Wednesday, 3 October 2012


I watched as the urine coloured lights began to crawl over the Palace Pier like a hundred thousand lice. From somewhere behind the traffic Vivian shouted, “Frank, Frank, where are you going Frank?”
Her voice was ridiculous- the voice of a flapping pantomime dame.
All of the holidaymakers and the families pushed along the long neck of the Pier, strolling through the heat, like lazy swaggering bubbles, with inane smiles on their faces and Jesus Christ I thought! Jesus Christ, it was as though the sun had melted their faces, like lazy swaggering bubbles, their malleable, waxy features folding into expressions of bleary joy.
A boiled, shrieking girl, raw from the sun, looked up at me, chocolate ice cream smeared across her cheeks, forehead and wet mouth. She angrily waved her empty cone, scratching with her useless little fingers at where grains of sand had stuck to the stickiest patches of her red face. Keep fighting little fish, I thought, you’re going nowhere. And in fact it was true, the child was strapped into her pram just as I was strapped into mine and you were strapped into yours. The dark shadow of her mother, hidden in the shade of a sweating doughnut stand, blew out cigarette smoke like a bullock and laughed at the reddening sky.
But still, the waves turned over and over, crashing grey water onto toenail shells and bottle tops. I looked away from the child, holding my hands over my ears to drown her the sound of her mad screams, and down to the beach at a man wearing green shoes, carrying a plastic shopping bag made heavy with hard dog shit.  He walked down by the gobbing sea edge followed by a mud brown cocker spaniel. 
The breeze lifted the back of my light summer shirt and I stood there feeling peaceful until a fat boy bumped into me. His luminous bum bag fell onto the black gangway. He looked at me, I looked at him.
‘Fuck off,’ I shouted.
‘Sheeyt,’ said the boy. He had a German accent and eyes that understood nothing. Behind the boy a drenched pigeon with bright pink feet compassed his options with his pinprick head and flew into the end of the day.
The sun collapsed into the sea and I began to walk.


Throughout his life Frank’s main problem was that both of his parents had been eaten by sharks. During his youth he lived with his Grandmother, who had survived the attack by staying on board the family yacht, oiled and oblivious until she noticed that the stern whiteness of the boat was outlined in a plumby, almost fruity kind of red.
The boy, who later became a man, only met his mother and father twice. Firstly at his birth, where his vision was impaired by blood and other gunk and secondly, when they leant over his cot before they went away, dressed in yellow and laughing excitedly. ‘Hey there baby,’ said his mother. The radio played ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’ and his mother hummed along while stuffing an enormous set of suitcases with perfumes, which she wrapped in sports socks and floppy panama hats. On this second occasion Frank was only two days old and because of this Frank remembered very little of his mother and even less of his father.
He was told small truths by various Aunts while they were falling asleep beside the fire, or waking up on sun chairs.
‘She loved diamonds, even when she was a little girl, she only wanted diamonds. No ponies like the other little girls, always diamonds Frank. Pass me my glass.’
Frank looked at his leather loafers.
‘What was her favourite colour?’ he asked.
‘That’s enough Frank. Move out of my sun.’
From these snippets Frank imagined his mother as a little girl to look something like a pattern of light falling through the leaves of a tree or the sunshine that caught on the water at the seaside, surrounded by people and sparkling sublimely. But later he learnt that his parents had very few friends and actually blackmailed a young couple to play tennis with them at the end of their last summer.
In the attic Frank found several unfinished portraits; usually one eyed or crippled, with no hands or feet. His mother had been an amateur painter but called off her debut exhibition in favour of a cocktail evening at a bar, which was decorated in rich colours and called, The Pretenders. He also found out that his father, a part-time expert in fishing, had once caught a giant carp but hadn’t bother to gut it and left it on the path outside the sun room to rot. ‘I fancy gammon tonight,’ he said to the cook, his voice, the voice of a film-star, echoed through Frank‘s head.  His mother and father lived in a soft dishonest light, in photographs where they played golf and smiled as though they had never been ripped into pieces by sharks at all.
It was true that both of his parents had found it difficult to trust. This was undoubtedly because of their enormous wealth and had forced them to fire a total of twenty-seven dishonest house staff. For their final holiday they left him in the care of a Spanish woman, who was one of the last employees available from the agency in town. They exited into the sunshine, double locking the doors with the only bunch of keys so that no one could leave or enter. In the open-top Saab his mother had laughed with his father, imagining the Spanish woman escaping down the creeper ivy with their silver candlesticks. The sun lit Frank’s mother’s teeth, so that they looked opaque and her floral headscarf whipped the back of her skull.
Unfortunately, after the attack, when Frank’s Grandmother had located her spectacles and realised her situation she remained drunk on the yacht for several weeks, until she drifted ashore, half dead and delirious.
 Frank and the Spanish woman stayed in the house for the first month of Frank’s life, surviving, in the last week, on soft bananas and apples.
The Spanish woman smoked two hundred and ninety-six of Frank’s father’s good cigarettes and, when his Grandmother returned, stepping over the baby, who had been left at the foot of the stairs, she escaped out of the backdoor with several thousand pounds worth of jewellery.

