The Periphery

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cliffs facing the sea

The Periphery

by A.J. Black

She was always there, on the periphery.

 

The periphery of my vision, like a persistence of the mind, like a shadow lurking in the corner of the eye where sleep waits. 

I noticed her the first night I stayed in the Connaught. Many people used to think I meant the famous hotel on Carlos Place, right at the heart of Mayfair, the place with ballrooms and spas and Saxe-Coburg history seeping from the pores. My Connaught was a smaller, less grandiose getaway in Charing Cross, a place I would come when my wife pretended she was away on business, and I would pretend she wasn’t in the arms of her lover. 

Not that I was a saint. Not that I didn’t deserve it. I had become infatuated with Her, let’s be honest. 

The woman on the periphery. 

At first, it seemed like a nonsense, like a trick of light and sight. I walked down the second-floor corridor in the Connaught with its slightly damp walls covered over with light purple wallpaper, to complement the dark purple of the carpet, zig-zagged with patterns that when you looked down made you feel like Gulliver in a mouse’s maze. It first happened when I walked across the intersection bridging my corridor with an adjacent one down the front-facing part of the hotel, and the staircase across the way. 

She was there. 

Imperceptible but tangible. Like a whisper. 

She existed without form, without construct, yet she was clear, in that space between understanding and possibility. 

I noticed the red hair first, felt it burning like a hazy Sun, running gracefully down the front of her formless body from what I presumed was a gazelle’s neck, soft and illuminating. 

The curls spoke to me, the warmth drew me in. 

I stopped. Did I turn? 

Never. I never turned. Not at first. 

She was looking at me, that I knew. She was on the staircase, yet not. She should have been lower, should have been someone I looked down at, but she was at my eye level enough to register her presence. Equal. Unafraid. 

I felt no fear, at least at the beginning. All I felt was the rapture, the pull, the instantaneous desire to turn, to embrace, to become… 

“Morning Mr. Jewson,” came a voice, ripping me from my reverie. I looked straight at the smiling young woman passing me by, one of the Connaught room service staff. Was her name Amy? Astrid? 

“Morning,” I tripped over almost in reply, and Amy–I was sure it was Amy–continued on her way. Had I smiled? My voice had sounded reedy and distant, for sure. If she wondered about the grey-haired businessman in a suit slightly too big for him and a gaudy, cheque tie he hated but his wife had bought him as an anniversary gift, wondered if he was acting strangely, she didn’t show it. 

I barely noticed her disappear down the corridor with her tray of towels and bed covers, my mind fixed as it was on the periphery once more. But she was gone. 

It didn’t happen again until three weeks later. 


The hotel was quiet that night. Restive. Yet not peaceful, as in the air I felt a swirling, ominous dread the moment I walked through the door. 

“Robert Jewson,” I declared, approaching the reception desk to the right of the old, spinning push doors made of strong iron, painted over after long-ago turning to rust. I no longer had to even say I had a reservation, I stayed there so often. The desk clerk knew the room I wanted and on a night like this, the Connaught had almost no guests. He reached for the key to room 47 as I continued feeling it. The oppression. Thick. Palpable. 

I thought I saw her then, but I didn’t. At least I think I didn’t. 

“Here you go, Mr. Jewson,” the sallow-faced clerk replied. What was his name again? John? Maybe. I didn’t remember. I didn’t care. So many names came and went in the wind. I only ever truly remembered two now beyond my own. 

Claire. My wife. 

Gregory. Her fucking lover. 

I took the key and approached the lift, while wondering if I should take the stairs. They curled around from the lobby up to the second floor, resplendent, echoing a glamour I seriously doubted the building ever had. Maybe it had been more like the Mayfair Connaught once upon a time. Maybe I knew nothing. 

I knew I knew nothing. All I knew these days was how to escape to this place, retreat to my sanctuary. 

And Her, of course. Always Her. Except I hadn’t understood that yet. My eyes hadn’t opened. 

