By Emily Ilett
Last year, the school play was Robin Hood and Megan and Jack had been trees. Megan was Tree 2 and Jack was Tree 3. Megan had to sway more than Jack because Tree 2 got more of the wind. This year their teacher, Miss Fletcher, announced that they were to do a Greek tragedy. When she said tragedy she raised her arms in the air and looked up. Megan and Jack looked up as well but all they could see were some scattered pieces of chewing gum stuck to the ceiling.
‘Andromeda,’ Miss Fletcher said, ‘was the beautiful daughter of Cassiopeia and Cepheus. Cassiopeia boasted that Andromeda was more beautiful than the sea nymphs, which made the sea God angry. He was so angry that he demanded that Andromeda must be tied to a rock in the middle of the ocean as a sacrifice to a fierce sea monster, otherwise everybody, everybody, would die.’ Here, Miss Fletcher’s voice swelled triumphantly. ‘But,’ she said, ‘gallant and heroic Perseus killed the sea monster and rescued beautiful Andromeda, and they escaped the ocean and got married.’ Miss Fletcher sighed, her glasses slipping down her long nose, looked at the blank faces of the class and stuck up a damp sheet of paper for auditions on the noticeboard.
At the auditions, Megan said to Miss Fletcher that she wanted to play the sea monster. Miss Fletcher nodded and when she nodded everything all over her body wobbled like jelly. Megan thought something might fall off. At his audition Jack told Miss Fletcher that he wanted to be Perseus. That afternoon Miss Fletcher read out the list of who was playing what. Sylvia Primsworth, the only girl in the class with heels on her shoes, was Andromeda. Karl Macdonald was Perseus (his Mum was headteacher), and Tod Smith was the sea monster. When she read this out Tod had two fingers up both nostrils. Miss Fletcher smiled at him. She looked towards the back of the class and opened out her smile so that it was filled with teeth. Miss Fletcher said, ‘Megan, I think you will be perfect as the rock that Sylvia is chained to, and Jack, I know you will absolutely excel as the sea that the monster rises from. Absolutely excel,’ she said.
Megan and Jack walked back together after school. Jack lived two doors down from Megan in the house with the blue fence around it. He had three freckles on either side of his nose and one by his mouth which looked like a piece of chocolate he’d forgotten to eat. Megan was one month and four days older than him, but four inches shorter. Megan licked the metal of her braces and said, ‘How do you be a rock, Jack?’
Jack stepped on every crack he could see in the road. He wasn’t scared of anything, apart from dark corners and jellyfish. ‘It’s easy Meg. We always get the boring parts. Just be still.’
Megan avoided all the cracks in the road because she wasn’t scared of anything apart from spiders, heights, and cracks in roads. Megan thought hard about being still. She couldn’t really remember the last time she’d done it. ‘I reckon I’d be a better monster than Tod,’ she said and stretched her mouth and pulled her lips and squinted with her eyes and puffed out her cheeks. Megan was going to be an actress when she grew up, and then she would play all the monsters she wanted to.
For their weekend homework they had to practice their parts. Megan and Jack didn’t have any lines to rehearse so they agreed to practice together. Jack said it was called method-acting. He said they’d go down to the beach tomorrow and practice being still like a rock. And then the next day they’d learn to be the sea.
In bed that evening, Megan curled up into a ball under a duvet and tried to think like a rock. She imagined her whole body was hard and grey. She imagined that the sea was all around her and that she was still like a stone, but then she had an itch in her toe and her shoulder was all twisted so she stretched out again and fell asleep. She dreamed of flying.
The next day, Jack knocked at Megan’s door before she had even finished her toast. He was wearing grey trousers, a grey woolly hat, which was pulled over both ears, and what looked like four woolly jumpers. Sleeves peered out from inside other sleeves and his hands looked tiny amongst all the grey folds. Jack said, ‘It’s a cold day to be a rock.’ His face was serious and Megan licked the crumbs from around her mouth slowly. She nodded and went upstairs to get changed into something warm and grey.
She had to borrow her dad’s jumper which fell to her knees when she put it on. When she waved her arms the sleeves looked like tentacles on her body. She laughed and showed Jack and he laughed too, but then they both remembered the seriousness of what they were doing, so they packed a bag of apples and biscuits and headed down to the beach.
