Read by Sophie Morris-Sheppard
We kept meeting the couple from Bournemouth in the bar, every evening during Happy Hour.
"Can we sit here?" Cheryl whimpered.
Other hotel guests drifted in; the pair from Manchester whose voices echoed, the redhead with the small husband, the tall German boy and his two demure sisters. They had to be sisters from the way they both darted birdlike, for the small pots of jam at breakfast. The others chatted. Cheryl’s husband, Ron, was good with people. He knew the right subjects to talk about; rates, mortgages, the price of properties in England, even those on the coast of Portugal and Spain.
"Where's that?" Colin asked.
"Over beyond the outcrop, it's said to be very beautiful. Only the locals from Izmir know about it."
"We should go there too, how about it?" Colin turned to me. "The beach. The other one."
"We'll let you know what it's like," Cheryl said.
I put down my drink on the delicate paper coaster. The wings of a mythical dragon were emblazoned on it. A creature associated with the Turkish landscape, I assumed.
"You don't seem very enthusiastic," Colin said.
"It would be nice to see more of the beach."
Through the window, the bay had smudgy shadows of a restaurant at the end of the cliff, local boys playing football, their cries leaping in the darkening air. Raz was their age, with their exuberance.
"Hey, man. You're not my Social Worker." Raz leant back in feigned shock in the doorway to his flat. Snow packed the corridor. Only the lift up the block had offered relief from it.
"I am." I flicked through the papers in my hands, attempting to adopt an officious tone. He had deep, wistful brown eyes.
"But you're ... too young," he said.
"Sorry, you're stuck with me. For an assessment. Is there somewhere we can sit?" He let me in. The living room had two long sofas along each bare grubby wall. His legs splayed open as he watched me, waiting for me to begin the speech which according to what I had read, he’d heard twice before … "You`re lucky not to have been given a custodial sentence but the judge took everything into account so it`s important you keep your probation appointments …?"
Two weeks later, in my office, he rubbed his knee.
"It's painful to stand." He set his foot on the floor.
"That doesn't stop you coming to see me. You should`ve come last week. Failed appointments won't look good in the report."
"Naw. I can do without that."
He sat, tipping back in his chair. I hoped he wouldn't hit the wall.
"You can't. The Magistrates will decide your future on it."
Colin leant over the coffee table. I put away the brochure about tours up in the mountains. "Did you hear? We'll go to that restaurant tomorrow. ‘Lanterns,’ by the cliff. Meet Cheryl and Ron there? He said it was a good place for a fish meal."
At eleven on the beach, a blonde girl and a thin, long-haired boy whose Rastafarian locks swung like seaweed, settled in front of us. The boy, in red and white boxer shorts, was talking to a Turkish family.
"You from Germany?" the bulky father asked.
"Frankfurt," the boy said.
"My brother was there, three years. He like it. You work?" The father continued.
"No. My girlfriend and I are students."
"Ah, studenta." The Turkish man beamed and went up close to them so that I could only hear stray words like, 'Factory', 'Cinema', 'Government'.
The boy`s hair glistened. Much longer than Raz`s, who always had it cut short, like a skull cap or a stocking mask.
Raz rushed into the office. His backpack was half off his shoulder. I looked up.
"That man at the door?"
"He asked if I had an appointment."
"All the time. You should have said," I laughed.
His eyes were like dead glass in the cars round Brixton. I shivered with the raw knowledge that I had hurt him.
"Well … what have you been up to this week?" I asked.
"Working for my brother-in-law. Roofin' "
"Is it legal?" I asked. “Never mind. I don`t want to know that. I hope you're insured. In case you fall or anything."
"I know. No compensation. That won't happen to me, man … Write me a good report. I been keepin' all those appointments with you, " he said, going out the door.
On the beach, I turned the pages of La Douleur. The horizon was low and palely blue.
"It's midday," Colin said. "We've been out for more than two hours. You shouldn't stay any longer."
"It's all right. I've got factor 25 on."
"Well, I'm going back. I don't want to get too exhausted for the meal tonight."
He strode off, in a sun hat, long trousers and longsleeved shirt; the beach's best dressed Englishman. He passed the boy playing football with the Turk's three sons, the orange, yellow and red ball gliding across the sand.
"Ah, goala, goala!" the boy cried.
I felt younger and energetic just hearing them. My skin baked. I was warm and pleasured. The dark boy sat on his towel with his girlfriend close and spread suntan oil on her back. The girl had globs of breasts. I dozed against the smatterings of German words. When I opened my eyes, the boy and his girlfriend were jumping the waves like fish. Up and down. They ran up the sand holding hands. The girl laughed against the fractures of crashing waves.
"This is quite a good report you've got from college, Raz," I said, reading through the pages in the file on my desk.
“It weren't a bad place. I'm pleased I can write. I'm glad you got me in."
"There's another course we've got vacancies for. You'd learn more than just basic skills. Learn some special kind of work you could do afterwards. And there's one evening you've got to attend."
