This was just one of those days – one of those fantastic, sky blue, hot sun, rose scented, everything’s all right with the world and all it contains days.
Terry’s hair fell across his eyes as he climbed over Ali and out of bed, the taste of her kisses lingering in his mouth from the night before. He made coffee, opened the windows and took in lungfuls of early morning breeze, light and almost fizzing with a tangible health. Was this the healthy seaside air that the Victorians went on about so much ? The kettle came to the boil and he poured, the ground coffee releasing wave after wave of bitter fragrance that swept through the room and drove the scent of the sea momentarily back to its own borders. The tide was about halfway up the beach and a perfectly glassy left was peeling across the mouth of the bay. Terry could see one or two people in the water and a few more on the beach staring out, the clock read 5.30am. he nudged Ali, she slept on for a second or two and then flickered her eyes open with a soft smile, he offered her the coffee and she shook her head sleepily.
“I’m going to go in,” he said gently, “s’beautiful – you coming ?”
Ali laughed silently and shook her head again, “Make you breakfast when you come back…”. She shut her eyes. Terry smiled at her and ran his hand across her head, touching her neck and wondering if he should just get back into bed. But she’d be there when he came back. The beach wouldn’t look like this for long though. He gulped his coffee down; too hot and he burnt his tongue. Abandoning the rest he pulled on his wetsuit, leaving the top-half rolled down, and picked up his board from the corner of the room. Putting it down almost immediately, but reluctantly, he left Ali’s coffee by the bed in case she woke up and wrote her a note telling her he’d be back for breakfast, signing it simply 'T x'. Then he rolled a cigarette, popped it into the corner of his mouth, lit it and picked up the board again, exiting the room rather awkwardly, dancing between the door frame and the dog-leg staircase all the while protecting his beloved stick from any inadvertent dings.
Outside the front door the early sun flowed through him, it was going to be one hell of a hot day and the tourists would soon be swarming over the beach. Terry had forgotten how much of a tourist he was himself. Within a few weeks he'd started to feel part of an elite. Not that he could outsurf anyone, some of the tourists were way better than him, but out of the water he was accepted, had friends, felt a part of the scene. He fitted in here so much better than he ever had at home where for so many reasons he always felt on the outside of life. Here he’d been able to reinvent himself pretty much as he was from the day that he’d spoken to Jaz and co in the pub. Sure, they’d seen him before but they knew little enough about him for him to be able to be selective about his past and ambitious about his future in a way that he never could have been in a town where everyone had seen him grow up, where he’d been to school, where that great big drag of his personal history was always going to hang around him and mark him out as someone different to the person he knew inside that he was. He knew that this new start was perhaps only temporary, but he was enjoying it and the combination of the early morning, the rising sun and the sheer rush of living made today feel like the first day that he believed it himself. He breathed the ozone air in deeply, felt the sand rub under his heel, looked up and down the almost empty road and began to walk down to the water’s edge.
The water crackled as it hit the upward slope of the beach. Sparkles of the long low sunlight bounced off and made it impossible to see the sands underneath. The waves rolled in constantly, even and beautifully glassy – Terry had never seen the sea this perfect. It was as if the day was made for him – he drank in the sight, almost scared to walk in the water in case his presence spoilt the transcendental perfection of it all.
When he did walk in, even the early chill of the salt water failed to register much, he waded out and then pulled up the rest of the bulky suit, wrapping it over his body until the bulk took on his form and slimmed to fit - a second, thicker skin. He reached behind his back and tugged at the zip, leant down and secured the leash around his ankle. Pushing his board alongside he strode out and revelled in the pure total gloriousness of the moment. He could see why so many surfers he’d met down here had become religious – he wasn’t about to let those thoughts enter his head, but on a day like this there seemed something quite majestic about the world, about the sea, that made you think that this couldn’t, just couldn’t, be an accident of geology and tide, there had to be a bigger plan.
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.
Today was not that day. Terry paddled out, caught good clean waves, paddled back out again and again. Almost every ride was long and clean and implausibly pleasurable. There were guys out there pulling aerial stunts, flipping back from the lip and looking for all the world like pro’s. Terry had been told only the other week that once you could surf in cold choppy English waters then the Pacific breaks were as good as yours – watching these guys he could believe that. As he sat in the line up, now maybe ten or eleven of them, he waited his turn and watched the sheer grace of some of them, taking off and then disappearing from view as the water rushed after them and lifted high above their heads. Terry knew a few of them by sight and nodded respectfully, he saw Dave paddle out, but for whatever reason the two of them never came close to each other in the line up.
