Plans

Dear Avid Reader…

                   …..okay I didn’t quite finish ‘The Pastor’s Wife’ yet. I got distracted and scribbled this instead. A true story, I’ve just changed the names, the location, the time and the events, apart from that not a word of a lie…. honest!

As ever I hope you enjoy…

FtF

___________________

Looking back, down all the years I still remember the smell of the wind.

The bitter tang of brine invades my nostrils and tiny pinpricks of spray reach my cheeks as I look out from the cliff across the sea. Not much of a cliff. We always called it ‘The Cliff’ but we had been coming here most summers for as many years as I could remember and when we first saw it, being just small children, it towered above us, our very own Everest to climb up and fall down. Reality betrays those memories but can’t dilute the feelings we had as we pulled each other up, maybe using a appropriated rope, the satisfaction of the entire group (I smile at the idea of our motley collection calling ourselves an Expedition) making it to the top without any of our number perishing on the ascent.

Of course all of us at one time or another ‘fell to our deaths’ in the overly dramatic way that only kids can do.

Seven, a magic number, ‘The Magnificent’ number; our motto ‘All for and one for all’; we didn’t care that we were quoting from the wrong film. The world was ours and it could just do what it was told. At least until our parents came searching for us and dragging us back to the main caravan site or home for dinner or bed. I reckon that changed in the last couple of years before the seven became two and five. Two girls and five boys! Seven ‘almost’ adults!

Reality can bite me! The ‘Cliff’ isn’t a cliff at all, it’s just a large dune held together with rough rugged grass. I’m standing here, the callous in my palm perfectly fitting the smooth worn handle of my cane. “This is it and you can fuck off world if I’m wrong” I shout out to sea knowing in the back of my mind that in all likely hood the dune we played on for all those years has probably since crumbled and a new one built up by the waves and the wind has taken its place. Probably even did over the years when my parents brought me here for my summer holidays but I don’t care for facts. I care for the truth I hold within my own memories.

My chest tightens and I feel the ache within my left lung grow until I cough hard for a full minute and spend the next thirty seconds dragging fresh salty air back into my lungs. I look about to check I’m still alone, that my daughter or her husband hasn’t come out to find me. I pull the packet out from inside my jacket and pull out a cigarette with my lips. Condemned by them and yet given brief solace by them. As I drag the carcinogenic fumes down into my already corrupted lung I think back to the year when I first tasted the bitter weed. The last year!

****

I stand on the cliff so much smaller since this time last year. I’d grown over six inches in the last twelve months and everyone reckoned I’d be at least as tall as my father’s six foot two within a couple of years. I’m standing alone watching the sun head for the horizon. A change from the previous year as well! All of us, all seven seemed to want to spend more time alone thinking about not spending time alone. I figured it was probably the same for the girls, Sheila and Louise, though they seemed much harder to understand now.

The rest of the Seven, the boys, including myself were fractured by our common aims. Top dog, that’s what we wanted to be; I wasn’t sure I really wanted to be the leader of the pack but it was a means to an end. Or so everyone thought; a means to getting your end away! Where previously it was about running and jumping and shouting it was now about standing and walking and talking while all the time trying to look cool.

I reach into the inside pocket of my hand-me-down denim jacket and pull out the purloined packet. I look at it distrustfully, I was sure my dad wouldn’t miss it; there were only three left in it anyway. I pushed my right hand into my tight fitting jeans pocket and grasp the stolen lighter between outstretched fingers slipping it out and into my palm. I look about, not worried to be caught by my friends with the robbed items but not to be found being sick from my first smoke. Especially by Louise who in part I was trying to impress with how mature and cool I could be. My hand was shaking as I draw out the slim innocent looking white tube with the brown filter on the end. I turn over the blue and white packet wishing my old man was cooler and smoked the American brand that the cowboy used. “Don’t see why he doesn’t, he’s a Western fan after all!” another furtive look about as I place the cigarette in between my lips. I would have died if anyone had seen me posing with it for the next ten minutes.

