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#54 Three Scenes In The Seaside Town of Selby
Morning, morning on a wet and windy November day. Today I bring you three scenes in the lives of Thomas and Jess, in the British seaside (and very fictional) town of Selby.
For more by me, touch needle to vinyl on the turntable of my archive.
Your accompanying listening this morning is the beautiful Romain by Bill Evans and Jim Hall. Seems to me to be vital Autumn music.
#54 Three Scenes In The Seaside Town of Selby
The sun set over the seaside town of Selby, and the orange glow of windows peeled out into the dark Autumn air. Thomas skipped around Eleanor, his mother, and sang some silly song he learned at school. His uncles and aunts and Granny and Grandad and cousins, and that man and woman he doesn’t know how they’re related, and so forth, had retreated to their cottages for tea. He’d insisted on staying out on the beach and playing in the cold, shallow waters with Charley, the black and white dog, until the dark invaded. The wind sent a chill right through Eleanor.
‘Watch your feet, it’s slippy,’ said Eleanor, her lips pursed, with little daggers pointing up the front of them.
Thomas grabbed her by the hand and dragged her forward. ‘Stop it, Thomas. That’s plenty fun for today. It’s cold and we need to eat.’
Thomas let go, skipped around her, and grabbed her other hand, at which Eleanor pulled back and slapped him across the back of the head. ‘Stop that, I told you. You’re six now. Act your age.’
Thomas stopped skipping and sulked, dropping his head low and thrusting his hands in his pockets. He stared at Charley who walked obediently in front of Eleanor. They made eye contact, together ruing the death of fun.
Up ahead, a girl walked with her father and Thomas watched as she tried to hold a ball as well as a sandcastle mould and spade. ‘This way,’ her father was saying, as they turned the corner onto the road where Thomas, Eleanor and Charley were. As they completed the turn, the girl lost control and the ball bounced out of her arm, off the corner of the pavement and across the road. Thomas ran forward to retrieve the ball, but as he did so lost his footing on an uneven pave and crashed to the floor grazing his knees and hands. He burst into tears.
The girl and father ran over. The girl picked up the ball while the father picked up Thomas under the armpits and set him on his feet.
‘Are you okay, young man?’
‘Y-y-y-yes,’ Thomas replied. He wiped his runny nose on his sleeve.
Eleanor brushed the gravel and dirt off his palms and knees and kissed the crown of his head.
‘Sorry I dropped my ball,’ the girl said. ‘If I didn’t you wouldn’t have fell.’
Thomas looked at her and didn’t say anything and then looked at Eleanor.
‘Come on, let’s go,’ his mother said.
‘Sorry, excuse me,’ the father interjected just as they were turning away. ‘I think they’re both around the same age. I wondered if, once this little man is all better from his fall, whether he might like to play with Jess on the beach tomorrow. We don’t really know anyone here.’
‘My name’s Jess, what’s yours?’ the girl asked.
They smiled at one another, Thomas through wet eyes.
‘Okay,’ Eleanor said. ‘Perhaps we’ll see you tomorrow and they can play.’
Eleanor turned away holding Thomas by one hand and the leash of Charley in the other.
Jess sat around a thick, weather-worn table at the Olde Horseshoe Inn with her father, stepmother and stepsister. They were by the window that looked out over the sea, and the tide was in. Waves crashed up against the wall, spraying the window with sea-foam. She held the bowl of her gin and tonic, and enjoyed the contrast of the cold of the glass with the warmth of the pub.
Julian, her father, told a story about someone at work whose son won the postcode lottery and bagged themselves £13,000 which paid for the deposit on their flat. She’d heard it last week but he told it afresh for Heather and Olivia. Heather had big, adoring eyes and her smile swallowed up every word of his. Jess liked Heather, but found she was almost too perfect: her smile sugary-sweet, her words too thoughtful, her actions too on-the-money. That said, she was careful not to say anything as the advice she’d had was what makes her Dad happy should make her happy and so, from that perspective, she is perfectly content.
They paused to laugh at some joke Julian told, but Jess was struck by the laughter coming from the table behind them. For a moment, she thought they were laughing at her Dad’s joke, which was very strange as they didn’t know them. She turned around but soon realised they were talking about something completely different, as a young man there followed up immediately with some additional detail of a story which caused a second rumble of laughter. She turned back and sipped her gin and tonic.
