Contemplating a Drowning
Jay spat on the black sand between his legs, the white bubble becoming instantly peppered beyond distinction. Thrusting his cigarette into the gritty glue he extinguished it with a hiss. No one comes to this stretch of beach, the flotsam and jetsam of wood, seaweed and plastic lay like pustules on diseased skin. He took a swig from the bottle of gin, it was a party leftover from a few months previous, not his first choice but it was doing its job. Self-pity is no fun sober.
The sun rose rapidly, every inch of it observable on the smooth, dark horizon of the sea. Sunrise irritated him; it reminded him of his mother turning the lights on to wake him for school in the morning. He never was one for being told what to do and prided himself on that.
Holding out his right hand in the violet morning light he saw the damage for the first time. It had throbbed for a few hours after but had since gone numb as long as he held it still. Something was likely broken. “I should have punched her, it would have been softer on the knuckles than the bathroom mirror and a lot more satisfying,” he thought to himself. Freedom, that was what he craved, freedom from expectation, routine and most of, freedom from the anger and guilt she made him feel.
Had she called the police on him again? Probably not, he left immediately and she knew he rarely came back for a few days after a beating. This was different though, she was left with little or no bruising and not one drop of blood was spilt, but he had tried to kill her, if only momentarily. “Please Jay, please don’t hurt me,” her voice broke as she pleaded. It only infuriated him more. The anger ebbed and flowed against his will, if he didn’t choose it then she must be its inspiration.
“Mind if I take a swig Mister?” The voice came from immediately behind him and made him jump. The quickened heartbeat aggravated him enough to inspire a surge of violence that quickly dissipated to mild annoyance. He turned to see a pale, skinny short man in his late twenties with long greasy dark brown dreads that gave the impression his thin hair was covered in sponge and gravy. Front teeth protruded from thin, chapped lips and his black vest and knee length shorts were whitened slightly by a fine powder that could have been anything from flour to dandruff. “Yeah go on,” he mumbled, instantly regretting it as he sat beside him. Never mind, he could crush him in an instant if he chose to, “I’ll give the little cunt five minutes,” he thought. He looked like a rat nibbling at the bottle, holding it between two paws like some Dickensian orphan given a glass of milk. Jay snatched the bottle back, a little too quickly, spilling some of its contents on his leg.
The waif cleared his throat, brushing off the spillage “I don’t normally see people on this stretch of beach, only those with no direction, such as myself and the odd discard from civilisation,” he said pointing towards the town. “So which are you Mister?” — “My name is Jay,” he replied curtly, taking another swig from the heavy square bottle.
Jay was in his mid thirties, muscular and a little overweight, not particularly tall but stocky and intense enough to radiate a masculinity that betrayed his actual size. You would want him on your side if a fight ever kicked off in a pub; the chances are he would not be.
“My name is Eddy, nice to meet you Mister,” replied the withered spaghetti like figure, reaching for a handshake. Jay looked beyond Eddy’s reddened eyes, contemplating breaking his slightly misshapen nose but the motivation for aggression often dissipated after a sadistic episode. He looked away and handed him the bottle instead, letting self-pity comfort his scattered mind once more. Eddy greedily suckled at it before it was once again snatched from him, the emptying of a bottle was enough to send a small wave of dread through Jay, he had the feeling the little parasite would drain it completely had he not intervened. There was little more than a third of the bottle left. “Typical junkie,” he thought, taking a large swig before transferring the bottle to his aching right hand and out of reach of Eddy’s bony fingers.
“Drowning your sorrows Mister?” Clearly the little prick wasn’t going to stop calling him that. He let it pass, for now. The phrase aroused an ironic smile in him though, “No, just contemplating a drowning.” – “Drowning I know all about Mister.”
A silence between them made the tide seem to encompass Jay and it rattled him. Perhaps the appearance of this little “Rat” was a blessing. “Self pity is a false comfort Mister,” Eddy said, his eyes still fixed on the sea. He had a way of intruding without ever talking directly to you. “Excuse me?” Jay replied with no little hint of menace. “A person can drown in self-pity, alcohol, guilt or the sea, it doesn’t really matter which it is when you can no longer breathe.” – “How about by my hand? I can stop you breathing with that as well can’t I?” Jay said, holding his swollen and bloodied hand in front of Eddy’s opiate glazed eyes. Jay drew a metaphorical line in the sand with the bottle of gin. “Indeed, it amounts to the same thing Mister.” It was a line Eddy seemed intent on dancing along.
