The Moon and Her Lover
The blackest night of the year, and the moon gaped at me through the window. I had never before seen her looking so fat, her thin, colourless light spearing the night. I was afraid of her mournful eyes, her mouth, stilled in a silent scream.
In the narrow bed beside mine, Ray slept, his breath like the tide. In his fist, he held the claw of a crab which had appeared, lifeless, on the beach that morning. The moonlight had bled the colour from everything, and the claw appeared to be attached to my brother- a terrible extra digit.
I kicked back my bedclothes and felt the chill on my legs. I had to draw the curtains properly, darken the crack to stop that moon from gawping in at me. If I slept with her eyes so intently fixed upon me, I imagined that I would surely wake in the middle of the night to find her in the room, a bald, milk-coloured head, frosty breath escaping from her gaping mouth.
The wooden floor was cold, and the thin cotton of my nightdress did not keep me warm. After drawing the curtains, I rushed back to bed, half-hoping that my footsteps would wake Ray.
He didn't stir. The room was horribly silent.
Without the moonlight, our bedroom was pitch black. I lay in bed, doing my best not to think about it. Though I could only see the dark outline of the tall wardrobe, I could recall every terrifying detail of it. The dark, heavy doors, and their mournful sigh when Nain opened them. The pattern carved into the wood, which was supposed to look like intertwined leaves but actually looked like a furrowed brow. The doorknobs, shining like blind eyes. As I'd done a hundred times before, I imagined the door sighing in the darkness, and the night too black to see who or what had done it.
It was too much. I'd have to wake Nain.
The relief washed over me as I left the bedroom- I'd be alright with my grandmother. The crafty moon peeked at me through the landing window. I pushed the door to Nain's bedroom, the adrenaline of fear having awoken me completely.
She wasn't there.
The bed was still made, white cotton atop white cotton, a spring-patterned green woollen blanket smoothed on the top. The curtains were open, the woods at the edge of the flat land behind the house completely still.
'Nain?' My voice felt different at this time of night. There was a slight echo on top of the landing, and the syllable sounded like the only sound left in the world.
There was no answer.
She's dead, I decided, made stupid by fear. Dead in her chair downstairs, the fire in the grate cooled, the red coals turned to dust. I could see her corpse face in my mind, her stilled flesh, pale and waxy.
'Luna?' Her voice came in a half-whisper up the stairs. 'Lou?' The dead woman vanished from my imagination as I rushed downstairs.
'It's very late,' Nain said softly, sinking to her haunches to my height. A black shawl was draped around her shoulders, the wool rough and thick beside the silky plait of her hair that hung over her shoulder.
'You weren't in bed. I thought something had happened to you.'
Nain wrapped her arms around me and lifted me, though both she and I were, by then, too old for that. I wrapped my legs around her hips, and she wrapped her arms and shawl around my thin shoulders.
'Don't worry about me, sweetheart. I'm alright. I've just stayed up late to see something wonderful.'
I could hear the smile in her voice, though I couldn't see the familiar curve of her mouth. My face was buried in the creases of her neck.
'What is it?'
'Well, I shouldn't tell you. I should send you back to bed.'
I lifted my head, then. 'I'll sleep in my own bed all night tomorrow, Nain. I really will.'
Nain nodded, and set me down on the floor. The floor slates were cold and dusty, but I stood still as Nain fetched a blanket from the chest in the corner and wrapped it around me.
Without saying a word, she held my small hand and led me to the front door. She pulled open the heavy oak, letting a whisper of cool air break over us like a wave.
My hand arose to my eyes, shielding them from the blinding light, and then pulled back again in amazement. The light, like a June sun. The moon! She'd swelled since I'd drawn the curtains on her, furious that I'd dared to look away. It felt as though she filled half the skies, pushing the stars away, uncomfortably near.
I squeezed Nain's hand, and tried to pull back into the safety of the house. She held me in my place, and I looked up at her.
She looked like an angel in the white light- a shining smile in the deep creases of her face. She looked at the moon as if she were an old friend, home after a long time away.
'If she comes closer, she'll touch the earth,' I said quietly, afraid. I imagined it, that open mouth getting closer and closer until she kissed the planet... That terrible collision, like a fist on the world.
'She won't touch, Lou. She's only coming close to see us, properly.'
There was a terrifying look on the face of the moon, her silent scream and pathetic eyes. I wondered what awful things she was seeing on the face of the earth.
'Look at the sea, Lou.'
I gasped softly as I saw the waves almost reaching our doorstep. Two strides, and the slate would be slick with salty water.
