Thought Diary: ‘Wakey-wakey eggs ‘n bakey’ ‘A colloquial term for eggs and bacon’.Urban Dictionary.
I wake with a jolt in the early hours. I’ve slept through the whole afternoon and evening; all night too! I think for a minute that no one even missed me, but someone must have because I’m covered in a blanket. The worried feeling is there again, but today it hovers like an unsure guest. What gets me out of bed today is the thought of Joe.
The house is silent as I creep downstairs, making a little jump past the door to Sam’s empty room. The kitchen is temptingly warm, but I’m not hungry yet. I shove two croissants in a brown paper bag and let myself out into the cold morning.
I like this empty time. The air is fresh; the sky streaked with the new morning and despite what happened yesterday, I head for the beach. It’s my thinking place and no nutcase will keep me away. All the same, I go a different way and walk right along the shoreline, just in case.
The air is full of seagulls squabbling over the tide’s edge, snatching bits of dead fish and jumping into the wind to escape with it. There’s a family out early with a brown puppy, a little girl screaming and laughing at the dog as it dares the breakers. Usually, I hate happy families, but today I smile. Perhaps this is progress; something to tell the Shrink Woman to shut her up.
I leave them behind and walk until I’m halfway to the Mansion, then stop to look out across the grey water. It’s because the wind is in my ears and my mind’s far away that I don’t hear the scrunch of feet until they’re right behind me. I whirl round, remembering the red-headed man, slipping on the loose stones in panic. For a moment I think perhaps it’s Joe, but it’s not. I glimpse a dark coat and long hair and recognize him – the tramp with the clean face who saved me from the shouter. I turn back, heart thumping, waiting for him to go past, but he doesn’t. Instead he comes over to me and sits down right at my feet.
‘Hi,’ he says, but I don’t answer. I can feel him there and worse – I can smell him. It’s the stink that alcohol makes when people take it like food until it oozes out of their pores. A smell that makes me feel sick and afraid.
Just down towards the water is a little pyramid of stones someone has left, and the man starts to pick up pebbles and lob them at it, chunk, chunk, chunk.
‘I wanted to say sorry,’ he says. ‘for what happened with Alec. He’s a mad bugger but he shouldna done that. I notice people who come around and I see you lots, walking on your own. I told him to lay off.’
Maybe it’s his voice, which is unexpected – a calm, gentle voice, but instead of walking away I answer him as if he’s just a regular person.
‘Why do you notice?’ I say. ‘Don’t you have anything better to do?’
He throws more stones. I can see his hand sticking out of a black coat
sleeve. Long, knotty fingers, dirty with an oily grime. Across his knuckles is tattooed ‘Lilyn’.
I already know the answer to my question. Of course he doesn’t have anything better to do, because he’s a tramp – an alky that soaks himself in booze until he can’t stand up. He probably makes someone else’s life a misery too, unless he’s done the decent thing and disappeared. He stays quiet and I feel awkward, as if he can hear my thoughts.
‘Why are you always down here then?’ he asks. ‘Don’t you go to school? You gotta get an education.’
I feel like laughing. ‘An education? Like you I suppose.’ But he doesn’t answer, just sends a big, grey stone crashing into the pyramid, tipping it sideways.
‘I do go,’ I find myself saying, ‘but I’m allowed leeway.’ I use that word a lot -‘leeway.’ It’s what the headmaster said. It means I’m allowed to do things other people can’t, because I lost my brother in ‘difficult circumstances.’ Stupid words – like we got separated in a storm or something, when Sam was the difficult circumstances.
‘They don’t want me to freak out,’ I say, ‘or do something weird - like I am right now, talking to some… tramp.’
I look at him to see whether he minds what I said – but he’s smiling at me. He’s waiting for the answer to a question I haven’t heard him ask.
‘I said…do you want what’s in that bag?’ he repeats, ‘’cuz if not, I’ll have it.’
He grabs the bag when I hold it out and folds a croissant into his mouth in one go, chewing it up while staring out across the grey water. I take the chance to have a good look at him. He’d have an okay face if it wasn’t so tired looking. It’s criss-crossed with little cuts, all bright red on the white skin, as if someone’s cleaned round them. His hair would be a reddish brown if he washed it, but now it’s greasy and hangs in long waves to his collar. His eyes, despite being weary and watery looking, have green flecks running through them like gemstones. I guess he’s about thirty – a grown man, and suddenly that worries me. I glance around and see we are alone. I shouldn’t be here.
He’s finished the croissant and is rolling a little cigarette with one hand.
‘I like it down here,’ he says. ‘It’s quiet - know what I mean?’
I do, but don’t answer, keeping my eyes instead on a big gull, which struts up and down eager for crumbs, its legs doing a nervous dance closer and closer.
‘I have to go,’ I say, then start to walk, and stop again. ‘But thanks – for keeping that man off me.’
He doesn’t answer. He’s lying back now, eyes shut, one arm across his forehead, blocking out the light. The cigarette has dropped onto the stones. He’s sleeping.