The Nausicaa Episode
By Eve Naden
She’s a thief; it’s the only thing she’s good at.
She wants to be an archivist but the lady behind the desk says you must have had experience at another archive to get a job as an archivist. Amy knows this because the lady says,
—You must have had previous experience as an archivist to be an archivist. So she says,
—I want this experience.
—Previous experience, the lady repeats. Her throat bobs; it’s as if a tiny mouse is running up and down her oesophagus.
—We had an archive at university, she points out. I walked through it a lot.
She does not get the job.
She writes things like, ‘the sky is restless’ and hopes other people will argue over what that means and what she meant and that they will argue about it at great length (roughly two hundred years).
—Your father drank a little, says her mother.
She writes: my father was an alcoholic; he punched walls because he liked the sound.
—Your Nana died from a heart attack, says her mother.
She writes: Grandma Sylvie swallowed a knife on a handmade raft; she took it to the lake one night after Bingo.
Everyone assumes she reads Larkin and smokes but she is glad Larkin’s dead and cigarettes are too expensive. She’d drink more if she could afford it and that frightens her. She’s always scaring herself. She writes,
I chug whisky like holy water. I bundle bottles into my arms because I am their mother, though childless and alone.
She writes back to books which already exist, preferably those written by men. She thinks this is a good idea. Then she writes deep things like (see above) and hopes someone will sit back, breath knocked from their lungs and say,
“Wow. That was deep.”
Someone else would wear this body better, she thinks. Someone else would know what to say.
Her grandad dies the same way a goat faints. Legs straight up, stiff and thoughtless, like a Nazi salute. He is cremated because it works out cheaper and besides, Ma says, cemeteries might as well be London flats and she cries thinking of grandad trying to crawl out of the ground, complaining about the poor ventilation.
Her aunt does not attend the funeral.
It is a procession of bodies (7 of which happen to be alive.) Nan, Ma, Ma’s friend, Nan’s friend, the man with the wonky nose, her (Amy) and the woman who wandered in because her husband’s funeral is next and she wants to pick a good seat before they’re all taken. Her husband’s funeral is in nineteen minutes; she tells everyone this three times.
“We got an early slot,” she says proudly. Amy peers out the door and she can see another hearse pulling up, complete with another procession of mourning guests.
“We don’t respect our dead,” says Ma’s friend, whose name Amy can’t remember. “Spain. Japan. Everyone else except us. They respect the dead in every other country. They have these big parties. We queue.” The woman takes a Tupperware from her handbag; she’s made sandwiches.
—Cheese and pickle? She offers Amy a wad of white bread. Amy shakes her head. The woman shrugs.
—Your loss, she says and proceeds to moan about how difficult it is to find good cheese whilst the vicar reads an excerpt from a Philip Larkin poem. They finish with a hymn, then follow the pallbearers to the crematorium. The door is shut; they all stand as if in amber. Amy checks her watch. She says to no one in particular,
—I didn’t know grandad was a Christian.
—There’s a lot you didn’t know about grandad.
Eventually, someone who looks like a sandcastle pokes their head out. Amy wants to crush them but she doesn’t know why.
—Alright, says Sandcastle. You can go in. The last one’s just finished. Took a lot longer than expected.
—Perhaps it wasn’t hot enough. Amy says this to no one but everyone hears. She’s told to wait outside.
“Let’s spread his ashes at the beach,” says Ma though she doesn’t/cannot drive, Amy has no licence, and they do not live near a beach. Nan says she’ll ask Aunty Nausicaa for help but she never does.
The urn sits on the mantlepiece all winter.
It is late March when her aunty arrives from some unspecified country and announces she’s taking grandad out to dinner.
“He deserves a bit of fun,” she says and Amy assumes Nausicaa doesn’t know her father’s dead but then she plucks the urn from the mantlepiece and pops it in her handbag. Ma doesn’t move. Nor does Nan, though she does say how nice the weather is and how long she’s been craving a good pub lunch.
—Oh we can do better than that, says Nausicaa. And she drives them to a fancy restaurant, Amy in the back to, as Nausicaa puts it, keep grandad company. Amy is more concerned that her grandad cannot see her from inside the bag, nor would he be comfortable amongst Nausicaa’s matte lipstick tubes and unrolled cigarettes rather than the obvious fact that he’s been dead for six months and without a body for five.
Nausicaa drives like a grudge, hands tight on the wheel. No one says anything but Amy is certain the car does not belong to her. There’s a picture of a woman on the dash, a woman with two kids who look like imps, blonde with pointed ears. A man is behind them. Caught in the shot by accident, it seems. He wears an almost cartoonish scowl, as if his children drew him.
The restaurant asks if they’ve booked a table.