'Nain! But what if..'
'The water won't reach us, sweetheart. This is the highest tide I've seen since I was a child. Isn't it beautiful?'
Nain sat on the doorstep, and pulled me into her arms. We both watched the waves breaking softly in the garden, licking the dandelions and daisies that were usually safe from the sea.
'Why do you call the moon "she" when it's a man in the moon?'
'People only think that it's a man in the moon, sweetheart. People who don't know any better. It's obvious that she's a woman. Look at the longing in those eyes!'
That made perfect sense to me.
'Why doesn't the moon blink, Nain?'
'Well, she once had such a terrible shock that her face froze, and that's what she'll be like forever, now.'
Nain turned to look at me. 'Did I never tell you?'
I shook my head, perfectly serene, cosily safe and warm in the knowledge that Nain was going to tell me a story.
'I'm a bad grandmother, not telling you these stories. Well.' She squeezed me softly, before beginning.
The poor moon. She sees all the wonders of the world- the primroses in the meadows, the lambs in Springtime, Welsh cakes still warm from the griddle- but she can never come close.
This worried her, and she was lonely, tragically lonely, up in the darkness on her own. She could see the shy smiles between lovers, the tentative holding of hands, and sometimes their weddings and the birth of their children.
But though she was lonely, she could live with it because there were so many other things to occupy her attention. There's always something interesting going on somewhere, and she sees it all. And she was so pretty then, always wearing a coy smile- nothing like the silent, nevereanding scream we see now. She never hid herslef in a half-moon or a scythe shape, either. Everyone could appreciate her beauty, all the time.
One night, the moon noticed that one young man would stare ar her more intently than the others. Every night, he would sit on a rock on the beach by his home, and gaze ar her. She was used to being admired, of course, but this man seemed to see more than a pretty disc in the sky. As though he could see her very nature, all her pain and joy.
On one star-splattered night, the velvety dark sky a blanket around her, the moon stared at the young man as he stood on his rock and proclaimed, 'Give your heart to me!'
And that was the beginning of their love affair. Though the moon could not speak to him, the young man chatted to her every night, and showed her all the things that were within his heart. He swore that he'd love her forever, and a new feeling came from the centre of the moon.
She longed to kiss the man, and loved him until it felt like pain. During the daylight hours, when she was on the other side of the earth, her mind was fixed upon him, his gentle words, repeating his stories over and over again.
She couldn't stop herself.
Slowly, the space between the earth and the moon became narrower. Within a few evenings, she filled the night air, pale and smooth as flesh.
On the fateful night, when the earth and moon were almost touching, the man stood on his rock, leaned up into the sky so that his lips could touch the pretty coy mouth of the moon...
He died instantly, of course. The moon was too much for him, and as she kissed him, he was crushed against the earth. She was too large, too strong, too powerful to love him.
Once she realised what had happened, the moon's face changed into the shocked terror we still see now. She recolied from the earth. Most nights, she hides her face in shame for succumbing to the desperation of her heart.
Nain and I sat in silence for a long time, her warm arms tight around me. I rested my head on her shoulder, but I didn't sleep. The moon appeared to be slowly receding- the story, perhaps, reminding her why she kept her distance from the earth.
The moon never looked the same to me after that. Looking at her pale face, I could only see the pain and remorse of having loved someone to death.
Nain fell asleep, her head resting on the doorframe, but I remained awake until the songbirds started tweeting, until a thin rim of light coloured the horizon, the promise of another day. The tide left our garden and crept back down the beach, as if sighing after holding its breath all night. By the time Ray got up, the crab claw still clasped in his fingers, the wonder of the dark hours had gone, and only Nain and I remained, fast asleep on the doorstep, already out of rhythm with the day.
Mother Of All
I would have been happy never to go to school. In fact, I would have been happy never to go into the village at all. There was half a mile of beach between our house and Aberdyfi, and a thousand miles. I would have stayed at home forever: Nain and I, tending the house and collecting driftwood for the fire.
'Don't be stupid!' Ray laughed when he heard me moaning on the way to school one morning. 'You can't stay at home forever!'
'Why can't I?' Walking on the sand was hard work, especially on days like that when it hadn't rained for a while, and the wind whipped the loose sand into our faces.
'Because it's important to learn to read and do sums and geography and that sort of thing.' Ray paused for a while, and crouched in the reeds to examine a pebble or a shell, and I stopped, too, to scratch my name in the sand. 'Lou', big and neat and ready to be washed away at the next high tide. I would never write my full name- even then, Luna seemed too grand and pretty a name for a girl like me.
