Monday, February 07, 2005


Drunk again, night again, alone again, I ambled along the edge of two worlds. Here the dry sand, still hot from the high-summer sun of the long June day, and not far beyond my uncle’s beach-hut and my home for this holiday with its bunk-bed and books. And then the shop where they always asked for proof of my age, the stale shower-block and cheap café, and soon past the other huts, the start of a snaky road that channelled from the cosseted Spit, through sparse woods and semi-cliffs and calm golf-courses, and back into the concrete and careers of the city. And, then, there, only a step away, the sodden sand, recently soaked and sieved by the suck and the stroke of the sea, and then beyond that thin threshold the rhythmic, slow, silvered sea itself, its horizon bleeding into the black of the night imperceptibly, dotted with starlight from distant, perhaps-dead solar-systems, rippling and running to its dark depths with planet-sprawling currents.

Of course, I was thinking of Laura. Not of her long, brick-brown hair, or of her shape in that ivory dress which I never saw her wear – but I stole a photo to show all of my friends back home. Nor of her little lips lifting up out of the darkness of a near-dream in that undergraduate single room to meet mine, sleepily at first, then sudden and hot, me mouthing my limp words of love no longer, silenced by the lick and tingle and touch and –. And, not of how she might be doing now, in her holiday still studying German and dreaming of a job in another country after graduating. And not of the shame of how my excited garble to the regular geezers down the usual boozer about my new, beautiful, brilliant babe (only to be icily dumped a month later forever) exposed my ignorance and optimism, naivety and idiocy, and the sheer embarrassment of being that nineteen-year-old fool of a me amongst them the men – no, I wasn’t thinking of any of that.

It was her voice. Small and sinewy sometimes, then childish and chirrupy, as she whispered to me the anecdotes of her ship-wrecked soul (a year of modelling and its the weirdos who wowed then worried her which bought her the money to study, her poverty-level family who ran a ramshackle farm out in the middle of nowhere, her mother who would tie her to a chair and beat her for no reason, her father who turned both of his blind eyes to television through a blur of cheap spirits, and her older sisters who had escaped long ago, one to make pottery, the other to start a family, and of a school that never once asked whether regular fainting and bruises had something to do with anorexia and assault) that she herself was saving through study; it was her voice.

Once, after an evening of vodka in the student union’s half-priced Russian night, after careering back to her kitchen for coffee, teetering into her tiny room, stripping shamelessly and collapsing under the covers, the ceiling a swirl, she spoke in another voice. As if hypnotized by headlights, staring straight ahead; or like a stutterer, striving to speak the raw sound of a rudimentary sentence, all passion lost to the purpose of proper pronunciation; or like a computer, coldly computing vowels and consonants without connotation – or, or, or…

Back on the beach, I didn’t dress in detailed description the nude facts. The farm wasn’t making enough money. Parents needed help. A local handyman would lumber past each day on his way from odd-job to odd-job, eying little twelve-year-old Laura with a smile and a hello. I have no idea what is name was; Harmer, let’s say Harmer. Harmer got chatting to mother. Harmer could help with the fencing, the draining, the plumbing, although he was a bit pricey – one job at a time, eh?

Harmer didn’t have a family of his own. Was a bit lonely, like. Would he like to have dinner? Very much would Harmer like to have dinner – and Harmer wasn’t worried about the money for fixing the gate after all. And after dinner, would Harmer like to take little Laura for a drive? Harmer would like that very much; and he had a spare hour or two tomorrow, could pop in and help with something or other. And Laura – there’s a good girl, now – little Laura would like another saunter round the local lanes in Harmer’s truck tomorrow night too, wouldn’t she?

And Harmer – it’s so very generous of you, helping us like this! Yes, like you’re one of the family now, after all these weeks. Now, did we ever tell you that, funnily enough, strange to mention it, but here it is, that little Laura’s always wanted to camp out in a field, and with us being so fatigued – you would? O – all this, and the work for free! What a love. And – and really, the electrics wouldn’t be too much to ask – and into her tent that night he went. And into her tiny mouth, through those lovely lips, one hand round her neck, one pulling down his pants, he went.

