Cockles

1.

 

Within flesh red space and content in its solitude, a warm, golden circle floats from bottom right to top left. He is content. It waxes and wanes. Throbbing and growing in diameter, it fills him with safety. The subject and the object are one and the same. A triangle, a turquoise green-blue, enters the landscape of everything. He begins to worry. The triangle moves towards the circle. He feels deep sorrow and confusion: all things unspoken and without language found within his primitive self. He doesn't want to die ... He doesn't want to die. An immediate internal realization from his flesh of its own necessary end to come; and with that, the end of every other flesh he is emotionally dependent upon. The triangle begins to overlap the circle; the circle is forever tainted. He knows this. The triangle takes from innocence. Blue takes from yellow, above the canvas of earthen red and all fade to black.

He wakes, crying and crying and all so hysterical to the Mum and Dad figures, large and looming in myopic confusion; those who have forgotten what a whole night of solid sleep could feel like. Wild despair in the eyes of fresh youth; his youthful parents, with a growing legacy of worry and concern built upon by their first hand learning of the flourishing of a human life created in their image, look on with tired eyes and aching bodies. Screaming words he is not fully aware of mouthing, his mother tries to console, his brow is wet with sweat and cold to touch.

 

“I don't want to die...” he says.

“I don't want you to die...” he says.

“I don’t want dad to die...” he says.

“I don’t want nan or Grampa to die ...” he says.

“I don’t want Roly to die ...” he says.

 

Roly, the other small resident of number three St Marie Street Terrace, enters the room. Four legs jump up onto the bed and she begins to purr next to his wet cheeks. She pushes her wet nose into his glad hand. She spins back and forth; purring with a love that exists beyond any human construct of life observed. Slowly, he calms: the smell of fresh tears. This cat offers such simple yet potent gift; his acknowledged fear of the very end subdues. With thumb in mouth, he falls asleep soon after everything began; on top of his duvetted feet, the cat pulls clumps of hair out of an area near her arse hole.

“I need a break from this,” said the wife to the husband.

He agreed that their son would benefit from a short break somewhere else.

“Tom will probably enjoy being looked after by the both of them," spoke the husband through a history of experience, "except your father will only go to teach him bad habits,” The wife frowned.

“We’ll take him there when I come back from work on Friday,” revised the father.

2.

 

His parents needing a reasonable break from parenthood. Unrelenting responsibility afforded a certain mutual loathing; there used to exist a contentedness and acceptance of one another, as though they used to prop the other up. So, the small family unit went on a wholly impromptu trip to see his grandparents. As the mum and the dad readied to leave the living room, with milky tea and digestives finished and gardener’s world at the end credits, they didn’t get him ready to leave. Appalled at the surprise, he did his very best at being heard through screams and slaps and running around. As he tired, his Mum and Dad confirmed goodbye, “we’ll come back for you in a few days,” the mother said. “No time at all,” affirmed the father. The front door closes and, in his vein attempt of getting his parents to remorse, he raises the level of his cries. They breathe a sigh of relief as the engine starts and drive off to forget their sedimented roles and responsibility and all arisen from the desire for family, and all without the promise of reality, until it was much too late. A look between the two, in their quiet, did suffice.

 

3.

“Well, I’m not entirely sure that’s the most appropriate use of the budget, particularly when we haven't even signed off the final option for mock-up test production,” Chris replied. He re-tucked in the loose left side of his lilac collar shirt. 

“I disagree with you Chris,” replied Steve brusquely. “ Simon, what’s your opinion here?”

 

The room, often used for meetings such as these whereby a few managers from departments in towns and cities closer to airports than Pencoed would come to inform the design and production teams of “new developments” and “restructuring issues” and other concerns that typically lead to longer hours in the office, after the weekly hours had been clocked, and the families at home watching television and forgetting the role the father plays in the family beyond the one who is not there.

 

“I’m with you, Steve. Chris, you’re being over cautious again.”

“Guys, I really don’t think I’m suggesting we go too slowly. We need to be certain that the team here are ready at each stage of the production line.” Chris removed a layer of sweat from his brow, massaging the moisture from his palm into his trouser leg side.

“And we can do that here, just like you said, while we finalise the design work back at our base. We’ll make sure everything is ready by next Thursday to go to production on the first batch.”

“I’m just not sure that the guys here are going to be able to take on that amount of work with the first production deadline being the week after, I suggest we move it back by two weeks so that we get a prototype that will be of any use to us.”

“I disagree Chris.”

“Yes, so do I Chris. We need to be positive here.”

Chris projected an earnest fake smile, knowing a need to present oneself as calm, considered and unphased by subjected pressured to be key to good management material. 