I took the lift, as I always did, talking myself as usual out of exercise. Room 47 lay at the end of the third floor. I liked it because it was small and dark, and strangely cosy for a soulless vestige of the city. Architecturally it was an aberration, built in a corner of the hotel which almost scraped the edges of the adjacent hospital, and the result was that light only naturally poured through one window, the other blocked by ageing concrete, grey and cracked by the wind and time. 

It was as I put my key in the door, I saw her for the second time, on the periphery. 

The eyes struck me this time. Piercing. Blue or grey or purple, they seemed iridescent, changing with the seconds. They complemented and contrasted her flaming red, curly hair, framing the soft pink face I could only sense, along with the rest of her form. 

She was closer this time than before, like she was just metres away across the corridor, staring at me. Willing me to face her. Willing her to an embrace within the air that swirled around me, like molecules in a vacuum. Not literally, you understand? To anyone else I was a man with his key in the door, pausing in a moment, trying not to glance at the shadow in his right eye. To me, I was at the centre of a growing maelstrom. 

I’ve since tried to quantify the feeling of seeing her, but it’s become so commonplace it feels numb. I can’t give it context. I can only promise it was like nothing I’d ever felt before. A warmth and passion and allure and a hint of fear so powerful it threatened to overwhelm.

Fear. 

That’s what drove me to turn that key, throw open the door. As I closed it behind me, I was sure I heard a voice. A name. 

My name. 


Over the next few weeks, I saw her three more times before the night I realized, lurking as ever in the space between light and dark. 

I was staying at the Connaught more and more by this point, even when I wasn’t in London on business trips attempting to salvage the company from the financial rot which had infested it. I didn’t want to be in the house. Claire didn’t want me there either, though she attempted to hide it behind assurances and promises and encouragement. If she didn’t hate the sight of me by now, I was beginning to despise looking at her. 

I knew. She knew. We all knew. We were just hiding. 

That’s why I was at the Connaught, that much I understood. Not all of the trips were essential. Some nights I just wanted the solitude, the peace. I would lie for hours in the dark hotel room, lights off, silence permeating. I would stare at the ceiling, watching the aged and warped paint trying not to crumble, looking through it into an abyss of my own making, thinking about the roads and destinations that had led me to this point, this moment, this confluence of past, present and future. I wondered how it would feel to never leave this place. 

Through all this, I knew she was with me. The periphery pulsated, even if I didn’t always see her directly. I sensed Her. Always. 

The night she came to me. The night I realized. That was a particularly dark one. 

I slammed the door of Room 47 behind me and flung my briefcase against the wall. The lock wasn’t sturdy and the contents exploded out of the leather casing and it unfolded and clattered down around pens, papers, endless papers, spreadsheets, forms, the whole fucking mess that was my life and my company and the creditors’ debts and the business I had spent half my life creating, flushing down the fucking toilet… 

Breathing hard, my heart pounding in my chest, I collapsed onto the bed. 

It was cold and it was dark and it was silent and then she came. 

On the periphery, she was next to me on the bed. Closer than she’d ever been. Closer than I had wanted her to be before. 

This time I could smell her, before I heard her whisper my name. 

Robert… 

She smelled like cinnamon, only cinnamon that had festered, gone to seed. She sounded like cold silk draped across an ice sheet, her voice a crisp whisper which began to repeat as she hovered next to me. 

I felt her burning hair. I sensed her open, piercing eyes, bigger than ever. 

Robert… 

For the first time, I wondered who she was, because for the first time I knew she was real. I knew she was more than just a form, an actualization, a rationalization of my fears and rage directed at Claire, at the lot of them. She was tangible, but could I touch her? Did she want me? If she was here, why? Why now? Why nowhere else? 

Robert… 

That time it felt like she was about to say more, but she trailed off. The name was all. 

I wanted to turn. I wanted to look at her, see her form. The pink, ripe face was in the periphery, but her body was still a camouflage of the surroundings. She blended in, she was a mere blotch on the landscape. She had no form, just feeling. She was inside, her talons gripping my mind and scratching scratching scratching etching etching. 

