Portholes, or rather, representations of portholes, allow wet light to pool on the dim floor and walls of the aquarium. There are several vast glass tanks of impenetrable green in the centre of the room bathing all visible lifeforms, this afternoon me, in a weed green sheen. An assortment of cheaply framed and fading posters crowd the walls, depicting sea creatures, fossils, rock and cloud formations, birds of the shoreline and maps. A series of photographs of the lifeboat – wintered on a timber scaffold, the photographer’s shadow laying beneath on the concrete; on the slipway, black and white, blur of crew. Another photo of three young men, possibly the same as the blurred ones, standing at the bar of The Royal Standard, the backs of their heads are reflected in the mirror above a length of upturned bottles, of optics, of a great star shaped shard of trapped flashlight. And, beyond this, within the mirror, a woman, camera to eye, swathe of blonde hair laid on her face. Her mouth is thrown and filled with clear teeth and some beginning or ending of a word. The men, presumably the crew, in some summer style of old – soft cheesecloths and cut-offs and stonewash denim, with beer held aloft, mid cheer – laughing. And, here, lurking in the dark green aquarium, Mary Anning – an effigy of Mary Anning, – in her dark cloak and her dirty cotton bonnet and her black, many-eyed boots, stands, hammer in hand and a basket crooked in her elbow, in a tray of sand. A closer inspection reveals that a piece of chewing gum has been amusingly arranged beneath one of her nostrils. But, beyond this, and her musty smell, she is still the same Victorian finder of fossils. Her basket (approach, peer in) contains a small collection of what are soon discovered to be mere plaster ammonites. Please Don’t Take The Fossils. Mr. Phillips, the aquarium manager, becoming fed up with visitors pocketing the real ammonites that Mary carried, had them replaced with these ones that his cousin, the orthodontist, Maurice M. Mangle, delivered one lunch break.
There is a silence, an almost silence, out of which begins to rise, like butterflies in my belly, the hum of electric behind the portholes, the occasional drip or suggested trickle of water somewhere, air bubbling in the tank.
Why would anyone steal ammonites from Mary Anning’s basket? The beach, west of the harbour, is a Jurassic graveyard. I mention this to Little Annie one night. She considers the question as she licks and splits the spine from a cigarette. “They’re on holiday, right. They ain’t time to go looking for fossils.” She lays the tobacco out carefully into a construct of rizla papers and, the tip of her tongue making a brief reappearance at the corner of her mouth, says, “Everybody’s queen for a day. Even the cunt of the month.” She disappears within a dark blue cloak of smoke and laughter. Little Annie’s someone who, more often than is necessary, will tell you that she has a dirty laugh. She laughs a lot as if to impress this, but it often elicits only a frown from me.