't want the train to come.
But it's easy to forget about, with just me and the sand and the sea.
"It's been five weeks..."
"Every day the chances get smaller, Mary, we're going to have to let her go sometime."
"I can't do it! I can't. Not now, not yet. She's still in there, somewhere. I know it. It can feel it."
Mary sat down on the unforgiving metal chair next to her daughter's hospital bed. Her hair was greasy, clothes disheveled. Her family stood around her, but they didn't feel like family any more. When she looked up at them, she could almost see the cold, unfeeling monsters behind their eyes, living in their brains, begging her to kill her comatose daughter. Henry, her husband, said that Alice never would have wanted to live like this, to becoming the fleshy parts of some metal being. Her son Michael said he couldn't bear to see his sister this way, all cold and pale and freakish.
But Mary knew there was a brain in there still, inside of Alice's shaven skull. Her daughter's eyes were safely shut away from the fluorescent lights that never went away, but Mary knew if she pulled them open, she would be able to see thoughts churning away in there, even if Alice could no longer express them.
Henry turned away from his wife, and from his daughter. He was sickened by the unnaturalness of all this. Alice was too much a part of nature to be trapped inside that white gown. His daughter's skin was dark from the sun, but the color in her face was all but hidden by the tubes that had been shoved down her throat to keep her lungs alive. That wasn't Alice. The Alice he knew, his little girl, that Alice was gone and all that was left was this wretched mechanical shell. He didn't love that shell. He loved his baby girl, and wherever she was, it was nowhere near this body.
The doctor entered the room, bringing with him a clipboard and an air of hopelessness.
"I'm sure you don't want to hear this," he said, but he understood that they probably already knew what he had to say. "Alice has shown no signs of improvement over the last two weeks. Her muscles have begun to atrophy, and it's very likely that even if she ever, by some miracle, came out of the coma, she would need intense physical therapy to regain the use of her limbs. Mrs. Hollin..."
"No. I can't do it. My baby... She's still here, she's still alive, right?"
"Technically... But if we were to take her off of the respirator, I don't think..."
"I don't want to hear this -" Mary said into her hands, but the impact of her words remained. Alice's doctor nodded, and left the room.
"Alice, honey. If you can hear me, please. Let me know."
"Mom," Michael said softly, "She can't."
I like this place. I've never been to the beach before, you know, before this. I like the way that if you dig far enough down in the sand, you'll find the ocean again. I've thought about going swimming out there, but I'm too afraid. I don't want to swim out too far. I'll get lost.
Other people were here, a few hours ago, I guess. A little boy and an older man. They seemed sad, but I'm not sure why. They didn't say anything to me when I tried to get their attention, but I guess it really wasn't my place to talk to them. After all, they were heading for the train station. I didn't watch them go. I didn't want to. I never heard the train come, never saw it, but I could smell the sticky grease that clung to its wheels when it went past. And then I knew they were gone. I don't know where they went, but I know they won't be coming back.
It makes me wonder if there's anyone else farther down this beach. I walked for a while today, but when I turned around to see how far I'd gotten, it seemed like I never moved. The train station was still in the distance, and the tide had already washed away my foot prints.
I wonder if the sun ever sets around here.
Henry convinced Mary to come home that night with he and Michael. She had wanted to stay, to see if Alice would twitch or sneeze or shudder. But she finally decided it would be okay to go home for just one night. After all, she hadn't been home for a week.
The shower felt good on her skin, and she breathed in the steam like it was food, swallowing its warmth and safety. But coming home was too strange to her, especially coming home without her Alice. Every time Mary walked passed her daughter's bedroom, she quickened her steps like the floor beneath her feet had started to bite.
From the shower, she could hear Henry banging on pots and pans in the kitchen below her. It was Thursday, spaghetti night in this house, and Henry was the best spaghetti cook this side of anything, but Mary couldn't want it. Alice always loved her father's spaghetti, but she always managed to find the only whole bay leaf left in the entire pot, discovering it after having bitten into it and cringing. She would then fish in her mouth with her fingers, graceful as pond scum her brother would say, and she would place the leaf ceremoniously on the side of her plate, declaring, "I found it." It was a profound moment for the family, profound in their laughter and sense of being, and happened nearly every Thursday night, right up until she got sick.
Mary was clean, but remained in the shower for another fifteen minutes, letting the water splash on her face so she could no longer feel herself cry.
I don't remember how I got here. I remember getting sick. I remember the middle of the night, the ambulance, and nothing. But I don't remember how I got to this beach. I remember my mom saying sometimes that one day, one day, maybe when I was out of school, we would all take a trip to the beach. But I'm out of school now, Mom.
Maybe they never made it. I don't remember.
