Cockles

Content in its solitude, a warm, golden circle floats within flesh-red space from bottom right to top left. Growing in diameter, it fills him with a comfort like that of his quilted duvet.  It waxes and wanes. Form and content are one and the same. A triangle, turquoise green-blue with sharp edges, enters the boy’s landscape of everything. An earthly, warm orange changes to a colder green as the triangle drifts slowly towards the circle. Confusion grows deep in this unspoken place. He doesn't want to die. He doesn't want to die. The triangle begins to overlap the circle. Crying and crying and, somewhere in the middle of the night, Mum & Dad looming large in myopic confusion again. Wild despair in the fresh eyes of youth. His parents, youthful though they are, are growing a legacy of parental concern through tired eyes and aching bodies as they look towards the living result of their act of a flourishing human life created in their image. Uttering words he is not fully aware of, the boy is consoled by his mother: his brow is wet and cold to the 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 human bounds. Slowly, he calms. His fear of the very end subdues. Thumb in mouth, he falls asleep soon after everything began. On top of his duvetted feet, Roly moves into pulls clumps of hair out of herself before settling into a ball of purring slumber. Lights off and those inside asleep. His bedroom smells of fresh tears. 

 

I need a break from this, said the wife to the husband. The husband agreed that their son would benefit from a short break somewhere else. “Tom will enjoy being looked after by both of them,” he says, “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.

 

Unrelenting responsibility afforded a certain mutual loathing where a contentedness with one another used to exist. They used to prop each other up but now they do their best to knock the other off balance. It’s a surprise to everyone when it starts to occur and then, just like that, it’s too late to stop. And so, with his parents needing a reasonable break from parenthood, the small family unit takes an impromptu trip to see his grandparents. As the mum and the dad readied to leave the grandparent’s living room, with milky tea and digestives finished and Gardener’s World at end credits, they didn’t get him ready to leave. Appalled at the dastardly surprise, he did his very best at being heard. He screamed and slapped and ran around. As he tired, his Mum and Dad confirmed goodbye. “We’ll come back for you in a few days,” she said. “No time at all,” he said. The front door closed and, in his vain attempt of getting his parents to remorse, he raised the level of his cries. They breathed a sigh of relief as the engine started. A look between the two did suffice.

 

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

 

Blue skies and seagull calls. In its promise, tomorrow did bring today. The gulls sat thuggish on the apex of the bungalow roof, screaming warcry into the sea air. His Grandparents were already up and mobile: lunch boxes packed with white bread sandwiches, cucumber and cheddar cheese with the crusts still on, crisps for before and plums from the neighbour’s overhanging tree for later. Walking sticks and the Llanelli Evening Star. “For the crossword 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 he crunched the cereal down his gob.        

 

Their busyness led to towels and swimming trunks in plastic bags, to double checking closed doors and shut windows and with all the bolts firmly fastened in the back garden. They didn’t have to walk far to their bus stop. The bus driver drove right up to the shop around the corner from his grandparents’ bungalow. His Grampa said he was making an executive stop for the visiting professor. “Normally they’d make us walk all the way into town and back out to the other side by the Asdas.” The boy giggled when his Grampa winked. Preceded by a ripe belly breaking for daylight through the gaps in his buttoned shirt, the man at the wheel took his passengers along the A-roads past rows of houses interspersed with an occasional sight of sand and sea. The young boy stared out sideways at the bright green hedgerows and occasional flushes of purple as a foxgloves sways like drunkards on their way home. Filled with wrinkly-skinned cardigans and frizzy haired old ladies similar in an aesthetic to the one holding his hand in hers, the rusted vehicle 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. He held an empty Tescos carrier bag in one hand and the Llanelli Evening Star in the other. Des swiftly lifted up his trilby hat, stroked the hair on his head and placed the hat back down on its spot.

“Aye Bert, tip top. Can’t complain like,” replied Des.

“And the old Lady... she keeping you in check?” 

“She is the cat’s mother, Bert. And the cat’s mother’s got ears and a mouth,” Gwyneth said.

“Aye, too right she has,” replied Bert 

“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?” 

“Aye. He knows which side his bread is buttered,” the young boy’s Nan said. She leant away to avoid his Grampa’s request for a kiss, while cleaning her grandson’s glasses with her hanky.

“Dare say he does. Aye ... dare say he does” agreed Bert. 

 

They let the engine’s rumble bring them forward. Bert stroked the hair dangling out of his nostrils while gazing out at passing cars. The bus chugged heavily between the stops at every other privet bush, with the occasional lady or gent creeping carefully on or off. Cheers Drive. Bert took off when the Asdas came into sight. The old and the young were travelling at pace as ideas crept into mind of ice cream dripping off cones and crunchy chips and secret clotted cream fudge. With the bus occasionally clipping the pavement, the odd cyclist or two were forced into hedgerow or bowled over into someone’s prized dahlias. The captain of four wheels took little heed of those on two. The young boy through his thick frames watched the passing figures of young boys running away from young girls. As the faces never quite come into focus, the moment of laughing with friends never to be quickly passed by. They drift smaller and smaller around the corner and gone.

