"So why now Terry ? Why now ?"
Jaz and Crush were sitting with Terry in the coffee bar at the top of the beach – it was still too early for anything stronger and Terry hadn’t decided what to do yet – stay in a hotel, rent a ‘van or head off somewhere else for now.
It was Crush speaking, genuinely puzzled, uncomfortable being in the coffee bar anyway and not particularly keen on having conversations in the glare of the rest of the world.
"I don’t know, been too long I guess. Call it whatever you want," Terry grimaced as the words ‘mid life crisis’ flew through his head, he fought back the glib opportunity to use them. "But there’s still stuff I never really understood about what happened to my life and some of it seems to come from here.
I suppose I went one way and my life such as it was decided to go off in a different direction, kind of leaving me stranded. Does that make any sense ?"
"Fuck all." Snorted Jaz. "What you mean is that you got to this point and decided that it was all you never wanted. Happens to all of us mate – happens to all of us. Difference is not all of us have the chance to find out what it was all about. Don’t get the luxury of a fuckin' gap year when you’re still trying to pay the mortgage or get the Tesco run done."
Terry felt uncomfortable, he knew Jaz was right, but he knew as well that he wasn’t wallowing in self doubt or self pity, not trying to 'find himself' – he hadn’t explained it very well and wasn’t sure he wanted to right now; he had a nagging doubt about all those years ago and wanted to nail it before the chance was gone. Timing and circumstances meant that he’d the opportunity to do it now. It wasn’t a reason for being here just at this moment but the moment was the one he wanted to take.
A bored looking girl mopped over the glass counter with a cloth, looking warily at the three old men sitting huddled against the window, she felt sorry for them.
"Yeah, I know." Terry tried a conciliatory tone, "It’s a bastard that – I still do that you know, well I did until the other day. It isn’t one of those running away from it all things – lots simpler really. Just trying to get some space and this is the best place I’ve ever found for that. Where d'you go for that ? Still go to Lanka or is that no good any more ?"
He’s successfully deflected the conversation, and the guilt trip, by pointing up the fact that they still took off themselves and no-one would dare tell them they were entering the male menopause. They discussed the aftermath of the tsunami, the best beaches, who still made the pilgrimages out there. A few names that Terry had come across over the years cropped up. He’d heard bits and pieces, mainly about Joe and Jaz, in that time. Nothing much more than headline exploits, but he was surprised when he found out that Crush was a regular visitor over to India these days – not for the beaches, although he did manage to fit one or two in, but to help out building a school and generally doing good stuff out there. Terry felt rather humbled. Crush had grown quieter over time and wasn’t given to blowing his own trumpet but Terry was seriously impressed. Crush on the other hand brushed of the exclamations of surprise and tried to turn the conversation around.
"You seen Dave yet ?" he asked.
"No, only got here this morning and the shop isn’t open today – might go and see him later on"
Jaz looked away. Terry couldn’t quite work out what was showing on his face. He took it as meaning that he ought perhaps to treat Dave gently. He’d always been notoriously flaky and with Joe gone it was difficult to know how to approach him.
"Is he OK ?" he ventured, " About Joe I mean ?"
There was a silence from the other two. Crush picked at some stuff on his sleeve and contemptuously blew the thick froth of his cappuccino. Jaz half laughed.
"You know how he’s always been ? Well he’s like that really, but more so."
Terry knew Dave had always been in Joe’s shadow, always been that bit more stoned and that bit more withdrawn than the others. He’d heard that he was on his own now after his long suffering wife had run off leaving a note stuck to the fridge. She’d left with one of his old friends and no-one had seen them since. Dave had withdrawn further into his shell. Jaz filled Terry in. Joe had become an even bigger legend in death than he was in life – the manner of his death having already reached heroic Buddha-like proportions amongst some and his letter writing to the council had made him some kind of eco warrior amongst the eulogists. Dave had seemed to shrink in the path of this unassailable image and he knew it wasn’t going to get any better. Worse still his social life had all but dried up and he hardly ever ventured out apart from his stints serving in the shop – and at this time of year these were few and far between anyway. Despite the fact that the rest of the village had adapted to the 21st century Dave was still embedded in working the way he had done since the mid seventies. He was a bit edgy too – prone to a quick temper at times. He wasn’t making any new friends and felt let down by the old ones on account of them all knowing what was going on with his wife before he did. He never felt that hey were laughing at him like some would have done, but he resented them not telling him before he was so mundanely cuckolded and left to explain it.
Jaz suggested that he left Dave alone for a while. Terry nodded, but wanted to see him all the same – if only to compare what time had done to them both. Crush carried on picking at his sleeve and looked away.
