and that's called 'sad'....
and that's called 'sad'....
That was the romantic side of him to be sure – he found out much later that the religion tended to come from being thrashed about in cruel breaking sets, out the back on a day when the skies turned dark and there was no-one but yourself to blame for being so stupid – that’s when the praying usually started and not to the god of beauty and life and sun either, but to a wrathful Old Testament god, one bringing down walls of water from on high, a Kali, a destroyer, a force which considered you so tiny and insignificant that it wouldn’t even take note of you once you were in its juggernaut path.
Oh hell, why not !
Both men swung their boards around gracefully and dropped prone, paddling with steady arms, both holding one leashed leg up out of the water, it could have been mistaken for a bizarre variation on synchronised swimming. The roar, then the rush, as the wave picked them both up and flung them down its face, Jaz flying to his feet and Terry stumbling up with a little less grace as they planed down its translucent face. Liquid glass.
The way ahead...
Later, pushing his hands into his pockets he wandered down the road and into the shop to buy some cigarettes. Joe stood behind the counter; Dave was behind him wrapping bundles of magazines in plastic orange twine. Joe did his best not to acknowledge him at first and then broke out laughing,
Bleary eyed he wandered down the valley, to where his tent was. When he found it the zip was open and inside lay Jaz.
“Man’s gotta have one before breakfast don’t you think ? Sets you up for the day”
After breakfast Jaz and him took to the water and surfed for hours. Jaz laughed at his attempts, alternately helped him and ridiculed him. That Jaz was good was not in doubt, he rode one of the newer shortboards and could get out the back far easier than Terry’s outdated 8’ 6 board was ever going to. He was also fitter and more knowledgeable than Terry. He caught waves that Terry avoided because of their height or power. He swum more strongly through the white water, expertly dipping in and out of the rip to save him time and effort. Terry floundered, caught one wave to every ten of Jaz’s and went for totally unsuitable waves that flipped him and spun him round and round with the board a constant threat.
Once the water began to get more crowded they left and lay on their boards at the top of the beach, laughing and swapping stories. Jaz was a guitarist, he fancied setting up his own band but no-one down here wanted to play much besides long prog workouts, which were not his thing. Terry’s hair had been the thing that made him talk to him, wondered if he might be a player too.
“Sadly no. not like that anyway,” Terry sighed, “you don’t want me anywhere near an instrument. I tried and tried, but it wouldn’t really come together, some have it, I don’t and I’ve given up on the heartbreak of trying. These days, well, I just listen to it a lot.”
Jaz stood up, pretended to be picking up his board and then caught the gaze of the woman, she was maybe five years older than him. He held the gaze, smiled in an awkward, almost embarrassed way, but Terry could see that was part of his plan and watched with a grin. Jaz looked away, then looked back up again to meet the woman’s eyes as she looked straight back at him. Again he held it and, just as it became that moment too long he broke away and turned to Terry, with a stage whisper he announced he was off to the café to get some drinks and Terry saw the woman smile, running her hands through her mass of hair and down her sides as if to check that she really was just quite as desirable as Jaz had somehow indicated with his smile.
“So long a time eh ?” Terry nodded at Jaz.
“So,” Jaz broke through the wall of introspection, “haven’t heard much about you of late – a few years I guess. Last I heard you were married, good job, not bothered about coming down here to spend time with us wasters. What’s going on ?”
“Where the fuck do I start ?” Terry laughed and sucked the air from out of it, sounding almost choked, “OK, how about the condensed version ? I split up with Marie two years ago, we got back together about six months ago, I left her again yesterday…. Job ? well, I never really did buy into it, liked the money, quite liked the status, but it wasn’t ever for me – fifteen years in a corporate suit and then I got so pissed off with it that one day I just walked. That was two weeks ago – I doubt they’ve even noticed yet. No kids. Bloody mortgage that I now need to work out what to do with. Two cars – this one is hers, I left her the decent one - the Audi – it seemed only fair. Living in suburbia and trying to figure if the neighbours were worth talking to – they weren’t, never liked my music apparently. Lost a lot of hair – but not as much as some people I know. Mum and Dad died within a year of each other, back three four years now. I currently own exactly what’s stacked up on the back seat and in the boot – but Marie’s never been vindictive so I’ll get the rest later I suppose. No great regrets about anything and no great direction either.”