Jay studied his guest a little more intently now, noticing various badly drawn tattoos on the inside of his forearm. Gills that spread around the front of his arm and up his emaciated shoulder, a face in a shattered mirror, or perhaps the face was shattered and a black outline of what appeared to be a penguin. Eddy opened his arm for Jay to look get a full look. “Do you like penguins Mister?” – “Not really, they look so ….. formal,” he replied, his voicing trailing off. “Formality for animals is a must, it is survival. People seek it because they cannot exist without such practices to connect their actions. All people are very predictable in building barriers to keep out pain; it only serves to keep them from escaping. It is a scary thing freedom.” – “Fuck off before I snap you like a hymen. Did you predict that?” Jay snapped. He had the feeling he was about to be told about Jesus Christ or some other bully. She believed in all that shit and it irritated him greatly. All gods are rivals to dictators.
The gin was starting to have the desired effect as he felt a warm, playful malevolence growing inside him. “I tell you what Eddy, you tell me a truth and I’ll give you a swig, get it wrong and I take a swig, if you get more wrong than right, I get to wrap this bottle round the back of your fucking head.” – “Challenge accepted,” replied Eddy cheerfully. In truth Jay had expected this to get rid of him but he looked forward to leaving the hippy with a cracked skull.
Eddy studied him from head to toe for the first time. “Boots like those aren’t cheap, nor are they flashy, designer jeans yet shapeless, too casual for a restaurant but smart for a pub. You’re a man who avoids statement and residue unless it’s other’s.” Jay took a large swig, he wasn’t exactly sure what it was the little cunt was getting at but had decided to take the first swig regardless. “Judging by the swelling on your right hand and the scars on your left you are no stranger to violence so the residue tends to be other’s fear or blood and judging by the lack of scars on your own face I’d say the violence is carefully administered, small men, women, maybe children.” Jay felt a cold twist of ice corkscrew down his spine; it wasn’t just that this human wreckage was unnervingly correct but his pale blue eyes, previously unfocused, now appeared sharp, purposeful and vicious. Even his voice, which before contained a trace of a lisp as he exited a sentence, was punctuated and cold. Eddy didn’t wait for the reply, taking the bottle from Jay’s hand, taking two large gulps.
As Jay’s confidence began to wane, the guilt seemed to infuse each thought, filling him with self-doubt and a need for forgiveness. He needed to snap out of this and quick, aggressively taking the bottle back from Eddy’s skeletal grip. “Wrong, I take pleasure from crushing little junkie cunts like you though and you’re running out of guesses,” Jay snarled, turning his whole body in his direction and holding the last few shots of gin at the corner of the bottle. “I don’t care what he guesses, I’m opening up his skull,” Jay thought with an adrenaline fuelled satisfaction. Eddy smiled warmly, his hand unconsciously smoothing the gin bottle carved line in the sand to deletion.
Jay had seen many an affected smile in the face of aggression, they all consisted of teeth, clenched jaws and unaffected eyes. That wasn’t the case with Eddy. It seemed to begin around the back of his neck and the skin around his eyes wrinkled to such an extent he aged immensely.
“Keep smiling Eddy, when I’m done with you I’ll throw you into the sea, you look like you need a bath, dirty fucking hippy.” – “Like giving people baths do you?” the immediacy of his response put Jay off his stride, “What do you mean by that?” The smile began to fade from Eddy’s face, slowly melting away like make up in the sun. This was Jay’s cue, slashing the bottle downwards towards Eddy’s head, the pain from his broken hand causing him to fumble the heavy green bottle and miss his target who had moved with stealth towards his throat
Eddy’s bony grip panicked him, grasping at the hand that suffocated him rather than attacking his opponent’s weaknesses. Eddy stuck his knee painfully into his chest, paralysing him further, then reached back and grabbed a hold of Jay’s balls, squeezing them hard enough to put him on the brink of excruciation. “Would you like me to be gay? Is that what gets you off Mister? Or is it the hand that’s on your throat that is making you hard?” He hadn’t noticed it with all the panic surging through him but his cock was rock hard.
