To see a place, to see all of its contours and edges, its soft shape, you must leave for a while and look at it from the outside, return as someone different, someone older. I grew up on the Isle of Arran and left at seventeen, desperate to move to the city and become someone new. At twenty, the idea of return dances around the corners of my mind, a growing love for a place I once said I would never go back to. This spring, while the world was in hibernation, sleeping through the seasons, I travelled home to stay with my parents, a feeling in my body telling me to go. The rain was beating down on the pavement as I said goodbye to my friends and my life in the city. We didn’t get to hug, to touch. We waved goodbye and I didn’t know when I would see them again.
I arrived home and we made nice dinners from the cookbook that once remained unopened on the kitchen shelf. Aubergine, tomato, curried yogurt, the taste of summer violent on my tongue, eaten in the garden on the white bistro set. I think of tomorrow’s dinner the second I have finished tonight’s, the prospect of night turning into day, another mouthful of salt to kiss my lips.
I go swimming with my cousin. We jump from the high rocks into the freshwater, a perfect pool. I dive into the cold and my head soon finds its way to the surface, and when I reach it, my lungs open as I take a deep breath. I take soft strokes in the blue and green and turn to lay on my back, letting my body move with the water. I hear soft chimes in my head, the birds nesting overhead. I no longer feel the cold as I swim, I take long strokes in the water, not feeling a thing, even though my body is shaking. My cousin calls my name and I open my eyes.
I eat melon, tangerines, bananas, red and green grapes, cherries, peaches, strawberries, raspberries, and kiwifruits with their skin on. I go for long cycles and my skin feels warm in the sun. Some days it rains, and I choose not to wear a jacket. I like the way the water feels on my skin, making my eyes blink with each silent drop.
I lay on the rocks next to the blue pool. It has rained every day this week, but today the sky was ripe and peach, the hills only a mirage in the distance. I meet my friends from school and we talk and drink and swim. I eat strawberry laces and we laugh like we are in high school again, the precocious moments of a shared past. Sometimes I feel like I am living in the past in the present, like I am watching a film, viewing my life from the outside as the tape unreels. My clothes fall to the stone floor as my feet move to the rock’s edge, I take a thoughtless step and jump into the cold. It feels soft on my burning skin. Underwater, I swim taking tiny strokes as I move towards the surface. I take a breath and my friend jumps in behind me, together we swim towards the shallow waterfall’s shower. We lay down in the water where the floor gently tapers to the surface, and our heads float with the water as our pillow.
I wake up late in the morning and make coffee. I eat cereal outside, with the bees and the leaves. I don’t think I knew the feeling of simple joy until now. I swim in the evenings, sometimes in the afternoon. I sleep well every night.
The summer has just begun, the brief perfect interlude before the jellyfish cotton on to the shore, their violent heads threatening the joy of the summertime. I run into the water and push my head under. It is cold for only a second. We stay in until our hands turn wrinkly, until our noses turn scarlet under the sun. We choose to lay on the stones, not the sand, and I make constellations of pebbles in my left hand. They felt chalky against my skin, the saltwater on my body crystallising under the pink sky. When we felt the chill, we pile into the van, me in the back, them in the front. My brother turns up the radio and begins to sing along to Johnny Cash calling our names. My crossed legs move up and down as I laugh. The sun scatters light in and out of my view, colouring the salt on my skin as I rest my head.
It rains in July and it makes me never want to leave. I recite inner monologues of words I will never speak over and over again inside my mind before I close my eyes to sleep. I sit with my parents on the couch, watching nothing in particular, and I feel joy radiate through me, their love in a smile.
Then it was all over, six months passed as if awaking from a nap in the afternoon. I leave for the city again, but something has changed. There is a yearning for the past, for a place I only just got to know.
Kirsty Crawford lives in Glasgow. She writes fiction and non-fiction.