Ray looked as though he had grown from the sand. Brownish-yellow hair and skin, eyes the colour of a dirty sea, and long, spindly bones, like driftwood. I knew that he was more beautiful than me. There were no pretty comparisons to be made that would save my brown hair, pale skin and grey-blue eyes.
'There's no point in learning those things. I have no use for them.'
Ray peered at me. 'You're afraid.'
'Afraid of what?'
I kicked the toes of my black boots into the sand, scowling. Just because he was impulsive, hot headed, just because he threw himself body and soul into everything he did.
'No, I'm not,' I replied unconvincingly.
'You are,' said Ray without malice. That was the most difficult and loveliest thing about my twin- he wasn't cruel or unkind, simply honest. 'You're afraid of the dark. Afraid of the rats in the pantry. Afraid of the sea, even, and you've lived two hundred yards from it since the day you were born!'
He lost interest in whatever had captured his attention in the reeds, and resumed his journey to the village. He could never walk in a straight line- he'd dart from place to place, looking for something new that had come in with the morning's tide- a dead jellyfish, or a huge tangle of seaweed. My twin, my other half, my contrast. I was quiet, slow and ungainly.
'It's important to be watchful of the sea,' I insisted, a sentence I'd used many, many times before. 'It's full of danger.'
Ray thought about it for a while as the wind whipped his hair. 'Yes, it is. But it's also full of adventure. And putting your toe in the water isn't going to kill you, Lou.'
'There are jellyfish... They can sting.'
'But they're not dangerous, not really.'
And then Ray started to run the last quarter-mile to the village, leaping over shells and stopping, sometimes, to pick up, examine and fling a pebble. His instinct was to expend his energy. Mine was to conserve it, as if I could bank it all inside me until a wonderful or terrible day when I would need it.
He was right about my fears, damn him. I was not like other eight-year-olds. They would peel off their clothes and sprint into the sea, screaming as the cold touched them in a shiver of pleasure and pain. They would dive beneath the waves, their eyes wide, daring one another to stay underwater until they became light-headed and seeing spots. They would poke at angry crabs with their toes, and run without caring about the sharp shells that could tear their soles into bloody ribbons.
'Lou's afraid of the sea!' They bleated it, as shrill as the screech of a seagull, and the words made me hot and twitchy with anger and shame. I hated my stupid suffocating fear. The Sea was untrustworthy and my own tentative nature was an embarrassment.
If only I could have climbed out of my body and become who I really was.
Though I had no way of telling the time, I sensed that I was going to be late for school that morning. There was something about the whiteness of the light and the warmth of the breeze that indicated that it was no longer early morning. I hurried past the old mill and its feathery plume of smoke. Past the rough-bricked railway station, and the weeds that grew dirtily in the tracks. Under the shadow of the Corbett Arms Hotel, the peals and tinklings of good porcelain like the sound of tiny bells through the windows.
Aberdyfi was preoccupied with its new morning bustle- women sweeping the previous day's dust out onto the street; men scurrying to work, their lunches, wrapped in greaseproof paper, clutched in rough hands; shopkeepers attempting to lure a shine to their windows with shammy leather, trying to undo the effects of the foamy brine that spat at the village last night. No-one looked at me: I was invisible. A part of the patchwork of the village, a little rag of navy blue, hurrying along the pavement.
As I turned the corner from the seafront towards the village square, someone rushed to meet me, and grabbed my hand tightly. 'We're late, Lou!'
'Have they rung the bell?'
Bet shook her head, worry arching her brows. She had only just had her hair cut short, like a boy- that was the fashion then- and the bristly chestnut-coloured hair refused to lie flat on her head. She developed a habit of smoothing her palm over her head in the vain hope that her hair would do what she wanted it to do, and the habit stayed with her for far longer than the hairstyle did.
She yanked on my hand until my shoulder ached, and we ran together up Copperhill Street towards the school. The bell began to peal as we came within sight of the jutting stone brow of the school.
'You're so lucky, Lou,' Bet sighed, speaking through the blade of rush she held like a cigarette between her teeth. 'You're so clever.'
The afternoon Aberdyfi was a different village to the one I knew from the morning. Everyone relaxed after three o'clock, yielding to the slow-paced languor of the afternoon sun. After school, children would wander to the harbour, and a few fortunate ones would spend their pennies in Shadrach's Shop. Most of the children would sit, then, on the harbour wall, their legs dangling. pale and long as blades, over the water. I couldn't sit there- what if I fell into the water? So Bet and I sat in a nearby sand dune, part of a crowd but somehow in a place of our own.
