By the time we’d realised that there weren’t any glasses in the caravan, we were already pretty cut. As explained in the rental email, we found the keys under the garden statue of the stone frog, and had spent the first, hurried half hour dragging the bags in from the car and lining our stomachs, before we started on the wine. This decision had been one of convenience, rather than particular taste, as it had been easier to locate the green bottles, clanking in the boot, than the vodka, which had been pilfered from Fran’s older brother, stuffed in a pillowcase, and hidden in the depths of her suitcase.
We hadn’t noticed the absence of glasses, because the protocol with wine was to drink straight from the bottle. We’d seen that photo of Rod Stewart and David Bowie doing the same thing and never looked back, but the spirits would need something for mixing. We weren’t pissed enough to take it neat. Not yet. We were after a vessel.
After a bit of a scout around our very limited surroundings, and a brief but considerate glance at the ashtray, the cracked sugar bowl, and the dusty ceramic vase by the sink, we were ready to concede, when our eyes settled on the empty Pot Noodles.
‘Geniuses, we are. Swill them out a bit and we’re golden, mate.’ Said Fran, picking the tiny flecks of spring onion from the ridged edge of the tubs.
She poured us both a drink, making a big song and dance of it, like she was some mad scientist concocting the formula to everlasting life, and I laughed and skinned up.
‘How is it?’ I asked, as Fran took her first and most theatrical sip, pinching her nose and closing her eyes climactically.
‘Mmm, not bad. The palette is undeniably sweet. The vodka lends an intriguing base note, with undertones of… chicken and mushroom.’
We had arrived late, as was our custom, driving a stake through our plans to go to the beach before it got too dark. Instead, the knifing cold of the February evening, and the comparative warmth of the indoors, lulled us into apathy, and we resolved to go tomorrow once the hangover had dulled.
As we sipped from our plastic flagons, we watched two episodes of Ready Steady Cook on the matchbox television, before concluding that the Greens were, once again, fucked, at which point I straightened my hair and she put on her good jeans. The consensus had been boots, not heels, and after we had both ringed our eyes with the same black liner, we set off to explore the local.
The drinks had done their job, and we felt the electricity of freedom; our brief emancipation up north filled us both with a confidence only afforded the young and naïve, and we felt the weekend laid out before us like a secret gift we were all too eager to unwrap.
‘Has your mummy been in touch?’ Fran smirked, blowing smoke into the streetlight, as we walked down the lane leading into the village.
‘Yeah. I texted her to say we’d arrived. She thinks we’re at your nan’s though. She’d shit a brick if she knew we were all the way up here, alone.’
Fran crossed her arms and folded herself forward, knitting her brows.
‘Why?’ She said. ‘I don’t get that. I never have to tell my dad where I am. I just go.’
‘I know, it’s just that she worries so much and – it’s daft.’ I said, hurriedly. But I knew it wasn’t. I would never say it out loud. To acknowledge any threat, brought on by the inherent recklessness in our togetherness, was to dispel the excitement of our adventure, and watch the magic, glittering smoke of independence blow clean away.
At the pub, we took our drinks outside to one of the picnic tables under a heat lamp, near the fenced off cliff’s edge, and tore through a pack of cigarettes like they were peppermint sticks. From there, we fancied we could see the odd shimmer of a wave through the darkness, though the truth was less romantic. We saw nothing. The horizon was obscure, and the obsidian mass of the ocean might have been a fantasy, were it not for the waves we could hear crashing in the distance.
We talked about music, and then about the old woman who had made a fuss at the petrol garage, each of us kicking into the grassy sand beneath us, to keep our feet warm. We moved on to school, and Fran stood up and propped her leg on the bench, leaning into a deep and inappropriate lunge to add impact to her impression of our old maths teacher, as I howled and snorted, begging her to stop, knowing that she wouldn’t.
She was in her element here, making me laugh, wildly exaggerating our memories of the poor man we had privately and baselessly decided was a nonce. We laughed until we were red in the face, and it made me feel like the sun was shining on us: her eyes sparkling under the yellow light.
We heard them first, before we saw them.
Two of them, for two of us. Each dressed in blue jeans and biker jackets. One had a silver tooth, and the other a ponytail. Fran rolled her eyes at me as they took their seats beside us.
‘Bunk along, sweetheart.’ Said the first, flashing his tooth like a meaty pirate, invading the space and sitting too close. ‘Otherwise, we might have to get cosy.’
‘Well, our dad will be back from the bar any second.’ I said, severely, looking from one to the other.
