She calls herself Poseidon. I call her “she”, but the statement is debatable, I suspect she is not truly anything. However for the time being, and to my eye, she appears female. Her hair is long and very dark blue, except at the tips where it is lit with flecks of seafoam green. Her skin shines like the polished face of a seashell, with as many colors swimming across it.
She walks beside me with her face raised to the sun, and as I glance back I see that her footsteps in the sand are filled with water.
“Aren’t you afraid you’ll dry out?” I ask because it is the first thing that comes to my mind and instantly I know I sound foolish.
“I can not,” she replies and her voice sounds like water running over stones. ‘I may walk a thousand years in the desert, and when I am done it will be an ocean.”
She does not look at me as she speaks, she keeps her face to the sun which shines meekly through the wisps of clouds, still low over the flat horizon. Her eyes are closed, although the transparent quality of her skin makes me wonder if she can see through them anyway.
I was not sure when she arrived exactly, or if she had always been there. I was simply alone, and then I wasn’t.
Despite its calmness, the air does not move easily through my lungs, filled as they always were with water. The sensation follows me everywhere now. My heart is still pounding too fast after I had yelled and slammed doors. I had shouted every foul name I knew and cursed all of Heaven and Earth. My mother had cried, and it was made worse because I knew she felt the same as me. When they had told me it was time to go, I knew this trip would be the last. And so I ran, through streets that were still asleep, to the one place I cannot bear to never see again.
I look out along the length of the beach, across the pale sand, still slightly damp after the night and receding high tide. Across the scattering of broken shells and discarded driftwood that litters it. Right down to where the water laps at the shore with almost hypnotic repetition. I’m sure why I came down here to watch the sunrise; the view is better from the cliff at the north end of the beach. Perhaps because I know it may be the last sunrise I see, and I want to experience all of it; the smell of the salt and the feel of sand between my toes. They will come to get me, once they realized where I’ve run to, and then the only sunrise I will be seeing is the painting in the visitors room of ward 10.
“Why did you come here?” I ask, turning to her.
“Because you asked me to.”
“Do you show up for everyone who asks?”
This time she does look at me, turning her face down towards mine — for she is taller than any woman or man — and raises those translucent lids to peer at me through eyes that are deeper than the ocean.
She does not offer an answer, and I do not demand one.
“I asked to be cured,” I say instead, “is that why you came?”
“It is not ours to meddle in the fates of men.”
“You said you came because of what I asked.”
“Yes, because you asked to be freed.”
I pause and look up at her, wondering if the tales of Poseidon’s wrath were something I should have paid more attention to. She pauses too. Both eyes fix on me, but hold nothing stricter than curiosity. She does not appear angry and I do not think her statement was meant as a threat.
“I don’t want to die,” I say, my voice almost too quiet even for my own ears.
She turns back to the front and keeps walking. “There is no death,” she says and I hurry to keep pace with her long strides. “Things do not end, they merely change course.”
She stops again. We are at the edge of a creek, too deep to wade through. I trace my eyes up it where it disappears into the dunes and tussock grasses.
“As with this river,” she says, “each drop began its life elsewhere. A cloud becomes rain, which wets the earth to become a river, and then the river flows to the sea, only to become clouds once more.”
“What if I don’t want to be a cloud? What if I want to stay in the river?”
Poseidon raises a hand and the water in the creek stops flowing. The last few trickles carve tracks through the sand to meet the waves. As I watch, the waves begin to recede, as if the tides have suddenly sped up, only the waterline does not halt at the low tide mark, but continues to pull back until the strip of sandy beach becomes a vast plain of rocks, mud and exposed mollusks.
The river, too, continues to swell, water bulging up and swallowing the dunes. It forms a great wall above us and spreads outwards until the tops of the coastal pines are lost inside it.
The patchy clouds that cover the morning sky shrivel and vanish, letting the sun blaze through at full strength, and I am forced to raise a hand and shield my eyes against it.
The river has become too huge. It has reached the car park now and I see a Land Rover in danger of being carried away. Not far behind that is the road and houses lined up along it.
“Alright,” I say. “You’ve made your point.”
She holds the water for a little while longer, before lowering her hand. The river water disappears into a void until only the creek remains. The ocean rushes back in to greet us with a soft crash against the sand, and clouds pepper the sky once more.
“Everything exists in a balance,” she says.
“I get it.” I turn away. “It’s like a domino effect. Try to change one tile and they could all fall down.”
I dig my big toe into the sand and flick little particles around. It’s getting hard to breathe now, I’ve been out too long, and there’s a slight chill in the air that’s catching in my chest.
“That doesn’t make it fair. I didn’t ask to get sick.”
“Fair and blame exist only in the minds of those who think they are missing out on something. Very rarely is it actually the case.”
“Does someone decide all this beforehand,” I say, looking back to the creek. “Who makes it to the ocean and who goes straight to the sky?”
“As it is yours to act, it is ours merely to observe.”
“And will you observe me, when I’m a cloud? Will I see you there?”
“If you’d like.”
“And the next part, when I’m a raindrop back in the river?”
“Yes, but you won’t know it.”
I turn to face the ocean and walk forward a few steps, enough to feel the surf lapping around my ankles and dragging the sand out from under me so that I begin to sink slowly.
“Thank you,” I say,. And whilst I’m not really sure why, I know that when they come to take me I will not run or hide.
I turn to look at Poseidon again but she is gone and her footprints are being washed away, reclaimed by an ocean that was once a river. The sunrise painting in ward 10 may not be much, but for now at least, it is enough.