Thought Diary: Today: Words about the sea:
A swatch is an incoming wave. Backwash is an outgoing wave, and fetch is the distance travelled by a wave, the longer the fetch, the bigger the wave.
I think of my life now in terms of the sea. Sam was the swatch, the curling wave that swamped us, and the backwash is still going out dragging us with it, over and over in the stones until one day it will spit us all out again on a distant shore. Right now, we are still travelling, on the crest of the biggest wave I ever saw. Rolling on - a long, long way.
I’ve started to write in the thought diary, and that’s what came out today.
‘You learn about those words in school?’ Banks says when I tell him, and I nod.
‘I coulda told you,’ he says. ‘I know.’
We’re sitting together. Me in my school uniform with my bag tucked under one arm and Banks in his heavy black coat. We are on one side of a square of wooden benches; it’s cold and the wood beneath us is wet.
Across an expanse of grass, there are some swings and a climbing frame dotted with little kids who flit like birds from one thing to another, their voices fluting in the air. They are the bright beginning, and the men on the other benches here their worst nightmare futures – the ones their parents dream up late at night when they get the first bad school report or worrying news from the doctor.
One is old with a Santa Claus beard and a fat gut barely covered by his fraying jumper. He clutches a can of beer and sways backwards and forwards, head lolling forward on his neck like a dandelion on a broken stalk. His beard is a thick fluff of seeds that never seem to blow away. Next to him is a thin wiry man who has no teeth. He carries on a muffled conversation with the man next to him who does nothing but nod and say, ‘Yeah, yeah, you were right, you were really right…’
They’re wearing several layers of ill fitting clothes and I can smell them from where I’m sitting.
The fourth man is Alec, the red-headed lunatic and he’s glaring at me from his pale, flickering eyes. I move closer to Banks because I know he’ll look after me. The thought makes me feel warm inside.
Banks sees him looking and gives me a little nudge. ‘Found her in town, didn’t I?’ he tells him. ‘Couldn’t let her wander round on her own, could I?’
The red haired man spits on the ground and stands up. It isn’t till Banks hands him a beer that he sits again, snapping off the tag and sucking it down, still staring at me over the rim.
She helped pay for that,’ Banks says. ‘Dinner money!’ He starts to shake with laughter and the ripples of it come all the way through his coat, pressed as it is against my body.
I have a beer of my own and though I don’t like it, I sip at it now, feeling the cold liquid all the way down to my stomach. I remember the looks we got from people in town as they looked from me to Banks and back again. I hope someone I know saw me, but if they did, I didn’t see them.
After a time, Banks relaxes. His face is quiet, eyelids drooping. I huddle a bit closer to him and stare at the red haired man, steadily and without blinking. At first he stares back, flaring his nostrils as if that will scare me off, but I keep on going until he starts to twitch – getting up and sitting down again, sucking and sucking at his can, muttering. I wait. ‘You wouldn’t dare,’ I mouth at him, but that’s too much. He launches himself forwards with a growl, flinging the can hard. It slams into Banks, who springs into life, grabbing hold of the nutter just as he reaches me.
It’s all over in a moment. Banks has pushed him away and they scuffle into some bushes, snapping and cracking the twigs like the bones of some animal. There’s no sound but for their grunting and puffing. The old man wakes with a start and stares wildly round in the direction of the playground while the others shout their odds like punters at a boxing match. The bushes explode outwards and only Banks comes out. Alec is rolling on the ground, corkscrew hair caught in the twigs, snarling like a mad dog.
Banks comes over and drags me away, holding me by one arm and stumbling slightly. Behind him, when I turn my head, I see Alec rising up, one hand rubbing and rubbing at the scratches on his face.
‘Thank you,’ I say to Banks. ‘You saved me - thanks.’
He says nothing until we get further into town and can see the line of the sea ahead of us.
‘What did you do to get Alec going?’ he asks me. I shrug my innocence but I’m scared now. Banks is angry with me, and I’ve made the nutter hate me even more. Banks will protect me, I know that now, but he won’t always be there. I shake my head at Banks. ‘Nothing,’ I say. ‘Nothing.’
‘You must have,’ Banks says, ‘and what are you doing here anyway, instead of being in school? And what’s with the bag?’
I look at it, all hugged tight in my arms, and shrug.
‘What you got in it - school stuff?’
‘No! Why would I hump that about? What’s it to you anyway?’
Banks shrugs and turns towards the promenade.
‘If you must know,’ I tell him, ‘It’s my bag of stuff – for when I leave.’
‘Oh yeah?’ He says and then just nods.
‘I want someone to say they’re sorry,’ I blurt. ‘No one ever says they’re sorry.
Banks looks at me, nudging a curl aside with a flick of his head. He’s made himself a roll up and smoke streams from the side of his mouth.
‘Sorry about what?’ he asks, and he’s smiling.
‘About me,’ I say, ‘sorry about me. Everyone goes on about how terrible it is that Sam died, and I know it is! But it’s like nothing he ever did matters now – as if he’s become a saint or something.
I realise how stupid I must sound, but if Banks laughs at me now, I think I’ll die.
A long time passes and then he puts his out his hand.
‘Gimme the bag,’ he says. ‘I’ll keep it for you.’
I look at his grubby hand; at the bare wrist disappearing into his sleeve. I’m not sure.
‘I won’t nick anything,’ he says, ‘I just want to be sure you talk to me first.’
‘I don’t even know where I might go,’ I admit. ‘London I thought.
Banks makes a little noise that might have been a laugh, but when I look at him he’s not smiling.
‘Yeah, yeah, London,’ he mutters. ‘Then what? When you’ve been missing for a while, the police will find you and bring you home, and your mum and dad, who’ve been out of their heads with worry, will be really sorry? Is that it?’
I flush to the roots of my hair, and look away, but Banks keeps looking at me.
‘Don’t be stupid,’ I tell him, ‘you don’t know what you’re on about.
I remind myself he’s a stinky tramp. If I shut my eyes and think back, it could be Sam standing there, smelling of alcohol and stealing my life away.
I try to take back the bag, but Banks has hold of it. I get so mad I hit him across the shoulders with my closed fist twice but he still doesn’t let go.
‘Keep it then,’ I scream at him. ‘Steal it; do what you want. You think you know everything but you don’t. Look at you.’
He has the bag in one hand and the other comes out of a pocket with a round pebble. He stands looking down at it, turning it round and round in his yellow stained fingers like a marble egg; a kid playing with a tiny world. I turn my back on him and go.
‘And stay clear of Alec,’ Banks shouts after me. ‘I’m telling you!