Simon McCarthy-Jones

Simon McCarthy-Jones is an academic based at Trinity College Dublin. He is the author of three non-fiction books, the most recent of which is, Can’t You Hear Them? The Science and Significance of Hearing Voices, published by Jessica Kingsley in 2017.


In Which We Float

Grief, like water, takes the shape of that which holds it. His mother died when he was two, when memory’s net is wove too wide to catch the world. Grief became the unseen ether in which his world floated.

Now eight, he stared out from the holiday house, high at the back of the bay. His sea-saturated eyes looked up. The sky was higher here than at home. In the distance, the sun died at sea. From what was darkness made, he wondered. He waited for the light.

At dawn, the boy and his father walked to the sea. They descended hard stone steps to sand-strewn grass and on, through warm deep sand to the cold wet shore. Invertebrate tombs, all empty, seeded the sand. The boy sifted the shells, searching for the fragile immaculate. The unseen moon, never tired of the sea, jostled it up the bay once more. They retreated home.

On the veranda, safe from the cremating burn of the midday sun, the boy played as his father slept. The light faded and the boy put aside his toys. He walked to the rail. Resting his arms on it, he looked out to sea.

A ripple appeared.

The boy lifted binoculars. Rubber on eyeball anchored him as he rushed out to sea. A tangle of orange twine. It moved up, out of view, replaced by a beige-white mass. The boy checked his lenses for fingers. There were none. The binoculars fell to his chest as a head rose from the sea. Shoulders followed. And a torso. Out of the setting sun, a giant waded from the depths to the shallows. Its legs birthed new waves, topped with pale riders.

It reached the beach and stared inland. The boy raised his binoculars again. In the giant’s eyes he saw a dim reflection of himself, high on the hill. The giant turned to face the sea again. Its hair contracted into tight orange curls. Boundless water flowed down its bare back. Streaks of seaweed measured the margins of its muscles. With a thud, which echoed in the boy’s chest, the giant sat down and pulled his knees to his chest. As the sea ate the sun once more, darkness manifest on the beach.

Neither would his father’s eyes see, nor his ears hear, of a giant in the darkness. He sent the boy to bed.

The boy woke into silence. Time had buried deep into the darkness. He crept downstairs and out onto the veranda. Only the gentle glow of memory lit the beach. He had to see this thing.

As he left the house, the hollow drum of his heart beat loud in his chest and ears. Tall beachgrass stood in the dunes. As he reached it, the boy fell to his stomach on the still warm sand. He parted the grass.

It was unclear where giant ended and bitumen-black sea began. Moonlight broke through, but lit only a deeper darkness. Red lines crossed the giant’s back, linking nodes of black-blue domes. Things stuck out of him. Metal, sticks, glass. There was a smell of burnt flesh.

The boy walked to the giant and stopped. He looked down, with eyes shut, as his breathing shallowed. His nose, lips and fists tightened. Eventually, time washed away the anger. Something else came in its place. The consciousness of blood pulsing under the giant’s skin. The boy’s own palm pulsed in reply. He stood like that for the longest time.

The boy awoke as the cold tide dragged over his feet. Seagulls glided on the dawn light. The giant was gone.

As the years passed, the boy returned to the beach. The giant never did. The boy would skim stones across the surface of the sea. Eventually, they sank.

© 2018 Simon McCarthy-Jones