My head moved and then didn’t. The impulse floundered. Receptors in my head fired back, refusing to budge. I couldn’t turn. I couldn’t face her. Is that what she wanted? Did she just want to be a glimpse, a shadow, a possibility? 

“Why…” was all I could say, spooling it out with frozen uncertainty, tripping over the word. 

Breath. Cold breath. First in my ear, then down my cheek, like a river of ice. Was it a gasp? A release from her? An urgency? She was calling to me, that much I knew. She wanted me, and I wanted her. We sought symbiosis. We sought union. I wanted nothing more in that moment than for us to join, become one, to take her inside me and cover her with warmth and feel her make me whole. 

I gasped at the cold and I sensed her no more. 

No sleep came that night, for the rapture of her embraced me and would not let me go. 


The next day I didn’t leave the room, nor the day after that. No one called until the night of the second day, when Claire finally tried to call me. 

I didn’t answer. I knew she wouldn’t want me to. 

I finally slept the third night and it was deep, but restless inside. She was there. She stood on a cliffside, choppy waters beneath. A crow flew overhead, black as the ocean. I heard a lullaby, the same one Claire used to play our Sara when she was in the cot. Distant, twinkling. I was approaching her. She faced out to the sea. Her hair rippled, red as fire, but her body dissolved into a mass as black as the hawking crow circled above. 

She turned and I screamed awake. 

It was morning. Sweat had pooled in the bed. I stank to high heaven. The half-light of the day shining through the one window not blocked by natural architecture. It compelled me to rise, to shower, to change, to regard the mass of financial figures strewn out on the floor. 

Numbers. Numbers everywhere. Bad ones. We were going under. Out-priced by another aeronautics firm who could supply their parts cheaper and faster, thanks to outsourced labour. The numbers held a wall, firm and impassible. There was no way out. The only way was insolvency, bankruptcy, and then the wall would fall. The house would be gone, and all of Claire’s kaftan and Turkish rugs. We would have less than this dank, putrid room in the fetid hole that was this hotel he knew and still kept coming back to. 

I would have Her, though, that I realized now. That I understood. 

All I wanted to do now was know Her. 

Nothing else mattered. 

That compulsion drove me, half-dressed in a crumpled, worn shirt and turned out trousers, with only smelly socks without shoes, to pad my way down to the lobby and speak to the clerk. It wasn’t Maybe John today. It was someone new, someone I hadn’t even seen before despite my visits. A name badge on his waistcoat lapel said ‘Sanjay’. 

“Hello Sanjay,” I said, distantly, off the back of his lapel. 

Sanjay smiled the smile of a thousand clerks adopting faces. “Good morning, Mr. Jewson, how are you?” 

“You know me?” I said, confused at Sanjay’s cordiality. 

“We all know you, Mr. Jewson sir,” he replied with a maddening smile. “We were worried. You haven’t let room service in for several days.” 

“Am I paid up?” 

Sanjay checked the logbook on the table near him and I wondered how many hotels like this still used old fashioned logbooks like that, bound almost with old parchment and leather. “Yes sir. All week.” 

I nodded. I didn’t recall paying but I could only see numbers and Her and numbers and Her and the cliff and the crow and the screams and Her. 

“There’s a… woman…” I started, my voice groggy and crackling with lack of sustenance. How was I not ravenous or thirsty after so long awake and then out? 

Sanjay just stared at me with an impassive smile that felt like another wall, as if nothing would surprise or pass him. 

“Can you uh… is there a woman staying here?” 

“There are many women staying here, sir,” He replied with friendly intention, the kind I wanted to reply with a punch in the face. 

“She has… hair. Red hair,” I found myself saying the words without thinking them. Impulse. Memory. “Blue eyes, she…” 

How else could I describe her? No words came because I had no vision. No form. No substance. She was ephemera, she was air, except to me she was grounded and true and within. She was within me, as I stood before Sanjay now. She looked out at him too. 

