A year has gone by since the last extract from Chasing the Tide told how David planned a way to take his life forward, having recovered from a near-fatal bout of pneumonia in a Norwegian hospital. This segment tells the reader how his priorities are given another shaking as one evening his past confronts him like an avenging fiend.
Every Saturday we have a film in the dayroom, usually an American movie with Norwegian subtitles. On this particular Saturday, it is a scratchy pre-war film based on a play about a fictional place that could easily be Rhydatti. The black and white images are bouncing shadows, the crackling sound-track so bad that I have to read the Norwegian subtitles to follow the script.
The whole story lays me low. The girl in the film is nothing like Gwen, daft as a brush and twice as grubby. But the hero could easily be me – even talked the way I used to talk. He makes the girl pregnant, just as he is offered the chance of an Oxford education. His mentor offers to adopt the child, but the goofy clown goes and utters a line that begins to plague me like a curse:
‘…there is a child, living and breathing…because of me…’
The words haunt me as the day of my discharge approaches. I try to blot them out by re-reading Celia’s novels. Even her prose fails to console me, and when Stalemate is revisited those poignant words makes me cry again: I pine for its vulnerability, its pinkness, its clutching hunger, and that cruel line from the pre-war movie returns to taunt me like a poisoned mantra. Gwen is back in town.
A week after the Easter week-end of nineteen-seventy-four I am taxied to the airport. Watching the colourful dwellings become dolls’ houses among Christmas trees, thrills me, but cannot silence that wicked line from the old pre-war movie.
The nearest railway station to Rhydatti is in a seaside resort and, with the Easter weekend over it is easy to book a room in a red-brick hotel with a view of the sea across a mile of rooftops. It is late and the airline fed me well, so I skip dinner and go to bed.
My first fried breakfast in years sets me up for the day, and I browse the used car ads in the local papers before visiting a salesroom. The cars look sleek compared to the Morris Minor in which I got my licence, and the salesman helps me sort out insurance on a stylish MGB Roadster with six months to run on its road fund licence.
Sensations un-noticed in my youth ambush me as I drive to Rhydatti. Gorze peeps from between the limestone rocks and the sound of sheep with the meek smell of their droppings evoke a deep sense of yearning. Mam will be sixty-eight and Dad even older. A reconciliation might help me find an accommodation with Gwen. A rejection will be nothing more than I deserve, but excitement crowds the idea out as I turn into the cul-de-sac. The cluster of council houses looks neglected, and a middle-aged scruff opens the door of my childhood home.
‘Never heard of ‘em;’ he is shaking his head, ‘mostly us strangers in Rhydatti now.’
The soiled carpets and stink of Woodbines in Dad’s local is still the same, but mention of Dad yields only a shaking head from the landlord. The drinkers are all strangers, but I recognise one of Dad’s old mates through the wrinkles. He remembers me, but his comments are curt.
‘What brings you here?’
‘Looking for the old people;’
‘Took your time di’n’you?’
‘Where are they?’
‘You mean you don’t know?’ He is looking into his pint as if a moth that had dropped into it.
‘Don’t know what?’
‘They left here in sixty-two,’ and he takes a good draught from his pint.
‘Where’d they go?’
‘Somewhere in Cheshire; broken up, they were, and they moved without telling anyone. Didn’t hear from them again– not until…’ His glare is like ice, as if he has information I do not deserve to know.
‘Until they got killed in a car crash;’ he stares into his pint again before going on. ‘Tragic – lot of people involved; in all the papers.’
My eyes are filling with tears, but no pity softens his granite face. He picks up his empty glass to head for the bar.
‘Let me get you that…’
‘Forget it,’ and he turns his back square on to me.
A group of young men crowd the bar. They glance at me and snigger. They could easily be the kids who teased me all those years ago. Paranoia, I tell myself, as I leave. Not feeling up to more Rhydatti, I point the MG to Danygrisiau.
Parking outside Gwen’s family home, I find they are no longer there either. Unable to face the pub, I call in the post office to skim down the names in the register. No sign of the Powells, but there is a name that takes my breath away. Sean Cassidy lives in an old people’s bungalow at the neighbouring village of Penygrisiau.
Ken Davies 2016
Available on Amazon, Chasing the Tide (ISBN9781537605906) can be accessed via Tales from Wales or Google. All feedback welcome by e-mail or via review posted on the Amazon Website.