Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I (Re)Opened A Can Of Worms

I didn’t need to notice the brooding clouds that tipped over the tops of the surrounding cliffs like peeping Toms to know that my chase my futile – or that I was in trouble. I was never going to catch Jack; not only was he faster than me at clambering over the slick, glistening rocks, at taking such a treacherous route towards the coves, he had the strength to keep up a momentum that required visiting a gym every day. I used to stand and smoke my cigarettes in their doorways, just to show my contempt for those that gave up so much their time in these places. Another regret? As I leaned over into a clear rock pool, hacking up my lunch of five-bean salad, it was fast turning out to be another one. Not for Jack, but for me.

I recovered enough to call out his name, my voice hoarse as my vomit-burned throat tightened. I coughed again, spitting a caustic taste from my mouth. I’d never wished for a moment that this would happen. What had made me come here, to this desolate place with its amphitheatre of cliffs, endless coves and crashing waves to share such news with Jack? What protection was it really offering me? I’d already made one mistake and, now, another was unfolding in front of me. There seemed nothing I could do to stop the rollercoaster. And I so wanted to get off.

I watched as the rock pool I’d been upending my lunch into rippled and distorted. I felt wetness against the back of my legs, a stinging on the back of my neck. It took me a second or two to realise it was the sea encroaching. Here, amongst sharp, talon-like rocks, was not the place to be when the tide is moving in. I’d venture that it’s not a place to be, full stop. Period, as our American cousins so like to say: as it seemed I was coming to a bloody end it was more than apt, and the irony wasn’t lost on me as I chose to continue clambering. Only when I’d made up some ground did I slow down some, better to prevent any more of the cuts and bruises that mottled my palms and shins. The saltwater was a constant reminder of their presence.

I scanned the grey granite cliffs for some sight of Jack, but I couldn’t locate him against the jagged backdrop. I’d found it so exciting, inspiring and poetic when I’d first laid eyes on the view; how each time I looked at the towering cliffs and the sheer drops that stirred a long-forgotten vertiginous feeling at the pit of my stomach, I found myself falling in love with what this area had to offer me. An escape.

This part of the world is famous. Not just for the job losses when the local fishing industry collapsed in the mid-Sixties, or the rife drug abuse that blighted it for much of the next ten years, but also for its breathtaking coastline. That’s how it’s always described in the glossy brochures: breathtaking. I’d moved here eight years ago, long after the problems had ceased to be and the place had reinvented itself as a holiday destination. I was looking for a change, a break from the city and the way it hurries people to an early grave. And I’d found it; not at first – let’s just say that the locals were distant – but after some time. I felt accepted, at last. I felt I had roots.

Of course, I was saddened to leave behind my good friends, but they all promised they’d visit, and often. And they did. At first. Once it became clear that my new place wasn’t somewhere they could just pitch up, any old time, without prior notice, they stopped. It was a long drive, they said; lots of people from London drive down now and the roads are always jammed, they implored. Because if it weren’t for those two things they’d be around like it had been before, when I had the flat.
There was the convenience of the flat being central, I conceded, but I thought there was more to our friendship than just somewhere to crash, or come back for a quick snort to perk up the night before hitting the clubs. I still believed that, even though no one has come down for over three years. It’s not as if I’ve been banging on their doors, I visited sporadically and always “only for the day”. I wanted to leave the city behind, not the people I loved, but it seemed that it wasn’t going to turn out that way.

Except for Jack.

We’d met one night when Julie and I had gone on a girl’s night out. She’d just split from her demonic boyfriend, Colin, and needed some cheering up. Nothing had been arranged, she just turned up, knocking on my door at 9pm, all dressed in glam and glitz, half-pissed, asking if I fancied a drink. As I said, a flat in central London didn’t make for a quiet life.

I’d never really got on with Julie; I was on the periphery of her group of friends and, apart from buying one another the odd drink or her coming up to the flat to drink, smoke and toot into the night, we’d not spent a lot of time together one-on-one. But that night, it all changed. It was the night we met Jack.

I saw him first, standing in profile, his back against one of the glittering pillars in the nightclub. Julie was hammering back the tequilas (free until 11pm on Ladies’ Night) and I was smoking one of her cigarettes.

I didn’t usually smoke, but I found that doing so made making friends easier. Asking for a light was probably the most over-used chat-up line in the world. We’d both had a couple of lines of some powder Julie had in her purse; she claimed it was pure Bolivian coke, but it tasted like shit. It brought my heartbeat up to its peak and that was all I cared about. If I was going to spend the night in the company of someone I hardly knew and wasn’t particularly fond of, I needed something to grease the party wheels.

Of course, Jack didn’t clock me first, that I admit. But later on, back at the flat, as Julie was heaving up those free tequilas, we hit it off. I remember he left abruptly; something about a night bus not running. I really can’t remember. He’d scrawled his number down, asked me to give Julie his best and then was off. I had another of Julie’s cigarettes and went to bed. It was only the next morning that both Julie and the phone number had gone. Two weeks later I ran into them on the tube. They had arms around each other. They looked up; I glared. Embarrassing hellos and small talk followed. I could sense those around us eavesdropping as the tension heightened. I wanted to hi Julie, to scratch at her face. But I smiled, made my excuses and got off at the next stop.

She’d snatched him from me. It was something I could never forgive her for. Never.

But I couldn’t stand there reminiscing, as the sea was closing in quickly again. My shoes – totally wrong for environment I found myself in, although that hadn’t been an immediate concern when I’d left home that morning – were sodden, a squelch leaking out each time I moved over a rock. I tried calling again, scanning the rocks and cliffs for any trace of Jack.

Almost instantly, I was overcome by a feeling of pity for myself; while literal waves were breaking around me, a different kind of wave was crashing on my emotional shore. I sat down, my own salty tears dripping into the foamy sea. I tried to pull myself together, taking deep breaths and holding them to try and reduce my battering heartbeat. I could still taste the sick in the back of my throat and I started to heave again. The water was around my ankles now, capillary action drawing it up my cotton trousers: another ill-considered garment to choose from my wardrobe, in hindsight.