“If you see her, will you–” 

“I will let you know, Mr. Jewson sir,” Sanjay said happily. “Would you like to have breakfast, sir?” 

I shook my head and wandered off without a word toward the stairs. 

“Have a great day, sir,” Sanjay called back after me, but I knew there were no great days to come. I knew the wall was beginning to come down. 

When I got back to the room, I called Claire. 


“Robert, is that you? Robert?” 

“Hello…” 

“Robert. What’s going on? Where are you? It’s been days! I’ve been out of my mind.” 

“Oh yes, I’m sure. Your mind. With worry.” 

“You don’t sound like you, Robert. What’s happening? Where are you? Tell me where you are…” 

“I’m here. At the hotel.” 

“What hotel? You never mentioned any hotel…” 

“Claire…” 

“The one we stayed at the night we conceived Sara?” 

Laughter. 

“Robert…?” 

“That night. You remember that night?” 

“Of course I do. It was… magical.” 

“We were by the sea, Claire, do you remember? The ocean was so cool. Like breath.” 

“Robert…” 

A long, deep breathing. 

“I can’t come back, Claire. Not now.” 

“What? Why? Where are you? Please tell me.” 

“Because I know.” 

“What do you know?” 

“About Gregory, of course.” 

Pause. 

“Gregory? You mean… my shift partner Greg?” 

“It’s all so clear since I’ve been here. I see it now, said the blind man. She’s been helping me understand.” 

“She? Who’s she? Robert…” 

“She can see you for who you are, Claire.” 

“You’re in a hotel with a woman, Robert, is that what you’re telling me?” 

A quieter, strained breath… 

“Robert. Talk to me.” 

“You can be happy when the crow flies. She promises you that. We can be together again by the sea; would you like that?” 

“I don’t… Robert, I don’t understand…” 

Crying now, on her end. 

“The wall is falling, Claire. I can feel it. We don’t have to lie. Come to the sea. We can all be together again.” 

“Robert… please…” 

“Have to go now.” 


That night, I slept deeply again, and the visions came to me. The truths. 

She stood at the cliff, but her form was clearer. Her slim, curvaceous form ebbed inside a flowing, sequined nightdress that blew elegantly in the cold, late afternoon wind. I could feel the ocean on my face as I approached her. I spied the crow again, hawking loudly. I heard the lullaby. It was louder and faster. 

Robert… 

She whispered. Her voice. Silken and charged with ice. 

As I glided across the grass, I reached out my hand to touch her shoulder and she turned. I screamed but no words emerged. 

Her face was Claire’s. 

I woke accompanied by a wordless terror, bolt upright in bed. I didn’t move for what felt like an hour, but it could have been minutes. I felt Her everywhere. Inside, outside, to the side. Always only on the periphery, out of sight but not mind. 

As I showered, I thought about my conversation with Claire. It hadn’t been me who made that call, that much I understood. I had watched in my own consciousness as the words had emerged, words both alien and desperately familiar, words from deep down in the bowels of my fears and hopes and dreams. Claire could never understand the feeling. Maybe like I could never understand her. What she wanted, what she hoped for after Sara. What I couldn’t give her, and what I believed Gregory could. 

Had I been wrong? Had I seen or had the blind man seen for me? Was Claire what I believed, what She believed? 

All I knew was that the sea was calling me, the ocean, the great divide. She was there, so was Claire. A confluence of emotions, of revelations, of understanding. I had a different fear now. A fear that I wouldn’t know her on the periphery beyond this door, beyond the lift, beyond the lobby, beyond this hotel that had crept under my skin, into my pores, that had become me. I was afraid She wouldn’t be there when I saw Claire, when I looked into her eyes for the truth. 