Jaz shifted his gaze from sea to Terry and back again, when he spoke it was like he was addressing a non existent audience lined up on the sand below him.
“So, she never experienced the joys of this ?” he waved his hand at the beach, now emerging from the total darkness into strips of silver and grey, a photo developing itself. The wind blew sand into their eyes and mouths and the coldness of the nearly dawn bit through their jeans and jackets.
Jaz wasn’t comfortable with the emotional undertones of the conversation; they talked some more, more generally now. He filled Terry in on the comings and goings of the local crowd, Terry told him about the mind numbing tedium his once interesting job had become. Terry deflected questions about his plans with a ‘wait and see how it goes’, Jaz avoided turning the topic to Joe and neither of them ventured into the choppy waters of why Terry had bailed out so spectacularly after becoming one of them back so many years.
They raced down to the water’s edge, puffing and panting, Terry was more out of condition than Jaz, but they were both throbbing with adrenalin. Neither stopped as they met the water and plunged on through, kicking up great fountains of spray as they went. When the water reached thigh height they stopped and uncoiled the yellow leashes, slapped the Velcro around an ankle and carried on, Jaz threw himself flat on the board and paddled now, Terry struggled on for a while further pushing the board alongside him. The water reached up and trickled down the neck of the suit, still reasonably warm, the swell made Terry’s feet bob up from the firm sand and hang motionless for a second. He threw himself onto the board and followed Jaz out into the big empty sea, glancing back just long enough to see the sun slide up from the inland horizon and flood the scene with pink and salmon and gold.
Turn up the bass, play loud.....
With the last of the air in his lungs he pushed up to where he guessed the surface was – he must have been under for, for how long? Seconds, minutes, hours, about ten feet of beach? He didn’t care, yet he couldn’t stop calculating it anyway. Then. Then the surface ! He broke through the skin of the surface and gasped, seconds later another wave hit, with less force this time, but enough to push him down again. It was just as well since he’d taken less air in this time, but again he came up spluttering. His only way out was to get the board back and at least try to stay on the surface. His legs worked like pistons to keep afloat whilst he reached down and grabbed the leash to reel it in. There seemed to be something missing and he soon found out what. At the end of the leash was about three feet of board…the back three feet and a single fin to be precise. Shit. The board had snapped. But it was enough to float and gratefully, dimly aware of what he’d have to say to Victor, to the others, when he got back on the beach, he grasped the stump of board and tried to get his bearings. He sucked in each lungful of air in case it was his last before another enforced dive.
Matt washed about, disorientated, but seemingly out of the drop zone. He looked up but the rain altered shapes and the headland blurred away at the edges. He couldn’t quite work out what had happened. Then he realised. He was beyond the break again. At some point in being thrown around in the spin cycle of the last set he’d been pushed over into the rip. A rip that was running more viciously than he’d ever known and it had sluiced him further out to sea than he’d ever been, the wrong side of waves eight, ten, twelve feet tall, clutching a pathetically stunted fragment of board. Even if he’d had the full board he’d not have known what to do.
The rip had pulled him off to the left hand side of the bay, he was sloshed from side to side as the waves hit the cliff in explosions of ridiculous violence and washed back out to where he hung grimly, each one pushing him further out. The sky was dark and if there were any people watching from the land he couldn’t see them. His stomach filled with ice and he pissed in the wetsuit, warming momentarily before the next curtain of rain mixed in with spray slapped him square across the face.
