Image by R.A.D. Stainforth, via Magpie Tales
It is curious, this last day of the year. An otherwise unremarkable date, gaining meaning only through the arbitrary imposition of calendars on the passage of universal time. I set down the last cigarette, the one I will not smoke, to gaze undisturbed through the feathery glaze of ice befogging the old window glass. The panes are thin. They do not so much keep out the weather as restrain it from overrunning the interior of the cottage. I have replaced many in the years my bones have held court here by the sea. The number of original panes is somewhere south of twenty, out of how many I cannot tell. The ancient ones betray their history through the tiny bubbles trapped in the vitreous humor of the windows. I amuse myself some sunny days by watching the little gray shadows of the bubbles track across the table and the floor. The glass is flawed, some may say, but fulfills its nature in spite of an imperfect beauty. As perhaps, do I.
I sigh. Cool air smelling of salt and Chinese tobacco fills my lungs on the uptake. The two rooms of this, my one-man abbey by the sea, have carried this aroma for decades. For some reason, this surprises me. Again. I shake my head and breathe on the windowpane. A clear ring opens in the frost, tears of ice melt forming runnels down the glass. Through this impromptu porthole I spy the breakers pounding the beach. "My very own camera obscura," I say to the silence of the room, and the idea brings a smile to my cracked lips. Wincing, I run a finger over my bottom lip; it comes away clean and dry. The whoosh of waves echoes the little sigh of relief escaping my mouth. No blood this time. This is good.
The spot on the glass begins to fog over as the wan heat from my earlier breath dissipates. The ocean beyond distorts and ripples, gradually becoming more of an idea about waves and less of a concrete reality. The effect is not unpleasant, akin to that diffusion of thoughts and images that occurs in my mind often as I drift off to dream. Dreams, anyway, on those occasions where I am blessed by Caer Ibormeith to have them. Thoughts of Celtic myths haunt me almost every day here by the ocean; I chuckle ruefully to think that too often these nights it seems only goddesses or medication can carry me to the isle of sleep. I much prefer goddesses.
Wind moans gently around the eaves of my cottage. I hear the susurration of sand across the glass. Shivers track up and down my spine. The sound joins with the groanings of the breakers and my mind is seized by the absurd idea that the ocean, or someone in it, is attempting conversation. Or calling me to join them, there under the cold gel of the sea. My thoughts again drift to my Celtic past, the salt tang of which flows in my veins, pushing and pulling on my heart in tides of blood. Crazily, I think it might be Manannán mac Lir calling to me in the froth and flow of the iron-green waves. Perhaps, perhaps.
The makeshift lens of breath and heat is rimed over. Winter grips the beach here on the headland, and I am weary of constantly feeding the timid fire that smolders on the worn bricks of the hearth. I don't burn peat as much as I used to; nowadays it is more likely to be hardwood when I can get it. Burns brighter and hotter, although I reckon my tea tastes not the same as it might from a kettle kissed by a peat fire. But I haven't risen from my chair in what seems hours and the cottage is growing cold. The hearth seems far away.
I rub the glass again. I want to see the waves, the spray. They glisten in an unexpected shaft of sunlight that lances through the sullen pewter sky. Unbidden my hand creeps toward the cigarette I said I wouldn't smoke. My other grips the worn chrome lighter that belonged to my father, and his father before him. Yellow-blue flame flares into existence, lighting up the thin cast of my face reflecting momentarily in the window glass. The flame extinguished, my face vanishes, leaving me to gaze through a widening hole in the frost.
I breathe, I listen, my lungs fill with smoke and sand. It is the last day of the year, I have been told, and if we are blessed, tomorrow the sea and I will carry on as usual.