Eddy released his grip on his balls, picking up the discarded gin bottle and tightening the grip on his throat. He was helpless. “How is this cunt so strong?” But it was Eddy’s eyes that horrified him most, there was no mistaking them, those were his eyes, those were the eyes he saw in the mirror after he released his grip on his wife’s throat. “We’re all drowning Jay, the question now is do you want to swim?” Eddy drained the last of the gin before bringing the bottle down, shattering onto Jay’s skull.
All was white. A change of pitch in tinnitus grew louder, a tone that reminded him of TV off air signals in the analogue age. He felt as if he had been plunged under water. It was calm at first, the bathroom strip-light reflecting the spectrum of colours through the bubbles, he felt deep enough to be safe for the moment. Violence under water is not easy he figured and it was his bath, his womb.
It was the taste of salt that first troubled him, something wasn’t right. He tried to sit up but felt a weight still on him. Eddy? No, this was a larger man’s hand, a scarred hand, his hand. He struggled to release the grip but the weight pinned all but his legs to the porcelain. He kicked and screamed in panic, the water agitated as if boiling in fear, reaching a panic filled crescendo.
He regained consciousness, coughing and spluttering on the beach, shivering and paralysed, with an enormous headache and the cold seawater caressing his chin.
The sun was bright now, too bright for his eyes to adjust quickly enough to see what was around him. He tried to lift his arm and stroke his aching head but could not move an inch. Jay blinked a few times then squinted deeply, hoping to reset his vision to the morning light.
The picture around him began to paint itself, colours forming where only white existed, the revelation beginning in the distance, eventually revealing his body buried from the neck down in the heavy wet sand. “What the fuck is happening?” The salt water filled his mouth as he tried to catch his breath. He began to cough. About a half a meter away was an empty bottle of gin, in tact. “That’s impossible,” he thought. He struggled to makes some room in the sand, to at least release an arm. The claustrophobia terrified him. Restrained by the planet itself.
“The tide takes it time Mister, the next wave might barely moisten your neck, you can plead with it, you can even convince yourself it listens but make no mistake, it’s coming.” Eddy’s voice was calm and non judgemental. “Please Eddy, get me out of here.” Eddy continued, appearing not to have heard. “It shows no pity, it’s why you had to be buried, it’s the only way you’ll stop fighting it.” The voice was close by but he couldn’t see him. “Where are you Eddy? Help me out of….” A more invasive wave interrupted his plea. “Stop fighting it, feel the guilt, let it go.”
Jay coughed like vomit. “Please Eddy, please help m…” Another wave enveloped his whole head, the time between clearing his lungs and taking a breath before the next one hit was becoming shorter. He gritted his teeth, hoping determination itself could be oxygen. “We are all drowning Jay, the question was did you want to swim?” The voice was louder with all his senses underwater.
The wave barely ebbed this time, terror and guilt taking turns with the sea to asphyxiate. “I’M SORRY EDDY, I’M SO SORRY.” The next wave was shallow, moistening his mouth like a salty kiss. “Now please get me out of here.” It was a weak cry, the cry of an exhausted child. “It’s your hole Mister, dug by your swollen hand.” The next wave barely gave mind to his presence, the water seemingly refusing to recede this time. He kept his eyes open, as she had when he held her under the water, when his rage was tidal. He could hear his heartbeat, it had never sounded so precious. “I wasn’t trying to kill her Eddy, I just felt so trapped. She makes me feel so trapped.” No reply was forthcoming. “Eddy? Please don’t leave me, I never wanted to hurt her, I love her, she is all I have, I’M SORRY LAURA! I’m so sorry.” The mania began to recede, his heart calmed.
Hands began clawing at the sand around his neck, several of them. Six? Ten? He could make out a red jumper, a woman’s bracelet, a man gripping his head, trying to wrench his body from the sand and the merciless tide. Nails scratched at his face and muffled imploring voices floated over him. “They might as well be a thousand miles away,” he thought.
The point between life and death, a purgatory that he last felt at birth and had long forgotten, filled his body before becoming overwhelmed by a white noise that ebbed away with a final spasm.
© Copyright Dean Stephenson 2015