Saturday, 2 June 2012

Caught Inside

          “We’ll wait here.” It was a command, not a suggestion. Crush looked imperiously at Jaz and Jaz meekly folded his arms and sat down on the lower part of the sea wall. It was mid afternoon and the weather was closing in.

          Terry walked on, not sure what to expect, but partly knowing that whatever it was he had been waiting for it since that morning.He arrived at the dusty notice-covered door of the shop and banged hard on the glass.

          No answer.

          He tried the back door. He called out Dave’s name. No answer.

          He peered through the dirt and tried to rub a patch of the window clean with a sleeve, but to no avail. Most of the dirt seemed to be on the inside. He could see the back half of the shop, the piles of ‘papers and magazines still tied up waiting for collection, a half empty ashtray. There was still smoke coming from it. He banged again and yelled out Dave’s name. Still no answer. Still no sign of him.

          He sat down hard on the step and wondered what to do next. This seemed like a wild goose chase.

          Then he heard footsteps on the wooden floor inside and saw Dave’s silhouette appear from the back of the shop. He took in the sight of Terry sitting outside the back door and almost casually walked over and clicked the latch open. Terry stood up and stretched, then walked in. The door shut on an automatic closer behind him. He peered through the gloom at Dave. He had his back to him at first, slightly stooped, he seemed to be holding something but when he turned ‘round it was impossible to tell what, if anything, he held. Both his fists were clenched. Terry remembered Jaz’s story and stepped back slightly, but Dave seemed unlikely to throw a punch. Terry consciously made himself relax a little. Dave’s eyes were red – whether from the smoking or because he’d been crying wasn’t easy to tell in this light. He didn’t make eye contact. He looked down at the floor and didn’t speak.

          “Crush said you, er, wanted to talk to me…?” The words hung in the dusty air.

          Outside the wind was whipping piles of rubbish into a circle dance and a high pitched whinnying sounded from where the gusts found themselves trapped by the backyard walls and leapt up to break out. The clanking of metal cables and cracking flags from the garage opposite blocked out any other noise beyond the shop. Dave stood there still, not speaking.

          Terry made to move towards him and Dave took a step backwards.

          “Dave, are you, y’know, are you alright ?” Terry could sense that he wasn’t. Dave’s right hand unclenched and he held it out towards Terry,

          “Recognise this….?”, his voice was low and choked, uncertain and hesitant.

          Through the gloom Terry could make out a small silvery chain, nothing spectacular, nothing he could say he had or hadn’t seen before. “What? What is it Dave? Come on man, you’re being a bit opaque here, what is it?”

          Dave looked down at his hand again and pushed some of the chain about with his fingers, revealing a small, fine abstract pattern made from some sort of filigree silver.

          “Dave, what ?” The lack of a conversation was making Terry more nervous now. “What are you trying to show me? Yeah look, I get it, it’s a necklace, it’s the sort that you can buy in any of the little overpriced shops ‘round here. It’s a girly surfy necklace. So ?”

          Dave threw it through the air to him. “Look at it Terry,” he pleaded. “Just look at it…”

          Terry grabbed the object as it swung in an arc in front of him. He looked at it with a sense of growing apprehension. Something, somewhere in his brain was trying to force itself towards the front. He couldn’t speak. The effort that was going on inside his head seemed huge to him. If he had been able to describe it he would have said it was like being forced onto your knees against your will and then hit around the head with a truncheon. The involuntary exertion was making him sweat despite the cold, yet he still couldn’t understand why. He shook his head, tried to clear his thoughts. It didn’t have the same effect that it had in films. He looked again at the piece of cheap jewellery. He could have bought it anywhere in the last twenty years. It was standard issue beach jewellery, not much different from the one he was wearing, the one Dave had given him from Joe. It still made no sense, but his head was swimming. He struggled to get out a few words,

          “Dave, what’s this all…what’s this got to do…? Dave, tell me what’s going on ?”

          Dave sat down on the chair behind the counter, Terry realised this was him in his comfort zone; this was where Dave felt most at home. He still hadn’t looked at Terry, hadn’t registered the look of effort and confusion on his face.

          “Mean nothing then….?” He asked.

          “Dave, stop pissing about. It doesn’t mean nothing….but I don’t know what it does mean….please, what did you want?”

          “Sit down there then.” Dave’s voice was a resigned monotone. “I need to tell you something.”

