Medication teeth, rotund in dungarees, grey dreads adorned with beads (and other Keith Richard knickknacks), Jessica shows a greeting hand. Bangles singing.
In and out of the lobster and bronze crowd to The Standard. Dialects bubbling, a foam of voice. The gulls loom and retreat and shadow the pale sand, the bodies. Beyond this, the boom waves roll and unfold and the shingle whispers wish you were here. Ice cream and beer and sunscreen are sold. Flip-flops soon start to fall apart and skin begins to blister on the tarmac path. This is the border between beach and town, consumed daily, by high tide, drift sand, guano and people and litter.
The sand has long given up staying outside. A sign on the door asks that PATRONS PLEASE KEEP FOOTWEAR + SHIRTS ON.
The cool dark of the pub, it soothes. Amber chat, cutlery, glass. The pat and smack of cue felt on resin on felt. Jessica has house, German white, and I, Old Man Grinner. We take our drinks out.
A man is sitting on the wall next to the pub. He is distinguishable from the crowd not only for his black chef’s hat and jacket but also for the long beard that hangs from his chin. It is shrouded in a net.
Fat Matt, she says.
The chef is as thin as a postcard.
Flatmate, she says.
Fat Matt is on a break. He works part-time in The Standard. It is, he declares, fucking hell in that kitchen. He has two bottles, one in each hand: fizzy orange and lemonade.
Back on the beach she tells me about how she came to Stonebarrow from Redditch seven years back after she’d got divorced and became a lesbian. I listen and while I do, I construct a tiny Stonehenge of pebbles between my knees. The sun pinches the back of my neck. The sea laps up the beach and castles and kingdoms are lost in the sand. The water sparkles and speaks its speak. The grockles forget about where they come from. They have the power, the pleasure of the pound, the promise. Golden Cap, that sand capped knuckle, shimmers in the heat: always in the distance.
Some time later a girl in black leggings, black polo shirt and black mirrored Aviators approaches through the crowd.
Marianne, says Jessica.
Marianne collapses into the sand, half burying Stonehenge as she stretches her legs.
She works in the cafe next door to The Standard. I nod. A right bastard shift, she says. There have been complaints, she says, about the colour of the crabmeat. She looks about her, suspiciously. I nod as if know what she means. Then I shake my head. The mirrored shades giving nothing away, so I drink my cider and rebuild Stonehenge and Jessica and Marianne speak about their respective workloads. Jessica works in the care industry, part-time. She visits the old in their homes. She has to wear a black polo shirt to do this.
Bloody black. In this bloody heat!
Marianne tugs at her clothes, produces a plain baguette from her handbag.
Marianne puts the baguette back in her bag and brings out a white bread cheese and ham sandwich. She glances around.
Bastard seagulls better not try anything.
She unwraps the sandwich, takes hold of it tightly, and eats it. All the time light-housing for gulls. The gulls appear to be laughing.
You could use the plain baguette as a decoy.
I can see my face in her mirrors. She takes another bite. Says nothing. Chews in the heat. A crumb remains on her not ungreasy chin. I need to get some sunscreen.