I clothed. Put on my best suit. Clean pale blue with a red, patterned tie, and a white handkerchief in the buttonhole. My trousers were blue and pressed. My shoes a suede brown, worn leather but pointed and stylish. My belt was thin and matching. This was after I had cleansed, shaved, groomed. I looked human again. I looked like the man who had won his first contract, the man who had secured his first mortgage. The man who had joined Claire at the aisle thirteen years ago surrounded by loving friends and family, people who barely registered in sight anymore. Time had slipped them away. I had passed them by. After Sara, there seemed little point in the niceties anymore. We had no reason to co-exist and look to a future that was just a void. I hadn’t imagined any kind of future for a long time. 

Until today. 

Confidence didn’t walk me down the second-floor corridor toward the lift, jacket buttoned up, suitcase at my side. I was driven by the sheer will of destiny, the gravitational pull of conclusion. I wasn’t just leaving this place, we both were, at once I was in the lift that became clearer to me than ever before. 

The muzak inside the confined lift space soon drifted away as the doors sealed closed and the mechanism began to descend. Everything slowed as she appeared on the periphery, once more. Time collapsed and I felt the very fabric of life, every pinprick of the universe, steadily begin grinding to a halt. The lift barely moved, though momentum continued. 

Robert… 

The voice. That voice. Stirring and cold and loving and distant and alien and here. 

Here with me. Inside me. It cascaded over me like warm rain, infecting every instinct. 

On the periphery, she was as close as the night she was in my bed. Her voice purred in my ear. The cold breath tingled my cheeks. I saw the impression of her in my right eye. The flaming hair. The piercing eyes. The lullaby. The sound of the crow. The rush of the ocean. It was all stirring at once as she seemed to grow closer, larger, moving quicker than time which had slowed its movement around me. 

Robert… 

What did she want? What had she ever wanted? I knew and yet didn’t. I felt it and understood and yet didn’t understand. It was a blur, with moments of clarity punctuated by deep reservoirs of doubt and quiet terror. She was inside me deeper than anyone or anything ever had, or would be, or could be. It was like she had always been there, tethered to my subconscious or unconscious. I drowned in her embrace and even if part of me knew it was wrong, knew I was corrupted, knew I should be terrified, the greater part of me wanted her. 

Not just Her, the overwhelming feeling of understanding and love and absence of pain. She took it away; she took it all away. Work. Claire. Sara. I felt nothing. It felt like I knew nothing.

Robert… 

It was when I looked left, to the mirror on the other side of the lift, looming and reflective, the embrace filled me forever. There was no reflection, no impression. On my periphery she existed, but not in my reality. Once I looked, She overwhelmed me and I looked down, gasping. Sweat poured from me, threatening to disrupt my coffered facade. I froze. I shook. 

Everything had changed. I was no longer Robert Jewson. 

We were Robert Jewson. 

We couldn’t see her in the periphery anymore. 

The lift doors opened, and we walked out into the lobby, infused with purpose. 

We were going to the sea. 


We parked. 

We smelled the salt in the ocean. 

We felt the wind in our hair, felt the breeze on our cheeks. 

We found a path away from the car park, through the bushes and the reeds leading to the cliffside. 

We walked on white gravel, frayed, beaten by salt wind and time, crunching under our feet as we trod the solitary old road to revelation. 

We saw the path open out into a clearing, onto the edge. 

We heard the crow hawking above. 

We saw the crow fly. Black. Fast. Out of place. 

We moved toward the edge, as if gliding. 

We saw Claire. She faced out to the sea, watching the tide as the late afternoon began giving way to cloudy darkness. 

We heard the crow cry. 

We saw Claire turn. She was dressed in a white dress, too much like summer for this climate. We heard Claire speak but we lost the words. 

We saw Claire cry as we simply stared at her and didn’t respond. 

We dropped the briefcase. 

We felt Claire grab us by the shoulders, crying, shaking us to respond, shaking us to emote. 

We did nothing. 

We watched. 

We let a tear escape our right eye, which we saw in the periphery. 

We let her rest her head on our chest as her anger turned to fear, turned to sadness, turned to heartbreak, turned to all of those things it already was. 