A large tanker casts a long shadow towards me as it glides smoothly along the horizon, “Bite the bullet!” I drawl in a poor American accent. It takes five tries and one slightly singed finger before the tip begins to crackle, I cough once and hold the lit cigarette at arm’s length thinking that I must be doing it wrong. When my parents smoked it smelt much sweeter, why would they do it? My question is answered with the second ‘drag’ as I go light headed with the ‘hit’. That was it, I didn’t know then but that was the start of my death sentence. A slow form of suicide; it would take almost fifty years but lead me inexorably to the grave. But not now, now I was the King of Cool, I was Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood all rolled into one! By the time that first cigarette was crushed beneath my heel and I was walking back through the dunes to the caravan park I was thinking of when I would take my next nicotine fix.

They say that the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray, they don’t even mention how pointless it is for seventeen year olds to plan what they are doing thirty minutes into the future. As I was heading across the stile that led onto the Coastal footpath I heard a shout from my left. I jumped down and leant against a fence post, right foot raised behind me in a pose of nonchalant indifference as I waited for the three people approaching.

“If you relax anymore you’ll start snoring!” comes a sarcastic comment across the breeze.

Now these three were not members of the Magnificent Seven. Johnnie was my cousin and an elder brother of my best friend Damian (at least during those summers). That we had so many relations in the area was why we returned year after year. Wrapped beneath his arm was his girlfriend Pauline who was a year older than me and a year younger than Johnny. The sarcastic remark had come from the third person who was walking beside the couple. Her name was Joanne and was Pauline’s best friend. She also had a large boyfriend called Tony.

Over the last couple of weeks the two of us had not let a chance pass without ‘taking the piss’ out of each other. “Well I had plenty of time for a nap waiting for you oldies to get here!”

Jo reached out and slapped me across the arm, “Careful, babies get a smack if they’re bad!”

“And you’ll catch me with your Zimmer frame?”

“Will you pair quit!” interjected Pauline, feigning boredom.

“So what are ya’ up to, Martin?” asked my cousin.

I drew my attention away from the object of my scorn, “Headed up to the clubhouse for the disco, are you not going there yourselves?”

“Nah! Too many watchful eyes” commented Pauline with a grin that could only be described as ‘dirty’.

“Headed into the town for a pint or five” contributed Johnny, “fancy a couple yourself?”

Stuck between a rock and a hard place! I knew Louise would be at the disco but as Pauline said so would a number of parents as well. Not mine, they’d be up the town and there was always a chance I’d bump into them which wasn’t a problem as long as I bought them a drink which I knew my dad would then buy me one back. I wouldn’t be able to buy drink at the clubhouse with so many parents and the bar staff were so much stricter; alcohol or a chance of kissing Louise?

“What’ll it be kid?” asked Jo.

I looked at the roofs of the caravans across the next field and then at the three before me, “All for one…”

“That’s the spirit” said Johnny slapping me on the back as Jo linked arms with me and we all carried on up the Coastal path towards the distant lights of the town. We chatted about this and that as we walked the two miles to town.

Jo had asked me on who my intentions had been focused as regards the disco or as she put it, “Who you looking to shift?” I know I blushed and was glad that the red glow of the setting sun hid my embarrassment which doubled as Pauline correctly suggested Louise. I gave a non-committal answer and was relieved and surprised when the subject was dropped especially by Jo who may have held my arm a little bit tighter.

****

We arrived in the town, which was really only a large village that had a large number of drinking establishments partly to cover the large surrounding hinterland and also the influx of tourists and holiday-makers like myself during the summer months, the Main Street was busy with people milling about deciding where they wanted to go and chatting to friends they bumped into. We nodded to a few acquaintances but took a reasonably direct route to Frank’s Tavern.

Randomnicity or Synchronicity raised its curious head as we were about to enter by the side door and threw a spanner in the works or maybe tightened a ‘cog of time’. I suppose it always depends on your point of view.