After maybe two hours the numbers were swelling, word moved fast when there was a swell like this and the car park up on the beach was filling up, full quivers of boards being unfastened from roof racks. Terry was also getting hungry now and he caught his last wave right into the shallows, walking out with a grin plastered across his face, wet hair shining and flat, heart still pumping at the love of it all and ready for what promised to be a hell of a day.
Jaz ran past him, yelled something about not getting up on time and sped to the sea. Joe stood outside the shop as Terry came off the sand, watching silently from the doorway. Terry knew that he and Dave had an arrangement where one would cover for the other when the surf got good – in the mornings and at the end of the day mainly, in season there was no way they could leave the shop during the busy hours – it looked as if Joe had the short straw this time. Terry went over.
“It’s a beauty out there today Joe, you going in ?” Terry expected Joe to be pissed off having been left up here on dry land, but he was surprisingly cheery, maybe the day had embraced him with the same feeling that Terry had earlier on.
“Dave’s turn. Might get in after a few hours, still I don’t mind – it’s pretty good just to look at it to be honest.”
“Can’t you get in when Dave comes back ?”
“Too busy by then mate. Get all the emmetts coming in for their 'papers”
“I'll cover you for an hour if you want…” Terry found the words falling out of his mouth unexpectedly.
“Bit difficult really – you need to know what’s what…” Joe seemed reluctant to accept the offer, but his eyes told a different story, gazing out at yet another rider taking off and sliding down the face, the wave almost barrelling, not quite.
“What about when Dave comes back ? I could serve and he can do the difficult stuff ? “ Terry waited, whilst Joe carried on gazing at the sea and presumably thinking it through. His face contorted, half distracted, ruminating, physically chewing the issue over. He turned and looked at Terry.
His face betrayed a slight doubt but he said, “OK – you go off and do whatever you need to do, Dave’s back in about an hour I reckon, come back then and that’d be really good. Buy you a few pints for that – for definite. That’s really good of you – I’d half a mind to shut up for the morning, but mum wasn’t having any of it. Her day off too.”
Terry grinned and Joe slapped him around the shoulders like a bear playing with a cub, sealing the deal. Terry wondered why he was so pleased at having just put himself into working in the shop on a day like this and then he knew why. Now he was really one of the set. Joe’s trust. The ‘being part of the community’ – he’d cracked it and he would even be happy to do an eight hour shift if it proved that to him.
Almost jogging he went back to the flat and Ali, true to her word, had cooked up a big plateful of scrambled eggs and toast, as well as more coffee.
“Saw you coming out of the water so I got it ready,” her eyes flashed blue, the day had transferred something of the perfect sea into them as well. She was wearing a long shirt of Terry’s as a cover up and Terry couldn’t help but gaze at her and wonder what the hell she was doing with him.
“So what was it like ?” she left the question open ended – she knew, she’d been watching from the window for the best part of an hour, willing Terry out of the water but at the same time glad that he would come up buzzing and happy for the rest of the day. She just wanted to give him the opportunity to tell her whatever it was he had to tell, tales of perfect lefts, missed opportunities, blissed out nirvana on a plank. It didn’t matter – she knew he wanted to say it so she might as well give him the chance. She sat down on the bed with her plateful whilst he stood outside the flat door and peeled off his suit, rubbed down his hair with a battered towel that always hung there, and launched into a breathless saga of the last two hours.
When he finished Ali pulled him down next to her as he sat to devour his plateful, kissed him with all the freshness of her newly brushed teeth and got a taste of the saltwater in return. Terry told her about his deal with Joe. Her face dropped, then recovered quickly enough so that Terry didn’t notice.
“It seemed only fair to him,” explained Terry through mouthfuls of toast, “I couldn’t let him not go in to be honest.”
“Didn’t anyone else offer ?” asked Ali, trying to hide the slight resentment in her voice.
“Dunno, I expect not – Joe’s just a bit of a fixture to Jaz and co – perhaps its only because I’m the soft newcomer that I offered, still, he does deserve it – he’s a nice bloke and I just felt so stoked that I’d probably have done anything right then, all’s right with the world and all that.”
Ali softened. Terry really was a nice bloke and it was still nearly an hour until he had to go. She couldn’t begrudge him this for long. She put the empty plates on the floor and pulled him down to lie beside her, his damp hair tickling her face.
Oh hell, why not !