For months his work was paid by her mouth or hand, but it was her voice, her tiny, tragic, voice, a touch timorous in my memory, that I thought of that night on the soft, hot sand. Her clear voice as she concluded this cold tale: one afternoon she was off school sick, her parents off in their tidiest clothes to the bank in town, and there Harmer suddenly was at the front door, bringing around some parts. In he came. And soon in the kitchen, there he spoke his usual spiel: she really did love him, underneath. She really did want him, secretly, in spite of what she said. Would she not admit it, as he finally made full love to her, pinning her against the wall, tearing down her trousers, thumping apart her thighs, scratching at her sex, would she not tell him, as his cock crammed up against her child’s cunt – say it, as he edged to house himself inside of her –

Say it little Laura, say the word love, he insisted, not noticing that her fist had found a frying pan from somewhere, and was hurtling it down onto his head with all the life-force she could find, not imagining that he would be unconscious in an instant, that she would drag his deadweight frame through the house and shove him outside into the front garden, locking the latch behind him. That barren garden: where, presumably, he soon woke, wounded, worried, gathering himself together, and vowed never to return. Laura’s parents stayed silent, Harmer’s name a taboo, some understanding presumably reached, and on they all struggled on without him, in the pits of their separate ways, for the coming years.

Vivid her voice in my mind that night on the sand, centimetres from the swarming surface and cemetery-cold fathoms of the sea. I had phoned her a few times. She was glad to hear from me – but O, had to pop out in a minute. What’s my number again? She’d phone if she had some news. It was good to remain friends, of course it was! We would never speak again, of course. She spoke on the phone with the same voice she used the next morning, so hot and hungover, when she would not or could not remember, her voice as frail as a weak finger – but strong enough to silence this lip, then rein it in with a cigarette, as if a scarf of silk soothing a burning throat. Frail as a weak finger – but firmly on the lips saying shush now, shush; insistent as an old lady who will not be questioned by a child, shush now shush child.

The sea breathed softly beside me her music of murmurs. I saw in its shifting mosaic Harmer’s face, fantastically large and gnarled features, jeering and ghastly, as he travelled the countryside with eyes rawly peeled for schoolgirls. I saw it as he slouched in the village pub, saliva sated with sex and soothed by beer, the usual again is Harmer me old mucker? I saw it as he charmed a mother here, teased a daughter there. I saw it as I, with singular purpose, tracked him down along country-lanes, spied and made sure, and then unstoppably entered his favourite nook in his cosy local – the log crumbling in the fire, the ruddy landlord all red grins, a young couple in a corner winking over wine, all as sturdy and sane as a stereotype – I saw it as I, knife in hand, or chair held above head, marched over to him; and I saw his face break into a million pieces, the splinters of his skull shed about him, or I saw rampaging fingers ransack his ribs, or his shattered legs a tangle of tendons and the shrapnel of beaten bone and the shedding skin, and, all-in-all, I saw his final breath forced and beaten from his blood-drenched lungs, his crime of rape punished by utter ruin, his body broken the way cities are sacked in a world of war on TV.

It was the last luxurious, workless summer of such thought and sea and sand, the last of whatever confused lust or love or lunacy of mine that was Laura. We were studying at different universities she and I, all those years ago, met on a weekend organized around a pub-crawl by a charity in a city, all hello’s and snogs. That world went that summer. And the season simply passed with its flimsy festival of forgettable novels and fruitless flying of kites. And today for me, a heavy in-tray. And a laddy lunch with a loud buddy. And a jokey email from a chance new chum. And an office typing with the usual hum. And perhaps it’s a madman who is stood brewing up the coffee. Perhaps it is a Saint who struggles with a photocopy.

