A Whitby memory
The pier is long and pale in the light, empty of people save one lone angler, Lizzy, Mark, and me. The shadow of a cloud passes across the dusty concrete, which is pitted through the action of salt and years. White railings on either side of us lock away the harbour to our right, and to our left, the broad blue of Sandsend bay. The cliffs are high and rugged, coloured deep ochre. They cast immense shadows across the strands. Beyond the piers, white breakers rush around the reefs and, above it all, the sun glows on the skeleton of the abbey.
The pier ends with a Napoleonic gun battery; a circular space in the centre of which stands a lighthouse; it is fringed by decayed sandstone battlements. I lean against them and peer through a void once occupied by cannon, at the green river mingling with the sea. The lighthouse, a vivid red and orange tower, leans into the blue sky and throws a long needle of shade towards the horizon. Mark reaches into the bag and produces a bottle, which he studies, his expression a mixture of apprehension and weariness, before he opens it. The sun makes his eyes seem pale and frightened and he rubs them, as though the action can expel the feeling. ‘Christ,’ he says, half whispering, ‘whatever happened.’
I don’t suppose he needs a response from me, and I say: ‘I haven’t been down here in ages.’ My shoulders are warm in the sunlight. I am afraid, but I do not know why. Everything seems calm, but there is a subtle menace, as in a painting by de Chirico – those long shadows, the obliterations of the fire.
Mark puts his arm around my shoulder. ‘Do you remember during the regatta, when they had the big wheel and the helter-skelter down here, and all the people?’
He wants something from me, an affirmation of something hidden inside him and so I tell him that I do remember, though I do not. ‘You me and Eddy,’ I say with a forced laugh.
‘And you say he’s got religion now?’
‘Where was God for bloody Eddy to find him? Vicky, come on let’s dance.’
They join in the shadow of the lighthouse, with some discomfort at first, as though unused to their bodies; they try not to look into each other’s eyes. Mark begins to hum a waltz and they circle through the sand, concrete dust and seagull feathers. I drink from the bottle and smile happily with the full heat of that rare feeling. The alcohol begins to cramp my stomach, but I don’t care, not with the sun beating, and people dancing and a hard blue horizon behind me. Mark twirls before me. Lizzie’s thick black hair swings back and she laughs and then he laughs and then I am laughing also. I feel a little drunk, then a lot drunk as I stand to clap them on.
I leave Mark and Lizzie in lonely occupation of the splintered white bench, drinking gloomily from a second bottle, one containing a supermarket merlot. He has laid out and his head rests in her lap. He watches the sky with a sullen, drunken envy. As I walk slowly along the pier, stumbling a little and wishing I had not accepted the drink, a large bumblebee passes me, heading for the sea.
It strikes me as a symbol either for courage or madness, if the two are not the same thing; headed for fate.