Tony came walking out accompanied by two of his mates. I felt Jo’s fingers grip my forearm tightly as she saw her boyfriend. After a few seconds which seemed like an hour she released my arm and stepped towards him. The players outside this intimate drama gave the couple some space, Johnny pushed through the two friends with Pauline in tow as I followed behind receiving ‘dirty’ looks from the pair. I paused at the door looking back at the intense stares being exchanged by Jo and Tony.

“I’ll just hang on here” I said to Johnny.

 “Guinness?” asked Johnny, I nodded in reply.

I wasn’t sure what I would do; if it got ‘ugly’ I was outnumbered and was no match for Tony anyway, he was three years and three inches above me. I watched the pair completely ignoring the ‘hard’ stares I was getting from Tony’s compadre’s, my heart seemed to ache as the unheard conversation progressed till Jo raised her voice as Tony turned away “Why don’t you just fuck off, then!” she barged through the two men, their jaws hanging open and took my arm once again.

In the short dim corridor she paused for a second, I waited patiently beside her as out of the corner of my eye I watched her raise her left hand to her face. There was a faint sigh followed by “Thank you.”

“Anytime” I replied before we entered the bar proper, I glanced at her and gave her a smile to which she asked if she was presentable. I considered her for a moment, “You look just fine…”

After a quick search we found Pauline and Johnny and a pair of waiting drinks. Jo slipped into behind the table beside Pauline and I sat beside her on the curved couch. It transpired that Tony had told her that he wasn’t heading out that night which led to the situation outside. Later when Jo left the table to visit the Ladies Pauline, somewhat unnecessarily, leaned across and told me to take it easy with her friend.

My intentions had changed concerning Jo in the dim passageway.

Before entering she’d been a friend of a friend and something of a foe (in the nicest way) with our one-upmanship. I’d of course thought she was attractive but although I didn’t know Tony I’d seen him about and that had made her off-limits at least in reality and as far as my expectations were concerned. Also I had been somewhat fixated on Louise but as I’d stood beside Jo in that dark corridor I’d remembered the previous Tuesday.

I’d been visiting Johnny and Damian’s house. Their elder, married sister, Marcella, was also there as Jo cycled past the front wall. The two of us had immediately taken turns in ‘slagging’ each other off. Marcella had pulled out her camera and got the two of us to reluctantly pose together. After Jo had carried on her way my cousin took me to one side and she said “You realise that one’s a bit keen on you!” I’d dismissed Marcella’s observation at the time but in the dark corridor a small spark of hope shone brightly and I’d wondered “What if…?”

About an hour later, three pints down we were all engaged in a discussion about the latest Blockbuster, Johnny was tending to back Pauline’s point of view or play the silent enigmatic card which failed against Jo and I as we simultaneously raised our eyebrows bringing a burst of high-pitched laughter from his girlfriend. She looked up to someone standing behind me and tried to catch her breath as I heard the man speak, “Where’s my pint, Boy?”

“Behind the bar” I offered.

“Do you mean ‘behind the bar where I’m just about to fetch it from for you’?” I felt a large hand placed on my shoulder.

“That’s very kind of you, mine’s a Guinness!” I replied twisting his words.

The hand rose from my shoulder and scuffed me across the back of my head, “Get on with it or I’ll be telling the Landlord when your eighteenth birthday is you whipper-snapper!”

I rose from my seat and turned to face my father and my mother standing beside him, “Stop picking on the poor lad” scolded my mother of her husband.

“Evening Uncle Terry” offered Johnny, “Auntie Katie” followed by a greeting from Pauline and a small wave from Jo who didn’t know my parents.

I disappeared to the bar and gained the attention of Harry the barman; he acknowledged my presence and within two minutes delivered a tray of drinks to me without having to ask for the order. “That old fella of yours still threat’ning you for being underage?” he asked as I handed him the money.

“Aye” I replied, “nothing changes” a little surprised that he knew for a fact I wasn’t eighteen not that it bothered him. I walked away happy for him to keep the change.

I returned to the table, my mother sitting beside Jo and my father standing, placing the tray down carefully and handing out the drinks. My mother shot my dad a look which he took a moment to decipher before he said “We’ll leave you young ones to yourselves,” he turned to me and added “Pearce and Eileen are in the lounge, we’ll see you later.”