We touched her, held her, stroked her hair. 

We closed our eyes. 

We heard the silence of the ocean. 

We let her go. 

We pushed her. 

We watched her struggle, watched her lose her balance. 

We heard her scream, but to us it was silent. 

We didn’t try and save her as she slipped over the edge, falling backwards. 

We moved to the edge of the cliff as she fell, slowly, silently, her mouth open in a paroxysm of fear and release. 

We saw Claire disappear into the surf, plunging into the depths, returning to the water from which we all came. 

We fell to our knees, hands on the edge, staring at the rolling, swirling tide. 

We heard the crow above, hawking, talking to us. 

We thought we heard the lullaby. 


She left me. 

I fell to the ground, wrought. 

I knew she was gone. It felt like she had never been there. 

Did I mean She or Claire? 

I didn’t know. 

I didn’t know anything. 

I never had.


The journey back to the Connaught was a blur, a memory without experience. How I didn’t kill myself behind the wheel I will never know, given all I could see while driving was Claire’s face over and over. The expression as she fell. The terror. The sadness. The heartbreak and betrayal. All our years together splayed open and reduced to ash as she plunged deep into the choppy waters below. 

Again and again. Falling and falling. 

I felt nothing. Not even remorse, even though I knew I should. I wanted to. I wanted to feel shame and hate and horror and terror at what I had done, but it had been scooped out of me like ice cream from a bowl. My insides were hollow. I was a shell of a being, ripped and torn from the inside, from what She had done to me. 

She was gone. 

When I said I felt nothing, that included Her. No trace. No vestige. No periphery. It was like She never was. 

Thoughts assailed me. Would they find Claire? Would her body disappear for all time under the surf and would she become another of those missing people on lists and web pages? Or would her bloated, fish-eaten cadaver wash up on a beach somewhere down the coast, or caught in a trapper’s net? Would she be identified as Claire Jewson, the wife of Robert Jewson? A man himself not seen for days, his company on the brink of collapse. A man who suspected his wife of sleeping with Gregory, her co-paramedic shift partner. People knew of my suspicions. Friends, co-workers, people I had been foolish enough to trust with my thoughts and feelings, when I had them. Would they put two and two together, as detectives do, and conclude the inevitable? That Robert Jewson had arranged to meet his wife on the cliffside outlook spot they knew and loved from their honeymoon, from the place they conceived their dead baby girl? That he had confronted her, a confrontation that ended in her death? That he had intended to kill her? Kill his wife. Kill the woman who was cheating on him, or so he thought. Kill the woman he blamed for his daughter’s death because she wasn’t watching her when she walked out onto that busy road, immersed in her mobile phone as all kids are. Would he plead guilty in the dock? Would he be sentenced to life or would his barrister connive a lower sentence? Would he be a quiet prisoner or an abused one? Would he be let out early for good behaviour? Would he find a low paid retail position and a crummy little flat, eking out his days on TV dinners and lonely nights? Would he die alone, unloved, unremembered? Would there be an afterlife, a Heaven or a Hell, and where would he go? Would he see Claire again? Would he see Sara? 

Would She be there? 

Nobody answered these questions by the time I reached the Connaught and parked in car spaces opposite, along the busy Charing Cross filled with car horns and music and people and crows and planes in the sky. 

Then I looked at the hotel and everything stopped. Time. Reality. Understanding. 

I crossed the road, feeling like the only man unstuck in time. Everything else was frozen in my mind. An image. A fixed point. Only I could see what I saw right now. What I saw that I couldn’t be seeing. 

There was no hotel. 

I checked and double-checked. Signs, GPS signals, postcodes. I even asked a man walking in a hurry nearby. This was the right road. The same road. The same place I had spent countless nights in Room 47. 

The place She had found me. 

The plot where the Connaught stood was empty. Raised white wooden boards surrounded the empty, half rubble-strewn area beyond, now decorated with incomprehensible urban graffiti and endless posters advertising club nights, cultural events and cheap phone shops. 