When they got there the wind wobbled their cheeks and twisted Megan’s hair into mysterious shapes, and flapped at her sleeves so that they looked like wings. Jack’s nose began to run and his eyes watered. He wiped them when he thought Megan wasn’t looking. They found a large rock sitting at the end of the beach where the rock pools were. They looked at the rock from one place for a long time, and then they moved slowly round to another place and looked at it from there. Jack opened out his arms to measure it but the rock was longer than both his arms outstretched. Megan clambered up its side, she felt huge standing on top of it. Beneath her feet the rock stayed perfectly still and the wind moved around it. She lay down and thought hard, until she fell asleep, about what it was like to be this still.
When she woke up, Megan was lying on top of the rock and Jack was at the bottom, sheltering from the wind. They ate the biscuits and picked shells from the ground to show each other.
The next day they were becoming the sea. For her breakfast, Megan ate a blueberry muffin and a piece of toast with blueberry jam. She put on blue clothes and packed an extra blueberry muffin for Jack. Jack had a blue coat on, and blue trainers. He ate the blueberry muffin as he walked, sticking his tongue out every now and then to see if it was stained yet. When they got there they saw that the sea wasn’t blue at all. It was brown.
Megan said to Jack, ‘But that doesn’t mean the sea Andromeda was in was brown. That sea was probably blue.’ Jack pretended not to hear her. They stood in silence for a while, watching the blue sea be brown.
The sand was already wet where they lay on it. Near Megan’s face was a slick green piece of seaweed. She flicked it away and some of the green slid onto her finger. They lay on their stomachs, Megan’s feet by Jack’s head. When the sea came in they rolled away from it and when it went out they rolled towards it. The first ten minutes were very wet. Megan swallowed some seawater which made her choke a bit and Jack got some in his eye. The sea, it seemed, didn’t have a sense of rhythm. ‘Unpredictable,’ Jack said, and put his hands on his hips.
After lunch Megan became a rock again whilst Jack went back to being the sea. When she forgot that she wasn’t meant to see, Megan watched him through her fingers. He was very good at it actually. When she woke up this time it was much later. Her limbs hurt from being squashed into a ball and her feet had pins and needles. Jack was eating an apple and watching the sea change in the light. When he finished his apple he threw it behind him and it hit the rock Megan had been lying next to. She flinched as if it had struck her but Jack didn’t notice.
That evening at dinner Megan discovered that she wasn’t hungry even though it was macaroni cheese. She told her dad about Andromeda and Perseus and the monster and the rock and the sea. Her dad said, ‘Being a rock is a tough role,’ and Megan thought about whether, if she did it really well, she could be the monster next time. After dinner he said, ‘You know they’re all up in the sky, Megan?’ And he showed her the constellations of Andromeda and Perseus in a huge book. Megan looked at each one in turn. They’re watching us, she thought.
After school the next day Megan and Jack went straight to the beach. Megan told him about the stars and Jack pulled his ear. After that, Megan didn’t say much. She didn’t feel like it. Jack said she was very quiet and she just shrugged. He rolled in and out with the waves for a long time and she scrunched herself up into a rock, tried to breathe without moving any part of her body. She tried to keep her eyes open but not blink. She wondered if other rocks kept their eyes closed, or if they had any. Jack paddled a bit in the water until he saw a jellyfish. The sea was louder today. It said,
They listened to it for a long time. Megan’s dad came down with some juice and he pointed out the star constellations to them when the sky was dark enough. Megan said that the sea sounded sad. Jack didn’t say anything.
The next morning Megan woke up aching all over. Her teeth hurt as if she had been grinding them all night and her legs felt heavy. She had to lift them one by one out of bed. Her dad worked at home so he said she didn’t have to go to school. Megan had a bath instead. In the water it felt as if her skin was being worn down. She watched the ends of her fingers wrinkle and rubbed at her legs to see if she was wearing away. If she looked at her toes from the corner of her eye, they looked grey. After breakfast Megan slipped out of the house and knocked on Jack’s door to see if he was home. Her feet felt like stones on the ends of her legs, and sometimes she couldn’t feel them at all. Jack answered the door and Megan opened her mouth to speak, and then found that she couldn’t.
