Leatherback Copyright 2012 Thank you for downloading this eBook. Your support and respect for the property of this author is appreciated. This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or otherelectronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher,except in the case of brief quotations in critical reviews and other noncommercial uses.
Many thanks to my husband Karl for everything. I wrote this story back in 2008, when things were better, for a time when myfaculties wouldnt be... that time is now. Thanks so much for being here. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Authors note Leatherback turtles are a critically endangered species (IUCN List). Males spendtheir entire lives entirely at sea while females come to land only to nest. There are only25,000 adult nesting females remaining worldwide – in 1980, there were 115,000. They canlive up to 150 years-old and the species has existed for over 65 million years, second onlyto crocodiles. It is the largest of the sea turtles and can survive in the cold waters of the AtlanticOcean and dive deep for jellyfish, thought to be its main source of food. It has the ability toraise its body temperature so it can traverse the cold, deep ocean – the deepest it has beenrecorded is 1.2km deep in the Arctic Ocean. It can measure up to 1.8 metres long and weighabout 500kg, on average. In fact, the heaviest ever recorded was found drowned in a fishingnet off the coast of Wales in 1988 – it weighed 900kg. The habits of the leatherback young are quite mysterious to the watchful eye ofconservationists but they are thought to survive only in warm, tropical waters and be prey toa number of fish and birds, like seagulls. Typical nesting sites are in the Caribbean andWest Africa. Adult leatherback turtles have been recorded migrating as far north as Alaska and asfar south as Cape Town in South Africa. However, it is habituating the world’s oceans thatleave them susceptible to being caught in long line fisheries. Unlike other turtles, the Leatherback is different. It does not have a thick shell likethe others but has a thick black leathery covering, hence its name – Leatherback. Adult leatherbacks have few natural predators except for humans: manyleatherbacks die each year in fishing nets or on fishing lines and many nesting beaches arelost every year to tourist or residential development. The poaching of eggs and pollution isalso a danger to adult and hatchling turtles. Scientists estimate that only 1 in 1000leatherback hatchlings survive to adulthood. References: www.leatherback.org, WWF and BBC.
Prologue On a white moonlit beach littered with stones and seaweed, I walked. I didn’t careabout the relaxing sounds of the shore, the tinsel of stars streaked above me, the full moonsaluting the Earth with its cool resplendence. I would love to believe I was not relegatedhere. The western coast had smells of ember, of fruit and herbs and the air felt wet. Itstruck me how odd the night felt, very much unlike what I expected from Wales. Crests ofwhite water were breaking far offshore and the rest of the sea seemed still. A flap of wingsstartled me as I heard seagulls and other winged things distancing themselves from thecoast. I looked at my silver-plated watch like I would ordinarily in London and removed itfrom my wrist to my pocket. I was on holiday now, maybe to get my ‘head together,’maybe to ‘think about what I’d done.’ ‘Relax,’ I told myself. For whatever purpose I was there, the last thing I owedanybody was to admit error. I scanned my holiday destination. Nothing there except theocean: still, soundless and darkly violet in the night. I would never think I was there for asound reason though. And if my life had ever taken an unexpected turn, it was when shecame. Well, I wasn’t sure if it was female until she did what she did. She fixated my gazethe moment she arrived. Actually, my gaze was caught by a certain piece of seaweed floating in the shallowsof the water. It was nothing that would have interested me normally but I liked how itfloated in place as the tiny waves cupped the shore jingling like a lady rattling her goldbracelets. Soon all the sound of my surroundings shut out. All the rustling in the dunes, thewhistling of the wind and the lapping of the waves on the shore were quiet like they weretold to hush. I was left standing in hallows of silence. The piece of seaweed disappeared and was replaced by the pinhole nostrils of ahideous creature that grunted as it lugged itself out of the water, beads of water falling offits body like luxurious jewels. Resembling a noisy mechanical bull running out of batteries, its sluggish plight upthe shore was pitiful but instead of rushing to help the spotted creature, its leathery skindotted with white flecks, I only stood further back not knowing whether to run away orwatch what it was doing. As I stood back in a muck of panicky indecisiveness, I could see that it was quite asimple beast; the moonlight seemed to be illuminating the journey before it, dancing off itsback and made the sand appear serenely spread with a butter knife. It was clockwork, it waselementary. It grunted every time it muscled its bony front flippers forward. At length, itgrunted and lugged its body up the sand and it became visible under pale moonlight. Slidingup the shore, its head and shell were in sight. I could see its brown eyes crushed under its fibrous lids. Its shell that I’m surewould serve as protection and give it the agility to be swift in the vast glittering ocean