'D'you want me to help with those sums?' I asked, but Bet shook her head hopelessly. She had been yelled at by Miss Jenkins again, this time for not grasping long division. I believed it was unreasonable to yell at someone for something beyond their control, but, beneath my outrage, I could understand Miss Jenkins' frustration. I myself had tried to explain long division to Bet many, many times, and I had seen the blank, unseeing stare that came to her eyes.
'There's no point. I'll never get it.' Bet spat the reed from her mouth, and snapped off another to chew.
'It doesn't matter anyway. Sums aren't important in real life.'
A familiar sound drifted across the sand. Ray's laugh. I sat up straigher and looked over. Captain Lewis was bent like a question mark over his stick onboard the Sarah- an old schooner he kept in the harbour as a sentimental relic of the old, pre-steam days. The ageing boat was dying a slow, public death, the oak of her body softening and rotting, and every storm leaving its marks on her. The boys of the village would have allowed her to fade away giving her a dignified death, but not Ray- he was always waiting for the next demand from Captain Lewis, or instructions on how to replace a rotting plank or rub the rust off a chain. Ray darted on board the old schooner, sweeping the deck or polishing the brass.
His heart belonged to the Sarah.
Ever since I could remember, his cheeks would fold into a smile as he rushed past the dunes for this first view of her, tall and graceful, the village providing a pretty backdrop to her majesty. I had watched him caressing the helm with a soft cloth, and trailing his fingers gently along the wood of her body. I had watched his face, the softness in his eyes, the contented curve of his mouth. In the summer, when the tourists came to crowd the pavements, Ray would stand proudly aboard the Sarah, beside Captain Lewis who would perch on a high stool, and my twin would become barrell-chested with pride, as if the Sarah was his. When the tourists approached the schooner along the jetty, Ray would be the one to answer their questions- her measurements, her age, and the thrilling geography of her story. Captain Lewis would only interject if Ray or one of the tourists happened to whistle a tune- that would ellicit a gruff "It's bad luck to whistle by the sea!" Ray would stop for a while, but he'd inevitably revert to his whistling- it was his way whenever he was truly contented.
'You're so lucky, Lou,' said Bet again, smoothing her tufty hair with the palm of her hand. 'You're clever and you have long hair.'
'You're lucky too!' I insisted, turning my attention from my brother. It was a gentle April, and more freckles were appearing on Bet's nose every day. I scratched my name into the sand, trying to keep each letter neat and level.
'You are. You've got your house, and your parents, and all the toys...'
'You have your nain. And your house is actually on the beach.'
'But it's not the same...'
Bet lay back in the sand, wrinkling her eyes in the bright sunlight. She removed the reed from her mouth, and braided it between her fingers.
'Tell me a story, Lou.'
I lay down by her side. The sky was as blue as eyes I hadn't yet seen.
'The one about you and Ray when you were babies.'
'You always want that one.'
'It's my favourite. Please, Lou...'
I knew it word for word. I could almost see Nain's mouth forming round the familiar syllables as I told the story.
A long time ago, a kind and lovely woman lived by the sea, halfway between the village and the town. Her beauty attracted the love of everyone who saw her, even those who had steeled themselves never to love anyone or anything.
She lived with her mother, and two little babies- the twins, Lou and Ray. Though she had a husband, he was a captain on a ship, he'd gone on the kind of voyage where you're never expected to return.
She was such a lovely woman, especially to her dear babies, that the children of the village would often walk along the beach to her home just in order to be with her. Everyone said that she was the best mother that ever was, with unlimited patience and all the love she held within her glowed in her face like a full moon. Every child that came to her felt the warmth of her care, and that is how she came to be called Mother Of All.
But unbeknownst to her, something else was watching Mother Of All, and was envious of all the love she contained, and the care given to Lou and Ray. It was the sea, and all the beasts within her. They wanted Mother Of All to bestow her care and love on them, to know how it felt to be loved by someone perfect.
Very early one morning, Mother Of All woke early to do the housework. As she pegged the clothes on the line in the garden, the sea saw its chance, and out of the quiet, still waters came one huge wave, curling over Mother Of All and stealing her into the depths. The sea had claimed her, and by the time everyone else awoke, the only sign of her were Lou and Ray's white baby clothes waving gaily in the breeze.
