I will not soon forget our visit to Reynisfjara beach. It is a memory that has gripped itself tightly to me these past many years. It was on that day that I lost him.
The black sand beach, as it is known to most, lay on the South coastline of Iceland just outside of the small settlement of Vik. William and I made plans to leave our accommodation in Vik early to make sure we made it in time for the sunrise, where it would be nice and quiet at the beach. As it was the start of November, we thought it was a safe bet that we would be amongst the few people daring enough to brace the icy sunrise that morning.
As we had driven along the South coast over the past week, we had seen the most spectacular sights. Glaciers atop of mountains that fed the cascading waterfalls beneath them. Volcanos with their cratered mouths where long ago they had once erupted. Below them were the remnants of magma flow, vast lava fields which jutted with black rocks and woolly fringe moss. The northern lights burst out in a neon green and a bright red vortex of colours on one of the darkest of nights I had ever seen. Driving around this country made us feel like we were no longer on the planet Earth, or as William described it, like somewhere that had been pulled straight out of a Tolkien novel.
In the dark of the morning, our journey to the beach was brutal and blustery. Harsh winds blew us close off the road a couple of times and the tarmac still had a layer of ice on it which had not yet melted. I was always grateful that William was happy to drive on our travels together. If I were the one attempting to fight against the Icelandic weather in a beat up old rental car, I’m certain we would have crashed a few times before managing to leave the airport. ‘Maybe going to this beach so early wasn’t such a good idea.’ William gripped tightly to the steering wheel, exposing the whites of his knuckles. He never usually showed much hesitance towards anything in life, so I didn’t like when I sensed his nervousness. ‘It’s all part of the adventure. We’re fine, look there’s the sign for the beach, we’re nearly there.’ I told him, hiding my fear and eager for the car journey to end.
As we neared closer to the beach the sky turned lighter, unexpectedly, as if being turned up by a dimmer switch. The sun had risen. We looked to each other, neither of us spoke, only our expressions telling each other, that was strange. Although, everything we had seen in this beautiful country up till this moment had been out of the ordinary and other worldly, so nothing could seem that strange to us anymore.
We pulled into the car park, put on our multiple layers of outerwear as usual, and braced ourselves for the cold kiss of coastal air. There were no cars in sight, and as far as we could see, there was nobody yet on the beach. As we left the car park, there was a large sign that read ‘NEVER turn your back on the ocean’ with an aptly placed photo of a woman being swept away dramatically by the waves. Numerous deaths had happened at the black sand beach in previous years, it was no wonder they needed to put out a sign to prevent more fatalities. William laughed to himself at the photo and told me to ‘watch out for those sneaky waves.’ I walked on with caution.
To add to the collection of miraculous sights that we had been lucky enough to see during our visit, Reynisfjara beach was certainly amongst them as one of the most remarkable and unusual places. As we stepped onto the beach, to our left we could see hexagonal basalt columns towering alongside the cliff face which shaped the shore, they resembled more of an art installation than that of a natural rock formation. We walked along the volcanic charcoal coloured sand, which was more solid beneath our feet than that of a golden sand, where the feet would usually sink and struggle with every laborious step. Just off the shore were some more fascinating natural rock structures known as the Reydnisdrangar sea cliffs. One took the shape of a giant spire that must have towered at least sixty metres tall and the other three jagged pillars sat alongside like ocean worn pyramids. We looked on at these marvels as the ice-cold waves came crashing towards us unpredictably with sneaking waves that the signs upon entrance to the beach warned us about.
We made our way along the desolate beach, hand in hand, taking in all we could about the spectacular yet ominous new landscape. It was in that moment that the waves began to slow, and soon they stopped coming in entirely as the beach fell into an abyss of uneasy silence and everything came to a halt. The winds dropped off and quickly began to settle into a stagnant air. For a moment there was a pitted drop in my stomach, all the energy I had, started to drain entirely from my body sinking heavily into the soles of my feet, as though I was being swallowed by the volcanic sands below me.