 

Tenby, the road sign stating the town’s name, came and went as fields and hedgerows of hawthorn, blackthorn and bramble faded gradually into windows and doors that look out onto pavements, parked cars and double yellow lines. Ice cream cones quickly found space in the grip of palms. Through the castle walled terraces, Nan declares, “for later.” when walking past an abundance of mutli-coloured sweet shops. The violets, lime greens and ochres of the terrace house facades speak of being elsewhere, of a destination usually found only on the tele. He revelled in the buzz of holiday freedom. Holidaying children run along his excitement increases. He imagines finding companions of similar height, age and interest to explore this new world together.

 

Through the aged town and towards the rockpools and sand between toes, two up-to-no-good boys with shoes, socks and t-shirts flung into their mothers’ arms, try their best to make good use of a velvet crab that failed to escape their upturning of stones. Creeping like the sun’s shadow behind an unsuspecting boy, who was too immersed studying a particularly frothy rock pool to notice them behind him, the more daring of the two naughty boys pushed the snapping claws right up to their victim’s backside. In return for freedom, the velvet crab furiously snapped at the pair of dry speedos. “Oi you cheeky little beggars!” Gwyneth attempted to swat away the crab, then the boys with a rolled-up newspaper. Adrenaline pumping, they ran off with podgy legs, puffing all the way back to their Mam and Dad.

 

Having evaded the persuasions of tickets touts selling the chance to catch a tescos bag full of mackerel, his Grampa pushed wooden pegs firmly into the sand. They set up camp on the flattest patch of soft, pale yellow sand his nan and grampa could find. Tying a red, green and white tarp around the outer edge of their territory to break the wind, his Grampa made sure to cover sandwich middles from rogue grains of sand. Small stations of colour punctuate settlements on the beach, with mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins all inside relaxing with a crossword. “The bloody English taking over our places again. Tenby is riddled with the bastards,” Des proclaimed. “Language with the boy now Des,” replied Gwyneth. Her sharp stare immediately punctured the balloon of his grievance.

 

The young boy’s nan laid down one extra beach towel, all with perfect right angles, and revealed their selection of picnic delights. They made light work of spring onions stalks and cheese sandwiches and coleslaw and crisps and washed it all down with milky white tea for Nan and Grampa, with a hint of tin metal of course, and blackcurrant juice for him. With the food having vanished from sight, the young boy ran off towards the breaking waves. His bathers and Spiderman t-shirt flapped in the warm air as he splashed the serenity out of knee high waters. Lines of sand darted off into deeper water. 

 

His grampa whistled a tune to the after lunch nap, crossword resting flat on top the load bearing hairs of his stomach and ballpoint pen escaped fingers onto the sand below. Nan governs the sight of his silhouette between land and sky. Trudging his feet through the sea water forward, back, left, right and spinning around, he tries his best at catching his own shadow. A lone boy appears beside 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 retaliatory splash back and similarly sized grin. Soon after, both t-shirts are heavy, soaked through with water. And soon after that they were inseparable, sticking hands deep into rock pools, pulling out exotic shells and stones that looked very much like crabs but on closer inspection, weren’t. Those stones were tossed back into the rockpool water when no legs were found. The new friend, submerged within the pool up to the logo on his t-shirt, stood upright and, like the statue returning to its desired posture, pointed towards a tall woman taking away the sun, with her straight back and wide straw hat. “Come here,” she requested. The boy in the rockpool pulled himself out, and trudged slowly towards his familiar adult. She smiled and picked up her boy’s arm to look at a scratch. “How did you do that Benedict?” she asked. He wiped the blood away. “I dunno,” he replied. She looked over at our young one as a starfish slowly wriggled out of his left hand. “It must have been when we were playing in the other rockpool, over there mum,” said the new friend, pointing towards the cliffs not so far away.

 “Where are you mum and dad young man?” she asked. “They’re not here, Miss. I’m with my Nan and Grampa.” He whispered his words through his wet sleeve. “Over there?” she asked. “They’re in the red, green and white bit,” he pointed them out. “Okay, you two don’t stray too far away now, okay?” “No,” they replied in unison. 

 

Her silhouette grew smaller and drew nearer the three quarter Welsh Dragon windbreak. The young boy’s nan and grandpa were to be found basking within their windbreak, observing different sections of the Evening Star. The two boys watched her shape move languidly across the distant sand. “Tag,” shouted the other boy abruptly. His grin being too much to bear, our young boy burst out into uncontrollable laughter and chased the other back into the sea water.  

 

“Excuse me,” declared the woman in the straw hat. Her form casting a shadow over the elderly couples’ enjoyment of sunlight meeting skin. His Grampa lifted his brow above the line of the newspaper edge. “This little one of yours cut my grandson’s arm. He’s bleeding because of your boy’s bad behaviour.” 

