Stone Sea by Claire Massey
Rivelyn was third on my list in a morning. It was just a thirty minute appointment and
I had to be careful not to run over or I got caught in the traffic on the A6. She was one
of the better ones. She opened the door to me without any fuss. She looked at me like
she knew who I was. She’d always made an attempt to get herself dressed and she
smelled clean, of Imperial Leather soap. It’s too easy to miss the little signs that all’s not
quite right when you’re dashing in and out, and getting the kettle on, and counting out
the right number of tablets, and checking the sink and the bin for evidence they’ve
“…She had eyes that looked like the blue had been rinsed out of them…”
Rivelyn wasn’t a talker and I didn’t push it. She had eyes that looked like the
blue had been rinsed out of them. The first time I visited her she took me straight
down the hall into the backroom. There was a wing back chair in there and a small
settee and an ancient-looking telly. The cushions on the settee were pristine, like
they’d never been sat on. The telly was switched off. There were no photographs on
the walls and from that I decided she’d never had children and probably hadn’t been
married. The view from the window was of her wheelie bins and the yard wall. The
house looked clean enough but the air was stale and heavy. In most of their houses the
silence is broken up by the ticking of a clock but in Rivelyn’s house it lay thick and
undisturbed on everything.
After I’d been going there a few months, she opened the door one morning
and mumbled that she still needed to do her teeth. There was a tiny spot of toothpaste
in the corner of her mouth but I didn’t say anything. I watched her on the stairs. She
was slow but she still seemed steady enough.
I was standing right beside the front room door, which was always shut, so I
thought I’d take a peek. In older generations, of course, one room was often kept for
best. And it’s not unusual for my lot to confine their movements to one room for most
of the day: the night, too, when they can no longer manage the stairs. The door
knocked against something and wouldn’t open fully. I poked my head around it.
If there had ever been furniture in the room it wasn’t there any more.
Underneath the window, running the length of the wall, was a promenade of stone
buildings. These weren’t like dolls houses and they weren’t like those Lilliput Lane
houses some of my others have lined up along their mantelpieces. The buildings
looked too intricate, too real to have been carved or moulded. I crept around the door.
I was careful to keep my feet on the navy carpet and not to touch the stone beach
which spread out in swathes across the room. There were big hotels and a row of
shops with frilled stone canopies. I realized there was another street hidden behind the
prom. The houses and shops there grew into the wall. The white anaglypta wallpaper
had split and buckled around their roofs.
There was a stone sea wall and steps down on to the beach, where tiny pebbles
had been tumbled till they looked more like glass beads than gravel. A pier stretched
out along the carpet on thin stone legs. There was a carousel near the end of it, a silent
organ at its heart. Stone horses frozen midair.
“…In most of their houses the silence is broken up by the ticking of a clock but in Rivelyn’s house it lay thick and undisturbed on everything…”
I found Rivelyn in the backroom. She didn’t question where I’d been. ‘Would
you like me to put the telly on for you, love?’ I asked. I wanted to break up the
silence, the memory of all that stone with some normality. She didn’t answer, just sat
staring into the middle distance. I turned it on and Jeremy Kyle’s blather rushed into
I kept the stone seafront to myself, in part because I didn’t know where to
begin in describing it to someone and in part because I was drawn to it. I didn’t want
anyone coming in and taking it or her away. I started slipping in there at some point
during every visit and there was always more to explore. There was a shop with a sign
that said Aladdin’s Cave; there were slivers of stone postcards in racks on display
outside its door. Some mornings, tables draped with stone cloths had been put out in
front of one of the tearooms. The harbour wall was often left peppered with stone
lobster pots and I’d find the occasional lone fishing boat stranded on the carpet.
Over the next few months Rivelyn talked less than ever. Her eyes were
constantly focused somewhere past me. Her movements were stiff and she looked
more unsteady on the stairs. I started plating meals up for her, to keep her going till I
came in the next morning.
She sat perfectly still in her chair whilst I dashed about. There was grainy grey
dust now on the mantelpiece and on top of the telly. ‘Did you used to go on holiday to
the seaside?’ I asked her once. She didn’t respond. ‘I’ve always loved the seaside,’ I
said. ‘We used to go to Rhyl every summer when I was little.’
“…As time went on the stone beach spread further, as though the tide of carpet was slowly going out…”
As time went on the stone beach spread further, as though the tide of carpet
was slowly going out. Sometimes the stone glistened as though wet and the air smelled
almost salty but I never saw any water. I began to worry about the floorboards, about
the weight of it all pulling the house down.
I only saw Rivelyn look into the room once. She was agitated, as though she
was looking for something, but she didn’t say what. I watched as she bumped the door
open and peered in. She stumbled back. She looked horrified. She pulled the door
closed with a strength I didn’t think she had.
One morning, she didn’t answer the door. It happens sooner or later with all of them
but it still gives me a little jolt every time it does. I peered in through the letterbox and
I could see that the door to the front room was open. I ran to get the spare key from
the neighbour, an elderly woman herself who spent an age sorting through various
keys in a Welsh-dresser drawer, trying to decide which one it was.
I think I expected to find Rivelyn collapsed in the room. Her bone-thin body
propped awkwardly between the seaside streets. But the room was empty. The air felt
clean and light, no longer dragged down by the stone and the silence. But the carpet
was damp. I checked the whole house but there was no sign of her.
I went outside to call the care company. It was a sunny day. A fat seagull
watched me from the rooftop opposite. I swear I could hear a carousel on the breeze.
Claire Massey’s short stories have been published in The Best British Short Stories 2011, Murmurations: An Anthology of Uncanny Stories About Birds, Flax, Patricide, A cappella Zoo, and elsewhere. Two of her stories, Marionettes and Into the Penny Arcade, are available as chapbooks from Nightjar Press. www.clairemassey.co.uk
© 2013, Metazen.