—There’s six of us, she says, though of course there is technically five. The waiter, a dark-haired man with a nose-ring even peers behind them to search for their missing companion. Amy clutches the bag with grandad inside, hoping Nausicaa keeps her mouth shut.
She does not. In fact, she requires grandad’s urn be placed at the head of the table; the waiter turns ashen and she laughs. Nan pinches her arm; it’s the first time she’s said anything since Nausicaa arrived.
—You’re causing a scene, she says.
Nausicaa gestures to the urn.
—He doesn’t mind.
Their meals are quick to arrive. Amy orders haddock and chips because that’s what grandad always ordered. Nausicaa snatches beer batter from her plate; she orders nothing for herself.
—She’s already eaten, says Ma when they’re alone in the toilets. Amy frowns. She watches her fingers turn to foam.
—She’ll be back in there by the end of week.
—Back in where? Amy asks this question several times before she gets an answer. Her mother spits the word rehab into the sink, which seems strange given the nicotine patch on her arm.
Amy pockets the hand soap on her way out.
Conversations are happening in the same way every conversation happens, with the ebb and flow of silences. Amy listens as her aunt pays for parking—her first pay cheque from her new job liquidised and cashed. Amy wonders how to start one of those profound conversations. You know, conversations which don’t begin and end with nods to the weather. The weather does not deserve such attention, Amy thinks whilst admiring the sun and how clever it is to make the gritty sand and grey concrete of Crosby beach seem inviting.
—What are you writing? Nausicaa peers over her shoulder. You always have a notebook.
—You should write about orgasms. And BDSM. Sex sells, you know. Ask anyone.
Amy wants to point out that she is in fact asexual but has a feeling her aunt won’t know what that means. She wants to tell her about the poetry professor she slept with till his wife came home from hospital because ‘he needed something to do’ and she knew ‘pleasingly nothing about her own body and what it wanted’ but decides this isn’t the time. She’ll forget, she’s sure of it. She’ll forget losing her autonomy to a man who smelt of wet tarmac and oxidised metal. She trusts her body to keep score.
She changes into a swimming costume. So does Nausicaa. Amy wears the bikini she bought when she was sixteen and was so proud of wearing she was too afraid to actually use it when swimming. Two men walk past. They stop by the pier, nudging each other. Amy turns away. She’d redden if she weren’t so cold. Besides, they’ll leave soon. It’s supposed to rain in an hour. But Nausicaa whips around and says,
—What the fuck are you looking at?
Amy watches them leave. She wonders what it’s like—to walk as if your body is unafraid to take up space.
They sit on the rocks—three of them. Nausicaa, Amy and Grandad. His urn tilts, lounging in the half light. Nausicaa stares at the sea, at how it dips and bobs like a horse frothing at the bit. She glances at Amy.
—This seemed like a good idea at the time.
—Everything does, says Amy because she’s twenty-one and thinks every word out of her mouth must be erudite. She stares at Nausicaa’s feet; they are the biggest things here. Two lemons, filled with juice. She wears a one-piece bathing suit which would accentuate someone else’s lumps but only makes her aunt seem more ethereal, some kind of northern siren wooing men to the local pub. Her tapered fingers rest on grandad’s urn.
—He always loved a good swim.
—Really? Amy sits forward.
—I don’t know, says Nausicaa.
They step from the uneven sand into the uneven sea. Neither can swim well, but grandad is streamlined. His ashes drift and pulse, dive and weave. Pulled by the current, he’s lost from sight within minutes. Nausicaa swims after him. She moves like each limb has been pinned together. Amy doesn’t dare lift her feet from the sand. The tide is a mother. Caressing
Amy is moving. She runs to her aunt, who’s splashing and giggling. At first, Amy hopes she is drunk. She hopes her aunt goes back to rehab.
Nausicaa’s eyes are always searching but they are always sharp. Cut-glass, they roll
the water breathes against her like a lover. Amy returns to the sand; she sits on the pier, watching. Never before has she felt like such an intruder. But she will write about this later, only aunty Nausicaa will be fully nude. Aunty Nausicaa will be drunk instead of sober, crying instead of laughing, and her grandad will emerge from the deep, some kind of watery ghost. And he will smile like he never did when he was alive and Nausicaa will dance and swim with all the grace she lacks now and Amy will be absent because absence gets easier with practice.
Born in France, Eve Naden now lives in the UK, where she studies English at the University of York. She writes everything from short stories to poems, screenplays, and very long novels about very angry women. Passionate about her working-class roots, she wishes to one day tell the story of her ridiculous but wonderful family. Her work has featured in the Roadrunner Review, the Elmbridge Literary Magazine, and the Cheshire Literature Anthology. She likes to write worryingly honest stories about the difficulties of being a functional adult. At some point, she hopes to become a published novelist.