“Oh really?” replied Des. 

“Yes.”

“Oh dear, are you sure it was his fault?” asked Gwyneth. 

“I just said so. 

“How badly is he cut?” said Gywneth. 

“It’s only a small thing, but that’s not the point. Your boy has completely soaked himself and my grandson through. I will have to change all of Benedict’s clothes when he comes back.”

“Well, that is not too much of a problem, is it?” answered Gwyneth. 

“Look. Keep an eye on your grandson in the future. He is a bad boy.” she replied.

“He’s a bad boy, is he?” Des replied, his smile growing.

“Yes,” she repeated. “I think your grandson should apologise,” she continued, “and learn some basic manners.”

Des clapped his hands together and laughed out loud into the sunny day. 

“Well la-de-fucking-da love!” he sang.

“Pardon?” she replied. 

“Des, language,” warned Gwyneth.

 “And what part of In-guh-land should we owe such a ruddy pleasure?” he said. 

“What? I don’t see how that is of much relevance.”

“Case closed.” he continued. 

“Sorry, I have no idea what you are implying. Is your vulgarity something you picked up with the other unwashed?” she said.

“That’s right! Sound like you’ve got a plum stuck right up there,” he said, pointing to the furthermost cavities in his wide-open mouth. 

“Not to mention the one stuck right up your arse too.” chimed in Gwyneth, “Go on. Get out of her before I give you something real to complain about.” The woman in the straw hat shuffled uncomfortably on the spot. “God help your grandson. You are the rudest people.” She  began edging backwards. “. The rudest people.” And with that she headed off at pace, looking back worriedly from time to time, before interrupting the young boys’ pursuit of completing an arm deep moat around their newly created sandcastle. She took the friend by his wrist and pulled him abruptly away. He watched the new friend wander off, transforming into a small black dot,  into soon forgotten memory.

 

Fish and chips came later that day, with one seagull almost getting the better of Grampa’s cone of cockles. The young boy laughed, peering from behind his Nan’s legs, as his Grampa waved his trilby hat angrily in the air. As the sun curled around to the end of it’s stay, they found themselves back on the same bus, with the same driver, and with the same people seated in the same seats. The young boy watched the hedgerows blur in motion as his Nan and his Grampa’s breathing grew heavy and their heads moved closer towards their chests. His Nan’s nostrils flapped in and out as though they were ready to pick a fight.

 

And before the day was spent of light, they found time to step off the bus for one last wander. Trees surrounded them and he was getting sleepy. He walked between the two older people: his two familial adults. The parent’s parents. Grampa and Nan, to give them their full titles. They each held a hand, wandering the outer circumference of Furnace Pond. He felt the warming safety of his hands held strong by big and stronger ones, owned by those he loved. After all the crying and confusion as to why mum and dad would leave him, he grew quickly to embrace the attention he received, this time on another park bench. Battenberg with the crystal sugar on the outer edge and scotch eggs and larger than at home portion of chips and pickled cockles and ham salad sandwiches and hot milk to send him off to sleep as his nan watched over him.

 

Racing against one another, the ducks quacked and waddled as his Grampa, out of the Asdas carrier bag, breaks bread into little cubes and throws them into a puddle. The ducks squabble, wagging their tails from side to side. With sandwiches and Milky Way washed down with a bit of flask flavoured tea, and with the catarrh lining the back of his throat, his Grampa sets to work on the boys self defence. “Come on now good boy!” His hands raised, he punches his Grampa’s open palm with the left and the other hiding his eyes. “There’s how you do it, see?” Keeping hold of his glasses, his nan watching from the bench. “Left paw, left paw then you get the buggar with the right,” his Grampa repeated. The older man held his hands  up to his face, and crouched down to meet the level of his growing grandson. 

 

“He won't bloody know what hit him!” 

“Oi Now Des!” shouted Gwyneth. She continued to break off small pieces of bread, throwing them into the puddle for the broad billed mallards to snap up. “Language with the boy, mun.” The boy giggled. And without staring into the tele, he felt comfortably at home. 

“Alright girl, keep your wig on!” The Grampa winked at the boy with a smile big enough that you could easily take a  lie down in. 

“Come on, let's be getting back now, my lovely boys,” she said, standing up to slap the air above his Grampa’s head. 

 

Images of clouds drifted along the pond water surface, occasionally broken by the crash landing of a moorhen or the open mouth of a resident carp. They made their way back to the armchair and the sofa and the cream biscuits and the telly. The boy stopped off at a set of small waterfalls, small enough for woodlice and oak leaves to get a sense of what it must be like to sail the great oceans of his bedroom’s atlas globe. The boy took a daisy by fore finger and thumb, separated the flower head from its root. Petal by petal, he watched them depart along the waterfall, sailing always further away.