I would think of my mother sometimes, imagining her standing in the clean early light of morning, my baby clothes in her soft hands. Mam. Had she seen the wave before it broke over her? Has she heard it, perhaps, roaring as the birdsong faded? Did she turn and see it, rising like a cloud, throwing its grey shadow over her? Did my mother turn to run, or did she accept her fate, smoothing down her apron as she waited for the icy water to thunder through her clothes?
What did Nain say after she arose? Did she search for my mother, her daughter, padding for room to room to the sombre sound of the ticking clock? And then to the garden, gazing over the calm and pretty sea, the greedy wave long gone... Did she stare at the clothes on the line, white as seagulls, the wash basket left half-full on the lawn? Is that when Ray and I stirred in our shared cradle, our thin cries wandering downstairs and through the front door?
Had we been old enough to long for our mother?
'They say she'll come home one day, don't they?' asked Bet, turning onto her side and resting her head on her hand.
'I can't wait to see her, Lou. Mother Of All.'
'But just Mam, to me.' 'You'll still be my friend, won't you? Even when Mother Of All comes back?'
''Course I will.' 'Because I was thinking, you might want to go straight home after school when she gets here, instead of staying out with me.'
'You can come too.'
Bet sat up and yawned gracelessly. 'I'll have to go home for tea. D'you want to come?'
It was still early, and Ray didn't look as if he was ready to go home. Nain wouldn't worry about us as long as we were home before dark. She's say, 'I know that you and Ray look after one another.' And besides, I loved having tea at Bet's house.
'All right,' I said, as if I could ever refuse.
Sounds felt different in Bet's home, softer and sweeter. It was years before I realised that there was a reason for this: it was the first house I visited that had the luxury of carpet. As soon as I stepped over the threshold, my voice retreated into whispers, and I felt an edge of respectful fear of the unfamiliar silence and stillness.
I removed my shoes, copying Bet. That was the rule in this house. A pair of soft turquoise slippers waited for Bet's small feet, but as a visitor, I would have to wander around in my socks. Even that felt luxurious to me. In our house, shoes were worn until we climbed into bed- they protected us from getting splinters from the wooden floor of the bedroom, and the chills of the cold slate of the downstairs floor.
'Mam!' Bet yelled, too loudly for such a quiet house. 'I'm back! Can Lou stay for tea?'
As if she had been waiting behind the kitchen door, Mrs Griffith appeared immediately through the kitchen door, her neat body straight and tall and the light from the kitchen outlining her perfect silhouette. She was an angel in a yellow apron.
'Of course. Of course.' She hurried to Bet, and smoothed her pretty white hand lovingly over her daughter's unruly hair. Without waiting for an answer, she turned to me and looked me over. I felt untidy and self-conscious in my old coat and the rough woollen socks that Nain had knitted for me. But Mrs Griffith smiled kindly. 'And how is Luna today?'
'Very well, thank you,' I replied in a small voice. My name, that ostentatious display of sentimentality and silliness that I was obliged to carry around with me for the rest of my days, sounded all right when Mrs Griffith said it. All the years I knew her, she never once called me Lou, and her daughter, in all the years I knew her, never called me Luna. 'How are you?'
Mrs Griffith laughed, as if it was ridicilous to imagine that she could ever be anything but serene. 'I'm well, thank you for asking. Even better now that you two are here for tea!'
I grinned to myself as she led the way into the kitchen. It was impossible not to smile in this woman's presence. If dollies ever grew up and came to life, they would be exactly like Mrs Griffith.
Bet and I sat by the kitchen table, and Bet chattering on about something that had happened at school. I had once, a few months ago, offered to help Mrs Griffith as she prepared tea- slicing the bread, or setting the table. But she didn't want help, as if she really wanted to do it all herself. And yet, I couldn't help myself from feeling guilty as I watched her trying to prepare everything and listen to her daughter at the same time.
I watched Mrs Griffith. She wasn't a young woman, not even back then. Nain had told me once that Mr and Mrs Griffith hadn't been expected to be blessed with a child after being so long without one, and that the swelling in Mrs Griffith's tummy had surprised and delighted them both. Perhaps that was why they always treated Bet as if she were a gift from heaven, and not just a child.
Though she was, to me, an old lady, there was an unusual grace about Mrs Griffith. She would never hurry, never burned the cakes, never lost control. I couldn't imagine her opening her mouth widely to enjoy a weighty belly laugh, but I couldn't imagine her crying either.
