The Summer Renter by Lizzy O’Riordan

Here the juniper trees slope sideways from the strong sea air, reaching out toward the water. And at certain times in the summer, you can walk along the beach path to see hundreds of cocooned caterpillars, awaiting their turn as butterflies. The beach itself is always busy but if you walk up a little further you’ll come to the rocks which have eroded into jagged seats and smooth beds. Too slippery for tourists, I could be alone here, as that summer I often chose to be, twizzling the cheap silver shell jewellery I bought from the surf shop. Steering clear of the ice cream stalls and food vans that populate the town from May until September. Rather, comfortable in my own solitude. 
     Most of the houses here are holiday homes with names like Seabreeze or Stonesthrow, but we lived like the rest of the locals in the hilly area that surrounds the town. Our home, big and old, was an inheritance on my mother’s side. Grand from the outside, and with a faded interior, it was expensive to keep. That’s why for the first time my parents decided to take on a renter for six weeks, something that I resented. Wary of a stranger marring my last few moments before university. Interrupting my never changing home. 
     But still, she came one evening in the mid summer anyway. Half Egyptian on her mothers side she tanned easily and was already dark from the fledgling months, with curly brown hair stopping below her shoulders. She came carrying a dark leather backpack with an unusual air of confidence, which I found striking. 
     On the second day she asked if she could have the small white bracelet on my wrist and I told her that they sold them cheaply in town, and that I would show her the place. But she said that she wanted the one I was wearing, adding “I like that it’s been on you.” At which words I loosened the tie and took it off, the idea of her wanting something of mine sending shivers through me. 
     My parents were impressed by her, she was a good conversationalist and clearly clever, and the first time we went down to the restaurant she ordered mussels with white wine which my dad was pleased with, and told her so. Whether eager to impress further I wasn’t sure, she ordered octopus for her main dish and even slurped an oyster off my father’s plate. 
     Back at home she took the big attic room which I’d always wanted. Directly above my own room, sometimes I’d hear her get up in the middle of the night and I wondered what she was doing. Unable to feign casualness thanks to the stairs that divided us, I largely left her alone. But she’d often appear at my door on her way downstairs, fondling my things as if her own. 
     For the first week I hardly saw her (except for these hallway conversations) as she was set on a mission to know everything and disappeared early each morning to explore the sand dunes and convince local boys into free surfing lessons. Some of whom I saw her smoking  with in the evening which shocked me, and then made me feel naive. 
     By the second week though we’d walk down to the beach together, forking off so she should surf and I could read by the rocks. She often asked where I went all day and I would never tell her, which annoyed her. Nonetheless every morning, we’d migrate together, chatting amiably and routinely. Only once did I divert when I had to go to the post office, eager to pick up a poetry collection I’d ordered there. It was early morning and there were few people around, only circling seagulls, the buzz of grasshoppers and the colony of wildflowers keeping me company down the winding path.
     “I was waiting for you” she said, waiting outside cross-faced when I came back onto the street.
     “I left you a note” I replied, and she shrugged, taking the book from my hand and reading the back cover.
     “You love being alone” she said, and I replied that she could borrow the book if she liked. Nervous for her approval. 
     One morning soon after that I got a splinter in my finger from trailing my hand absentmindedly along the wooden railing. It was stubborn and she asked me if I could wait until we had tweezers, but I started to cry. In response she took my finger and put it in her mouth, sucking on it to soften the skin. A gesture that made me stop wailing immediately. Here, she looked me in the eye and then averted her gaze, keeping me in her mouth so the splinter could be easily pushed out. 
     “I have to go home now” I said, to which she replied that I should come to the beach. But before she could say more I ran to my room, where I sat in the cupboard with my eyes closed. 
     I heard her that evening telling my parents she was going to get some ice cream and I followed her, forgetting she could see me too, and diving into a weeping willow tree when she turned around. Still and quiet I waited for a few minutes until I thought she was gone. But then I heard a crinkling of leaves and her voice asking what I was doing. It was here we shared our first kiss and where I first noticed her musky perfume mixing with the day's suncream. 
     We didn’t talk after about it and I wondered if she was regretful. Meanwhile my birthday grew near and I looked forward to the annual meal with my family. Eager for her to be there, I went to her room but she wouldn’t let me past the door and I was hurt. Even more so by the uptake of solitary beach walks that she began over the next few days. 
     When my birthday came around I made myself a cake and she sat there on the counter smiling, which was confusing. Then after the evening meal she asked me to come up to her room which made me feel sick. But she kissed me on the mouth like before and gave me a tissue paper gift. Carefully wrapped inside was a homemade shell necklace, made of things she’d picked from the beach and woven through string. The project of her secrecy. 
     In return I showed her my private spot, leading her across the rocky path until it became smooth and inhabitable. Here we talked in mumbles for a while until she pulled off my shirt to reveal a bikini top.
     “You have so many of these” she said, and I agreed, unable to think of my wooden drawer full of swimwear, or anything but this moment. She laid me down on the rock which was cool with the night and felt pleasant against my sunburnt shoulders, then we kissed until I was left in nothing but handmade shells. Moving with an amateur's mouth, she helped me, and then took her turn, making my body go hot and twitch. After, we walked home. Where the sun had set and my mother kissed my forehead goodnight, wishing me a happy birthday. 
     Then there was a week left, which we spent together on the rocks. I wrote in my journal that I wished we hadn’t wasted time and that I didn’t think I would ever recover. She asked me to go to London with her where she would finish university but I refused, having accepted a place elsewhere and unable to imagine us anywhere but here. We belonged to the sea and this house and days that knew no time. So I bought her a copy of my poetry book for the train ride home and cried in a way that nobody else understood. 

Lizzy is a twenty-three year old writer currently living in Nottingham and working as an Assistant Editor for the arts and culture magazine LeftLion – a position she took up after graduating last year from the University of Roehampton with an English Literature Degree. A part time role, she’s attempting to write her first novel with her Friday’s off.

Twitter: @lizzyoriordan

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