“It’s not a question of positivity, it really isn't. It’s a question of whether your branch taking our design work and changing it last minute and giving it back to us the last second for the men on the line to work through. It won't happen, there’ll be too much mistakes.”

“Chris, we’ll ask you again to be positive.”

“Yes that’s right Chris. It’s really you here who’s not playing ball. Everyone else is playing ball.”

“I am playing ball Mark,”

“Chris, you really do need to play ball.”

“Sorry Mark, I am trying to play ball, but…”

“No buts! Let’s play ball.”

With the meeting wrapped up, the two Basingstoke branch managers agreed amongst themselves that their view was correct and the view of the group discussion. They took down the minutes of the meeting, nodding at one another in contractual satisfaction, sandwiched in between the individual copies of the daily mail of that day. The men placed their notepads and pens in their briefcases; tightened their ties and wiped the dusty remains of a packet of crisps off their navy blue suit jacket; and together, walked out of the double swing doors, through the factory canteen for a pit stop of instant coffee, mash potato and sausages before getting back into their day rental BMW 7-series. The other members of the design team, having left the meeting with the external managers, returned to their desks disgruntled. 


Chris went through various side doors to find the side exit, moving further towards the edge of the carpark to unwrap his cheese and pickle sandwich and stare at moorhens in a sewage overflow pond. Plastic and skud capturing the imagination of the water breaking onto think clay mud. 

 

4.

After short lived anarchic refusal to sleep immediately on his Nan’s suggestion and the foreign ways of goose fat rubbed into his back to aide that cough he didn’t have, but “just in case, love” and face scrunchingly strange tasting toothpaste, his Grampa told him of the excitement of tomorrow. With a slight, but noticeable, glimmer in the boy’s eye, the Grampa closed the door and turned the light off; his grandson tucked in, with his weighty, dense glasses on the bedside table next to a half pint of warmed semi-skimmed milk. With the warmth of dried tears on his cheeks, he closed his eyes on his body’s command and drifted into tomorrow.  

And in its promise, tomorrow did bring today. Blue skies and seagulls’ calls; they sat thuggishly on the apex lip of bungalow roofs screaming a war cry of anger into the sea air towards the human race. His Grandparents already up and mobile; lunch bags packed full of white bread sandwiches of cucumber and cheddar cheese with the crusts still on and crisps and plums from the neighbour’s overhanging tree; walking sticks and the Llanelli Evening Star, “for the cross-word on the way there.” He was excited by the organisation of the two older ones moving in tandem from one cabinet to cupboard and back again, all whilst milk dripped down his chin and crunched the cereal down his gob. He awoke fully into a household in place with him in the middle, with adults glad to listen to his many whys and offering playful and fascinating responses.

            Their busyness lead to towels and swimming trunks in plastic-leather-plastic bags and leaving all the doors and windows with all the bolts firmly fastened. The man in the bus drove right up to the shop around the corner from his grandparents’ bungalow. His Grampa said the bus driver was making an executive stop for the VIP Professor Cardew, “normally they’d have to go all the way into Town Centre and back out to the other side towards the Asdas,” he implored. The boy giggled as his Grampa sent him a wink. As the man at the wheel, preceded by the belly and ripe buttoned shirt, took the passengers along the A-Roads, past the hedgerows of bright greens and occasional flush of purple as a foxgloves sways like a drunkard on his way home after going to get the milk and butter a few hours before, the young boy stared out at the new path and landscape, through his big, thick frames that allow him sight. The rusted vehicle for tangible experience, filled with wrinkly-skinned cardigans and frizzy haired old ladies similar in an aesthetic similar to the one sitting to his left holding his hand in hers, chugged further along it’s designated line.

“Alright Des boy, you alright?” said an old man sitting in the seats over to the right of the three, carrying an empty Tescos carrier bag and a copy of the Llanelli Evening Star.

“Aye Bert, tip top. Can’t complain like,” replied Des, lifting up his trilby hat, stroking the hair on his head and placing the hat back down in its spot.

“And the old Lady, she keeping you in check?” quizzed Bert with slightest break of a smile.

“She is the cat’s mother, Bert. And the cat’s mother’s got ears and a mouth to talk,” said Gwyneth with a grace of humour.

“Aye, too right she has,” replied Bert with a broad smile.

“You’re tell me, mun!” harked Des, followed sharply with a slap on his head. The young boy giggled.

“She’s my better half, isn’t that right love?” he said turning his head, then body, towards his better half leaning in for an enforced kiss.

