Way out here, the ocean swells up big and mean, crashing on the broken teeth of the tidal rocks with enough force to knock resting seabirds from their perches, and sweep them down into the sea. Sometimes the waves spit up their remains. Guy and I collect tail feathers and broken wings and tie them to the twisted branches of the hawthorn trees in place of leaves. They flutter wildly in warning when the storms come in.
We run against the wind. Against the swirling black skies. The hawthorn trees flap their makeshift wings. Guy’s legs are longer than mine. Stronger. Sometimes the rain falls before we reach the glass house on the cliffs. When this happens, we use poppies to deflect the drops of water. The poppies here grow tall and wild. Big enough to wear as hats. They are a vibrant red against the green of the hills and the moss-covered stones.
Green is the first color I know. Ocean blue is the second. Poppy red is the third. Gorse yellow is the fourth. The day I know the grackle black of Guy’s hair I feel as if I am on the verge of a tremendous breakthrough. When I learn the silver and gold of the sky I want to weep. I don’t. Just in case it might erase me. In the beginning, this island was only different shades of grey. Now there are colors. They pulse at me secretly.
Guy pulls a poppy from a stalk the size of my wrist and holds it over me, making an umbrella, just as the first fat drops fall. They splatter against the waxy petals and roll off towards the ground. Guy says the rain is what makes everything so big in this place. The hills. The flowers. The ocean. The trees.
“Run,” he says, and I chase him.
Guy and I feel like strangers, but I am sure we know each other somehow. Under a certain light, the grackle black of his hair has a deep blue shine. This is when he looks the most familiar to me. His features are fine and his skin is luminous. No matter how hard I try, I still can’t name the color of his eyes. A splatter of rain lands on his cheek, erasing part of his cheekbone, and I see the silver veins beneath his skin.
The house on the cliff is never warm. This ensures that we always keep on moving. We burst through the door and I throw the wet poppy out into the wind, watching it twirl up into the storm, petals flying. Guy lights a fire but no heat comes. Our house is perfect for looking out of and seeing into. When the windows fog with moisture the glass shows traces of shapes and designs that we have drawn with the tips of our translucent fingers. We seem to write in different languages. I can’t read Guy’s drawings just like he can’t read mine.
Sometimes, Guy shows me my reflection in a seaweed strung mirror that washed to shore after a storm. It’s the most terrible thing not to recognize yourself. My hair is yellow like the gorse and my eyes are blue like the ocean. But my face is blank. Whatever used to be in there is gone. I look anyways. I want to know the face that he sees when he looks at me. If I look long enough I think I will remember it. But my features stay slippery. So does the color of his eyes.
Our house is big. There are glass turrets and tunnels, staircases, and chandeliers. It is a cold and lovely prison. Guy and I sit side by side in the dark of the storm, shivering and watching pale flames flicker in the fireplace. He lights the fire out of habit. He says he remembers nothing about the time before but something in him remembers that fires should make you warm.
I believe that remembering who we are is the key to getting out of this place, but he grows surly when I pester him with questions.
“What’s the oldest thing you remember?” I ask.
He frowns. “Finding you.”
“And before that?”
He shakes his head. “Just this,” he says. “Just the storms and the sea.”
I am always cold. Sometimes when I look in the mirror my lips are blue with it. I imagine myself dead in the sand with tiny crabs crawling out of my nose and I wonder what Guy will do without me. I imagine the rain erasing me until I am nothing more than a lonely breeze shaking the feathers in the hawthorn trees. But I am alive. I tell myself this as I sift through fish scales looking for new colors. I am alive. I repeat it over and over as I scrape salt and barnacles from my feet.
We are both looking for a way off of this island. I believe the pictures Guy traces in the glass are maps that he’s keeping secret. This smarts extra bad when his hair has that blue-black shine that’s so familiar. I hate that he keeps things from me, but I don’t tell him about the colors either. I stare at my slippery face in the mirror. I sift through piles of scales. I collect tail feathers and broken wings and tie them to the trees so I can hear the storms coming. I fold poppy petals into thirds and wear them around my wrists in secret splashes of red.
Way out here, the sound of the ocean feels like thunder. If you stand out in the rain too long you might disappear completely. The waves spit up dead seabirds like they are burping up their dinners. In this big place, the cold and loneliness eats away at your bones.