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Cliff Walk

by Samantha Holcomb

Down the dead end road between the mansions of the Golden Age of wealth and decadence and

onto the forty steps to see the sea for the first time—all silver-blue-gray like the slate and granite hills and the eyes of the ghosts that haunt the oldest parts of the city, and the sun shines from a point always in front, sliding over the edge of the world as the day, the short day scented of falling leaves and coming winter, drifts into the dark that curls around the light like a lover

Starting out on paved walks that edge other people's homes, homes too big and too close to the

sea, homes that should be lighthouses and the homes of lighthouse keepers and the corners of stone bring you round to face the unimpeded beauty of the place, the inescapable wildness just below the surface, not quite hidden by the mansions all along its edge, the manicured lawns that sear too green in the pervasive gray, the veneer of something civilized

Corners pass and you're surrounded—vertigo-far-off down below the scrubby naked shrubs and

the sea growls and grabs at the rocks that were once volcanoes, fire conquered by water without trouble, and all around is the light, the white, high, perpetual-evening light bleaching the wind that freezes your lips and the tops of your cheeks and brings tears to your eyes, only half caused by the brutal glory of it—here you can feel how small and bright you are, you can feel the insignificance and the wonder of yourself in the face of the sea as it always was, not a tropical-green sea, but a sleeping gray, a sea that will not rest long, will never rest long, a sea waiting for you to fall so it can swallow you up and never return you

Onward, and the path narrows, the fence sinks down to knee level, then down into

nothing—cement beneath your inadequate shoes gives way to gravel, then to mud, then to bare rock, behemoths of granite, marble, basalt, fitted together in shapes as solid as time and as man-made, and you can see the seeking fingers of the sea between them, see the waters hollowing out the underlayers, making your footholds illusory and unsteady even as your weight makes no impact, causes no shift—and you imagine what it would be like to fall, to tumble with the rocks as big as cars into the sea and become another sea change, another loss that the sea gave before life was anything but finny and can take away whenever it pleases—you wonder if you'll know when you change, if you'll see through the pearls that were your eyes

Wild, it makes you, and it calls to you with a voice older than your mother's, a mother further

back than any human mother, and you long to answer, but the sheer drop, the sheer silk of surface tension that can't hold you, the sheer weight of all you don't know about the ocean and all you do know pushes at you with the wind that wants you to fly, but you're not made to fly any more than you're made to swim, and it's a beautiful cold death it taunts you with

At long last an end as the tide and the weather turns, and you pick your way down to the tiny

tidal beach that smells of sushi and blood and tears and pick through the rocks for a few treasures you can pry from the icy hands of the waves, but every time you reach, it reaches for you, and you jump back with a start, a jerk that goes deeper than the fear of getting wet in such cold, the fear of a slow hacking death as you drown in your own infection—it's the fear of being taken against your will, and the gulls laugh and cry above you, little off-tune flutes and pipes above you, voices of both air and sea