The Holden Stone

Reflections of a Fantasy Writer

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The Seventh Wave1

by Susan Shell Winston


Every seventh wave--is that how many--splashes high above the rock. I've sat here before, watching, with my arms around my knees waiting. Every seventh year the waves break. I stand inside their spray, derelict, the chill of sea teeth dripping down my back and face. Bones gnawed white, the gull perches upon my chest, it lifts its foot, preens, curls its claws again around another of my abandoned white ribs. Xylophone they should sound like as the bird scratches across me. The only sounds here are the break of the waves, and the hungry greed of the gulls. The taste of salt wind stings.

And that never happened. I get ahead of myself.

Every seventh year? More like every ten, or say two, or weeks instead, years ago, since I sat here. There is no pattern to my memories. They splash above the rock and break upon it as the silent thunder of a new wave comes. The sea has the grand insouciant freedom to come wave after wave, in order, one after the other, every seventh wave pulled higher as if it were important. Human, I would betray that freedom, I would look for significance where there is none. Order, every seventh year, or two, or ten, would confuse me, give me promises when there are none. The memories splash over me as they will.

I see my daughter, aged two, building a sand castle as the wave curls in and fills her moat. Her suit I'll paint yellow with sea shells on it. Or maybe it was blue.

The next wave. A thin man wears a tux. The wind flags back his hoarspray of hair and his two black tails behind him. This was years ago when I was ten. He stood there on the beach, pulled out a trumpet, and played to the waves.

Did he know something I never did? Hear something I never heard, find something I never sought? A seventh wave splashes over the rock, mocking me. We are foolish or still just too young when we believe we are unique, alone, can hear a different sea from each other.

The moon on the waves when the kids were grown, a bright picture, that too, never forgotten. Night after night when I come back I look for it again. The full moon on the waves. Splashed silver rising up across the ocean from the dark horizon to the silver rock at my feet. Invisible silver sinews bind me still inside that glow, I crest and fall with the waves as my memories are pulled marionette-dancing over them. I stand here looking on, years apart and tonight, until, despite my so knowing better now, older now, I feel once more a part of the moonlight's grander reflection. A magic then rises silver waves inside me, as if there still might be promises made.

I sit hours arms wrapped around my knees hypnotized by the sea. And as the seventh wave splashes over me, wordless I laugh inside me again the sea gulls' laugh, not knowing now the language we shall speak.

* * *


I don't remember making a fire on the beach, do you? Maybe my father did when I was real young. But campfires beside the beaver pond sizzling the trout, I remember those. The flames leapt high, and I'd sit close, watching them contort into shapes and patterns I'd imagine into them, and as long misshapen mouths twisted open and closed around silent promises, my face would flush with their heat.

Fire spits, cracks, leaves ashes, speaks its own language too. But it says much less than we try to make out of it. It burns as it burns, as relentless and free as the seventh wave, undrawfed by our feeble attempts to glean meaning from it. Bill is ashes in a jar somewhere tonight.

Or maybe he still is.

* * *

I had a friend when I was young kept his mother on the bookshelf until he moved. He had her down, ready to pack the jar up when his dog skidded into him. He had to vacuum the floor to get his cleaning deposit back.

Here comes another seventh wave, watch it this time.

Bill wanted to be returned to the sea, you know. From whence all life comes. And memories. And where eons of death are washed away beside it. And still the tide keeps coming in, each seventh wave like a pattern...

Jack's Charter Service. Yes, that was the name in the paper. Hired by half the funeral homes in the state to disperse your loved one's ashes into the eternal depths of the sea. Jack took the money and his plane to Mexico, it said, lives there now. The police, investigating, found his basement filled with jars, most broken, shards, ashes, dust all over the floor.

Sand is coarser than ashes; it takes water and eons to crush a mountain down to sand, they say. I lift my hand up from the sand and, look, mountains and time slips through my fingers.



...And still you sit here asking me to dare try loving again?


One morning very early

a tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow

before the sun was up

casket, I wrote a letter to my love

and on the way

I rose and found the shining dew

I dropped it, I dropped it.

On every buttercup... every, every

seventh wave splashes high against the rock

Water, saith the scientist, crushes rocks into sand.

* * *

And yet you ask me to dare try loving again?

Ashes, ashes, we all fall...


I wait for his answer.

You'll wait for me, you say?

Every seventh year, or say two or ten. You have a lot to compete with.

--And tonight? he answers.


He'll wait for me, yes.

And tonight, I acknowledge.

See. The full moon splashes across the sea, heaving, sinking with each wave.

I lift my hand through the sand. Every seventh year, or two or ten, slips through. He waits. Watches me.

I've been wrecked before, I say.

Yet in his eyes I can still see me laugh a seagull's hunger.


I look away to the dark rim of the sea, not daring more.


We're not fools, I say finally, to think it can be any different for us this time.


His answer splashes a smile across his face. No, just still too young not to believe it.

* * *


Ashes... He waits. Every seventh wave, or two or ten. I hear a seagull laugh, not knowing yet the language we shall speak.

Come, I say. Take my hand. We'll rise tomorrow. Very early before the sun is up

and find the shining dew. I laugh not knowing the language yet.

There are no promises, I say.

But leave your shoes here on the rock, and when the sun comes up, when the tide first comes in, we'll walk where the waves just reach us. Where the sand will squish up through our toes, and the receding water dig it away around us, until standing still we almost fall.

He grins.

And there, look down. A sanddollar, you see? And another, this one's whole. It's the right time of year to find them, so early in the morning.

We head back up the beach together, hand in hand, the course cold sand slipping through my toes. I have ghosts following me. But years of seagulls too.



1This prose poem was originally published in