A temporary panic existed between the two of them, as they froze, before Ponytail clocked our drinks and laughed, bunking closer and taking a deep gulp from his pint, exhaling loudly.
‘You almost had me there. Bad girl.’ He winked over the rim of the glass.
The longer they stayed, the more remote any mode of escape appeared, as the night rolled on. Moving elsewhere at this time was out of the question, and to head off back to the empty caravan was to run the risk of being escorted there. At least we were in public view.
The electricity of the start of the night had slowed to a faint buzz, as we received unsolicited information about our new companions. They told us about their jobs in IT, about their boss, a bitch with a 24-hour blob on, their motorcycle tours of the Scottish coastline. We’re friends from years back, they said. The man with the silver tooth told us about his days as tech for Sabbath, and about the perks of being on the road before hi-fiving his companion. Ponytail laughed, stuck out his tongue, and made the bull sign, before laying a hand on the small of my back. Fran groaned. After a while, it occurred to one of them to ask us a question.
‘How old are you girls?’
‘We’re twelve.’ Said Fran, flatly. ‘Do either of you have any children our age?’
The man with the silver tooth chuckled and shook his head. ‘No kids, not me,’ he said, stressing the importance of not being tied down, as a man in his prime. ‘He does,’ he grinned, thumbing at Ponytail, for his sins.
‘I do. Got a daughter.’ He said, finishing his pint.
‘How old is she?’ I asked.
The first one took up his first point again, helping himself to more bench space, as Fran pinned her arm to her side. ‘No, go on, though. How old? Twenty-one? Twenty-two?’
‘We’re eighteen,’ I said, ‘and I really think we should –’
Ponytail interrupted to stick out his tongue and pant across the table.
‘Eighteen.’ He grinned. His partner grinned back.
It was then that Fran had really had enough. She pinched my thigh under the table and raised her eyebrows, so I knew it was on. We had decided to play, or risk losing the rest of the night.
Stretching her long limbs across the picnic table, she picked up her empty glass and shook it at them.
‘Well,’ she said, before lighting another cigarette, ‘my friend and I are so thirsty and you’ve not done anything about that so far.’ Her bottom lip feigned a wobble as she smirked, and I almost dropped the double act to marvel at her. I remembered myself quickly.
‘Yeah,’ I purred, ‘and we can’t have any fun if we’re thirsty.’
We simpered and flexed, like cats inviting a stroke and threatening a scratch. The vague suggestion of sex had caused them to bicker momentarily about who would get the order in, and who would stay, when we suggested they both go.
‘That way,’ Fran whispered, ‘we can talk about you, just us girls, and about what else we might want, once we’ve finished our drinks.’
The atmosphere changed. Their relentless social mining had ceased, and the power balance had shifted palpably, possibly for the first time in a long time. For a moment, the two of them looked unnerved.
‘Alright girls,’ they smirked at one another, ‘you stay just where you are and when we get back we’ll have a chat about that.’
Once they were out of eyeshot, we legged it. We hadn’t run like that in years. Not since we were kids. As we ran, one of us would burst out laughing, and the other would shush them, only to burst out laughing and be shushed themselves. The electricity was back then, and the cold air hit our teeth as we heaved huge, wheezing breaths between each guffaw. We wondered if they might follow, each of us inventing fears we didn’t truly believe, our hearts beating so hard our chests throbbed. We made a wrong turning and decided not to correct it, instead choosing to head down towards the bay. Perhaps we might be better off there than on the well-lit pavements leading back up to the caravan park. As we slowed down, the water in sight, we knew we were finally out of sight, hidden from view, with only the dark crash and drag of the waves to be heard.
I’m not sure what implored us to do it. It was a purple night – a fey slit of yellow moon sat redundant in the sky, sharing little light – but we wanted to be clean again. The screaming and running had heated us, the imposition had enraged us, and the escape had thrilled us; so, after catching our breaths for a few minutes, we made the decision without words. We neither of us spoke, only sunk our bodies into the water once, before getting out again. The darkness swelled around us, like a bruise, as we emerged, our limbs white and picked clean as a chicken bone.
For a few minutes, we sat naked in our coats, smoking and shivering together in that odd calm, not knowing what we had, but knowing it couldn’t last; holding it tight, as the night swilled around us in dizzying circles.
3 thoughts on “The Old Men and the Sea”
You are a amazing storyteller. I enjoyed the tale. You made the situation come alive. I love how you use description. Making the character come alive to the reader’s minds.
Thank you so much. What a kind comment to leave me ☺️☺️☺️
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You are welcome.