Shortly after, she caught a snippet of the conversation from the table behind her, and she heard, she’s sure, someone say: ‘Thomas!’
It got her thinking about the boy she knew ten years ago, who she played with as a child on the beach for three or four years in a row. She’d join in their family’s football games, play frisbee and build sandcastles. When Julian took her, however, in 1992, there was no sign of Thomas, of Eleanor or Charley. There was a great big hole on the spot of the beach their family occupied. Her and her father had a quiet year that year.
A few minutes later, she turned around casually, as though scanning the room, and caught sight of the young man who could be Thomas. He had long dark hair, freckles around his nose and cheeks, and a thin, patchy moustache, the sort of questionable decision-making all 20-year olds demonstrate. He smiled at someone across from him, and she instantly recognised his smile. It was him. She turned back and thought a lot about that boy she’d once known.
Twenty minutes passed, and she couldn't remember much of what happened in that time, but she went up to the bar to get another gin and tonic. She was waiting for the bartender to make it, when the boy from the table behind came and stood next to her and ordered a pint. They stood in silence for thirty seconds or so, not looking at each other. Jess stared straight ahead, wondering if he’ll look over.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him tilt his head towards her, then look away, and then back towards her. She couldn’t help but turn, and suddenly their eyes were locked straight into the other’s and they both knew exactly who they were speaking to.
The kitchen filled with steam which billowed in front of the lights. Thomas poured the spaghetti out of the pan and into the colander in the sink, but as he did so, his son Ben careened out of the corridor with a small, sandy football, and crashed into Thomas’s leg, knocking him. Thomas was strong enough to catch his footing, but some boiling water leapt out of the pan and onto his hand.
‘Shit!’ He dropped the pan into the sink, sending spaghetti all over the place, ran to the sink and thrust his hand under the tap. ‘You’ve got to be more careful when we’re cooking.’
‘Sorry,’ Ben said, as he kicked his ball into the living room and ran after it.
‘Jess! I thought you were keeping an eye on him.’
‘Keeping an eye on him? The boy’s six years old, he’s not a baby.’
‘I just scalded my hand thanks to him!’
‘Well, we should teach him to be more careful.’
‘Or you could keep an eye on him!’ He turned the tap off and was trying to return the spaghetti to the pan.
Jess came out from the bedroom where she was getting changed out of her beach clothes. Her hair was wet from the shower; she had it hung around one shoulder. ‘He’s both our responsibilities, James, that’s what parenting is about.’
‘I think it’s about give and take. We can’t do everything together, we have to balance things.’
‘Well, thank you for the life lesson.’
‘I just wish you’d kept an eye on him. I wouldn’t have a scalded hand if you had.’
‘Jesus, Thomas. Will you give it a rest for one night? This is what you married. This is what you married!’
‘I married a mother content with her husband having a scalded hand?’
‘I’m not content with that, I’m just saying…’ Jess started to cry, wiped her tears and went next door to the other room.
Thomas threw the pan back into the sink, put his shoes on and slammed the door after him. Out in the dark, the road ran up to a footpath, which he followed all the way to the pub three kilometres along the coast. He watched the dark waves lash the rocks below, and thought about Jess. They hadn’t had a night of fun in god-knows-how-long. They used to all the time. But now they just aggravated each other, and argued petty, pointless arguments. Did either of them even really care about the things they argued about? He couldn’t even remember most of them.
When he got to the pub at the end of the path, he turned around and walked back to Selby, where he passed the closed shop windows, the flat his mother rented with her new husband (they’ll be walking over for dinner shortly), the quiet, parked cars and the lurking seagulls. At the end, where the ramp led down to the beach, he turned a corner and saw a father with his daughter, who was carrying a ball. As he looked up at them, the girl slipped on the curb and dropped the ball. Thomas stopped it with his foot, picked the ball up and gave it back to the girl.
She smiled at him. ‘Thank you, mister,’ she said and the father followed up with a polite nod and a thank you. Thomas watched them disappear into the darkness and into some doorway along the main road. For whatever reason, he felt like crying but no tears came. He sniffled a little and ran a hand through his thin hair.
He walked back to his apartment, where the lights were on in the window, and thought about what he’ll say to Jess to put things right because - he knew now, in that moment - more than anything he wanted to put things right.