No one can understand why Elena stays, and neither can I. If it had been me, I’d have left; there are plenty of other Cornish seaside towns to live in. Actually, if I really had climbed those steps and seduced a sixteen-year-old like Elena did, I’d have jumped from the watchtower onto the rocks below. They were discovered in the act by the caretaker, Jim.
‘I was checking for jumpers before I locked up for the night,’ says Jim, meaty hand around his pint. ‘Find the odd one up there when the nights get shorter. I can usually talk them down. Anyway, found the both of them pressed up against the brickwork. The boy, young Tyler was crying.’
‘Crying? You’d think he’d be pleased. She’s a cracker!’ one punter says. A couple laugh, but Annmarie’s hard stare behind the bar silences them.
‘If a man had coerced a schoolgirl thirty years his junior into whatnot, you wouldn’t be laughing and joking,’ she says, and everyone nods. ‘Did she rape him, Jim?’
Jim sighs. ‘He pushed her off, saying he hadn’t wanted it to happen. I’ve been waiting for the police to knock on my door asking questions, but nothing, and I’m not one to get involved. Elena didn’t say a word when I turned up. Always thought she was strange. Pretty, but strange.’ Jim looks at me. ‘Living next door to her, you must know more than most?’
I take a slug of my pint, measuring what to say, the pub’s eyes on me. Do I mention Elena’s showering silhouette through the textured glass, face in her hands, the sound of pattering water mixed with her sobs coming through the bathroom window? Should I say that I no longer hear her tv through the wall, just silence? Or that the vegetables in her greenhouse have withered this season, unharvested? She used to share them with me, cabbage, broccoli, sprouts. We’d smile, exchange pleasantries about the weather and how the winter gales were worth it for streets sparse of tourists. Sometimes I’d watch her from my window, painting the sea from her front patio, brushstrokes recreating the dark watchtower, pale horizon behind it. I’d feel guilty for having a sea view without artistic talent or intention.
Jim and the other patrons stare at me, thirsty for gossip. ‘Never really spoken to her,’ I say. ‘What happened to Tyler?’
‘His mum took him inland to stay with family. Switched his school. She still travels here for work. Refuses to serve Elena at the Co-op.’
Annmarie nods. ‘Rightly so! I’ll not be serving her in here either.’
I remember Elena crying in her bathroom and wonder if her tears are for what she’s done or the consequences of it.
On the walk home, I think of Elena and the jumpers Jim mentioned, and how dim the evening is as I trudge up the hill. It’s late, but I decide to knock on Elena’s door. To a friend, I would say it’s out of concern for her safety, which isn’t untrue, but curiosity plays the biggest part. In exchange for a kind word, she might offer the truth of what happened and whether she has any remorse for Tyler’s pain. I don’t want to believe she did it.
As I walk up our adjoining paths, I see Elena’s house is in darkness.
Asleep. Maybe tomorrow. But I know that without the catalysts of alcohol, the nighttime, and Jim’s account fuelling my intrigue, the moment will be gone.
I get inside, drink some water, and go to my bedroom without switching on the light, ready to flop onto the duvet without undressing. From my window I gaze at the harbour lights swaying in the breeze, and the lighthouse’s comforting shine for the boats dotted on the black sea. The watchtower further along the shore is foreboding, and I consider starting a petition to have it knocked down; one less jumping point, and one less draw for the swarms of holidaymakers. Perhaps if the tower dies, so will the speculation about Elena. I think I want to grant her that mercy, but if it were Tyler’s mum I’d heard crying in the shower, I might think differently.
I see Elena walking up the hill in the glow of the faint streetlights. Head down against the cold, hugging herself, a taxi passes, its headlights making the footsteps of her shadow moonwalk. She’s dragging something. It’s tethered to her how somehow.
I wonder where she’s been. The pub and restaurants are the only places in walking distance open on an evening. No doubt she wouldn’t be served in the pizzeria or the curry house either.
I step behind my curtain as she reaches the path, allowing myself a peep view. She’s definitely pulling something behind her. It’s long, thick, and tentacle shaped.
Her glance up at my window makes me step back, so I only hear her key in her door before it closes, and the familiar silence.
Several coachloads of Japanese tourists take over our small high street. They’re the most dedicated of sightseers, reinforced with ponchos, umbrella hats and selfie sticks. They’re unperturbed by the rain as they traverse the pavements, munching pasties and twirling racks of keyrings and magnets. The watchtower pokes the charcoal sky behind the chippy, and I see more visitors at the top, holding their phones aloft for the best panoramic shot of the grey beach. I box-step around three women choosing cuddly seagulls from a shop, the wares spilling onto the walkway as I try to get past. That’s when I see Elena.
Her eyes are scrunched against the squall as she exits the pharmacy ahead. She’s wearing a lilac anorak, but instead of pulling up the hood, she has a shawl over her head, the material soaking in the downpour. It clings to her skull, and I can’t help staring at the mass at the back of her head, also covered by the shawl, as though she’s hiding a football. She heads up the high street away from me, moving with the throngs of Japanese, walking like she’s still dragging something. Remembering her similar walking style a few weeks ago, I look to see what it is she’s pulling, but the vacationers have caught me in their riptide, and Elena drifts away.
