The Tide Comes In

A very short literary story about love, lying and losing the will to live.

The empty cup in Kit’s hands is the only thing keeping him afloat. These people were nobody, staring and looking up from couches. He had been looking for Bella for all night. It was her idea, the party. For him, she said. There were no birthday banners, just a foil HAPPY NEW YEARS on the wall. Maybe that was Bella’s compromise. He told her he didn’t want a fuss.

Kit scrapes his way down the wall towards the hallway. He is always scraping pass grades, sleep, contact with the outside world. Time with Bella. She had promised it wouldn’t change things, now they lived so far apart. She called him up to talk about her day, never asking questions. She told him about parties, friends, girls she had kissed on drunken nights out. She promised it didn’t mean anything, she thought he might have liked it. He wondered if he did.  The party was awful.

He made a playlist but people kept changing it. He wished that Lindsay could have been there but she was spending New Year’s with her current girlfriend. Maisie. No. Maisie was the last one. This one is Fizz. Kit liked Fizz a lot. She was bubbly and sweet and wore even more denim than Lindsay did. He wished quietly that he’d gone and spent New Years’ with them instead, but of course, Bella had been planning this party for weeks and it would have been unfair of him to blow her off like that. She didn’t get on famously with Lindsay, but it wasn’t like they were adversaries or anything. They just didn’t know that much about one another, so it was hard for them to talk. Lindsay had said something about cultural reference points not mapping onto one another or something. Anyway, Kit got the impression that on the few times Lindsay and Bella had hung out they’d mostly just talked past each other. Lindsay’s main impression of Bella was that she was sweet and very pretty, and those things were both true. Well. Kit wasn’t sure how true the ‘sweet’ part was but that wasn’t something he really talked about with anyone. He didn’t even let himself think it, really.

Where was Bella, anyway? He’d seen her in the kitchen a few hours ago, he was sure, but she seemed to have disappeared into the ether. He wanted to go outside and smoke, but unlike at York, where he could sneak out for a quick fag whilst nobody was paying attention simply by virtue that nobody else smoked, Bella’s parent’s garden was veritably packed with people huffing out grey clouds like steam engines. It had been all night.

He pressed through the crowds. Most of these people he didn’t even recognise. He wasn’t sure where Bella had found them and he was almost surprised that Bella knew so many people. Someone knocked into his arm and apologised so he seized the opportunity to grab hers and ask “have you seen Bella?”

“I think she went to the shop with Scott,” the girl said.

Kit nodded. They’d probably run out of coke or diet coke or lemonade or tortilla chips. He wandered into the living room. A mushroom-shaped disco light rotated on the coffee table, splattering everyone with multi-coloured lesions that crawled over their faces and were gone. His head was spinning, lights on the inside of his skull. He grabbed the doorframe.

“You alright, dude?” someone asked.

Kit blinked at them and nodded.

“Maybe you should put the wine down.”

Kit looked at the open bottle in his hand. How had he failed to notice that it wasn’t a beer until now? Christ, he’d drunk almost all of it. He put the bottle on the table next to the mushroom and stumbled back out of the room, trying desperately to spot a face he knew but coming up with nothing. He went to the front door.

Thankfully, nobody was out there. He took his box of cigarettes out of his pocket and fumbled with his ancient brass Zippo for a while before he managed to light it. A taxi blazed past, music blasting out of the wound down windows, drunken voices drifting out to meet him. How was this happening? How had he got here again? It was just like last year, the people, the drinking, the music… where was Bella, again? He didn’t know anyone else. Why did she always disappear like this?

Down the hill that Bella lived on, someone was setting off fireworks early. They didn’t reach the sky, just managing to creep past the roof of Bella’s house before they burst and spluttered across the darkness into nothing. There was another party happening down the street, in one of the small bungalows. People were standing out of the front, chasing an overweight spaniel, their high heeled shoes clattering loudly on the bricks, laughter rising above the music every now and then.

Kit realised a moment too late that he was moving towards them, past them. He pulled himself up short. He couldn’t leave this party. Bella had organised it for him. He loved Bella, he did. That’s why he was there. He couldn’t be on the road down to the high street, walking, walking. Not even thinking. He was itching all over but he knew that it wasn’t his skin but underneath it. He raised his arms above his head. He couldn’t feel the cold that was making goose bumps on them. More fireworks went off behind the house; it must be almost midnight now.

He imagined walking out onto the high street just as the countdown was starting in one of the pubs. He glimpsed a TV screen, Big Ben with bright lights projected on the front, swirling. More fireworks all around him, fractions too soon. He was way past the pub when midnight came. He heard them cheering. He passed another. People singing Auld Lang Syne. Kit would just walk on. Past the pubs and the curry houses and the kebab shop, past the bungalows with children singing, misplaced Burn’s Night rituals in front gardens, fireworks lighting up the sky like stars but pink, blue, green. He would walk across the streetlight-bleached benches next to the empty children’s park, right past and up onto the promenade above the sea. The tide was halfway out. He would run down the steps; they were too steep to be walked. He would step onto the sand and it would be wet and cold through his socks. He would pull them off and the cold would make his fingers tingle. He would walk down, down to the water and step in and keep on going. His jeans would drink it in, heavy in an instant.

It was the home of sea creatures and he would be up to his chest in it. At any moment a shark might sweep in and sink its teeth through his frosty skin and tear his muscles clean off the bones, though off the North Coast of Wales he had to admit that was unlikely. Instead he walked further out, up to his chin now, phone held above his head.  A wave rolled towards him, lapping up his chin. He could taste the salt of it on his lips, blood with no iron. He could hear fireworks going off behind him but all he could see were the distant lights of an oil rig and rows of windmills miles away from him, ghostly shapes in the moonlight. It was cold through his ribs. It was cold in his guts. The pulse of the sea engulfed him. He wanted to be gone, gone, gone. He wanted the sea to sweep him away. He wanted to close his eyes and let it take him. He wanted none of it to have happened. To feel nothing anymore.

But he couldn’t have any of that. He just stood awkwardly a few feet away from the people with the dog until one of them gave him an apprehensive smile and he decided he probably ought to go back inside.

The real countdown was starting, and the TV was on, Big Ben just like he knew it would look, legions of people standing in front of it, shouting the countdown along with Bella’s friends around him. He closed his eyes. He was in the sea; a hot, sticky sea with limbs like fish and shouting swells and it was dragging him under. There, there in midst of it the climax came, a raging tsunami, a kiss on his cheek and arms around him. Bella taking his hands and wishing him a happy birthday, happy birthday had he liked the party? And he had to lie and tell her yes because he loved her and lying was what you had to do for those you love, for those who love you, who throw parties and bring friends and make cakes and decorations and sing you happy birthday in the dark when nobody really cared it was your birthday in the first place. It was what you did. You lied. You should lie.

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