Saturday, 21 May 2016

Down by the Side

I came to the seaside to find what was lost, but one can never go back. 
It doesn’t matter where; they’re all alike: one seaside town almost indistinguishable from the next, all dilapidated; worn through, whoring out what was left from the ‘60’s ‘kiss me quick’ innocence. It was a place I remembered from my childhood, one memory that had blurred into so many others. A worm cast of possibilities forgotten.
Childhood places certain pressures on adulthood; one can either forgive and forget, or spend a lifetime trying to uncover and atone. Perhaps it was the latter I was trying to do.

I remember that it took an interminable amount of time driving to this damn place, on nothing more than a whim. Of course, as a child I was free from the restrictions of miles-an-hour, junctions, roundabouts and road-rage (though I’m not sure that such a condition even existed when I was a child… how curious), not to mention the terminal traffic jam. I wasn’t much concerned about arriving anywhere as a child. It wasn’t that the journey was the destination –not in any Zen-like way, anyway- rather, I had absconded from reality completely, absorbed in whatever garish comic I had been given by my mother. At this stage I may have moved on from the naïve adventures of the Beano and had moved on to the British horror anthologies such as SCREAM!
But I digress….
As an adult I was no longer afforded the luxury of losing myself during the journey and had to sit through each torturous minute of it. By the time I arrived at the destination I was half a mind to drive home again.
After parking in the town centre I realised that I was lost; I didn’t remember any of this from childhood. Years ago it may have been but my memory wasn’t that bad… surely. I resided to wonder around regardless; I was on holiday, after all, and had no wish spending it alone at my flat. It was pleasant and warm out so I decided to stay.
The car park meter would only take exact change, something that I didn’t have and I resented having to pay the extra; but I paid begrudgingly and hoped that the money would choke the machine; causing it the metallic equivalent of reflux.

I took a path to the town centre and realised that, like before, this town was indistinguishable from the others that infested each other, like cancerous sores on the otherwise unblemished sandy beach. In my mind it was possible to walk from Climping to Selsey without tasting reality; as time functions differently in these coastal towns, like a bastard hybrid between eternal childhood and the smutty underbelly of the Carry-On’s and saucy post-cards, seen through the unforgiving eyes of today. Once they all seemed quaint, now just seedy and pathetic: the plastic windmills; bucket and spades that become warped and useless in the cold light of adulthood… But children aren’t interested in that kind of thing any more; they’re more violent than I ever used to be.

I went into a local tea-shop to get my bearings. I was loathe to go into a Starbucks or Cosa-Nostra coffee house. They seemed alien and out of place here. In more urbanised areas these had become almost pastiche and passé but here they seemed sophisticated and foreign, and I could envisage the patrons sipping absinthe rather than coffee. Worlds apart really; the double-Mocha latte as opposed to the granulated, freeze-dried generic crap served at the café I was visiting.
To be honest, it was only the waitress that caught my eye, said the fly to the honey-pot. She was young… too young to do anything about, but not young enough to feel guilty thinking about it. She smiled as she took my order and I felt ashamed at my previous thoughts. I asked the way to the beach, swiftly drank my coffee-flavoured water, left a sizeable tip to cover my guilt and left.

The road to the beach was squalid, run down and I found myself pitying the people who lived there. All the properties looked the same, just with different coloured front doors and different crap littering their minuscule gardens. The majority of them had their curtains drawn, whether to keep the world from seeing in or stop them from looking out in envy.
It was the boating pond that I recognised first. It had looked much larger as a child, of course, and cleaner too. I even remember paddling in it, but no one was that adventurous any more. Not that I blamed them…. The cloudy water gave way to silt and syringes. On the far side they were laughably trying to sell pedalo rides; a new white knuckle experience akin to canoeing across alligator infested swamps.
As I walked around there were a group of young children splashing about with small, gaudy coloured nets whilst their parents chatted, aimlessly ignoring their attempts to catch Lymes disease. An old man in an electric wheelchair lecherously hummed past them and I hoped that the wink he gave me was one based on resisting the temptation to push one of the buggers in… but I doubt it.
Further on was the object of my memories; the amusement park. As a child this seemed huge, cavernous even – the size of a shopping mall (even though no one had even heard of such a term outside of America at that time). There had been a hall of mirrors where I had become inextricably lost and immensely frightened. Sometimes I dream that I’m trapped there now; my life just another reflection.
The amusement park was nothing but an arcade that seemed bereft of shops. On the left was a ‘family’ café –squalid and beaten up from too many over-enthusiastic, coked-up kids (of the diet kind, of course) and on the right were all the slot machines and arcade games that one would expect to find; all jockeying and urging for attention, all promising but never paying out. Kids clamoured like flies to shit, pennies in sticky hands; adults flocking like addicts, eyes to the bigger pay-outs.
I picked a machine at random and put a couple of pounds in, a down-payment on yesterdays childhood. I became lost in the machines schemes and counter-schemes (Burgess, Phillby and MacClaen would have been proud) and unsurprisingly I lost my money rather quickly.
I walked through the rest of the arcade, ignoring the catcalls and coaxing, into the ‘fun’ area where all the rides were. It was still early and the rides hadn’t been switched on yet.
Expectant children mulled around their favourite rides whilst the attendants stared blindly out. They seemed immune and oblivious to the happy, happy, happy¸ atmosphere that the gaudy signs advertised. They were almost frightened of the kids as if they had totally forgotten what it felt like to be one. I felt a strange empathy with them; I couldn’t envisage a worse job: An artificially induced saccharine existence, selling a lie to zombies. Only a very desperate paedophile could put up with it, surely.
Without children the rides were just 21st Century torture devices designed to crush and re-mould impressionable young minds into dead adults. I walked around, trying to keep inconspicuous, aware that I was very much alone with no reason to be loitering in such a place. With none of the rides working it felt lonely, the children just ghosts of my own past and I quickly walked to the seafront.