As I brush my teeth, I hear the burst of Elena’s shower through our open windows. I don’t look up, spitting into the sink. None of what happened is my business. Just because she occasionally gives me vegetables doesn’t mean we’re friends. I’m sick of being pestered at the pub for information on Elena, like I’m a Hollywood reporter trying to satiate their lust for scandal. I’ve told them I haven’t seen her for weeks. If I keep my head down, I can ensure that stays true. Washing away the minty glob, I turn out the light and go to leave.
A thump against glass makes me jump. I turn back. There’s nothing at my window. Moving closer, I see a peculiar shape behind Elena’s.
I don’t want to look.
There’s another thump. Something is waving. Approaching my window, I peer out for a better look. It’s a familiar form that I’ve seen before, sliding back and forth across the patterned pane. The tentacle shape I saw Elena dragging up the hill all those weeks ago. It thumps the glass again, and the circles of suckers pulsate on the window. Slowly and silently, I close my window. I pray I’m not going mad; I’m sure I’m not.
‘You must’ve seen her recently. She lives right next door!’ says Jim the following night at the pub. ‘She must’ve been out at some point.’
I shrug. ‘Yes, but I’ve not seen her. If I have then I don’t remember. Why still so fascinated, Jim? Isn’t this scandal old news now?’
He leans in, his voice unusually low for a man who always wants to be heard. ‘I thought I saw her at the watchtower the other night when I was about to lock up. There was a woman at the top wearing a shawl over her head.’ Jim looks like he’s about to say more but stops and sips his pint.
‘Did you go up and check before you locked up?’ I ask. He looks into his drink. ‘You did lock up, didn’t you?’
Jim downs the rest of his pint and goes to the bar for another.
I know I can’t share what I’ve seen. Either Jim has also seen something he can’t explain, or he is happy to neglect his duty of care over an incident he doesn’t fully understand. I don’t want to find myself ostracized like Elena. Excusing myself with a headache, I pay Annmarie my tab and head home, keeping my gaze away from the watchtower.
When I walk up the path, I notice water seeping out from under Elena’s front door and trickling down her doorstep. My feet splash in the puddles as I go to my door and lock it behind me.
Smashing glass wakes me from my nightmare; Tyler crying at the top of the watchtower, suckers slurping at him. I look out of my bedroom window, but nothing is out of the ordinary, and I’m sure the smashing came from the back of the house. I go to my bathroom window and tentatively open it. Elena’s bathroom is in darkness. Standing on tiptoes, I look out onto Elena’s courtyard.
Her greenhouse is gone, the frame and glass presumably splintered underneath the kraken that now lies where it once stood. The kraken takes up the entire courtyard, its domed head resting against the house, tentacles sprawled over paving slabs, fence panels and shrubs. A tentacle lifts, the moonlight glinting on its skin. It slaps down on wet concrete.
Dashing downstairs, I head to Elena’s front door. It’s wide open, water still cascading down the steps. Calling her name and stepping inside, I turn on her living room light. Her house is distinctly ordinary. I don’t know what else I expected. The kraken’s speckled peach-coloured flesh is pressed against the back window from the courtyard. Water gushes from the kitchen tap, out of the overflowing sink and through the open back door. On the coffee table is Elena’s damp shawl and a letter. I spot Tyler’s handwritten name, and despite the madness I believe to be happening around me, I pick up the paper, up to my ankles in water, and read.
I’m writing to apologise. My therapist said I should apologise more.
I’m sorry I scared you. I didn’t want to jump, but I also sort of did. Being in love with you makes me feel crazy.
I’m sorry I said I’d jump unless you slept with me. I just wanted you so badly it hurt. It still does.
I’m sorry I didn’t tell anyone the truth.
I’m sorry I’ve made you out to be a monster.
The house groans, and cracks appear on the walls. Wet flesh squelches above, and rooftiles smash on the front patio as her flesh disappears from the window. I go to the open front door. Her kinesis is hypnotic as she slides down the front of the house, her body bigger than the paths and patio. The circumference of a single sucker is large than my dining table. She’s on the road, travelling to the shoreline.
There are no car headlights, no bedroom lamp on with one of the pubgoers peering between curtains. The harbours lights are still, gleaming on the sheen of her skin. She wraps her tentacles around the watchtower, trembling as she squeezes. It crumbles and burst like a stick of rock in a vice. I hear bricks smacking on rocks and splashing into the sea. Once the watchtower is gone, she looks out at the oil-black ocean. I will her to become Elena again, sorry for doubting her, still holding the letter, the proof she needs to regain her life.
She dives without a sound.
Rebecca lives in the Cotswolds and is co-editor of The Phare. Her work has featured in publications including Mslexia, Popshot, Superative, The Wild Word, Barren, Ellipsis Zine, and Burningword. She was won the London Independent Story Prize, and was shortlisted for the Oxford Flash Prize and the Laurie Lee Prize. Rebecca has performed her work at Cheltenham Literature Festival and Stroud Book Festival. She's on her eleventh re-watch of Schitt's Creek, and recently told her eldest son that Santa isn't real (he's started high school now, so he has to know!).