“I might stay at Johnny’s tonight if it’s too late” I said taking a sip of my stout and trying not to look at Jo. I was glad that he didn’t pass comment that Johnny’s home was a mile further than the caravan site.

They said their goodbyes and had almost disappeared into the crowd when my dad turned around and motioned me towards him. My mother shot him an exasperated look and carried on through to the lounge. “Would that be Tommy Smith’s young girl?” I nodded and watched a serious look flit across his features, “Look, Martin, I’m not saying anything but I’ve heard… well… you might be better staying away from her…” He looked like he was going to say more but just added “Watch y’self!” and turned away.

I already knew what he was talking about; Damian had told me the gossip on the day we had arrived. I smiled at my father’s retreating back half appreciating his concern and also realising that warning me off without any reason was a sure-fire way to get any teenager to do the opposite. Even with reason it probably still wouldn’t work!

The reason for his concern wasn’t anything directly to do with Jo and I knew it; it had been a friend of hers that I knew vaguely who’d smashed the front window of her house when her own father had prevented her from seeing a boy. In the process she had cut herself on the broken glass and by the time the rumour-mill had finished with the story she had supposedly threatened her father and then tried to commit suicide.

As I sat back down Jo leant towards me and asked what the look on my father’s face had been about. I was going to dismiss it but then leant into her neck so my mouth was close to her ear. I breathed her perfume in deeply before saying “I’ve been warned about you, you’re a bad influence!”

She laughed quietly and turned slightly towards me, her lips just an inch or two from mine, “He could be right… what have I done now?”

“You haven’t done anything… I think the term is guilt by association!”

I saw her smile flicker for a moment, “Let me guess…Kelly?” I nodded a fraction wanting to nod further and bring my lips to hers, “Are you the type of lad to take advice?”

“Probably not…”

Her grin broadened into a smile, the flash of her teeth causing me to lick my lips. She turned away and raised her glass, “Here’s to bad influences!” she said loudly attracting Johnny and Pauline’s attention.

We all raised our own glasses and echoed the sentiment, “To bad influences!!!”

****

We stayed in the bar for another hour, Harry arrived with a tray of drinks from my Dad and we toasted his health and when we had finished those Pauline suggested we head into the hall at the back of the pub where they had their own disco called Shapes the bar remained open till three.

We found an empty table far enough away from the DJ’s booth not to be gassed by the Dry Ice which he seemed very keen on and to be able to hear each other speak. I’d switched to shorts and had slowed my drinking though I was nowhere near being drunk. I’d had five pints and this was my second whiskey, normally I’d have been ‘very merry’ by this stage but I felt remarkably sober. I was sure it was the presence of Jo that was mitigating the effects. She seemed to be ignoring the earlier events with her boyfriend (or ex I supposed/hoped) and the two of us, at least to me, were enjoying each other’s company. The usual sparring we engaged in was still evident but a lot more light-hearted and, I hoped, tantamount to flirting.

I was quite inexperienced in the opposite sex and continually doubted myself and my perception of the turn of events. Pauline and Johnny got up to dance as the floor filled with more that the two or three solitary, sad and not particularly talented looking men who had been the only ones brave enough to do so up to that point. I sat beside Jo watching the floor at a loss for another ice-breaker. The moment stretched and the two of us sipped our drinks to fill the void. She turned to look at me, the strobes playing across her face, my eyes continually drawn to her lips; “So wanna dance?”

Do I wanna dance I thought, hell yes! The only problem was I was even more unsure of my dancing talents than I was of what was going on between me and the girl in front of me. Bravely I nodded and stood up waiting for her to slip out from behind the table and walked beside her down to the dance floor. Pauline spotted us and guided Johnny through the gyrating crowd and the four of us danced as a group.

