Jalen Lyle-Holmes’s ‘Waves’ makes mention of violence, drowning, and homophobia.

I dreamed I was a whale. I swam through the ocean from shore to shore. I saw lots of different things. I saw fish. Purple ones, orange ones, green ones, and blue ones. I saw sharks with rotting fishtails wedged between their layers of teeth. A few times I saw mobile phones.

 I dreamed that I swam towards the surface. Just under the waves I glided back and forth. I was sure there were gorgeous clouds floating by overhead, and I wanted to look up at them. But I couldn’t turn my head upwards, because I was a whale. Then I remembered that whales can leap out of the water in cool flips. I gathered some speed and shot up in a majestic arc. I felt very cool. Except cool isn’t the word, much more serious than cool. What I felt was—Awesome, in the old meaning of the word. An object deserving of awe. Never in my waking life could I have mustered anywhere near enough certainty to allow myself to feel Awesome. The clouds drifted above, glowing with the light of the sun, but I no longer cared: I was an Act of God, a mountain that could fly.

When I awoke I was terrified. As usual. I tried to get ready for work, but I was too scared. I tried to go to the kitchen to eat breakfast, but I was too pathetic. I tried to calm myself, but I was too confused. So I stayed in bed and used my penis to distract myself.

Eventually I did get out of bed. I’m not sure how that happened.

When I was on the bus on the way to work, I felt quite calm and happy. I ran back through what had just happened, and through what was coming up today, looking for what might be causing me to feel this sudden lightness, but I couldn’t think of anything. I looked at some buildings out the window and they looked very nice. I was excited for the day.

I saw my boss walking to the bathroom and realised everything that must be done was in fact impossible.

At night I decided to go for a walk on the beach. The beach was a long way from my house so I had to take a long tram ride to get there. On the tram, two boys threw cream puffs at each other and one of them exploded on the floor—the cream puff, not the boy. Cream got on my jacket. It sprayed up like water from the gutter when a car drives by. The boy apologised over and over, suddenly scared. I looked at him briefly, then turned away.

At the beach I slid down over the bluestone wall and my feet thudded into the sand. I crunched down toward the distant waterline. Waves rustled like leaves, whooshed like passing cars on a quiet suburban street, breathed like a fan turning left to right then back again. I walked right up to where the little waves came lapping, to dip my toe in. Then I realised I would have to take my shoe off to do so. I stood, deflated. The wind batted at me like an impatient toddler. I scanned the water. I was looking for something shocking, an orange jacket on an empty body, or a burst of blown spray. I turned left to right then back again, missing things just past the edges of my vision. Nothing emerged from the ruffled black velvet. Nothing more to be done here, then. I walked back to the tram, disappointed with the lack of clarity, the lack of volume that this expedition had had. I had expected some swelling and perhaps even bursting, but instead it was just a flat line of footsteps.

I fell asleep on the tram on the way home. 

Very pretty boys danced around the tree. They waved colourful flags and they pranced. Leaves brushed past their naked flesh. A bird called from a poplar tree, a very pretty bird. The bird called a dirge about leaving home and never going back again, about forgetting what it was that you had promised you would remember forever. The boys danced on, leaping and smiling, as though the song was a jig of joy, an anthem rousing them to celebration. I wanted to smash their heads in. I wanted to slice their unripe Adam’s apples and poke around in the vocal cord cores, searching for the scream of pain that must be hiding somewhere. But I couldn’t get to the tree: I didn’t exist here, I was just its dreamer. So they danced on, shaking their bottoms with delight.

I woke up at the end of the line. I smiled, remembering when this had happened to me as a teenager. But that time I’d been on my way home from a party in a park, at 5 a.m. At the party a boy had placed his hand between my legs when he was kissing me, and I felt scared, not of his hand but of the thing his hand was placed upon. I stopped smiling. I called a Didi.

The next few days, or weeks, or something, were wishy washy. Things came and went: words people said, events, decisions. Something was lost in the gaps between them and it was so annoying trying to work out what it was. So annoying! You know when you’ve dropped a coin between the stove and the counter, and you realise your arm is just too thick? That your fingers flick millimetres away from the coin and you try to breathe in deeper and you know it’s right there but you can’t touch it? You know? 

Then it was Tuesday, and my kids came. I was happy with that. Brayden had a new obsession: velvet pants. He was wearing a pair, red ones, and he had another yellow pair in his suitcase. Mia demanded a storybook I forgot we owned. I found it and did silly voices that I knew would annoy her. She batted at my face impatiently and told me off for being naughty. I smiled. I made them a pumpkin soup and tried putting rosemary in and slightly burning the onions and it worked out well, though Brayden made a face as he ate it all, like he always does for things I am nervous about.

When they were at school and childcare, I quit my job. I didn’t pack up any of my stuff, just left it at my desk, which felt really fun.

I went down to the beach again and I took off my shoes and I walked into the waves. Over to the left was an orange jacket floating in the waves, with a head attached to it. The mouth was open and filled with water. I went over to it. I had to really immerse myself up to my chest and my clothes were getting soaked and then when I was a foot away from the body I realised my phone was in my pocket. I wanted to turn around and run back to shore, but I just pulled my phone from my pocket, shaking, and placed it between my teeth. 

I didn’t understand why he was still floating. I placed a hand under his back and felt around. His buttocks were lumpy and he had a phone in his pocket. I suddenly realised he, like all dead people, had died in a specific way from a specific chain of events and that dying had taken him a specific amount of time. It suddenly became too much, what was happening. I wanted to call the police, but my phone. I slid my fingers into his long hair and pulled him back to the beach behind me. 

When I slid him onto the sand I whispered ‘life jacket’ and it made sense why he had been floating. I kept my phone between my lips and tried to turn his phone on. I saw a man walking up on the pavement, past the bluestone wall, and I spat out my phone and shouted really loud. My vocal cords hurt and it flooded my veins with something and it was kind of empowering, like turning the volume up so high the sound goes jagged. The man didn’t hear, or didn’t understand, but a woman on rollerblades did and she waved and I waved back and she took off her rollerblades and jogged down the sand. All around us, in some places, there were calls of seagulls, and the sky was glowing with sunlight. The woman stumped from side to side awkwardly as she ran in the sand with a rollerblade under each arm. I placed a hand on the dead guy’s throat. It felt exactly like a human neck but it also felt exactly like window glass on a winter morning. The rollerblade woman’s hair was flopping and I was like, is her hair wet too? It was quite strange. I thought maybe she just had a shower or something. I realised my heart was beating really fast. 

She called an ambulance. I told her she didn’t need to because I thought the guy was dead, but she did anyway.

When I picked Mia up from childcare, she jumped into my arms like nothing had happened. I was shocked and taken aback and I think I laughed a bit. As we were waiting for Brayden to get in the car I realised that everyone in the world is like that, aren’t they, smiling at a funny slogan on a bus stop like it hasn’t just happened in Spain that, you know, a brother has breathed his last breath into his sister’s hand. I was glad about this, and I smiled. Then another idea popped up and even though I knew I’d confuse the kids, I laughed again. It was this wild idea that maybe one day the bad things that have happened in my past will be like the beach guy, in a morgue somewhere, and future me will be like Mia obliviously jumping into my arms.

That night I dreamed of colours: purple, blue, red, and the others, orange, yellow, and green, swirling across each other in shapes that meant nothing at all.