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February 20, 2010
~ A heavily edited version of a short piece of fiction I wrote concerning my hometown.
No doubt i'll be editing it another hundred times before it goes anywhere.
It's 3am and I need some sleep.
I followed the wind until it brought me home. Back towards the frozen north and back towards the rush of the white horses against the rippled beaches. The sand is cruel and deceptive; it tries to conceal tenebrous pools of oil and discarded hypodermic needles under its gritty blankets, but the locals know better, and don’t stray off the promenade.
Far from the strained creaking of rented deckchairs that are little more that woodworm fodder, away from the cacophony of banal tourist chatter that fills my head with white noise, is the heart of the old town. It still beats, but is far quieter than before. Here, the air is thick with salt, so that if you were to stick out your tongue, you could taste the sea and long-passed hauls of fish. This rusted carcass welcomes me more warmly than any council-erected tin sign or aging illumination.
The buildings curve towards me, welcoming me back in a loose embrace; the only sound the smack of rubber soles on damp concrete. But if you strain your hearing enough and focus, really focus on the silence, you can hear the echoes of old sea-shanties. For a fleeting moment, I thought one of those voices could be his. A reverberation from the times we ate chips in the car and the newsprint stained our hands; when we’d sing off-tune duets as the rain came and reduced the radio to static. Here, magic is not conveniently presented to you in a gilded frame or a plastic display- you have to be patient and willing.
Passing the rotten facade of the market, I remember the mornings we spent pushing our tiny hands into the ice buckets, relishing the satisfying crunch of fresh ice and then suddenly, the jarring coldness. I catch the scent of fresh whitebait and recall the times we used to play with them in the sink, back home, until they broke apart in our grasp, or mother yelled it was time for tea. The smells are engrained in the mortar; press your nose to a beam and take in the centuries-old smell of fish, blood and tobacco. I saw the discarded packet of Lambert and Butler on a window-ledge, left to decay. For a moment, I wondered if it had been his, but it’d been too long.
Without missing a beat, the snaking side streets call me further into an eternal labyrinth of crumbling fascias; rub away the grime and re-read my grandfather’s graffiti. This is where life began- in amongst the discarded wooden crates and clunking pipe work. The buildings are still vibrant, great sky-kissers made of dusty red brick. While the rest of the world continues as one great Ouroboros- building and destroying in equal measure, the old town lives on. In the centre of this maze is an almighty amphitheatre, cloaked in grime.
As I tentatively run my fingertips over the stone lettering, some small flecks of paint break free and fix themselves into the tiny folds in my fingerprints. My heart contracts in systole as the frozen surface of the brickwork causes me to quickly retract my hand. I’m nervous, as though trying to reconcile myself with an old paramour. Since I abandoned my rusted coliseum for more southern climes, I fear that my love is unrequited.
As faint raindrops began to darken the rich clay tones of the brickwork, I turned to leave. And with it, I heard those faint jovial bars float through the holes in the missing roof tiles ‘Way haul away, we're bound for better weather...’. All at once, both history and time are fluid, and mine to control. Here lives the rattling echo of my childhood, the scent of my father’s cigarettes and the distant murmur of my grandfather’s songs.
As the skies tear open and the rain becomes unforgiving, I run through the streets, remembering every abandoned business, every alleyway until I reach her. Our almighty sentinel, rising from the aphotic waters to pierce the clouds and gaze upon us all. She has the appearance of the eye of Sauron, and is as resilient; surviving all that nature and man can inflict upon her, through warm and bloody seasons no bomb or wave has dislodged her timber pilings, and she stands unchanged while her children rot. As time drags on like a drifting seiner, we all must leave home.
Soon, the uneven roads become tarmac and the shadows of the ice factory turn to golden arches, I dare not look back. Although uninhabited by the living, the songs of forbears reverberate through the wooden rafters and corroded machinery, calling us all back home.