“Aye. He knows which side his bread is buttered,” the young boy’s Nan said, cleaning her grandson’s glasses with her hanky, squirming to avoid puckered lips.

“Dare say he does. Aye ... dare say he does” agreed Bert. He let a pause lift them forward, stroked the hairs dangling out of both nostrils whilst gazing out blankly at the passing cars. “Des... you heard what the English are up to now? Bloody rats they are,” proclaimed Bert, turning his torso to address the other in the seat behind.

“Don’t get me started on the bastard English...” lamented the Grampa with a shake of the head. Holding onto the metal frame of the chair in front, the thought of the enemy forced a tension to run through him; his hand formed a clenched fist on the metal frame.

            The bus rumbled and chugged with stops at every other privet bush, the occasional grey hair gent or lady creeping on or off, all gracious in their “cheers drive,” and tip of the cap or lift of the cleavage. Bert and Des chewed the English fat for some time, though Bert took off when the Asdas came in sight. The old and the young were heading further to a pace filled with ice cream dripping off cones and crunchy chips and large secret wedges of clotted cream fudge. The occasional man on bicycle was forced into hedge row or bowled over into Lynda Merton’s dahlias with the captain of the four wheeled ship taking little heed of the pests on two. The young boy, through his thick frames watched the passing figures of young boys running after and away from the young girls and a moments passing entered the group, chasing with and away, laughing with his friends never to be, as the faces never quite focus, they drift smaller and smaller around the corner and gone.

            Tenby, the sign stating its name, came and went as fields and hedgerows of hawthorn and blackthorn and protruding trees faded into semi-detached windows looking out to the tarmac and white lines. Ice creams quickly found space in the grip of palms. They walked through the castle walled terraces, sweet shops in abundance and the Nan declaring later for getting the young Einzelkind too many sweets for his first set of teeth to deal with. The vibrant colours of painted houses, terrace house facades of violets, lime greens and ochres immersed the young one in the idea of another place, a destination usually understood as subject matter of that man travelling around the world on the tele. He revelled in the difference, in the sense of holiday, with large packs of families, with stomachs forced out forward as though the alpha male is due any minute to give birth to a beautiful baby of his own, the sound of holidaying children, playing together is audible to him, his excitement increases; an idea of play, of finding companions and exploring the new world together, like on the tele.

Two up-to-no-good boys with shoes and tops flung into their mothers’ hairdos, almost made great use of a fist sized velvet crab, creeping like the sun’s shadow arcing around young Thomas and his Grandmother; they were both looking into a particularly frothy rock pool push as a snapping claw shaves the air in front of his bum cheek. When the larger things look down towards them, smaller things underneath rocks and seaweed, for the saving of life, dart off for a new place to hide. In return for freedom, the velvet crab furiously snapped at the pair of dry speedos.

“Oi you cheeky little beggars!” Surprised by the youthful audacity, Gwyneth attempted to swat away the boys hiding behind backs. They ran off with satisfying adrenaline pumping through their podgy legs, puffing all the way back to their Mam and Dad.

            Setting up camp on the soft, pale yellow sand on the seemingly secret side of the town, slightly away from the hustlers selling tickets to travel the water and catch bags full of mackerel, his Grampa pushes wooden pegs firmly into the sand and to carefully break the wind and sand from going into sandwich middles, ties a red, green and white tarp around the outer edge. Small stations of colour punctate settlements on the beach, with children and mothers in the secrecy of their bathing suites away from prying male eyes run and wobble towards the shore line and refreshingly nippy salt water.

“The bloody English taking over our places again. Tenby is riddled with the fat buggars,” proclaimed Des, the Grampa, as he pointed towards a small herd of large legged, large middled and flushed red St. George enthusiasts, all soaking in the Welsh sun.

“Language with the boy now Des,” said Gwyneth with a sharp look, immediately puncturing the balloon of his grievance.

His Nan laid down the beach towels all with perfect right angles and revealed the selection of picnic stuffs on offer. They chewed slowly like the cows passing the time, making light work of spring onions and cheese sandwiches and coleslaw and crisps and washed down with milky white tea for them, with a hint of tin metal of course, and blackcurrant juice for him. With the food vanished from sight, the young boy ran off towards the breaking waves. Bathers and Spiderman t-shirt flapping in the warm heat, he splashed the serenity out of knee high waters. Opposite directions to his movement, lines of sand darted off into deeper water. Trudging his feet forward and back and left and right and spinning around, playing with his own shadow; his Grampa whistles a tune to the after lunch nap; crossword flat on hairy stomach and ball point pen in hand; his Nan governs the sight of his silhouette along the line between of land and sky.