It was getting on for midday now – the sky held that pale early winter sunshine almost reluctantly – people trickled past in coats and boots to look at the beach, few kids, more animals. Some late starters, at least to Jaz and Terry, made their way past carrying boards and stepping across the damp sand like they were wearing high heels. Small ballet steps until they reached the finer sand further down. The tide was much further out now and no sound reached up this high. As it had receded the swell had dropped and Terry allowed himself a smile as he watched another forty-something, neoprene-wrapped, day-tripper pass by – he’d had it better – that was always the way to feel – ‘you should have been here yesterday’ had been the motto for pretty much every surfer he’d known over the years. Today he felt like saying to them, you really should have been here earlier...
Jaz stood up suddenly, he slapped Terry on the back and told him to call him on his mobile later, he had to go and finish off some odd jobs he’d started on a holiday home up the back end of the village. Crush shook hands with him and grunted.
Once he was gone Crush looked at Terry again, with an intensity that he found a little unnerving.
"So, what you really here for ? You hear about Joe or something else ?" There was a tone in his voice that verged on hostile. Crush had never been one of Terry’s closest friends but he reckoned they’d always rubbed along together OK. Now the low growl was making him worry, there was almost a threat to it.
"It was Joe," he ventured, "What else was there ?". Terry smiled awkwardly. There was more, but not yet.
"Just wondered what you heard ? Who’d you hear it from ?"
"Just what everyone seems to know – the Devon boys told me – you know how word gets around. Shame I was too late for the funeral, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.
It didn’t really matter – Joe couldn’t have cared less about these things could he ?"
"Right enough – he couldn’t. But," he paused, "nothing else ?"
"Crush," Terry was getting exasperated now, "What else is there – you sound like there ought to be?"
"No, Not." Crush looked away again, "Not anything in particular, just seems strange you pitching up now. Like, we’ve seen a few old faces over the last few days, like you would. But we were talking about you only yesterday as it happens and, well, Dave figured we’d not see you again."
Terry was intrigued, Most people are when they know they've been spoken about in their absence,
"Why’d he say that then ?"
"Just, well, the subject just came up. No reason I s’pose. He just didn’t figure you’d come back after all…."
"After all what ?"
"After all – that’s all." Crush finished his drink and put the glass cup down on the table with the force of a full stop. He returned to reticence as easily as he’d suddenly let things out.
"Better go and see him then." said Terry equally emphatic.
"Wouldn’t just yet – see what Jaz said? He’s a bit, well, cranky at the moment. ‘Sides, he knows you’re here, saw you in the water with Jaz, well, saw someone and figured out who it was soon enough. He’ll probably show later on.
Look, time for me to go too. I’m fixing up a boat down at St Inver, helping out a mate. Should be there already."
He stood up and held open the door of the little café – letting the cold wind slip through the gap as he pulled his jacket tighter. "See you later maybe. OK ?"
He half smiled and was gone. Terry watched him climb into his fifteen year old battered green Bedford van and weave up the road, avoiding the sand drifts gathering at the sides.
This wasn’t quite how Terry had imagined it, yet how could he have seen it any other way ? He decided then that getting an out of season caravan was probably the best way to spend his money – on his own he really didn’t care about the comfort factor, although he wondered if that was just him kidding himself at this age.
The hotel was pretty expensive now and any associations with Victor were long gone. The bar was apparently unrecognisable – even the shattered board, the stuff of legend, had come down from the ceiling years ago – the new owners at the time neither caring nor recognising what it was. The new place, Crush had told him in resigned tones, had a bright airy feel, trying to get something of that ‘New Cornwall’ vibe going – trying to fall in line with places like the Eden Project, the Tate at St Ives, those fancy celebrity restaurants down at Watergate – all bright and airy, open with big windows and abstract paintings, terraces outside and bottled lager. Not the same place that used to be dark and comfortable, with huge armchairs at one end and a pool table and pinball machine at the other. Where they knew the entire bar staff and after hours drinking was the norm. Terry wasn’t moaning about this – he’d seen it happen at home and pretty much everywhere and it wasn’t a major problem to him – this sort of stuff happened. It just made him want to be somewhere else. Made him feel like his time in places like that was over.
Reflecting, he traipsed over the road, heading down to the site where most of the travelling plots lay empty and the static ‘vans crowded around one another on their breeze block moorings, like a wagon train drawn up to protect themselves from marauding indians.
He looked at the window above the shop – the old doorway was gone, replaced by one at the side now, making just enough room for a small boutique to have been shoehorned into the space. But the window was still the same, still the same rotten wood frame that seemed to have got no better or worse over the years. Maybe it was a new frame, just that it was now as bad as the old one it had replaced, he couldn’t tell. That was the problem. The palimpsest of life and time kept placing new over old over older over….well, it just kept covering up – but somewhere underneath there was the real past, the real events. He allowed himself a small moment of memory, the room they’d spent that whole summer in. He felt a ripple of, of what ? Emotion ? Maybe a chill ? He shook involuntarily and took his eyes away again, there would be time enough.
Not a cover....well, it is...but not the song.....