Have you ever been really, really cold? I’m talking so cold that you have to fold up in your bed, huddled into yourself, to keep warm. You can feel your bones getting tired and stiff when it’s that cold, and see your own breath in the darkness.
That’s how cold we were on our ‘camping trip.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, ‘Chelle. I’ve bought you a hot water bottle. Bloody use it!’ Mam came into the kitchenette, the dog, Bwci, trailing behind her. She could hear me talking on the phone. This caravan was too small for any semblance of privacy. I rolled my eyes and hung up.
‘I gave it to Deryn, Mam; she was shivering.’
Deryn looked up from her seat at the table and nodded. Last night’s cold had sent her creeping into my bed to curl up beside me, shivering and shaking in her sleep.
‘Well you can keep warm today by helping me out, both of you, c’mon.’
Deryn looked back at her colouring in on the table and pretended not to have heard Mam. She picked up a fat blue crayon and poked out her little tongue, concentration moulding her face.
‘Where’s your brother, ‘Chelle?’
‘He’s outside, on the beach, I think, Mam.’
‘Well go and fetch him. I want all hands on deck to get lunch ready.’
I sighed and climbed through the door of the caravan, stepping outside into the cold wind.
The sand was soft and squelched under foot as I picked my way through the dunes and along the coast, looking for my brother. Grey sea stretched out before me, huge and vast, beautiful and terrifying.
‘Ianto!’ I called his name, but my voice was carried away in a gust of wind. ‘Ianto.’ I dipped down one sandy dune, losing sight of the beach momentarily, then re-emerged on the next mound, sand crumbling beneath me like a miniature avalanche.
Our lives were going the same way as the sand, at the moment. Mam told us we were on a ‘trip,’ a ‘holiday,’ but I knew better. She hadn’t paid the rent or the leccy again, I’d seen the letters, with their big red banners up top. To top it all off, we’d brought Mamgu along with us and all.
‘Get ‘em to stop callin’ me all the time, bach,’ she had said to my Mother yesterday afternoon.
‘How’ve you gone and signed up for this now, Mam?’
‘I don’t bloody know, do I?’ Mamgu said, before scratching her chin and pulling at her clothes. ‘Oh, I know what it was, that’s right. I called the wrong number – trying to get BT I was, because the telly was playin’ up, but I got this number instead. They’re phonin’ me all the time now.’ She scowled and looked at the old Nokia in her hands.
‘Pass it here, Mamgu.’ I took the phone from her and hit redial. I nearly choked on my tea when a recording of a sultry male voice traveled through the line: ‘Gay Bunny XXX Chat.’
Giggling as I remembered the scowl on Mamgu’s face, I traipsed until, way up along the coast, I could see the speck of my brother, hunched over and small against the tie-dyed grey backdrop. What was he doing? Worried he might be hurt, I started jogging towards him, but the sand was impossible to run against, resisting every footstep like a cruel trick in a funhouse.
I tried calling again, but my words were whipped up and carried off like ribbon behind me, back to Mam and Deryn in the caravan. I kicked up a wet mound of residue left behind by burrowing lugworms, coils of sandy rope in a little twmpath, evidence of what was beneath the soggy surface.
I felt as though I was dreaming, moving closer and closer to my brother while he drew further and further away. Finally, his figure began to grow larger in my vision.
He was crouched on the sand, right at the shore, as close to the sea as he could be without being submerged in water. Something lay in front of him. An animal. My mind jumped to Bwci, despite the thing near Ianto being twice her size. I remembered then that Bwci had been in the caravan when I’d left, safely at Mam’s side while she peeled potatoes for dinner.
I began to jog again towards Ianto. He looked up and saw me, only meters away now, right as I drew close enough to recognise the hulk on the sand before him. It was a dolphin.
‘What’s going on?’ I called over the roaring wind and screaming seagulls. ‘Are you okay?’
‘I was only messin’ down by the sea, ‘Chelle,’ Ianto began. ‘I seen him lying ‘ere. He’s still breathin’.’
The dolphin was sprawled across the sand, it’s eyes wide open and staring, pleading, if dolphins could plead. Shallow water lapped beneath its stomach every time the tide came in, but it was swiftly stolen away again only moments later.
‘’Chelle, I dunno what to do.’ My brother looked at me, and for a moment, he was not the confident young man he had become recently, but a child again, asking me to sing his bed time song.
I stared at him a moment too long, then snapped into motion. ‘We need to get it back in the water.’
I glanced frantically around but couldn’t see any useful tools. Not even a discarded bucket we could use to keep the creature hydrated.
‘We’re gonna have to drag him in.’
‘No!’ Ianto’s eyes widened and his face paled. ‘We can’t. We might hurt him.’
‘He’s only going to die if we leave him here like this,’ I said, my mind made up. ‘It’s the only option.’