She wore different versions of the same outfits every day. A straight dark skirt that hung to a point halway between her knees and her ankles; a white blouse and a dark cardigan. Her short hair was curled tight, and her face, like the rest of her, was neat and symmetrical. Cool blue eyes and bow lips. Though her hair was greying, that only enhanced her appearance, as if the shade of grey had been specially selected to match the simple silver chain she wore around her neck.
The feast began.
With white graceful hands, Mrs Griffith brought the food to the table. A plate of bread, with thick golden butter spread from crust to crust. By its side, a jar of homemade raspberry jam, glinting warmly like a church window.
Jam and marmalade were weekend treats at our house, and smeared thinly as a stain by Nain's gnarled hands. In Bet's house, we helped ourselves, and used a spoon instead of a knife.
I smeared the jam on a piece of a bread with the back of the spoon: it was almost as thick as the butter itself. It tasted sweet and fruity and lovely.
Then, a thick triangle of sponge cake with a thick layer of cream in the centre. Sweet tea in a cup with a saucer, and half an apple each to finish, cut into thin crescent-moon slices.
'Thank you very much, Mrs Griffith,' I breathed after the meal, tired after overeating. She smiled at me. Not a crumb had passed her lips.
'You're such a good girl, Luna. You never forget to say please and thank you.'
Mrs Griffith's voice made me feel warm.
'How's your grandmother?'
'Very well, thank you. Much better since the weather's improved.'
'Is it her arthritis again?'
A cloud of concern flitted over Mrs Griffith's sunny face, and I yearned to have her contented smile back again.
'Yes, but it's much better now, thank you.'
Her smile returned, and my soul sighed with relief.
Bet stuck her finger in her mouth before smoothing it across her plate to pick up the stray crumbs. 'Lou, can I come to your house for tea tomorrow?'
'Bet!' her mother scolded, but there was no real heat in her voice. 'Don't be rude. You're not meant to ask to be invited.'
'I'm sure Nain won't mind,' I said, knowing how much Nain adored Bet, and knowing, too, the joy Bet found in the simplicity of our house and food after the rich opulence of her own home. Tea time was so different at home.
On sunny days, Nain would roll up soft sugared pancakes in greaseproof paper, before letting us out to eat them on the beach. This was done for convenience- no dirty dishes, no small sugar crystals to glitter the slate floor. Ray and I were used to it.
The very idea held Bet spellbound.
She would accept the greaseproof package with the care usually reserved for newborn babies, and gazed into Nain's eyes as she offered profuse thanks. Then, to the sound of waves, she would settle on the sand or on one of the smooth flat rocks, and ate slowly, chewing tiny mouthfuls of pancake. Savouring.
'Hurry!' I'd nag impatiently, my own pancake scoffed in a few seconds, barely tasted at all. 'We won't have much time to play!'
'Isn't it lovely to eat outside, without a knife and fork?'
Years later, when the days of Nain's pancakes on the beach had come to an end, I realised that Bet had been right. What freedom she must have felt, so far from the confines of her home.
'I'd better go now,' I said to Mrs Griffith after Bet and I spent half an hour carefully playing with her porcelain-faced dolls. 'Thank you very much for the tea.'
'Any time at all, dear Luna.'
Mrs Griffith turned to face me. She was standing over the stove, her hand rhythmically stirring something in a saucepan. She looked perfect, lovely, exactly right in the neatness of her kitchen, and in my eight year old mind, I hoped that I would one day fit that perfectly into my life.
Translated by Manon Steffan Ros
The sea in all its tempers dominates this haunting new novel by Manon Steffan Ros, set in the coastal village of Aberdyfi in north-west Wales, some time in the twentieth century. Here, where life is patterned by the tides and by the seasonal demands of fishing and tourism, orphaned twins, Gorwel and Llanw, are brought up by their story-telling grandmother. Whereas the fearless Gorwel loves the sea and ships and yearns to sail away to distant horizons, his sister Llanw cannot overcome her visceral terror of the waves. As they grow up Llanw becomes bereft at the emotional and then the physical distance that opens up between herself and her brother. Shy and full of self-doubt, she finds it increasingly difficult to communicate even with those closest to her. As she moves into the world of employment, then marriage and motherhood, she remains uncertain of her self and unconfident in relationships, even with her close friend Bet. She turns more and more to the world of her imagination, weaving tales to explain and exorcise her experiences and feelings, but worrying at their potential to come true.
The dangers and attractions of liminal places, and the shifting boundaries between reality and fiction are skilfully evoked in this lyrical and moving novel by one of the most original novelists writing in Welsh today.