Mood Chart | Emily McKay


OBJECTIVE:

I aim to produce a set of data comprised of singular emotional moments, quantified on the spectrum between the wavelength of the Chin Quiver, formally referred to as either low mood or low energy, to the wavelength of the Eyebrow, formally referred to as either high mood or high energy, to determine a possible trend. A single data point will be collected daily in the controlled setting of West Sands, a cold and perpetually overcast Scottish beach facing the North Sea, formally referred to as The Void. At the conclusion of the experiment, the data can be expressed in a simple yet helpful graph, in which the y-axis represents quality of life and the x-axis represents time.


1

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And it was extremely sunny and full of happy couples and families and everyone was beautiful and I wanted to go home and die. Also, I am disappointed with all the people who failed to realize that the best seashells are at the end of the beach by the estuary. At least they did not deserve them.


2

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And I am confident that doing this everyday will improve my life. But today a small cross-eyed man strolled up next to me, grinned, walked a little ways ahead of me, ran full-speed back behind me, walked past me again, and carried on like this until I turned around to go home.


3

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And the mist made the town look blue. Chelsea Hotel kept running through my head. “Ah but you got away, didn’t you, baby/ You just turned your back on the crowd/ I never once heard you say/ I need you, I don’t need you, I need you, I don’t need you/ and all of that jiving around.”


4

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And there was so much mist that people floated in the opal like ants in amber. Leonard Cohen is still stuck in my head and he will not get out by singing.


5

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And the horizon was devoured by a hyena-flurry of fog, absolute and almost gruesome. Saint Andrews was gone, Scotland was gone, I was nowhere and nowhere minded. I wondered how people conceived of the sound of the ocean without hearing it for themselves. A recording couldn't bear witness to the layered whispers of waves miles away. Water on water, much, grave, and infinitely heavy; always threatening to come or go, always coming and always going, never leaving, never withholding at all. Swaying, and easing us into its cradle. Shushing.


6

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

But it was difficult to get out the door because my face kept breaking apart. I fell asleep crying, and when I woke up crying, I could not remember why. This is not new or interesting. My heart is large and pointless, I can believe nothing it says. So much fog today, it erased even the sea, and encased me in a dome that rolled along as I walked. This little notebook and this walk are two arms, give me a place, make me remember the days. Today my walk woke sandpipers.


7

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And it was Easter Sunday. My legs carried me into a warm steady trance and I needed it to never stop, to never lead anywhere. But flecks of sand whipped the sun off my sea-facing cheek, urging me to turn. I do not have the emotional stamina for wind, for sand, for seafoam, clouds, or skin. Everything adds to the lump in my throat and I want to vomit, I can’t stop thinking the word VOMIT VOMIT VOMIT and I want to vomit up something of consequence, like a few years of life, something to separate myself from this unpinnable toxin somewhere inside of me. The Easter children laugh and splash into sparkling summer-ice waves; the Easter parents smile and hold up towels.


8

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And apparently they’re sanderlings, not sandpipers. How diligent, how endearingly neurotic, racing toward every wave's lacy edge as if to usher the ocean back to its rightful parameters. A crow growled and bobbled along ahead of me like some small geriatric Godzilla. I stepped quietly and followed him for several minutes.


9

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And I was cold, so I turned blue. I passed a friend and he asked what violent weekend debauchery had left me with such bruises. I don't know how people can speak so quickly in the cold. I can't even form thoughts quickly in the cold. I just turn blue sometimes, I said. He laughed, which he also did so quickly I could hardly understand him.


10

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And fed breadcrumbs to Godzilla. We were joined by a thundercloud of other birds, mostly gulls, but then I had to leave to meet my psychiatrist. He approves of my walks. I think that in the same way everyone believes in love, everyone believes in walking. But no need to tell him I bake bread in the middle of the night for crows.


11

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And found a broken shell. It felt like every gloss and ridge of teeth. I wanted to put it in someone’s hand, and wrap someone’s fingers, around it and wait smiling as if it were a riddle. But someone is gone, every way I wrap my mind around it. Without deciding to, I carried it home. Nothing is more lost than one tooth of a beachcomb. I put it on my windowsill.


