Out of Season
All but two of the hotel’s rooms were in darkness. The porch glowed softly like the interior of a fridge. Periwinkle was just how I remembered it: painted green and black like a chocolate lime and set one street back from the promenade in the shadow of brutally clipped conifers. I hoisted my backpack onto my shoulder and crossed the road. The wind carried the rattle of pebbles beneath the pier, distant notes from an accordion. The entrance to Periwinkle was three steps up from the street. Wicker chairs and glass-topped tables were stacked against the wall. I tapped the frosted glass of the door, but there was no answer.
The door creaked as I entered. The porch smelt of damp and fresh gloss. It was stacked with wellington boots and golf umbrellas. A woman with a frizzy perm was sitting at the reception desk. She wore a mohair roll-neck that made me itch and cringe in the same way fingernails on blackboards did. She stared at me as if trying to recall something. I used my mother’s name. I was paying cash. I set the backpack down at my feet, propping it between my knees. She gave me a card to fill in. ‘How long are you with us?’
Dad was gone by the third day, so I told her a couple of nights. It would be enough. She handed me my key. It was Room 14, just as I’d insisted. I pressed for the lift which was tight as a coffin and thickly lacquered with varnish. A mirror ran from floor to ceiling on one side. I rubbed my chin, feeling the bristles rasp like sandpaper. It was a habit of my father’s. My skin was pale and there were dark crescents, purplish like bruises, beneath my eyes. For a fleeting moment I saw my father in the mirror. Late nights, reeking of fag ash and Banks’s Mild, he’d pick me up and rub his chin against my cheek. He had stubble like iron filings and I’d scream and wriggle in vain to get free. Most times he smelt of cedar-wood aftershave. But often enough that scent was masked by something headier and sweeter, something that Mum recognised. Then the shouting would start and I’d bury my head in the pillows, jamming my fingers in my ears. Whenever Mum walked out, sobbing she’d never return, I would lie still feigning sleep.
He’d pinch me awake, nipping the flesh at my elbows with thumb and forefinger – a cruel trick he’d learned to rouse drunks in the Force. I’d cry and my father would cuss me and tell me I was too soft for this world; too soft with my pretend friends and my crayoned stories. Once he smashed my guitar on the radiator, making matchwood of it. I woke to find him sitting on the end of my bed. The window was open and the morning was chill and damp. I remember the birdsong, the clink of bottles and whirr of the milk float. I sat up in bed and waited for him to speak. He cracked his knuckles, got up and left, floorboards groaning beneath his boots, shaking his head, possibly at himself, more likely at me.
It took three goes for me to get my door open. I was used to the credit card entry of plush, fussy hotels, but the lock was stiff with damp. Net curtains rippled in the breeze. I opened the wardrobe. It wobbled as the magnet on the door refused to let go. There were three wire hangers and a fire blanket inside. A gold sticker on the shelf said ‘sundries.’ I made tea in a tiny cup and saucer, impatiently fiddling with sachets of sugar while I waited for the miniature auto-jug to click to the boil. I set the cup down on the ledge and watched steam fog the window like breath in a car. I sipped tea, tucked myself into the cool sheets and laid back, hands folded on my belly. This had been the room twenty two years before. I closed my eyes and listened to the waves tumbling on the shore.
I woke with a start. Three floors beneath a woman sang Mercy in the Starlight Lounge. She wasn’t bad, but when she began to sing one of my songs I had to get out.
We always made for the pier first. As a boy I’d drop to my hands and knees pressing my nose to the boards to see through the cracks. There used to be fairground mirrors and ‘What the butler saw’ machines and telescopes to view the bay but my father was too tight to pay for any of them. When we passed the record stalls, serenaded by the crackly, wind-buffeted sounds of Perry Como or Patsy Cline, my father would do a little jig and click his heels like Eric Morecambe. Mum would call him a ‘silly fool’ but she’d squeeze his hand and I knew she loved him, despite everything. Once, over fish ‘n’ chips and mushy peas in a steamy caff with chequered tablecloths, I asked why we always stayed out of season. Was it to save pennies? My father’s fork, loaded with mushy peas, froze midway between his plate and his mouth. His eyelid trembled – a sure sign of impending danger.
