We threw off our socks and shoes and ran along the coast.
Portobello in winter is mist and rain and wet sand and cracked shells and rotten wood and seaweed.
We stare at the Firth of Forth and goad it to lick our toes, watch it paint the sand with moisture and salt.
Portobello at midnight is where monstrous halogen shadows stretch over the pavement and sand, appropriating the space once filled with the lights of puggy machines, arcade games, diners.
Out here, staring at the sea, the effect of gravity can be observed and during the new moon the tide is stronger: the combined force of the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon.
The Earth pulls the water down, towards its molten core; the Moon pulls the water up, towards the sky. To me and to no one she whispers for you to come back to us as though nothing happened.
I take a box of your letters from my rucksack, keepsakes from that year abroad. I hold them to my side. Press the wood into my hips. We wade until we are knee-deep. She takes one side of it and me the other.
We throw the box and watch it quiver like jelly on the surface. She looks past my shoulder, down the beach, and sees the silhouettes of two men throwing our shoes into the sea. She watches them run.
Shrugging, we move back away from the roiling waves, sit in peace and watch as the lid spills open and your letters glide across the surface like a train on a rollercoaster track.
We exchange stories. I remind her of your friend, the one from Kansas, who had never seen the ocean. You witnessed his unrestrained glee when he finally did.
We still do not know whether to say “missing” or “dead” and the uncertainty makes us queasy, impulsive. It makes our mother cry.
She whispers again for your return. We have no faith but when it suits us we secretly pray.
We inhale when the tide marches towards us and exhale as it retreats.
We watch our shadows walk into the water.