The apartment she had rented was in an old coast guard station, a long stone building with a square lookout tower at one end. It was damp, and she couldn’t get any of her clothes properly dry after her long sea walks. A fug of cold followed her everywhere. The photography was frustrating; creativity eluded her.
She had fought for this opportunity, that was the thing. ‘You have such a great eye for faces,’ her mother had said. She meant well, the poor woman, could not grasp why somebody would want to take a picture of a stone or an upturned boat when a lucrative career taking tedious family snapshots in a Clontarf studio awaited her. All she had to do was admit her failure.
She walked down the steps to the rocky beach and started yet again along the foreshore.
‘I’m going home today.’
‘You’re so close, Jenna, you need to stay.’ This was Oliver, or rather his voice. Oliver had been a brilliant photography lecturer, an enthusiastic lover and, as it turned out, a lousy motorcyclist.
‘Its no good, Ols. I’ve tried. I’ve given it everything.’
‘That’s just it. You’ve been trying too hard. You need to simply let go and it will happen.’
‘That’s bollox. Just because you’re dead doesn’t make you wise.’
‘Just because I’m a made up voice in your head doesn’t make me wrong.’
There was a sandy beach along the walk with a top beach of pebbles. Each day, as she had passed, sometimes several times a day, she had stopped to pick up stones of varying sizes. Today, she took a tiny pebble. It was sea-stone smooth, worn down by generations of waves. She put it in her pocket.
Her camera stayed in the bag. She had snapped every inch of the beaches, the rocks, the fields, the craggy islands, the distant hills with their foggy cloud tops. She was after that essential moment that transformed everything, that point at which the wrist became the hand, the neck became the head. All she had to show for it was a computer disk full of tedious landscapes and close-ups of seaweed.
She came to the ruin of the boat house, a concrete structure faced with stone, a concrete slip rolling down from it but making it nowhere near the sea before it decayed into nothingness. Here she had been building her pile, stone on stone on stone. It seemed almost done. She pulled out the pebble and balanced it on top. It was perfect, as if all of creation had been there purely for this moment, for this topping out.
She took out her camera to capture the pile, the boat house and those elements of her life that she was letting go.
‘I love you, Ols, but I need to leave you here.’
‘You don’t, Jenna. I know I’m dead, but you’ll always regret shutting me out, letting go of your art. You are beautiful, you need to express that.’
‘I can’t do it, it’s too hard.’
’Take the pebble, Jenna. Take the pebble from the top and take me with you.’
She reached out, her hand shivering.
Overhead, a gull circled slowly. In the field, cattle grazed. Crabs scuttled under the rocks. Fish swam. Jenna’s hand hovered…