I followed that pigeon for a quarter of a mile down the road and then took the bus with almost the last of my pay packet. I wore vast shades (they are not my vast shades- they belong to Vivian.) I took them out of her, (Vivian’s) handbag because the sun had been very strong that morning. Now I wore them so that no one could see that I was watching the pigeon, watching him watching me. Little cock gobbling prophet. He always stepped sideways, his attentive ginger eye watching me.
The two small thick coins were new and polished and when I moved my hand they caught the light and looked beautiful. In contrast the large coin was almost black with a strip of bronze showing hard around the Queen’s face. Illuminate my fate. The brass woman looked stern and angry and I wondered for a second if she looked angry on all the coins of lesser value. ‘Bitch,’ I said quietly into my hand.
The pigeon looked at me like I was a fruity loop.
I had been working every day that week and spending the early hours shaking in the freezing bathroom. Refreshing. Companies in Brighton (and other places in the UK) pay 3% less than inflation as part of their policy. Once I was so hungry that I stole a Pink Lady (apple), ‘tell it to the Judge,’ they said. So I did. ‘People like you make me sick!’ That’s what he said. You’ve got to believe me. It’s only in the movies because it’s true. If you can’t trust Hollywood, Brad. I had taken to biting my fingernails so far down that they bled. Stigmata for the modern tomartar![1] I was very tired and my thoughts had started to become spontaneous, as if I hadn’t thought them myself at all.
It took me twelve minutes to walk to the bus stop. I decided to time every part of my journey on my stopwatch so that I could explain the story accurately to my children and their children if I were to have any children and they were to have children too. I imagined Vivian filled with seeds, her belly round and her face as rosy as a Pink Lady, babies at her feet and deliciousness in her eyes as I told her what I had done.
It made me feel safer too, as I watched the eyelashes tickling the face of my watch that these seconds had always been in the same minutes who were in the same hours every single day. Everything was normal[2] and I began to feel as though I was shaking snow from my limbs, warmth spreading through my body, which was growing lighter, but then heavier at the same time.
I saw an elderly woman who was handing out Samaritan leaflets and as my eyes flickered I thought very briefly about how nice it would be to know her and also about what was under her dress. The bus filled with tourists who pulled their souvenirs up the stairs so that they could look at the globes[3] of the Royal Pavilion[4] and the homeless people who drunk cider in its arches from the top deck. Then people who had come out of the hospital wanted to get on and the bus driver had to lower the step for the ones who were in wheelchairs and they were meek and vulnerable and therefore at the back of the queue and they sat downstairs with their bags pulled into their chests. Several of the outpatients had soft clumps of matted hair on the backs of their heads where they had been laid on their backs to be pumped with things for weeks and months and years. I felt sick and had to look away.
I let my cheek slap[5] against the glass and watched, as the bus engine started up, the woman putting her leaflets in her handbag and struggling with her shopping. A vision stealthily crept into my mind and in the space it took me to blink, I imagined her crunching under the tyres of the bus and her flesh grinding into the concrete, her fingers splayed as though waving. I could only assume that this was because of my tremendous fatigue and to prove it I picked up my head to smile broadly at her as the bus moved on. She looked frightened and backed into the doorway of an off licence. I could see urine soaking into her canvas shoes. She wore no socks.
It was illogical[6] but I spent the next half an hour wondering if people on the bus could read my thoughts.
When a young girl, who sat with a collapsible walking stick folded into her poppy covered skirt, turned her soft blonde head around to look at me for the third time I decided to get off the bus and break my journey up by walking for a while. I walked medium- fast, with my head down and my blue and green rucksack cutting red and white into my shoulder. The idea of keeping my head down was to avoid contact with the others but with my eyes on the ground I saw several dogs. Every time I turned a corner a mongrel seemed to be looking up at me with disapproving caramel eyes. One had crapped royally on the floor near the brick supermarket and a man with startling green shoes leant down to pick up the mess. He was so old and when he bent over with the poop bag he fell to his knees and his left hand broke the soft seal of the shit, smearing it up the pavement. The dog licked itself, fluttering its long eyelashes in disdain, but the old man was perfectly still, apart from the shaking of his arms and legs, which quivered from the effort it was taking to support his frame.
I stood for a minute in the shadow of a skip, which was piled high with slats of wood and orange bags decorated with black skulls. I thought about helping the man. That man is lying in shit I thought and through gritted teeth I said to myself, I really did, I said,  ‘Why would a man lie in shit? What kind of a man would do that?’ I looked at the floor and my shoes- the leather around the tongue had cracked and was constantly bent, curling upwards, even when I took them off. Ashamed of my hesitation I began to kick at the side of the skip. I felt the end of my toes burn with pain and bit my forefinger. It tasted of grease and oil. And then I was skipping, dancing, swapping feet to kick until I thought that the loon had probably gone and I was sure that my toes were bleeding and I leapt out from behind the skip and shouted![7] But the old man really had gone and I carried on walking up the high street with the key cold and dead in my pocket and my shoulders covered in snow and misery.

[1] I mean tomato- said in an American accent- tomartar! This is Hollywood.
[2] Normal- ordinary or usual; the same as would be expected. (Cambridge Dictionary.)
[3] Buttocks
[6] Illogical- not reasonable, wise or practical, usually because directed by the emotions rather than by careful thought
It is an illogical statement, because if one part is true, then the other must be false. (Cambridge Dictionary.)

[7] OIIIII! I shouted!

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