They sat on the bonnet of the car, silent, gazing into the blackness that covered the water, the dawn wasn’t far off but here in the dark it felt safe, a cloak that covered many cracks and years. The driver’s door swung half open, they pulled their coats tighter around them and blew smoke into the emptiness. The wash of the sea underlined every night sound, punctuated sentences and sucked noise away from the beach into its own depths.
“So long a time eh ?” Terry nodded at Jaz.
“Too long really, but it had to be done. I miss this place more now I’m back than I ever did whilst I was away. What happened to the garage ?”
"Been gone a long time - well, been a fuckin' surf shop a long time anyhow. You'll see in the morning, too many of them for my liking."
"Guess there's a lot else changed besides..." Terry tailed off.
"What do you expect ? I know that a lot of the two-weekers would love to preserve the place in aspic, leave it as the underdeveloped little village they knew when mummy and daddy brought them here as kids. But it's a living place - not that most of them fuckin' recognise that when they're dawdling in the middle of the sodding road whilst I'm trying to get to work and make a living. Anyway, it's a living place, it's going to change. Always going to change."
Jaz flicked his ash onto the car. Terry swept it away instinctively with his hand.
"Hey, don't start - I wasn't complaining."
"You fuckin' will when you see it all..."
"Yeah, but I wasn't. Just asking." Terry knew Jaz well enough, even after all the years, to know that setting him off was something to be avoided. They sat there silent again and watched the space where they knew the water was.
“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 whistled, a long low sound either to indicate incredulity or to signal that he was impressed.
“... And then I heard through the grapevine about Joe. I still surf, still see a few people who know that I used to come down here; still see a few people that still do – not that you’d know them. Believe me, I check. So anyway, I heard about Joe and thought it was about time I came back and saw what was going on. I know I’m no local here any more, but I feel like this is the time, otherwise it might not happen at all.
Besides, I was so fucked up with home that I had to get out and it was here or blow the savings and disappear off to Indo or somewhere. I think I’m too old for that nowadays don’t you ? Even if not then I reckon that I need to hide for a while and here it’s so much more hidden than any third world beach bar where the chances are you end up talking to your Auntie’s next door neighbour or your ex’s new ex.”
Jaz found himself in the unusual position of listening. He nodded, unsure where to start – all this information, fifteen, twenty years summed up in a moment. Terry slid down the bonnet and reached into the side pocket of the door, retrieving his own half bottle of Jack Daniels. He apologised for the lack of mixer and the two of them took alternate swigs, Jaz conspicuously wiping the bottle before passing it back to Terry.
"So, what happened then ?", Jaz looked out and away as he said it, not comfortable with other peoples' confidences.
"What with ?" Terry took another gulp and passed the emptying bottle again.
"Your fuckin' perfect life ? Y'see we hear stuff too. Plenty of news rolled up about you, least for a while. Seemed you had it made - saw a picture of you and Marie getting married - can't say that we didn't wonder why we weren't invited - she looked pretty fit.....all we heard was you were living the life."
Terry snorted, lit another cigarette, “Yeah well, it seemed so to me for a while too. There was no great drama, no tales to tell of big events, no ‘moment’ when things came apart – neither of us shagged around, not as far as I know anyway, neither of us spent too much, neither of us drank loads…. Just slowly things unravelled, things kind of crumbled. It wasn’t even boredom; at some point the compliments and the positives gave way to a war of attrition where each little fault was held up to the light and examined for those stubborn stains. We started to get on each others’ nerves, started to lose interest in what we had to tell each other. At some point it occurred to me that we never read the same books as each other any more, never wanted to see the same films. Marie always had given me a hard time about being a bloke – it was part of the attraction, a strong independent woman, but before she’d always made out that it was all blokes in general she was slagging off – y’know, in that way that only women can do because if we started talking about women the same way, to their faces, we’d be ripped apart as unreconstructed sexists stereotyping and generalising and all that shit – but when they do it….well, maybe that’s a generalisation in itself, when she did it…then it was all OK and not available to criticise or come back at. It was a running joke for a while and then the joke turned sour and the taste it left was unpleasant. That’s when we split the first time.
We still saw each other a lot, guess that’s why we got back together. It really was a case of being unable to live together even though at some level we were so connected, so many shared experiences, that it was almost impossible not to live with her. But when we tried again it descended to the same point so rapidly that my breath never quite caught up. So I walked out and came here. She knows. She might not believe it yet, but she does know.”
“Why did you never bring her here ?”
“ Yeah, I wondered who’d be the first to ask that.
I thought about it for a long while when I was driving down here and the only real answer I can give you is that she shouldn’t come here – for my sake not hers. She’d have loved it, loved you lot – well, possibly. She wasn’t really into the surf and stuff, never did come out with me in the water, but she liked her beaches. All the same I couldn’t. It’s like this place was so personal to me, so much a part of who I really am that I perhaps didn’t want her to see who that person had been. It scared me to think that I’d come so far away from that person and I don’t think that I wanted her to know, just in case she fell out of love with the me that she knew.
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.
“Not the once”.
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.
Soon the dawn had started to spread across the entire length of the beach. The sun wasn’t yet up and the night cold hung across them. The wind lessened and the blackness turned first to grey, then to a dirty yellow. Colours started to define the cliffs and they could see the waves that had sounded all the night they had sat there. Jaz was wired on the JD, a sleepless night had left him buzzing, Terry was still being kept up by the speed. Suddenly Jaz leapt off the car and ran out of the back of the car park. Terry sat there impassively and gazed at the scene in front.
Two minutes later and Jaz was puffing back. Two boards balanced precariously on top of his head, like a walking logan stone. Over his shoulder were a couple of wetsuits.
“Fuck !” Terry smiled broadly, “You serious ?”
“Never more so mate, never more ! Come on, it’s not bad out there and it’ll clean up now the wind’s dropped, no-one else about, let’s fuckin’ do it !”
“You sure ?” Terry sounded hesitant but had already peeled off his jacket and stood there shivering slightly in a white t-shirt. Jaz threw a wetsuit at him and stood the boards against the side of the car. They looked at each other and for a moment they reminded themselves silently that they were in their forties, no longer early twenties indestructibl. Then they both let that thought slip away until it no longer bore any relevance and stripped naked in the damp cold car park, hopping around and grabbing hold of the car’s wings as they tried to force reluctant legs into tired and stiff neoprene. There was no-one to see them, but for all the world they felt like they were the last and least likely pair on earth to be doing such a thing as the sun began to rise behind them, filling them unexpectedly with the sheer joy of doing something so wonderful and stupid on a morning as empty and clear as their heads were. Jaz finished first, helped Terry zip up the slightly tight suit, grabbed a board and jumped down the dune that had built up at the edge of the car park, down onto the beach skidding and skipping. Terry followed suit, running full pelt, feeling his breathing start to race, to catch up – the sea was a long way out but the swell looked promising, peeling slowly left to right, no other soul in sight.
“Where did all this come from?” gasped Terry as he caught up, “the boards, the suits ?”
“Joe always had some in the lock up at the back of the shop, in case he felt like jumping in after a day at work. I’ve got keys. I used to open up last winter when he couldn’t be bothered. Hope you don’t mind….y’know, Joe’s old stuff and all that…” Again Jaz tailed off.
“Fuck no” Terry flashed a grin, “I was wondering what to do to pay my respects, but this’ll do nicely. In so many ways it’s what he would have done if the boot had been on the other foot.”
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.
And out into the early morning ocean....