Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Return

          Jaz was still up; the day had bothered him, something about getting older, feeling mortal and still not being ready to recognise the face that stared at him from mirrors. The drink had long worn off, that groggy past-tiredness feeling which ached through his body, but saw no respite in sleep, filled him. He could do with a bottle of red now, but none in the house and shops long since shut. He saw car headlights approach from a hill about two miles off  and, with nothing better to do, he sat outside on the front step smoking and watched them dip and weave their way down the hill into the village. They slowed as they passed Joe’s house, the one they’d all been in earlier, then disappeared down into the valley before rising again and settling in the car park above the beach. The beams swung out to sea and briefly flickered as the car engine apparently turned off, but the lights carried on burning out through the emptiness like wreckers’ lamps aimed at the black churning waters beyond the sand. There was the faint murmur of music carried on the wind now and again. This was nothing unusual – there were always folk from up country that timed their journeys so that they missed the traffic and paid for it by spending half the night huddled up in a camper van or car waiting for life to return in the morning so they could get a coffee or a fry up in one of the four or five places that had sprung up in the last few years. Once the village had struggled to keep a  single cafĂ© in full employ, even that closed down once the autumn winds blew away the last of the holidaymakers, shutters firmly in place against the Atlantic gales, kitchen staff despatched to earn a living somewhere less precarious. But now there were several and what’s more they stayed open all year round, only perhaps shutting early on the most rain soaked and deserted days.

          But, curious, bored, and with nothing better to do Jaz thought he’d wander down and take a look. Maybe it was the way that the car had slowed, almost respectfully, on its way in that piqued his interest, or maybe some local interest in keeping an eye on what was going on. Whatever it was he pulled his jacket round him firmly and stashed his tobacco in the inside pocket, pulled down his fleece hat and sauntered as casually as possible down his side of the valley. It was his place after all and as common as it was for would be surfers to pitch up at this time of night imagining this was part of the whole experience, it was just as common for him, or one of the others like him, to pass their time wandering about in the early hours to pay their respects to the great life giver and check out the sea in its real dark deep element of night.

          The car, as he approached it, seemed ordinary, no boards, no lights on inside, although the headlights still blazed away from the land, music still rolling – a bass line snatch he recognised but couldn’t quite figure – an ordinary Ford, a few years older than new but unremarkable except in its ordinariness. Closer and he could see the shape of the driver inside; the windows were misted so there was no definition, a phantom. Jaz stood maybe thirty feet away to the passenger side of the car, unnoticed. Something was nagging him, the bassline filled with faint vocals, the words unheard at this distance but the melody line filling in some of the gaps – he did know the tune, the song, but not because it was one of those irritating ubiquitous radio saturated songs that crept in and nagged at you even when you hated it so much you cursed your ears for ever having heard it in the first place. This was something more resonant; it brought back something that Jaz wasn’t sure about. It still didn’t reveal itself but it caused Jaz to step back and wonder if this had been such a good idea after all. Some things are better left.

          Jaz rolled another cigarette in the dark, accustomed to doing this he barely looked down at his hands. He’d once heard somewhere that blind people smoked less because they didn’t have the satisfaction of watching the smoke curl away from the tip, smoking being so much more than just a physical hit. The same was said to be true of smoking in the dark. Whether it was true or not he didn’t know. But years at beach parties in the pitch black, sneaking out the back during shift work in shit factories later on and now his nocturnal walks, had meant that he for one felt that the idea was either bollocks or didn’t apply to him. He lit it behind cupped hands, satisfied when the tip glowed red, and walked slowly down the sand covered concrete slabs towards the car. The solid ground felt strangely fluid beneath his boots as the unseen dust and finest flakes of sand whipped around at ankle level the way it only ever seemed to this close to the edge of the world, making the join between the land and the sea much trickier to define than maps would ever let on.

          The occupant of the car hadn’t noticeably moved since Jaz had been close enough to see. He wondered for a moment if this was one of the infrequent suicides that sometimes cropped up along the coastline, but as far as he knew had never happened here. He doubted it. Why spend your last moments in a car park in the small hours ? If it was him he’d do it some other way for sure, but with the beach seconds away he’d have thought they’d have the sense to drive on there at least. The music stopped suddenly. Jaz had been just about to figure it out, but now he was left with the frustrating bass going around in his head – it was some sort of old soul tune, not normally his thing, but this one…this one meant something. An insistent bass, rising three notes, falling, then percussion, then vocals, falsetto vocals. Fuck what was it ? He had to go over, even just to find this out. The headlight beams seemed invitation enough and what the hell was there to worry about ? All the same he was a bit unnerved. The shape in the car seemed to turn towards him. Jaz was yards away now and he knew the driver could see him – there was something about the shape, some anticipation bound up in the blurred outline, or maybe that was Jaz projecting his own expectation. He double checked himself. After all this was probably no more than another tourist on a budget, knackered and looking for somewhere peaceful and maybe romantic to kip before moving on. No doubt they’d be wondering what the hell he was doing acting like a stalker in the middle of the night – probably crapping themselves. Then the headlights dulled for a second and the music came on again, quieter, but he was close enough now to work it out….God it was a long long time since he’d heard this, not soul, well not strictly he guessed –

            “But the night begins to turn your head around…..”

          Who the hell was it… ?  Four Seasons ?  Pretty much forgotten anyway - “The Night”, part threat, part sadness, part exultation. The car door opened and the volume increased,

“…and you know you’re gonna lose more than you found….” .

          Out stepped the ghost. Tall, wide eyed and very much solid flesh.


          In kicked the bass line again.

Turn up the bass, play loud.....

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