I catch these snatches of conversation. They are voluble at that time of the day, chatty, companionable with each other, at ease as they make their way back to their shared houses or student halls. There were four of them. Three lads and one girl. Two lads walked behind. Ignorant women, one of them was saying. A conversation that was layered over by the girl ahead of him saying to another boy: In my eyes everything happens for a reason, so like… It struck me that phrase. In my eyes. Did she mean that? I’d passed another group of students outside the Pier Pressure night club with its flashing neon sign above the door – Club Open. The words were reflected in the window of the ice cream parlour, back to front. One of the students was pontificating to the other two. His voice was odd, strained, breathy. It was ex-cruc-iating, he was saying, pulling and stretching at the word. I stood at the end of the Perygyl and thought how much I loved to stand before the sea and how all the discomfort of getting myself there was worth it. And then I saw it. A huge light in the sky. A falling star? A meteor? No, it was too big and moving too fast. It was a helicopter’s search light. What was wrong? I’d noticed a light on in the RNLI office and could see five or six of the crew sitting around chatting. One of them was laughing. And I’d see one of their dinghies on the tarmac ready to launch from the harbour. Perhaps it was a training exercise. Every day something has changed, shifted, altered. Sometimes I feel a little put out. This is my world, my time, my space and no one asked me. Silly, I know. There was a huge trawler in the marina, and a fish lorry parked up by the lines of boats in dry dock – Baited Breath et al. The searchlight kept going on and off. At one point it skimmed the sea. A flooding of yellow.
There is a numbness down both my legs. Something must be trapped, he said. I try to walk through it. Pushing my heels down hard, trying to keep the blood flow going. And I think of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid with her tail transformed into legs, cut, severed, so that she might walk and dance and be with her love. Every step is a knife cut, a stabbing of pain. Exquisite pain. It haunted me as a child, especially as her ‘love’ doesn’t seem to notice or indeed care. What a waste, I thought, giving up her tail, her watery home, for him and to just end up as foam.
We sat in the car and he told me of his fear. I had no idea. I sat and listened, really listened. It hung there between us. What can I say? There is always a choice. He doesn’t have to have it done. But to not do so… I can’t protect him. Life demands courage of us. It is as simple as that.
He tried. He got through the day. It is enough.