To get in Matt needed to get close enough to make the gap in the swell – to get up and behind the rocks jutting out from the base, away from the break tearing at the unimpressed rocks and rending smaller rocks, seaweed, soft bodies like Matt’s into so much broken flotsam and sand. The noise here was unimaginable – a constant howl of power – the snap and whip of the water, the low bass growl of the waves; once this would have impressed Matt, but now in the throat of the bay it sounded like nothing less than a war cry, a wail of intent, a shout of all consuming victory. It was as if the sea were claiming back its margins from the land and the people on it –one small exchange, Matt, for the bounty it had given up time and time again –here was another to add to the list of drowned sailors, snatched fishermen and suicidal cliff jumpers. Fair exchange for all the oil, the fish, the sand, the shit.
The board ground against some exposed and barnacled rocks, scraping and pitching. Matt felt it hit against the side of his trailing leg. A moments stinging and then too much else going on for him to pay any attention. He was floundering but could see a break in the otherwise blank cliff face, a crack, a hole, just above the waterline. He was floating almost immediately below the cliff path now, washing just behind the break, just out of reach of the impact zone and just that bit too far away to feel anything but exhaustion.
The crack was about two feet wide and he pushed himself up clear of the area that bore the brunt of the sea’s malevolence. Matt sighed, exhausted and recognised for a second that this was not malevolence at all, it was his stupidity, his ego, the sea was just doing what it always did and the fact that he happened to be in it at the time would have been of no consequence to the salt water and all its attendant deities. His leg began to throb and he felt down, the suit was gashed badly on the left leg and blood was pouring from a cut on his calf about eight inches long. Hard to tell, he thought calmly. The blood was running freely, but the salt water was the main culprit there, succeeding in overwhelming the hot viscousness and transmuting it into something closer to it’s own form, all the while letting it bleed freely and refusing all attempts to let the wound shut of its own volition. Ignoring it he climbed higher up the cliff and found a half ledge, like one of those half seats they gave you in fast food restaurants when they didn’t want you to sit properly and spoil their turnover by stretching out your visit. He wedged himself on it and wondered if he’d ever get up or down again.
The sky was darkening. Evening was coming. Matt was cold now. He’d tried yelling for at least an hour, but his voice was hoarse and cracked. No-one would have heard him anyway. Another hour had passed since he’d stopped and the water still lapped around below him. He was starting to get numb fingers and his damaged leg, although not bleeding any longer, was cold. Only one way to go. Up.
A few false starts almost made him give up, resign to the prospect of oblivion on the cliff face. Then he managed to get a solid handhold and pulled, literally pulled his weight up on the one hand, allowing him to swing his feet over to the next hold. But once started he realised, there was no stopping. Each few feet took an age, the rock was solid, but worn and rounded, hard to get a grip. Where it was more newly opened by the weather the edges splintered and cut, making reliance upon the holds dangerously foolhardy. Matt had time to look at the passing lines, the millions of years etched into the exposed edge of England. Here he was clutching at decayed and compressed primeval forest, next at the sea bed of an ice age long forgotten, hauling each painful inch on soil long ago returned to rock.
After maybe an hour, the darkness closing, he stopped at a band of chalky soil, grass tufts sticking out in rare displays of defiance. He was still at least thirty feet from the top and he’d covered no more than seventy in the last hour. The crack he was following widened, there was an overhang above him and he didn’t know how to get around it. For shelter and security he pushed himself deeper into the crack and saw that here the back opened to the same chalky crumbly half-soil he’d just seen. He pushed his hands into it, it was wet and fell away easily. He didn’t know why but he began to tear at it, pull at it, carve out a niche in the rocks, make room for him to…To what ? He didn’t know. He didn’t care anymore. He was tired, very scared and getting colder. He had the idea of making a snow hole, like those ones that arctic explorers always survived in during avalanches and the like, he’d seen that on TV. OK, so there was no ice, no snow, but the principles had to be the same. Beyond that he had no thoughts. Immediacy was all that mattered.