Time continued to freeze in my mind as the world spun around me, my hollow thoughts grappling for meaning, for understanding. Had it ever existed? Had I imagined everything? Was Claire alive? Was the company ok? Was I even awake? Was I lying in some hospital bed asleep, dreaming this nightmare? Dreaming of the periphery? 

It was the old Pakistani man in a tiny corner shop down the road who answered those questions. I entered his place bewildered, asking about the Connaught, asking if a hotel had ever been there. 

“Oh yes, absolutely,” he replied, nodding quickly. “A long time ago. I’ve had this shop over forty years, and it was gone even before then.” 

“How? What–happened to it?” I asked, chilled to the bone. 

“Fire. Burned down,” he said, familiar enough to recount quickly. “The man I bought the shop from told me the story. Just went up one night. No explanation. They believed it was arson, but nobody knew who did it, or why. Nobody much remembers it now, but I have the plaque.”

“The plaque?” 

The shopkeeper nodded. “When they built an office block next to it in the ‘70s, the council put up a plaque to remember the hotel and the victims of the fire. Then when they knocked it down a few years ago, the building men asked if I wanted it, so…” 

I asked if I could look at it. A dreadful feeling coursed through my veins as he agreed, retreating into the recesses of his establishment for what seemed like an age in my mind. 

Something told me this was all about to make sense, and not make sense at all. 

The old man returned, brushing off dust from a worn, rusted metal plaque he had clearly kept in storage untouched for years. 

“This is it, here. They wondered why I wanted to keep it but local history is important, I think.” I took the plaque in my hands. It had the kind of power I no longer felt, coursing through its substance. The words pulsated out into my mind and I started shaking my head. 

WE REMEMBER THE CONNAUGHT. 

“No…” I said, over and over. 

WE REMEMBER THOSE LOST ON JULY 13, 1962. 

No no no no no no no. 

AMY PEWTER 

I saw the chambermaid, smiling as she bid me morning. 

JOHN PHELPS. 

I saw the sallow clerk as he gave me my room key. 

SANJAY BASKANI. 

I saw the Asian clerk’s infuriating smile as he closed the logbook. 

CLAIRE 

The surname was clouded under a mass of dust, grime and filth I began desperately clawing at with my hands, rubbing, trying to uncover the rest of the name. 

The old man looked at me strangely, growing ever more concerned at who I was and what my intentions were. 

Claire. Claire Claire Claire. 

Robert… 

I heard the cold whisper in my head. I felt her breath in my memory. 

I saw nothing on the periphery as I rubbed and rubbed and rubbed, etching away. The name grew clearer. The old man grew wearier, asking if I was alright alright alright. 

The crow echoed in my mind. 

The lullaby played. 

She stood on the edge of the cliff, beginning to turn around. 

Claire fell over the edge, screaming out in terror. 

CLAIRE 

Rub rub rub. Desperate. Blackness disappearing, forming letters. 

I dropped the plaque as the name became clear and it smashed into a dozen pieces, echoing out on the floor. 

CLAIRE JEWSON. 

Before the old man could say anything, I walked out of the shop. It looked like I was in a daze but for once, my actions and directions were clear. 

It was all a sign. A message. Claire and I were supposed to be together. I had made a terrible mistake and I would put it right. 

I can see the truck coming now. Large and fast. I can see the old man hobbling out of the shop, carrying some of the broken plaque pieces. I can see he’s worried, but I don’t understand why because it’s for me. 

I’m going to walk in front of this speeding truck now. 

I’ll see Claire soon. 

Maybe I’ll see Sara. 

Maybe we’ll all be together again. 

By the sea.

A.J. Black

A.J. Black

A.J. Black is the author of Myth-Building in Modern Media: The Role of the Mytharc in Imagined Worlds. He writes and podcasts about popular culture in entertainment on his blog, Cultural Conversation, and podcast network We Made This. He lives in Birmingham, England.

Photo by Ryan Kwok on Unsplash

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