12

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And I could not feel the passage of time or the sunburn or the wind.


13

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And still I am walking but only walking around the residual pain of a rohypnol-and-lithium-blocked Friday night. This does not stop happening. I can’t change my life, I don’t know what it is, I don’t remember it, I wake up scratched and swollen in a strange flat and whisk myself to West Sands and that is that, that is this, this is my life, now and only. My body has to be so much more ruined than this to actually die; there is such a long way to go before this is finally, literally unbearable.


14

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And the sun was strong, it controlled everything, even the kites. Glitter in the sand, tombstones for what used to join them. It seemed so thick and deep today, made my legs ache to get through it.


15

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And stepped next to a jellyfish embedded in the wet packed sand. It looked like an eyeball. My footstep made it tic and the flies whipped away, then immediately relanded. I stepped out of its peripheral sphere and carried on through rooted dunes, avoiding everything with eyes.


16

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And it struck me again how hard it is to get away even when you go away.


17

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And it was perfect. Warm, overcast, and only a few people around to call the sky’s bluff. I counted the syllables of tentative haikus on my fingertips, until I realized I had an apple in my bag. Fingers filled: haiku suspended. It was the first time I’d ever eaten the core.


18

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And I saw two swans run toward the sea, making a tremendous sound as they took flight. I did not know how to describe the sound. Later I had dinner with a friend who had, that same day, seen two swans take off from East Sands. This led to an ecstatic conversation of trying to describe the sound.


19

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And the tide left the sand smooth and silver as a mirror. Distant figures unwittingly stepped on the toes of their inverted doppelgangers. The north end of the beach was wrapped inside a raincloud, but it looked so like fleece that I could not resist walking tighter and tighter into it until I was soaked.


20

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And passed the remains of last night’s bonfire, where someone unexpected and I had knocked back peanuts and gin. I have never felt so located as when he spoke to me. I think my life – I know my life - is changing.


21

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And the loose sand flew over the firm sand like ghosts slithering to sea. It was the sound of wild sand, undomesticated, intended for no one, a lively flock of rainsticks practicing their scales.


22

Today we walked

To Craigtoun Park and back

Since neither of us could sleep. We walked for hours through the woods, past trees’ gnarled faces, through snowdrops and crocuses that brightened as the sun rose. No one has ever held my hand in the daytime before. We ducked under the wooden posts into the old, ever empty park. Moss obscured the carved portraits, dates, and intentions of the stone monuments that nested in rows of intertwining cypresses in garden tended and garden untended, contextless urns, pedestals glorifying only lichen, and arched gateways we cannot say led nowhere.


23

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And as I yawned, the wind swept across my mouth like someone blowing over an empty bottle, or the low tone that swoops over of the mouthpiece of a flute, before any attempt at song.


24

Today I did not walk

Up and down West Sands

Because I was intercepted by bliss.


25

Today we picnicked

On the sands across the estuary

By Tentsmuir Forest. For years I have left myself on the northen-most edge of West Sands, wondering at the opposite shore, but never set foot there until today. There was no clear path. And you couldn't see them from West Sands but huge concrete blocks were dropped on the beach in the second World War to keep enemy ships from landing. I skipped from one to the other until they were too far apart, and then returned to our scones and flask of tea.


26

Today we walked

Up and down West Sands

And West Sands was not openly jealous. It stowed away in our eyebrows and belly buttons and joined us in bed. It struck me again how hard it is to get away even when you go away from West Sands.


27

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And the sanderlings let the tide wash over their toes as if in a gesture of cosmic trust. The sunset cast everything in a tender, almost sweaty, candle-flame glow, which was not only beautiful but true, and generous. The experiment is complete. I know the days, even as they ebb back into the dark colossus. I keep everything.




Emily McKay is a Creative Writing MLitt graduate of the University of St Andrews, where she also studied English & Philosophy as an undergraduate. In the five years since, she has worked as a cheesemonger in St Andrews, UK, a veterinary receptionist in Tallahassee, FL, and now as an electrical calibration technician at a tech company in Santa Rosa, CA. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Barrow Street, Glimmer Train, Shenandoah, Vallum, Zarf, and others.