We danced on and off for the next sixty minutes or so taking regular trips back to our table for refreshments. The disadvantage in my lack of dancing confidence was offset by the loudness of the music and the struggle to make conversation as I had become increasingly tongue-tied. The last record finished and the DJ announced it was time for “all you lovers out there”. The songs slowed, Pauline and Johnny wrapped their arms about each other and laid their heads on each other’s shoulders. It was only seconds before it was obvious they were kissing.

I looked at Jo who had also been looking at the couple and when she turned to me I spread my hands in offer. She smiled and my heart bounced of the inside of my ribcage as she stepped forward into my arms. I’ve no idea what the songs were that the DJ played; my world simply consisted of myself and the girl in my arms.

I couldn’t say how many songs had been played; I’d spent my time with my hands on her lower back moving softly across her blouse, my cheek against hers, feeling her chest rise and fall along with my own. A few times I had moved my head to the other side of hers, tilting my neck so our faces were angled opposite each other for a moment or two as they passed, our eyes briefly gazing into each other’s. All the time hoping for a kiss but not brave enough to bridge that final gap.

I was also being very careful not to press my crotch tight against hers as my ‘enthusiasm’ was plainly evident. Once again our faces passed in front of each other, once again my head was tilted to what I thought was the optimum angle, once again our eyes looked into each other’s.

For all my hopes and desires I didn’t see it coming.

There were her light blue eyes and then…

… and then the feel of her lips upon mine.

****

When the slow songs finished we still danced together tightly. If people stared we didn’t know and we didn’t care.

My first kiss followed by so many kisses and I, at least, didn’t want to let it go.

****

I stand atop the ‘Cliff’ watching the sun descend and slowly touch the horizon. As always I strain my ears to listen for the hiss of steam as it does. A smile playing about my lips as it slowly sinks out of sight. My eyes drift up to the angry bruise spreading east across the almost cloudless sky. Slowly and carefully I bend my knees, feeling them protest with their usual creaks and cracks until I reach down behind me and lower my ass to the rough grass that runs along the crest of the dune.

I know I’ll regret it soon enough as the cold seeps into my joints and flesh but I want to stay a while and remember that world I once inhabited. I look down the slope before me and think about lying at the base of it with Jo wrapped in my arms, kissing and laughing and kissing once again. Johnny and Pauline somewhere nearby in amongst the dunes probably going a lot further than the two of us. I wanting, of course, to go as far as Jo will let me but still happy nevertheless. Happy doesn’t begin to cover the way I’d felt and the way I’m feeling recalling that night so long ago; disbelief in my luck, how the events of the night had turned out.

I know now that from the moment when I felt her soft lips upon mine beneath the multi-coloured flashing lights and above the Dry-Ice snaking around our feet that all my previous thoughts of Louise had vanished completely. “How shallow youth is!” I whisper into the breeze and the Evening Star appears. I imagine I’m not alone on this rock in wanting to return to the days of youth and although I’ve wondered all my life about what my life would have been like if Jo and I had become a permanent ‘We’ I know that on that night she destroyed the youth that I’d been and created something new.

I hear a faint tread behind me, I don’t bother to look around as it nears, knowing it’s probably my daughter. I’m pleasantly surprised when my Grandson sits down beside me. “Cold night for it” he says simply as I glance down at his fingers tapping a message into his mobile phone.

“I remember a night when it was cold enough to make my teeth chatter, though I never felt so warm” I reply, “Is she worrying?”

I sense a smile about his lips, “Does she ever do anything else?”

“Do you?”

“I’m seventeen, Grand dad… of course I do. We worry about everything… we’re just very good at pretending we don’t!”

“Yep… I vaguely remember that…” I take in the view in front of me one more time, casting a glance down the slope, “Do ya’ fancy going for a pint up the town?”

I grin broadly as he stares at me, “It’s a bit of a hike.”

“We’ve got some time. I’ve never known a Pub in that town close early!”

“I was… what the hell, why not!”

For the first time I look at my Grandson, “Are ya’ sure? Not got something better planned?”

He tilts his head and returns my gaze, “Plans? Hmm…I’ve heard of those, what are they again?”

The End

(or maybe another beginning?)

~ by ftfagos on April 24, 2012.

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