I don’t know what this is or what it’s about, but I just wrote it.
The seagulls, unusually, were keeping their distance. They were clustering a few yards from the man leaning against the rails, and appeared surprisingly quiet and restful, silently pecking the wooden boards and what seemed only half their usual enthusiasm. They were composed and only jabbed their scrawny necks out for the obvious crumbs, rather than their more usual frenzy. Perhaps it was the early time of day. The sun had risen, but in the clouded sky the light was still dim and the harsh dawn chorus, further up in the hills, was still being conducted. The drab, leaden sky hung heavily above the pier. Perhaps though, the seagulls, with some innate animal instinct, were aware of the mood of the suited man in a thick Barber coat, staring down into the sea, and were unconsciously reflecting his frame of mind. Several gulls were not pecking at all, but standing perfectly still, heads high, looking for all the world as though their beady eyes were considering deeper things, like the passage of time, the patterns of life, or the perfect calmness of a still, empty morning next to the unending ocean.
It was a cool morning. In the calm, murky waters of Black Point Pier, Henry’s face was reflected nearly perfectly, with just occasional ripples showing that this was merely an image. His eyes were as dark as ever, but now his eyes had a few lines around them, his cheeks were rounder and his hair – oh, his perfect blonde hair! – was flecked with more than a bit of grey. It had been twenty-five years.
Not much on the pier had changed. The dark brown wood was perhaps even darker, stained with more years of salt spray and seagull droppings, the holes and splinters in the deck had only grown, and the paint had now nearly all chipped off the rails, but the wearing down of the pier had begun long before Henry had ever visited, and would continue long after he came for the last time. Whoever built the pier, as Raheem had always said, had built it to last.
Staring vacantly into the gently lolling sea, Henry felt almost transported back to that long, painful summer a quarter of a century before, a summer he would never forget, nor wish to. Turning his eyes from the grey of the chilly morning ocean he looked along the pier to the pebble beach. He could picture certain moments even now: Janet running euphorically towards him, waving paper aloft, Simon’s hilarious shock as his fishing rod buckled, Elisa and her amusingly damp bonfire. He recalled all the days, empty and beautiful days, which stretched on for years and years. Where they had hidden underneath from the rain, where they had formed the secret handshake, where they had had their chats, late at night, about how they were going to be friends forever. Henry did not turn to look down the other end of the pier, to the distant drop into the sea. The happy memories were precious, he didn’t need the rest.
He wasn’t sure why he’d returned. Was it for grief? For vengeance? To reflect on the end of his youth, the end of that group, the end of that chapter? It had felt closed that very last evening, and he hadn’t turned back since then. In fact he’d thrown out the stick man, the handwritten rules poster, the bent fork and Mr Archie long ago without remorse or even feeling. They were signs of another time, and as ever, he didn’t deal in nostalgia or souvenirs. Janet would have kept them, of course, but that was not him.
His seagull friends were still keeping their distance. Were they late relatives of those seagulls years before that had nicked his sandwich and started the whole summer rolling? Henry liked to imagine so. That thought was a sign that nowadays he was letting his romantic side bubble up sometimes. He had thought that his outer shell had cracked that summer, that first time he had admitted to having dreams and wishes and fears and, well, feelings – but after the way those weeks had ended, he’d retreated again. Now though, recently in fact, he’d been more open again. It could have been his new wife, or his darling in diapers, his little man. Sophie didn’t think Oliver’s middle name, Archibald, had any significance, and she had little clue of what had happened the summer he was nineteen. But perhaps he may tell her someday soon.
The waves lapping at the shore reminded Henry that he shouldn’t be here, he should be in his hotel room, preparing for his conference. When he’d seen the location of the work meeting he had instinctively tried to pull out, but once he was there he surprised himself. Having avoided the whole area for so many years, to stop himself convulsing in shivers of pain and great, shuddering sobs, he was moving on. Coming to the pier, this early, alone, on the last day of the conference had just felt right. It wasn’t “closure” exactly, because the matter had closed so cruelly and so definitely, but it was a calm, distant window on that period had lived. In Elisa’s construction of how one builds your life, this was a small eddy, flowing back for a brief stretch. Not all the silt was dropped, and but some sediment cleared.
In that respect, Henry stood up straight, letting go of the rails, and then walked back toward the shore. His shoes sounded hard on the slippery boards. The seagulls ignored him. The day was still going to be a dull one, and would probably rain. He stepped off the pier, and with one brief, final look back, climbed up to his car parked opposite Monday House. He wouldn’t return.
Years ago, just before it had all started to go wrong, beginning with Simon, he had tested out his super tool on the pier, to very little success. He had however managed to attack some railings. The top had come off one of them, and it made a little sheltered basin, filled over years with mulch and dirt and muck and holes. But as one by one the seagulls over Black Point Pier began to reinvigorate and take off with the sun warming up, there was something else in this hidden hole. Henry needed it no longer. And the ring sparkled gently, reflecting the sun off the endless waves of the sea.