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She was everything pulling him toward Alice, distilled to its essence, and then something extra thrown in. He turned the photograph over. Alice had taken the photograph back, and always a storyteller — already, on their first date this was obvious — she started telling him about Rebecca. Rebecca had them too.

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Goof teeth. She looked out at the waves, as if listening for her voice. He closed his eyes. The picture. Her thigh. He thought it could be Alice he was falling for, wanted it to be Alice. But Rebecca was now a wave, and he was the shoreline. If people had soulmates, it made sense his was dead, he always felt caught in between. The place where water and land meet. He pressed her against their bed, her wrists tight in his hands.

The loves were different, that was all. After Alice fell asleep and he was alone beside her, he pictured the ocean.


He pictured the photograph. Her Dad had left them when Alice had been five, her brother seven. Who could do that? Maybe he was an asshole. Did he deserve to be happy? After dragging Alice along, waiting for one more piece of information about her mother to articulate something ineffable. The shore was made of dirt, and there was sediment in the ocean too, bits of dirt in every wave. He ran his hand through the photographs. A pool of images of Rebecca.

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Of course they were hazel. Eyes that change colour. Maybe we can do that too? It felt like someone had a fishhook inside his stomach and kept pulling on the twine. He spread his favourites out, eyes beside eyes, skin beside skin, hair beside hair. The images calmed him. His index finger pressed one of her photographed cheeks. He swore he could feel her heat. Nathan closed his eyes, cooled by wind growing windier and windier.

Waves lapped him, a twisting, skillful tongue, fluid reaching out along him. That night, he crammed his pockets full of photos.

It was a short bike ride down to the beach, past fruit markets and tourist stands closed up for the night. She never woke up in the middle of the night, never noticed him waiting for sleep or morning, whichever came first. He coasted downhill until he hit the beach. Left his bike against a tree, the memory of the dog and man completely wiped away by Rebecca.

He took off his cardigan first.

The Top Ten Ocean Stories of 2017

Then his T-shirt. His pants. Like she was waiting for him. He waded out further, water at his knees now. Sky grey, blanketed by cloud. Water flat, rocked by small waves. He went out further.

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The water lapped at his nipples. All I remember is the moment when our eyes met, a pregnant pause that seemed to last forever. In the moment, two naked emotions vied for center stage in my mind: We had both left ourselves and each other, but not for someone else. These people were simply supporting actors, paragraphs in the story of a life that was still waiting for its climax.

In a different twist of fate, perhaps one without June Strathford, maybe our story would have culminated in a flourish: Or, just as likely, from a washed-up thirty-something whose lack of success had hardened cynicism, brittle and stiff, into his soul. The sea at its base spread flat and fell away from suddenly rising intricate blockness, black, angled and extrusioned.

As if a quarried wedge of the seabed itself had come up to look.

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The towerwork was on a platform. In the glow of the thing's own flame they saw edificial flanks, the concrete and rust of them, the iron of the pylon barnacled, shaggy with benthic growth now lank gelatinous bunting. It was coming at the Covehithe cliff. Under its stains and excrescences were more regular markings, stencilled warnings. Another step — because these were clumsy steps with which it came — and all the main mass was out of the water and raining brine.

Each concrete cylinder leg a building or a smokestack wide. The two on one side came forward together, then those on the other. Pipes dangled from its roof-high underside, clots of it fell back into the sea.

The Ocean in Bits

It wore steel containers, ruins of housing like a bad neighbourhood, old hoists, lift shafts emptying of black water. One of the cars below turned its headlamps back on. But the lights quickly dipped and after a moment he said, 'It's probably ok now. Now the girl understood its strange ungainliness. On each side, its supports merged at their base, into two horizontal struts, so it moved like a quadruped skiing. What must have been ten feet of water lapped at the struts like a puddle at a child's shoes.

The rig facelessly faced north and slide-stamped along the shoreline. They took the cliff-edge path, a hedge to their right, the oil platform's tower lurching beside them above its leaves.

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He took a moment to stop, to turn and meet her eye. They could hear the flame bursts now. She had been too small when her father left to imagine stories of his exploits, to be proud or afraid. All she remembered were his returnings, an exhausted, careful man who lifted her on to his lap and kissed her with wary love, brought her toys and foreign sweets. When later she had asked him what he had done on those trips, his answers were so vague guilt had hushed her. She did not ask about his injuries.

All the Way to the Ocean

The rig was slowing. The smell was stronger and the ground, the air juddered, not only in time to its huge steps. Dughan stopped at the last path-end trees. He and his daughter hugged the trunks and watched the oil rig sway in their direction. He held her hand. The girl watched him, too, but he showed no signs of angst, no flashback, no fear. On an autumn evening in the earlyish years of the 21st Century, a fishing boat south-east of Halifax radioed an SOS, under attack — the transmission was unclear.

Rescuers found two traumatised survivors in a wash of scattered debris.