And a google search says Laura is now a lawyer living in some little English town doing a fine job of untangling red-tape for the construction trade and there’s a photo of her sat on a table of burly men with ties lustfully loosened celebrating some poultry award at a dull yearly ceremony but O, she’ll be married in the new year to Nathan who works in the same office, sat a slick computer no doubt much like mine – where a murder or a marvel is only click away. Where a circle of hell and a hint of a heaven only a touch away. Where an ocean of man-made misery and human hope laps up at our fingertips. A loveless inevitable ocean, an illogical ocean. Perhaps I have banished it, the ocean, as if an all-powerful King, from my orderly life. An orderly life; submerged in a shuffle of paperwork, buoying up the day with electronic messages, sent out to the world like vain love-letters, circulating amongst the confused lonely strangers of a vague little school. Perhaps it cannot be banished, that which pours so much salt into eyes and tongues and ears and pores, perhaps blessed are those blind and deaf to the roaring void of its massive flood.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Sifting amongst the books, I was anguishing over more Austen, balking at the banalities of Banks, calmed by the cool, contemplative Calvino, delightfully detecting the delectable Doyle, estimating Eliot’s eschewing of evangelicalism, frowning at Franzen’s flictions, gaping at the gap of Garland’s gone, hugely hopeful about hundreds of Hemingway’s, inching past the ignoble I’s, jostling with the jinormous jenius of Joyce, kontinually kourting the konvoluted konfusing K’s of Kafka, loving that long-lost loser Larkin, mocking meddling middle-class McEwan, nabbed by Nabakov’s nefarious nymphet, ordering ’opeless Orwell orf, passing over the prick of Palhaniuk, quietly quaffing the quasi-Quixotic Queneau, reading Reading – couldn’t resist that fictional one, btw, scratching the surface of Salinger, tutting at that twit Tolkein’s turgid untailored tales, umming at the utter umbrage of the U’s – worst of letters for an author’s surname it seems, and yes, that includes you, Updike, veering my voyage avay vrom Verne, winking at weird and wonderful West, X-ing X, Yes-ing Yates – actually I can’t stand Richard Yates, however, for the sake of alliteration and expediency, a simple Yes following by a swift move on to the final letter of the alphabet seemed best – I hope you forgive me and agree? probably your impatience proves my point and so, and finally, and after all, and in conclusion, and last but not least, and now ladies and gentleman drum roll please, I zoned in on Zola and his zero-weight, zoom-lens look at Zeds, and wondered about maybe picking up an Auster instead.

It was then that I noticed Thomas: he was crouched down, and peeping at me through the stand of discounted calendars, his eyes amongst those of painted cats, dogs on bikes, dying pop-bands and gooney footballers. I pretended I hadn’t noticed and turned my back, marching off to Auster. I’d been in a bad mood on the rush-hour tube: bookless, and with him blathering on about how wonderful the tube is, but why didn’t the commuters talk to each other? or have a bit of fun even with each other? If my blunt, obvious answers had hurt his feelings, I didn’t want to face that now, meandering in a soothing mind-mist amongst the shelves.

Or perhaps he was upset because he was getting manoeuvred into a job in the post-room? I woke him this morning, lent him a shirt and tie, informally introduced him – and the interview proper is early next week. But spying on me from behind the calendars? Why was I making excuses for his weirdiosity, I thought – turning back to see Thomas jump – literally, jump – behind the shelf of novels running N – Q.

I decided to go and ask him what the matter was – but when I got back to N – Q, I realised he was gone. Not browsing at all. But was that a flash of his yellow jacket over near the magazines? I marched over – thinking I might have a look over the newspapers while I was at it – to see him creep out of the section via the bit with all the stuffy magazines – The Economist, The Ecologist, The Scientific American – that kind of thing – and then zoom through Cookery and up the stairs.

There, I finally caught up with him near the World Cinema DVDs – where he was kneeling in a corner, facing the wall.


“Ahh, you got me. Want to play again? No – enough’s enough.”

“Thomas, what’s going on?”

“Didn't you get my text message?!”

“Your text message?”

“Yes – on your mobile – I said I thought you needed some fun after a stressful commute, so let’s play hide and seek, like we were kids again - you know, the stuff I was going on about on the train. I sent it just after I’d checked to see if any posthumous Milosz was out – you didn’t? You didn’t get it? Then I’ve been – O no, how embarrassing! I feel so stupid!”

“No – you look as happy as Larry.”

“Well... Going to buy anything?”

“I can’t, for the life of me, remember,” I said.