Doreen – Sunny Shore Guest House Room Number One
After the funeral it strikes Doreen, for the first time in her life, that she has choices. And they are hers and hers alone.
So, after the endless sherry and sausage rolls, she locks the door, peels off her black dress, climbs in the car and drives.
And now she finds herself miles from where she started.
In a guest house.
Somewhere by the sea.
She lies in the narrow too-soft bed and indulges herself by rolling around words that are forming, one after the other, in her brain. She hears them tumble and chink together like the pebbles on the beach.
Possibility. Conundrum. Options. Decisions. Preference. Choice.
The walls of the guest house are suddenly dancing and alive with the wonderful, kaleidoscopic words of freedom.
For up until now, Doreen’s life has been spun for her like a web. Made up of things she has been obliged to open.
Eyes. Mind. Doors. Arms. Legs. Heart.
From now on, Doreen decides, she is closed.
Cold Hard Cash
Have you ever run coins through your fingers? Felt their greasy surface pass momentarily against your skin?
That’s their past, you know? Their life story, resting right there, trapped in every molecule, in every layer of accumulated filth.
And if you choose to listen, it will spill its secrets and tell you exactly where that coin has been. Tell you who has held it in their cold or clammy hands and what terrors or treasures they might have seen.
Working in the amusements means I have handled more coins in my life than most. Every day I tip them, pour them, stack them, roll them.
Sometimes I drop them.
Like hot bricks straight on the counter, I watch them spin. Watch their secrets flicker like a film, a life story fractured by pain and spite.
Sometimes the feel of them makes me want to vomit, to scrub my skin until it flays.
Sometimes these coins they shine, in a way that most of you can’t see. Virginal, fresh from the perfect transaction; an innocent spending just for love. I want to keep them then. Slide them under the counter and tell them in a whisper that they will never feel this way again.
Sometimes they bring me sadness. A grief so strong it sears my palm, sends shock waves through my veins and coursing round my heart. Someone will simply tip a coin into my palm and in an instant, I can see their truth.
And when the connection is that strong, the image can be blinding.
Gift or curse? You decide. But which ever, its mine to carry. My own private window to the souls of men.
Everyone has a story. And every coin I have ever held always has a tale to tell.
Hooded, tall, with eyes that burned with black beneath.
He handed me his coin.
And I drew in a breath, ready to absorb the hit.
But I felt nothing.
Just the empty chill of space signalling an end.
Stone Tales 1 – The Afternoon
Shona and her boy head straight to the kiosk. Not for ice cream but for stones. The special stones that Marco keeps there for Ben; behind the counter in an old calico bag. The stones that make school fall away.
Shona watches as Marco hands them to Ben, and Ben takes them, solemn, unsmiling. A ceremony of simple trust. He steps back and starts to turn towards the sea.
‘Ben. What do you say?’
He frowns at her, his dark brows knitted and looking to the left of Marco, over his shoulder, Ben slowly brings his hand to his lips and dips it quickly down.
Marco smiles, bends and does the same.
That’s their interaction for the day over.
Moving with awkward jerking speed, Ben hurries down to the beach, to his spot; the one with the low flat rock. As Marco hands her the daily coffee, Shona hears the familiar clink of stone on rock. Followed by the singsong rise and fall of counting, lifting on the breeze.
Every day Shona offers Marco cash and every day he waves her hand away.
‘When he’s finished leave the bag in the usual place.’
Then Marco pulls down the shutters. In the winter they are always his last customers, but he always waits for them. Ready to hand over the treasure, ready to take his place in Ben’s day.
Not for the first time she wonders what would happen if Marco were ill. Or if someone else found that bag, saw it stuffed behind the back wheel of the kiosk, and took it.
Shona stops and shakes the thoughts aside. There is no use dwelling on what ifs. Better to focus on Ben and what happens today, like every day.
She can see him, head down, moving along the row of stones. Working his way rhythmically to the end of his line. And when he gets there he jumps, flaps his hands and calls out. Repetitive excited sounds that compete with waves and send the sea birds circling up into the sky, drifting far away.
Then he starts it all again. Realigning, positioning and counting the rocks that are his hope. His safety, his joy and his control.
The nearest thing he has to friends
Shona wishes she could make him as happy as they do, but she won’t let herself fall down that hole. Instead she tells herself that she makes this possible; by bringing him here and finding this space. She guards the air around him, staring down the curious and openly hostile looks of dog walkers and passers-by.
Shona is the one who finds and clings to the people who understand, like Marco and her neighbour Jean; who never complains when her garden is littered with the things Ben has thrown; who always hands them back with a smile and sometimes a tin of flapjack.
Shona is Ben’s gatekeeper; it is up to her to build his team.
Up to her to keep the undeserving away. Like the cashier with the pencilled in eyebrows who mutters and tuts every time she has to scan the wrapper of the bread Ben’s chewed.
Or the PTA mums who ask her to bake cakes or fill rotas. And huddle together when she makes excuses yet again.
She leans against the wall and thinks perhaps she should make more of an effort with those women. Maybe then Ben would be invited to picnics and parties, bonfires and trick or treat.
Maybe then Ben would make Hayden happy. Give him some of the lad and dad time he so desperately craves.
The thought of Hayden makes her reach for her phone. Tapping the screen and seeing no message she automatically slides it to silent.
Ben starts another round of counting. Shona sips her coffee. And together they keep the world away.
The Written Word.
We have been planning this for weeks. Booking the B&B. Buying the sashes, and the headbands that flash. Karen said the L plates were a step too far, but we all said they weren’t.
We have done our research and planned a route. Through the old town pubs, down the high street and then into the clubs along the front.
All twelve of us. Gemma’s hens clucking along the prom.
And here we are in the last club of the night.
Just Gem and me, in the ladies. The two of us, fixing our make-up.
I am really pissed.
Gem is pissed too. Or at least I think she is.
Something in the way she stands, the tilt of her head. The way her eyes fix on to mine.
Makes me wonder.
Then she leans forward and breathes. Clouding the huge round mirror.
And with a tentative, trembling finger writes just one word.