He dreams a vision of playing with best friends together jumping the waves and low a lone boy appears towards him, with a cheddar grin, splashing water his way. The stranger laughs and splashes another handful of water into his face; he returns with a similar grin and returns the favour. Soon both t-shirts are heavy with water saturation.

“I’m Ben,” said the other boy, deciding to formally introducing himself after all. “My name’s Tom,” replied the one with thick glasses.

They stuck their hands in deep into the water of rock pools, pulling out exotic shells, small, paranoid crabs and stones that looked very much like crabs but weren’t, those were tossed back in the water when realised that it had no legs. The new friend, submerged up to the text on his t-shirt, stood upright and, like the statue returning to its desired posture, pointed towards a tall women taking away the sun, with a straight back and wide sun hat covering her straight, grey hair. She bore a fat frown on the top of her face.

“You must be a bad influence, boy,” she decided with the tone and cadence of an aggravated badger. The boy, looking up at her with worry and still in the search for treasure, had his hand in the rock pool ledge. “What’d you mean, miss?” the small boy asked, genuinely confused and concerned by her dissatisfied tone and unfortunate face. With a starfish slowly wriggling in his left hand, his new friend looked on apologetically.

“I mean exactly what I say young man,” she hawked. “I’d like to talk to your parents immediately about what you’ve become of precious Benedict.”

“They’re not here, Miss. I’m with my Nan and Grampa,” he whispered into the sleeve he left by his Nan’s side.

“Well, come on then boy... take me and Benedict to them,” she commanded whilst sucking in her over indulged body mass. They walked hastily with reason and without substance to his grandparents, who were found basking within the sanctuary of their three quarter Welsh Dragon windbreak; both the Nan and the Grandpa looked on at different sections of the Evening Star. With all the timidity of a told off dog, Tom scuttled into the demarcated space and stood to order behind his Nan. His Grampa lifted his brow above the line of the newspaper edge.

“This little one of yours decided to make Benedict and himself completely soaked through. I am without the Nanny today, making matters worse, so I will have to change all of Benedict’s clothes myself,” she spoke with the aged authority those in privilege assume to those without. “Keep an eye on him in future. He is a bad boy.”

“Oh really?” Des quickly responded with his ears twitching. He looked on to his beloved grandson with a hidden smile and a wink of the eye.

“Yes,” she, without a hint of facial dexterity, affirmed.

“He’s a bad boy, is he?” he questioned with a growing smile.

“Yes,” she repeated.

“I see ... and I wonder, what is it you would like then love?” replied his Grandpa, pulling the smile back in and offering his arms open.

Tapping his Grandmother’s shoulder until she turned her head towards to acknowledge him with a smile. “I think she’s rich ... she’s got a funny voice” he whispered with worry to into her ear.

“Well, I think your grandson should apologise,” she continued.

Des laughed an immediate, singular hark loud into the sunny day and clapped his hands together. “Well la de fucking da love!” sang Des, throwing the smarm back into her face, “and what part of In-guh-land do we owe such a ruddy pleasure?”

“Des, language,” warned Gwyneth, speaking into the air.

Like a bridge just about to buckle under the weight of time, the bags under the accusing women’s eyes sunk to a new, saggy depth. “Well yes I am indeed English, but I don’t see how that is of much relevance.” A glimmer of insecurity carried her voice though, her dominant tone pushed through by the end.

“Oh well la de da aren’t we well to do?” he replied, with a smile of a fisherman who caught the catch of the day. 

“Pardon?” she spoke aghast.

“Sound like you’ve got a plum stuck right up there,” pointing to the furthermost cavities in his wide-open mouth. “Not to mention the one right up your arse too darling!” He was enjoying himself.

“Right,” she said, whilst shuffling in horror, “How horrid. You are the rudest man... the rudest man. Come on Benedict, let’s get away from this horrible luddites.”

“Ta ta Benedict old bean” Des said with his well practised affect accent of the rich and the powerful with a hand out to wave them away, turning to his gaze momentarily back to his grandson with another wink, as the two recent acquaintances quickly depart, “do remember to look after the old hag dear boy.”

“Horrible man,” she muttered in defeat. His better half slapped him hard on the back of the head and he retreated between her legs. Tom watched his new friend wander off into forgotten memory.

Fish and chips came later that day, with one particular seagull almost getting the better of his Grampa’s newspaper full. And then, as the sun curled around to the end of it’s stay, they found themselves back on the very bus, with the same driver whose stomach could comfortably steer the wheel by itself; he watched the hedgerows blur in motion as his Nan and his Grampa’s breathing grew heavy and their heads moved closer towards their chests with his nostrils flapping in and out readying for flight.