          Dave sat on the stool like he was about to perform a cabaret act, he looked like this was something he’d done before, like it was a rehearsed show. Terry sat down on the pile of newspapers where Dave had motioned. Dave threw him a cigarette pack from behind the counter, then a lighter. “Go on, this might take a bit...”

          Terry blinked. Dave was starting to sound more than weird, his voice had gone from being strangled and choked to sounding calmly distant. Terry felt something go out from under him, like he was floating and this was a dream. He tried to remember how much he’d had to drink; it was only a couple of pints, nothing to warrant this. He wanted Jaz or Crush or anyone to appear in the doorway now. But they didn’t. He couldn’t get rid of the feeling that this was a stage set and Dave was the actor, maybe the director,Terry had just stumbled on from the wings and didn’t know his lines.

          Dave said something about Joe, Terry was startled back into the present.

          “Joe,” Dave continued, “well, yeah he knew, had to, see, had to know. Glad he did really ‘cause I don’t think I could have bottled it all up on my own. He was good see, good to talk to about stuff, like I said, like he took on all I was worried about and he was just such a bloody big character it didn’t matter to him and it sort of went away. Not forever of course. But each time it came back he was always around, well, mostly. Didn’t stop me thinking of it, I want you to know that, but it made it easier somehow.

          Look, I want you to know something – lots of stuff really, you deserve to and I think that you do need to, but all the same….well, it ain’t really fair I s’pose. But Christ it wasn’t fair to me either.” His voice rose just a little, “Look, just remember – whatever it is you feel, whatever you think of me – and you’ve got a right to think a hell of a lot of bad things about me…”

          Terry interrupted, catching up on what had been said so far, “Dave, look, I don’t think any bad things about you – honestly I don’t….”  he stumbled for words again. He wasn’t used to Dave being the one in command of a conversation. He still didn’t know what was going on here. He looked shamefully to the window for some back up from the others. Still no sign.

          “Ah, you will, that’s all, you will. That’s why I wanted to speak to you – not no-one else. Me. You. It’s how it has to be. Nobody else’s business. Not just yet anyway. Soon enough. But anyway, Joe knew, that’s all you need to know. Might help explain why this ere’s happenin’ now and not a long while ago.”

          Dave paused. Terry looked at him, looked up at him from his low seating almost on the floor. He deliberately unwrapped the cellophane from the cigarette packet, pushed it into his pocket, opened the top, removed the gold foil and took one out. He offered it to Dave who accepted. He took another and lit it himself. Every action, slow and deliberate, anything to fill in the gaps between Dave’s sentences, to keep his mind from trying to complete the circuit between itself and the necklace and Dave’s riddles. They sat barely two feet from each other; Terry could smell Dave’s tobacco breath.

          “It shouldn’t have happened, but it did, I shouldn’t have been able to carry on, but I did. God only knows how. But time’s up. I knew you’d be back here sooner or later, someday, even if we were all old and grey. Ha. But I thought it might be sooner. Things have a habit of lining up like that. Stars, chakras, ley lines, events, whatever does it I don’t know. But you were there, almost straight away, you were there.

          And it all fell in on me. I wanted to get through this – I can’t honestly say that I wanted to tell you – not one bit of me wanted to sit down and tell you what I’m about to tell you, but I can’t help it.”

          “Look Dave, I’m not sure about all this. I’m not sure I want to hear…”

Terry began to stand up but a gentle calm wave of Dave’s hand downwards was enough to stop him. Terry looked up at him and for the first time Dave’s eyes locked onto his. They were intense and the redness was almost gone. The blueness of them shone out so clearly, full of life, full of beauty, all the earlier cloudiness evaporated.

          “But I need to say it, yeah”  It wasn’t a question, it was a direct order.

          “Look. Terry. Just look at that again, I’d hoped it would make it easier to get started, but it ain’t.”

Once more Terry looked at the necklace, slightly battered, silver, swirling patterns. His head started to throb again. He knew only that it was familiar, but that somewhere inside his head was the reason why it was familiar. He clenched and unclenched his fist with it inside, but nothing.

          “No” He said simply. “No.”

          Dave sighed and then started talking rapidly, Terry struggled to keep up at first, then fell into the flow and started to drown as the words piled out, unstoppable, irredeemable, words slashing away at him, breaking through layers of protection, years of  fortification. He listened.

It's a cliche I know, but it is sad and beautiful.

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