The beach is a queer assault on the senses; a barrage on them, all at once. Aside from all the illicit sights there were derisory laughs from the gulls, in(s)ane cries from the kids (which often played on the emotional spectrum from anger, sadness to mania) matched by their argumental, disdainful parents.
Then there’s that unmistakable stench: a corrosive mix of seaweed, candy floss and fish & chips that could easily be weaponised to twist and pervert memories in homesick troops.
I found a secluded part of the beach far enough away from the rest where I could sit for a while. When I left the car it had been overcast and cool whereas now the sun was blazing and I was bemoaning the fact that I’d left my hat in the car and was wearing a long sleeved shirt and jeans.
The sand was hot but pleasant to sit on, and I sat in the corner with my back against one of the many sea-defences and had a full view of the beach. I wish I’d paid more attention to what was happening around me. But I looked out to sea, wanting to lose myself amongst the dirty green waves. (The sea is never blue except in memories and movies.) I wanted to be part of the ebb and flow the same way that I ached to be apart from it all. It was a similar sensation when I walked along cliff edges; part of me wanted to step off and be part of the infinite. It’s not a death wish and I don’t consider myself to be particularly deep, it’s just an urge I try to suppress.

I watched the sea haze into the sky and wondered again just what the hell I was doing there. It had been brewing for a while, an urge to visit this place and the more I tried to understand and rationalise the idea the more evasive it became. It was incessant and there were many times in the journey that I wanted to turn around but just couldn’t; something else felt in control.
And so here I was.
I initially thought it might have been about recovering lost memories –as most of my childhood is a blur- but nothing was forthcoming. It was a complete absence of memories and the more I tried to force them the more frustrated I became. I shut my eyes and tried to relax into enjoying myself a bit more; something I normally found infuriating. The word ‘fun’ was an enigma to me; I enjoyed doing certain things but for their own sake not for this amorphous concept called fun.

I didn’t notice her at first and I don’t even know how long she had been sitting next to me. It may have been the smell of her perfume or her proximity to me, but when I opened my eyes there she was, sitting between me and the sea like some errant mermaid.
She had flowing brown hair to her shoulders, a stern but cherubic face with a dose of freckles. A tight t-shirt amplified her curves and I was glad that I wore confining jeans rather than my normal immodest shorts. She also wore a flowing skirt which gave a lot to the imagination in the breeze. I found myself out of breath and wanted to get up, feeling suddenly exposed.
She put her hand on my arm and motioned in front of us.
See that bloke over there?” I followed her gaze but it was difficult to discern exactly who she was intimating to. “He’s my boyfriend.”
I was starting to feel quite uncomfortable now, it was hard to believe that such a woman was talking to me… I’m not unattractive by far, but I feel that a man should know his limitations.
We’ve just had a fight…. He doesn’t understand me…” She continued, oblivious to my discomfort. “He’s a weak man and despises me for my tenacity, but he can’t do anything about it. I have nothing but contempt for him.”
I wanted to get up again but she still had her hand on my arm and now squeezed it as if sharing a secret with me. “I want you to help me.” I looked at her now and tried to hide the panic in my eyes.
How?” I managed to croak.
I want to make him jealous. I want to make him suffer.” This was wrong … even though I had very little contact with people, even I knew that this.. what she was asking was wrong.. but I felt powerless to stop her, or myself.
Put your arm around me… Don’t look at me, look at him…. But put your arm around me.”
I did what I was told, placed my arm gently over her shoulders; something I had longed to do with a woman for many years, but not like this.
I didn’t know where to put my hand, unsure of how far she wanted to push this farce but she made it very clear when she placed it firmly on her breast. I was suddenly very aware of the other people on the beach: the families… the children. I wanted to withdraw my hand quickly but she held it in place and squeezed.
Now I could make out the man she was talking about, he was almost a thinner version of me… bespectacled and bookish; totally the opposite to what I expected. He was certainly no threat to me but I wandered what the hell she saw in him in the first place. He wasn’t looking directly at us but I knew he was aware of what was happening.
It was then that I felt her hand on my leg, working its way up to the heart of me. What was happening? Something I’d always fantasized about but never like this. I felt for the chap but couldn’t stop her from moving her hand higher. When she reached my crotch I felt her squeeze, gently at first but then with more pressure. I held my breath and grew hard beneath her.
That’s better… let’s make him really jealous.” She whispered in my ear and started stroking me, firmly feeling along my shaft, delineating it with her fingers through my jeans. I was aware of everyone’s eyes on me as she quickened her pace and pressure. I closed my eyes to block out the pleasure and their judgements.
Keep looking at him, make him suffer.”
So I did what I was told, kept looking at him as she worked me to climax and beyond. It was efficiency itself, like a trained whore she knew exactly what to do, with nothing to clean up after. That was down to me now, she could walk away… which she did, without a word. I had my eyes shut, partly out of shame.
When I opened them again she was gone. I looked out to where the man was …. He was still there but he held his head in his hands, wracking with sobs. I wanted to go over there, but say what?
When he looked up though he was actually smiling.. laughing, even; what was going on?
Even now I have no idea. Was he her boyfriend? If so, why was he smiling? Was he just another victim? Was she even there? Could she just have been a daytime hallucination – the cum in my boxers and the suspicious looking damp patch on my dreams were the only signs to the contrary…
I drove home perplexed; still none the wiser as to why I’d travelled there…

No, it was true, you can never go back… but you could sometimes come.

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