I passed over the glossy prospectus; photographs of the students' common room, the canteen and various shots of the mechanics' workshop revealed the life at college. At the end, a colourful angle of a disco.
"One whole evening?"
"What's wrong with that?" I asked.
"The seventeenth. I'm busy."
"Doing what? You need to learn something you can earn a living with."
"Aaaw. Man. That's too much," he insisted.
"Come on. Sign this."
"You know what? It don't look too bad after all,” he said.
"No." I scanned the syllabus for the first term. It mentioned the emphasis on practical skills.
"You ... eh ... look a bit like my friend's sister."
"Yeah, she ... plays good music and she can play the piano. Can you do that?"
"No. I gave up lessons years ago."
"What kind of music do you like? Jazz, Rock, Soul?"
"That's great. Want some CDs?" He leant forward. "It wouldn't cost you."
"I can't." I looked away out the window to where they were digging up the street.
The grey metal filing cabinet needed replacing to hold the extending volume of files.
"Why not? What's wrong with them. They're not nicked. Come on man. You don't have to worry."
"I’m not allowed to. Let`s get on with this breakdown of your week."
I saw him out of the office at four thirty. At the door, he stopped in front of me and put his lips, ever so gently, as if taking a piece of guava or lychee, on mine. I shrank back in a small alarm, a confusion of need and outrage. The scuffed cream door swung back as he left. I checked his file; a small history, frozen in the landscape of a quarto: breaking and entering, taking and driving away, possession of an offensive weapon, handling stolen goods.
On Christmas Eve, I worked late. On the way out, the porter called.
"Miss O'Meara. Package." He pushed the brown parcel towards me.
My name was a childish scrawl. The fool. I'd lose my job just when applying for a Senior Grade.
I took the parcel home. It turned out to contain Nat King Cole's 'Unforgettable' and Miles Davis. A week later, during a dragging afternoon on duty, a phone call from the police station told me Raz Deniston had been picked up by the police after resisting arrest on suspicion of robbery. His New Year would be spent on remand, in prison.
My skin was hot by three o'clock on the beach. I had a cosy glow. The couple nearby were gathering their things. The blonde girl was putting towels, including the one he sat on, into her basket.
"Goodbye!" the Turkish man called to the boy, "See you tomorrow?"
"No. We return to Germany. This is our last night," the girl said.
"I am sad, but you have good time?"
"Yah. Very good time. Goodbye."
The couple crossed the beach, the ends of the girl’s shirt trailing after her, the braids and lengths of the boy's hair shifting to and fro.
"What kind of a day did you have?" Cheryl asked, cheerily. We had to check that each had managed to survive the distress of the other couple's absence.
"She's got through a pile of books, haven't you?" Colin said.
"What are we going to have to eat?" Ron asked.
We peered at menus.
"Lambs' brains?" I suggested.
"I like trying different things."
"Not that different. What about the main course?"
"I'll have a mussel kebab," Cheryl announced.
"The same," Colin added.
"A lamb kebab, please,” I said.
"Make that three soups as well," Ron told the waiter who hovered.
The starters arrived. A thick white blob on my plate. A saxophone seared the night air. I was cold but the music resonating made up for not having a cardigan. I ate the chilli. It burned the inside of my mouth. I gasped for relief of the enormous tingling, the flames.
"Can I … Can I ... have some water …?" I asked.
The waiter brought a glass and sidled off. A tuba slid a shock of notes.
"Are you all right?" Colin asked.
My stomach was screwed up inside. I couldn’t breathe and was falling off my chair. Raz`s face, dark as the sky and the sea, came.
"I'm sorry. It's nothing," I told the waiter who carried me up the path to the hotel room.
"You been out today?" The waiter gazed at my pink legs as I lay on the bed. "Is sunstroke."
"You`re burnt," Colin said, against the hum of the air conditioner. "And your arms and stomach." He pulled up my dress to show the scorching flesh.
"I look awful. It didn't seem that long," I said.
"You got to get yogurt and put on all over. Let dry, then wash off. You do that a lot of times. It good," the waiter said.
"My skin`s hot but I feel chilly," I said, shivering.
"What have you done to yourself?" Colin asked. "I told you to come up with me. Where shall I get the yogurt from?"
"Shop on the corner is open. Try there," the waiter said, and left.
My teeth chattered uncontrollably. I had been hot but was cold, deep inside.
The door swung shut behind him. I was alone in the cool of the room, like the office at the Civic Centre, in the busy street where the tower blocks grazed the sky and the sound of traffic breathed all day. The one where Raz had come once, twice, in the depths of the cold, and would not come again.
(c) Deirdre Shanahan, 2012
Deirdre Shanahan has published stories in the US in The Southern Review, The Massachusetts Review and the Cimarron Review as well as in anthologies including New Writing from Vintage , The Phoenix Book of Irish Short Stories and Well Sorted from Serpent`s Tail. She was recently shortlisted for the Mslexia competition.