weightlessly I float
feeling you ribbon around my body
like the curves of the earth’s coasts
how can one thing be
so calm + so powerful
- Ocean by Aimée King
“Looks like you had a productive study session at the beach,” said Lisa, eyeing Mel’s muddy boots and trousers.
“There was a bit of an incident in the marsh on the way back. I did some good studying before that though,” said Mel.
“Still practicing Welsh, are you?” Lisa asked.
She eyed the textbook Mel had tucked under her arm, a Welsh language book from the school library.
“Give it up lass, Mam and Dad are never going to let you go to uni in Wales. I don’t know how you do any studying outside this time of year anyways. It’s absolutely freezing.”
Mel’s older sister had dark blue eyes like their dad, eyes that would have been described as warm and beautiful were it not for the near constant passiveness of her facial expression. She pursed her lips and inspected her spotless fingernails.
Mel shrugged. “Well, I wore my big coat and I brought a blanket. Cold or no, I’d rather study on the beach than in this noisy house.”
As if on cue, Mel’s four-year-old brother George began to scream.
Lisa sighed. “Well now you’ve jinxed us.” And then as if she’d been waiting for the moment of maximum chaos: “Mam! Lisa’s home!”
“One minute! My hands are a wee bit full right now!” Lisa turned back to Mel. “She said there were some letters on the table for you.” Mel made a mad dash for the kitchen. Hands trembling, she first ripped open one envelope, then the next, nearly spilling the contents across the table in her excitement. “Calm down, would you? We all know you’ll be accepted,” said Lisa, trying to look uninterested as she leaned against the wall.
“Mel’s been accepted? Mel’s been accepted to Newcastle?” Mam appeared in the hallway with a red-faced George on her hip. Her hazel eyes glowed with pride. “I’ve been accepted to Newcastle and Bangor!” said Mel. Mam set George down and wrapped her daughter up in a hug. “My Mel! I’m so happy, I
knew you’d get in! Your father’s going to be so excited about Newcastle. He has the maddest stories from when he used to work there.”
Mel skimmed over a sheet of paper, high on a wave of happiness. They were both conditional offers – she’d have to do better on her English exam this year, but she was sure she was up to the task.
“This says that one of the marine biology students at Bangor just published a study on breadcrumb sponges” she said.
Mam frowned. “But you applied for the medical sciences course, didn’t you?”
“Aye, Mam. The letter from Bangor just had a list of student accomplishments from all the courses,” Mel lied, slipping the papers back into their envelopes.
Mel had stopped trying months ago to convince her parents that marine biology was a real career. Dad was always asking what sort of job she was supposed to get with a marine biology degree. Mam was always telling her they didn’t have the money to put her through three years of uni for a job that wasn’t going to pay. She’d finally given up and told them she’d changed her mind and wanted to be a doctor instead. Lying was the easiest option. Eventually they’d find out that Mel had applied for marine biology and not medicine, but hopefully by then it would be too late for them to stop her.
Mam was smiling dreamily. “My daughter’s going to be a doctor. A doctor, I knew you’d go far in life. I’m going to call your aunties and tell them to mark their calendars for your graduation from Newcastle–”
“I could study medicine at Bangor, too,” said Mel.
“Oh Mel, it would be brilliant for you to go to Bangor, but you know we can’t afford your living expenses if you’re paying rent somewhere else.”
“She could pay rent to live here,” said Lisa.
“Lisa, nobody’s asking you to pay rent, and we’re not asking Mel, either. I don’t understand why you insist on paying to live with your own family,” said Mam.
There was a click as the front door swung open and Dad walked in, smelling like the strong, citrus-scented soap he used to scrub the grime off his hands after a day at the auto shop.
“Hello loves. How was work?” he asked Mam.
“More of the same. Some caller had half a million questions, nearly made me late to pick up George from school. But Mel has some good news.”
“Good news? Well that’s a grim face for someone with good news. What is it?”
“Mel got accepted to uni in Bangor and Newcastle, but Mam won’t let her go to Bangor because we can’t afford the cost of living,” said Lisa.
“Oh come on, it’s Bangor, Wales we’re talking about, not the West End of London!” said Mel.
“Mel, I am so proud of you. I know you’ve been working so hard, and you deserve the world. But money is tight right now, and I know it’s not fair, but...If you go to Newcastle, you’ll be able to live at home for free. Your mam’s already driving to the call center most days, so she can drop you off at class on her way there. And maybe if things turn around for us next year, we could try to help you find a flat of your own...”
“I don’t know about her living all by herself in Newcastle,” said Mam. “Well she won’t be living all by herself, I’m sure she’ll have friends.” Mel felt a mixture of rage and panic rising in her throat. She should be grateful, but all
she could think about was the unfairness of it all. And to top it all off, she was going to cry. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“Mel, why don’t you just take a minute and–” “Aye, I need to study.”
Mel shouldered past her parents before the tears began to fall. She ran upstairs to the bedroom she and Lisa shared and leaned back against the door. Stupid. Why had she even bothered to get her hopes up? She glanced in the mirror, and the sight made her choke out a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a sob. Of all the days to experiment with eyeliner.
It just wasn’t fair. Mel’s best friend Jackie was going to uni in Edinburgh, and she didn’t work half as hard as Mel did.
Mel gritted her teeth. She would figure something out, she always did. She sighed dramatically, sinking down on her bed. And then she wiped away her tears, flipped open her Welsh textbook, and began to recite.
Illustration by Chris Johnston (https://kurisuongaku.wixsite.com/home)
About the author: Ella Shively is an undergraduate studying natural resources and writing at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, USA. You can find her online at
About today’s featured poet: Aimée King is a 24-year-old poet from London living in West Wales studying Documentary Filmmaking for Ecology. Her writing questions the state of the world and how we can create change through a revolution of consciousness, finding inspiration through nature, her relationships and spirituality.
About this chapter's illustrator: Chris has been working as a self-employed artist and musician since 2010. Chris has always loved the ocean, recognising its importance in the world’s delicate ecology and being inspired by its vast array of wildlife from plankton to sharks to life in the rockpools and around the coastline. He enjoys snorkelling and is currently studying for a move into marine biology and conservation, happy to use his music and art to help wherever possible.