I remember Frosted Mini Wheats sometimes. I miss them. I think about the way they slowly fall apart in milk, and I try to remember how they taste, and how they always seem like a good idea right up until you eat them, and the stray little wheats stick on your tonsils. But they taste so good, and you half to wolf down bowl after bowl, and each time you tell yourself you're going to get a smaller bowl so they don't get soggy this time, but you always pour just as big a bowl as before because they taste so god damn good.
I remember the pink ones. Strawberry.
There were more people here, not too long ago. A bunch this time. I tried to say something again, but it's like they can't hear me.
They all go for the train.
The tide washes away every trace of them. I never see the waves come up, but their footprints are gone.
This place has no memory.
Will it remember me?
The hospital was quiet on Monday. Mary was alone. She watched the machine breathing for Alice, and her tears crashed onto the linoleum floor. Her arms were crossed on the bed rail and she cursed herself for not forcing Alice to write a will. But damn it, she was eighteen. No one could have seen this coming. Apparently she'd been bleeding into her brain for weeks. Slowly. Carefully. Silently. No one had noticed the hallucinations. Alice was always a creative girl, saying random things, talking to inanimate objects, or mostly just naming them, so when Alice started telling stories about the ghosts that would walk behind her eyeballs, everyone enjoyed her supernatural tales. She never made a big deal about it, and even sang a song about them. She was a weirdo, her brother said, but at least she made somebody laugh.
Now the ghosts in her brain had killed her, and were singing her songs to join them.
Mary ran a shaky hand along the machinery keeping her child tethered to this world, and she let out a sob. She wanted to thank the mechanical heart and lungs that fought for Alice's life, but Mary couldn't admit to herself that they were really doing that. She wanted to believe that they were just giving her a push in the right direction, showing her how to do it, how to pump blood, how to breathe, and that one day, Alice would remember, and she would sit up and pull the tubes out of her throat and flick her hair to side and demand to see the wizard who had given her this piece of shit heart and brain.
Mary laughed, and then cried.
Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy...
I wonder if she misses me. She was my best friend, Sherry. She would recite silly limericks and poetry all the time, but she was a damn good poet herself. I wonder if she knows I'm here.
I love this beach, but it's lonely. The people who come here are all just here for the train. Some stay longer than others, but eventually they all get their tickets punched. Maybe I've forgotten my ticket. Maybe that's why the train worries me. What if they throw me off?
Sometimes I think I know where it goes, like I have this little spark of realization in my brain, but I can never hang on to it long enough to realize what I've realized.
I won't look at it, though. I don't want to see it. I just smell the grease as it rumbles by silently, and people come and go. Sometimes it takes the breeze with it.
I push my toes into the sand, and make little pockets, little puddles for the gentle tide of the water to fall into, trapping it before it can roll out again.
Maybe I'm dreaming, but I think the sun has started to set. The corn-yellowyness of the sea and sand and sun isn't as bright as I think I remember. I don't know. Maybe the stars will come out. Maybe the sun does set here, after all.
Maybe I'm dreaming...
A kid'll eat ivy too.
"Are you ready, Mary?" the doctor said.
She sobbed into her husband's chest. It had been three months, and Alice's previously stable comatose condition, while bleak and somehow ironic, had failed. Her brain-waves were nearly as silent as her lips. A peak every now and again meant almost nothing. Some of the neurologists speculated that it could be residual energy from the machines themselves charging up her neurons for brief moments of time.
She was not coming back.
Henry held his wife with one arm and had his son clutched to his side with the other. The fluorescent lights shined down as bright as ever, but the world, for these three, was dark. Henry nodded. Michael stared at the dirt on his shoes. Mary was silent. Her tears were dry, if just for this moment. She watched. She had to.
"Alice," she whispered, "if you can hear me, please..."
All Alice's doctor had left was to pull the plug.
The sun is going down, here, and this perpetual sunset is ending. I stand up and rinse my feet off in the wash one last time. I've decided I like the ocean. Maybe not as much as Frosted Mini Wheats, but it's nice, every now and again. Already, too, I miss the sun. I'm not afraid in the dark, just lonely. It's getting cold fast. I hug my arms to my sides. My clam-diggers aren't made to keep me warm.
I think I can hear the train.
Walking away from the sea, I turn and look back at it one last time. It's almost black now, the water. It's a giant mirror that stretches into eternity, at least from my point of view. It's ice.
I leave no footprints.
The train station is old and skeletal and rickety as I walk up the steps to the platform. The last bit of light is fading now, but I don't need it anyway. My bare feet know where to take me. I sit on one of the rusty old benches. Not much longer to wait, I think.
I peer down the track.
The sun has gone.
I can't feel the waves anymore, I can't smell the surf.
But I can hear the train.