I took a deep breath and moved to the back of the dolphin, gently touching its tail. The wide flipper moved, only slightly, but with enough weight and vigour that I jumped back and held my breath. Get a grip, I told myself. This isn’t a giant spider, and if it was, you could deal with that too.
I tried again, bending this time to take the tail in both hands. It was dry, and rougher than I had expected. I took a deep breath and lifted, then stepped back, heaving the dolphin with me, back towards the water.
‘It’s really bloody heavy,’ I said, cross. Ianto only stood in front of the dolphin, watching me, caught in a well of confusion. ‘Come here and help me,’ I snapped. ‘It’s too heavy for me to manage on my own.’
He took a shaking step towards me, looking down at the dolphin’s face as he passed it. The animal winked it’s black, beady eye, silent, still.
‘You take that side and I’ll grab this one, okay?’
Ianto nodded, and bent to clutch the right side of the dolphin’s tail fin.
Together we lifted, and dragged the dolphin backwards. The first step wet my feet and I realised too late that I should have kicked off my shoes. Another step and the water was at our ankles, lifting the dolphin ever so slightly each time the tide came in to lap the sand.
‘One more,’ I said, and Ianto nodded again, a new spark of determination in his eyes.
‘Three, two, one, lift.’ With one final heave we pulled the dolphin far enough in that there were two or three inches of water beneath it. We were up to our knees and shivering but it didn’t matter. The dolphin was light now, held up by the ocean itself, and we were able to step back once more, pulling it into deeper water, and out of the shallower territory that had left it stranded.
In the water, the animal was a different creature entirely. Buoyant and light, it danced along the shore line, darting between waves and shooting backwards and forwards.
‘I think ‘e’s smilin’,’ Ianto said, and though I didn’t want to admit it, I thought he was too.
The dolphin swam back towards us as we turned to wade back to shore, our calves and feet soaked and salty. I gaped as it flipped its fin in the air and disappeared under water, lost to us on land, who would never know the secrets of the ocean.
‘C’mon.’ Ianto gestured with his head towards the beach, and wrapped his arms around himself. ‘I’m bastard freezin’ ‘ere.’
Back on the sand, we shook out our wet clothes and kicked our legs, trying to warm them. I took off my daps and wrung briny water from them, thinking of Mam’s face when she saw the state of us.
‘She can’t be cross, ‘Chelle. We saved his life, then. Sent him home.’
I looked back towards the water, and saw a fin puckering the surface, far out. It disappeared again so quickly that I might have imagined it.
We turned and started back for the caravan, hugging ourselves and shivering. The wind was sharp against every salty drop of water left on our bodies, stinging our arms and legs like we were covered in paper cuts.
‘When we goin’ home, d’you reckon?’ Ianto asked, his voice quiet.
‘What d’you mean, Ianto?’ I said, slowly. I remembered the look on his face when he had found out about Sion Corn, the betrayal, the hurt. I couldn’t take his innocence away, this had to remain a holiday to him. A camping trip, and nothing else. I hadn’t even let on to Mam that I knew any different.
‘I mean,’ he started again. ‘When are we goin’ home, properly? Mamgu can’t stay in the cold like this, it’s not right.’
‘Aren’t you having fun? It’s an adventure, isn’t it?’
He looked at me, the confident young man reappearing in his crinkled eyes. ‘I know we don’t have a home, ‘Chelle.’
Just like that, my baby brother was gone. He had disappeared, swallowed into the same black hole as Sion Corn, and the Easter Bunny and milk before bed. Swallowed like the dolphin into the black water.
I put my arm around him, and held him to me as we walked, our footsteps falling into sync.
‘I don’t know if that’s true, Ianto. Don’t say that.’ The words were tangled on my tongue, sticking like peanut butter to the roof of my mouth. I didn’t know what to tell him.
‘I’m not stupid, ‘Chelle. I’m not a baby.’
‘Don’t say anything to Deryn, or Mam, will you?’ I sighed.
‘Don’t worry.’ Ianto put his arm around me as we crossed the sand dunes and approached the caravan. The smell of the deep fat fryer came pouring out, and we both smiled at the familiar scent of Mam’s homemade chips. My mouth watered at the anticipation of ketchup, the cheap, vinegary kind which worked so well with our sglods. ‘We’ll always have a home, you know. Because we’ll always have each other, right?’
I looked at my brother then. I absorbed the wrinkles around his eyes as he squinted against the wind, the faded freckles over the bridge of his nose, freckles that had been so prominent only last summer, the darkening hair that grew in unruly kinks on his head, and I said, ‘Shut up, you soppy git.’
Together, we stepped into the caravan, enfolded instantly in the heat from the pan, the cloying smell of hot food and the sound of Deryn’s tinkling laughter.
Mari Ellis Dunning asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.