Jack pulled her inside. His face was like an egg white and every minute or so it would turn a hideous green. His eyes were huge. He said, ‘Megan, there’s a fish inside my stomach.’ Megan opened her mouth but nothing came out. Jack said, ‘Listen to it, there’s a fish inside my stomach.’
Megan bent down and put her left ear to Jack’s stomach. For a while she couldn’t hear anything at all, and then suddenly she heard a slopsplash like a fish in water and the blowing noises of bubbles and the flick of a tail changing direction. Jack said he didn’t know what to do. Megan pointed to her mouth, she opened and closed it. It wasn’t working. They sat down at the kitchen table. On top of it Jack’s notebook was open. On the first page he’d written Sea, and underneath it Blue, Big, Tides to do with the Moon. On the right-hand side it said Rock, and underneath it, Grey, Solid, Still. They both stared at the words, which seemed very small now, and not right at all. Jack’s Mum put some chocolate digestives on the table between them. Megan looked at Jack. She picked up a pen and wrote inside his notebook: ‘Maybe they’re trying to help us do it right? Maybe they’re making us feel what it’s really like?’ She put down the pen and put a biscuit inside her silent mouth. It tasted like small pieces of grit. Jack put his hand to his stomach where the fish was swimming, and read what she’d written again and again.
Megan and Jack were kept in bed for three whole days. The doctors said Megan had lost her voice from a bad cold and Jack had caught a stomach bug. Megan and Jack knew the truth though. Once they were allowed to leave the house, they took Jack’s notebook down to the beach and watched the sea and the rocks. In the notebook they wrote down everything.
They wrote about how the sea ate up the light from the sun and then spat it up again in different places. They wrote about how the waves curled up like a yawn, and how they could see jellyfish floating in the shallows. They wrote about the sucksuck of the sea on the shells, and how it whispered the same few words over and over again, as if it was trying to tell them something. They wrote about the taste of salt on their lips, and the feel of it on their skin when it dried. They wrote about the sharp stink of it in their nostrils, which they had to remember to smell because they were so used to it.
They walked to the rock and watched it for a long time. They wrote about all the different colours on its surface and how it hugged its shadow to itself closely, like a friend. They wrote about the sunlight changing the shades of its greyness, and the wind moving the small plants which grew on it. They wrote about the limpets, which stuck to it like small party hats, and they wrote about the solidness of it and the sounds it made, and didn’t make, when they rested their ears against its chest.
They wrote all of this down and then they read it all forwards and backwards aloud, until they knew they’d remember it.
The next day was the school play. That morning Jack had discovered a dark corner in his room. He decided he wasn’t frightened of it because the sea wouldn’t be. On the way to school Megan stood on all the cracks in the road. She was a rock, after all.
Everyone’s parents and sisters and brothers and cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents gathered to see the play. The lights darkened and the papery curtain was raised. Cassiopeia boasted, the sea god was angry, the monster was angrier, Andromeda got tied to the rock (Megan), the sea splashed everywhere (Jack), and eventually Perseus remembered his cue and blundered onstage, his shirt half-tucked into his pants, to rescue the beautiful Andromeda, who by this time was stiff and sore from being tired to the rock. Everyone clapped and clapped.
As soon as the curtain went down all anyone was talking about was how salty the sea smelled, how Jack caught the light on his body and how he moved as if he was making waves. They talked about how the rock was so still and so solid. They said Megan had a real presence. They said it even looked like Sylvia/Andromeda grazed herself when she was being unchained. Megan and Jack smiled at each other and didn’t say much.
That evening they walked down to the beach and sat down with the sea in front of them and the rocks on their right. Above them, Andromeda and Perseus were faint lights in the sky. They drank hot chocolate and watched carefully as everything changed and moved around them. Miss Fletcher said they’d be doing Macbeth next year, and she thought Megan and Jack would be perfect as the fog. They weren’t even angry. They would be perfect.
Emily Ilett lives and works in Glasgow. She studied Environmental Art & Sculpture at The Glasgow School of Art and is currently on the MLitt Creative Writing course at Glasgow University. Her work has been published in a number of magazines in print and online, including Litro Magazine, From Glasgow to Saturn, Popshot Magazine, and 2HB.