The wildest beach we knew was called Grey Lady, because in those days women were portrayed with hair flowing in the wind, completely nude, nipples a soft pink. In those days wildness was synonymous with purity, because those who were not understood were left alone.
The ocean comes crashing up against clay cliffs, chewing stones and spitting out sand that flows through fingers effortlessly as water. Grey Lady, scorning the solid land, hoping to transform what we know to something we can’t grasp.
We are taught that land supports our weight, but when the child approaches the cliff’s ledge to peer at the ocean, his mother pulls him back towards her sandy skirts.
Grey Lady is not a mother. She appears on the sands during dusk, when dunes bristle with cold and the moon rises past the brink of sand and sky, refracted in the tension of her glass-like face. Rising water, the memory of waves being pushed and pulled by the moon’s force, Grey Lady, a woman who cannot possess because she is forever giving all she owns to the tides.
When we were young, our mother took us to this beach to teach us not to drown. Like all mothers, she knew the ocean would try to take us, even as we grew up far away from the sands. My brother and I found the Lady, and we followed her, bodies twisting and feet stuck in the wet sand, digging holes that would fill back up with water, reminding us the the ocean is everywhere.
Under the water it is cold and too murky to see my fingers as they brush through, lighter than they’ve ever been. It is possible to forget about myself as my bathing suit disappears beneath the sparkling mica and sand clouds around, consuming my skin much like it does the cliffs. I am eroded into smaller pieces, forever settling salt, which gleams old potential on the sea floor. Hair twisting over my face, she molds me into pale imitation, pushing further down so that my neck hits rock bottom. Each vertebrae freed becomes its own creature, fluttering away from being.
The Grey Lady possesses for only a moment, wanting to grasp the child before the human mother can receive it when it is washed up on the shore.
The Grey Lady can never become a mother. I am plucked by my hair, now a lifeline of dead cells. Thick hands pull me up strand by strand, securing my return to this world. I am coughing and sputtering; the Lady is scorned. She can never possess what she believes is already hers.