As we continued walking, we did so with a little more trepidation in our steps until we noticed something in the distance that had washed up onto the shore. Nearing closer to the object we could see it was a grey leather material, like that of a heavy coat or jacket. It wasn’t until William let go of my hand and rushed to inspect the sodden item in more detail, that we uncovered a more bewildering reality. William struggled as he lifted the hollowed body of a seal, where only its thick taut flesh remained. Empty sockets where its eyes should sit stared through me, the cavernous mouth hung wide open with its teeth bared and nostrils flared wide, its whiskers twitched with recent life.
Close to the discarded seal skin was a dragging trail that soon turned to large footprints leading directly to the caves, tucked beneath the rugged rock face. We realised at this moment that we were not alone on the beach as the silence of the beach became an echo chamber to the sound of a women’s voice. She was singing. The voice was the most enchanting I had ever heard, sung with such delicate Icelandic words. Transfixed, William returned the seals skin back to the black sands as we were beckoned towards the caves together. William moved ahead of me and walked quickly; I could see he wasn’t struck with the same fear that I was from the moment we found the empty seal skin. On our approach, the woman continued to sing the soft shanty as shadows of her figure danced alongside the basalt walls of the cave. As I stood cautiously a few steps away I could see William frozen upon his first sight of her. I followed soon after.
Tall and underweight she danced naked, bones protruding harshly from her ribcage, as she continued to sing. Her bare skin was pale and shimmered with the milky opalescence of the ocean that crept in behind us. Her hair shone silver and trailed well below her breasts, as far as her navel. She had a frail beauty that made her enchanting. The woman made her way towards William as I watched unable to move or say a word, my throat was dry and my mouth seemingly wired shut. William was calm and smiled at her, as if willing her closer to him. She towered a foot above him swaying her frail frame as she lifted a slender arm to gently stroke his cheek, then leaning forward she spoke softly to him, I tried to listen, but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. As the woman peeled away, she looked deep into his eyes and uttered one last haunting phrase that has stayed with me all these years. ‘Finndu mig hér.‘ He looked back at her with a knowing stare as she pulled him close and kissed his lips. I screamed internally whilst tears started to fill my eyes as he kissed her back.
There was a thick air between myself and the two of them, my heart pleaded and strained for it all to come to an end. Just as I could take no more of the heartache, she turned and looked at me with deep black orb shaped eyes which felt void of a soul. She held her tilted gaze only for a moment before beginning to walk towards the ocean. William and I watched on in a bleary-eyed state, bewildered by the stranger’s presence still, as she knelt to the sand and crawled effortlessly into the seal’s skin. Transformed, the silver haired woman became her true self once again, a creature of the sea.
The following day we began our journey back home to the Cumbrian coast, in the town of Ravenglass, a home which we had built together. We never spoke of our trip to Reynisfjara beach again or of the women we had encountered, though I know that it loomed over us the rest of our years together. We returned to our lives as normal, years passed us by as if nothing had happened, but every now and then we were taken back to that moment. The simple sounds, like the crash of the ocean outside our bedroom window would often serve as a reminder that neither of us could ignore the inevitable truth and the silence would tear us further apart. The calling became stronger towards the end, I could see she had invisible tether bound to him. Longing for her all those years William would spend many mornings looking out at the sea, the object that both distantly tied them, yet tore them apart from one another. The only thing that separated them was that long expanse of sea, where he didn’t belong.
One early morning, before the sun had risen, I awoke and found that William wasn’t in the bed beside me. I had a disturbed sleep where I dreamt heavily of her, repeatedly I heard those words torturing me again‚ Finndu mig hér. A strong sense of grief overcame me as I sat up, the same grief I had felt that day.
I knew where I needed to go. As I headed out of the house the darkness lifted suddenly, just as it had at Reynisfara. As I stepped onto the golden sand of the beach, I saw the footprints embossed into it leading directly to the ocean. For a short moment I felt the desperate urge to dive in after him and refused to believe what he had done, but somewhere inside of me, I knew this was coming someday. It was only a matter of time before he was no longer be able to ward off his desire for her. ‘Finndu mig hér.‘ Those words rang again like electric shocks through my heart.
‘Find me here,’ she had told him.