‘No. It’s not that at all,’ Mum chuckled. ‘It’s so no one can see your father dancing.’
A fine mist of rain slanted in from the sea. Lanterns swung in the breeze. I shoved my hands in my pockets and leaned into the wind. I drew the cord tight on my raincoat. Rain dripped from my hood and my nose. A lone bunch of flowers lay on the bench wrapped in cellophane, spotted with rain, petals trembling – was there a sadder sight? I lifted the pink card attached to the bouquet. The damp made it cling to the cellophane so I had to peel it.
Kenneth, you’re not forgotten xx–M
Kenneth was my father, M was my mother. Each year a single bouquet was delivered. I paid, but I was adamant my name wouldn’t be there.
‘He’s still your father,’ Mum said.
‘Was,’ I replied and that turned out to be the last time we spoke of him.
The same words that were written on the card were inscribed on a brass plaque on the bench. For an annual fee the bench got sanded and given a lick of varnish and the plaque was scoured till it glinted. All along the pier there were benches with plaques commemorating elderly couples from Blackburn, Stoke and Barnsley who’d sipped tea from flasks, done the crossword and wondered about the weather at home. My father didn’t really belong with these people, but he got his memorial all the same.
A man in a donkey jacket let his dachshund cock its leg up a bin. He gave the lead a tug and the two of them strolled on towards the prom. I sat down on the bench and unzipped my backpack. I took out an iPod and two portable speakers. I set them at either end of the bench and scrolled through the album listings. ‘You’ll like this one, Dad.’ I played the soundtrack from Left. It was written for piano and was the first serious piece of work I’d had commissioned. It had gone on to win awards in France, Australia and Canada. It established my reputation and financially it secured my independence. Early on in my career I’d been able to choose the projects I wanted, not having to worry about paying bills. I flicked through to Song for Yesterday, took a bottle of beer from my bag and popped the top, knowing he’d have hated this one.
There are many theories about my father. You can find them online. He could’ve walked. He might’ve owed money. There could’ve been another woman. He could have jumped. The sea wasn’t rough that night but he’d been drinking so a freak wave could’ve taken him. There’s a platform at the end of the pier for fishermen. It was one of his haunts. He couldn’t fish, didn’t have a clue, but he liked to nod and offer advice. Dad was one of those men who’d stand with his hands on his hips, whistle through his teeth and share his wisdom with workmen whether it was wanted or not. The gate down to the platform was locked that night and he wasn’t seen there. It’s possible he climbed down, or fell trying, but who knows?
The smart money was on Dad walking out on us and starting a new life. He booked us into Periwinkle, after all, when Mum usually sorted our breaks. He said he fancied a nightcap. He didn’t go to the bar, though. Room 14 was the gable end of the hotel so I sat on the ledge while Mum made tea and I watched him slip out of the back and along the shadows of the side street onto the prom. I watched him stroll past the Punch and Judy stall and the jetty, his raincoat bathed in the soft glow of the lanterns. His collar was turned up against the wind. He didn’t look back.
‘Nosey parker,’ Mum said, drawing the curtains together. She was drawing them on her marriage, but she didn’t know it. It was years later I tried telling her what I’d seen and she cried. She preferred to think the sea had taken him. When my name made the papers with ‘Local boy hits the right note in Hollywood’ or some such nonsense I expected him to call. He’d be back, I was sure. There’d be gambling and drinking debts, people he couldn’t afford to keep waiting. It might begin with silent calls, clicks and breathing from distant phone boxes. So far it hadn’t. I took a pebble and threw it, watched it plop into the depths. His silence was still winning the argument, trumping anything I could’ve offered. It’s the not knowing, she always said and I didn’t answer her. He walked out on us. He wasn’t there when I buried her. Somehow he still wins.
(Based on this Story Jam)
Fruit from this Jam:
Descent by Benjamin
pari libra by Envy
"They do not use anaesthetic." by Jan Flisek-Boyle
Morning Cereal by H.L.W.
The Unexpected by appylord57
Past Life by Vivian Peng
Out of Season by RichardLakin
The ethics of genocide by kouq
Them. by ustink
Dangerous Path by Zita Barlai
the disease by
Duck...Duck...Goose by Ameya
Ashes to Ashes by Jess Fechner
Cardinal by a-bigler