very like a whale

“…that region of ecstasy on the brink of the final, formless Deep, which is the source and end of all things”
–Mona Douglas, from the foreword to The Sacred Isle

Space and time work differently in dreams.  The most mundane of objects might just be a doorway to another world.  A child’s inflatable paddling pool, for instance, found lying full of water, in an old forgotten corner of the basement in a pub where you once worked.

You went in search of something – who knows what?  Perhaps yourself.  You knew you were lost.

The basement was a labyrinth, full of old, forgotten things.  You wandered for what felt like hours, until you reached the pool.  And in the pool, there was a whale.

Space and time work differently in dreams.

The whale is vast, wild, incomprehensible – and you are somehow alongside it, palm-to-skin, suspended.  In the water?  In the air?  Impossible to tell.  Floating by its flank, you feel its thinking, its one question –


– and as you form an answer, your two worlds draw back from one another for a moment, like the tide draws back from land before a surge.

You see yourself: standing in the corner of a dusty basement, staring at a child’s inflated paddling pool.  And in the pool there is a whale.

Its great flukes rise above your head and crash onto the water, and the wave engulfs you.

And you drown, or you wake up, or maybe both.


dreams of drowning

When I last lived in Spain, there was nothing between me and the sea.  Our street, Calle Virgen del Socorro, clung to the bare rock of Mount Benacantíl at the edges of the city.  From the windows of our 8th floor flat, the view was of infinity.


the view from our window

I dreamed of tsunamis over and over.

Everything was clear – I would be sitting at our table chatting, or hanging out the washing on the balcony, when the water struck.  There was no time to get away.  I felt it hit me, cold and brutal, before I woke up gasping.  Over and over.  I have no idea why; I have never been afraid of drowning – at least, no more than I have ever been afraid of death.  But the sea that filled my senses through the waking day overwhelmed me as I slept.

So much of that year seems like a dream to me, tantalisingly hallucinatory – as though I felt it more than I remembered it.  Only those dreams felt real.  The laundry, damp between my fingers.  The sun on the white plastic clothes-horse.  The movement in the air as I turned to face the water.

That was my first taste of living by the sea.  The air smelled of brine and left a film of sea-spray on our hands.  Everything was rusting.  I grew rosemary on our balcony, the only plant that could withstand the constant battering of sun and salty wind.  One particular evening, I remember, the air was pink with dust, and the full moon rose just as the sun was setting.  Alicante was glowing.  Lucentum.  City of light.

The year itself was the most beautiful, most difficult, I’ve ever lived.  A hundred versions of me drowned by night; in my waking life, only the bare rock of me was left.  Six years of life have softened me with growth again, but I still miss the sea.  I never thought I’d fall in love with what killed me, but I have.