behind it, looked vulnerable in front of me, like it was made only of tougher skin raisedabove its body, offering weather protection at best when out in the open like it was. But it continued grunting as its broad shoulders and thick forehead turned awayfrom me and back to sea. It stopped – a peaceful repose from its struggle. Then I saw itsback flippers, its shell cut into a sharp point and a sad tail sticking out under it. Those backflippers heaved the sand to each side and its body twisted so it sank into the hole it wascreating underneath itself– I saw the turtle was making a nest, of sorts. No wonder the moon and the stars were silently lighting the sky above it andeverything else around me dimmed. Life was being dropped into the hole. Little slimy lifeegg capsules fell into the hole she prepared. And it was calm! So calm. And probably from the obvious age of the great creature,she seemed nonchalant in her endeavour. She looked as though the process was anawkwardness that didn’t seem to bother her. She began to fill the hole with the sand eitherside of her. It muddled in the cavern and pushed sand back in. After her nest became well hidden and the only sign of her visit was the ripples ofsand that she carved with her body moving up shore, its oceanic home captured herattention and she pulled and lugged and grunted again, as it was now evident it was herway; the turtle moved on. It thrilled me for an instant that the turtle was still there by the edge of the sea andhad left a puzzling chasm of eggs under the sand near my feet. I asked myself, did thatturtle leave a nest here in front of me? It took me how ignored I was even if the mother wasaware I was there. Soon the sounds from the waves returned, the impact of the wind’s bursts could beheard whistling through crevices, the rustling in the dunes resumed and the turtle haddisappeared. I let out the breath I had been holding in. What had I seen? The glow of the sun began to lighten the sky behind me, across the vast green field,behind the mountains. This was not a holiday anymore; I was not in a vacant abandon frommy day-to-day stress. Surely what I had witnessed was important. The beast’s appearancewas certainly a surprise. I had not expected a reptilian visitor to these shores. Now at the end of a long emotional journey myself, I was pleased to be at thebeginning of life. I did not have to put any effort into forgetting now. I had something toremember. I began, at first, without feeling tired and like it wasn’t past my bedtime, to put onefoot in front of the other, which sunk like lead pellets into dry custard powder, and pullmyself across the beach to the sandy road upon which my holiday let sat. I was staying at abeachfront terrace cottage. I stood on the street that linked the chain of such lets togetheralong the beach. And I suddenly saw myself in my dark window – a weary old dragondismissed as far away as they could get me. I walked up the steps to my flat with the cool breeze at the back of my neck bringingsmells of wet grass and rabbit poop. The gentle lapping of the shore did not sooth as I
thumped the wooden door with my shoulder until it opened with a loud cry. I pulled thecord under the only light bulb that illuminated the shackled room. The gaps in thefloorboards must have been a thoroughfare for the beach sand that carpeted the floor. Thedampness I smelt in the room was salty and was probably the reason why the fridge hadrusted so solidly at its edges. I collapsed on the naked mattress which made its springs tocreek like a seesaw as I bounced.
I A waddle of women in shorts, bum bags and caps walked down the loose stone roadunder the Welsh summer sun and stopped before the beach started. Having spent most of the night like I had spent most of my life – uncomfortable,wired, worried – and then being as far from London as possible, and meeting a turtle thathad to be the size of a small whale, I was in a daze. I was at first amazed, then feltprivileged, that I had witnessed a wonder of nature, and did not drink a drop of fermentednasty rum at breakfast from the bottles that filled my travel bag but sipped tea inappreciation of the surprising beauty of planet Earth. I imagined talking to the village folkand taking a bus ride to a library to learn about what I saw last night – a maternal nesting ofan ancient sea dweller that almost came to my door. But as I stood outside my Welshhideaway in my trusty black canvas culottes and decades old flowery blue shirt and flip-flops, I realised I was in the middle of nowhere with only two or three terraced homesattached to mine. And apart from that, there was nothing. Nothing but nature. I saw the waddle of women talking to a much younger, fresh girl in a big straw hatand summery High Street wear. She was effusing with the enthusiasm only seen in youth –she was pointing this way and that, all around the estuary. Why don’t I ask her? I steppedout to join the group. ‘Lloergan Traeth shares its sky with many species of bird such as the once-considered endangered Red Kite, whose population has skyrocketed here of late,’ said thegirl. ‘The return in numbers of a bird species is evidence of global warming in Britain. Theyare returning home because it is warmer. As you can see up there, the Red Kite is often seenhere because of the bird reserve fifty miles past the dunes going north. He must be here forsome foraging; the farmers nearby leave out some meat for it. This bird of prey is welllooked after, not a threat to the animals here at all, are you little buddy?’ I could see the majestic red bird pecking at my neighbour’s roof. Call it a buddythough? I wanted the Snow White to give it a rest. I moved to speak to her. ‘Ah and I seeanother walker here. I am Teresa. I have introduced myself on the bus, but I will quicklytell you now. I am an Environmental Science student. I’m working here for the summer.And your name?’ ‘Margarethe.’ ‘Okay great welcome. Now we can start our walk down the coast line here south tothe shell path that will take us up through the dunes where we can see a few varieties oforchids in flower such as the marsh helliborine. Here Margarethe,’ Teresa pulled a brochurefrom her clipboard with a quick snap of the metal clasp. I took it from her and followed thelot down to the beach southward. The ripples of sand the turtle left had completely disappeared, as did any sign of thenest; the old girl just struggled along the land and left last night. No one would ever know aturtle visited the beach the night before, much like no one would know I was visiting thebeach now.
I didn’t know but it could be a week or a month before those eggs hatched; maybethe mother would come back? How else would those babies be able to find their way up outof the airless hole, be in the new oceanic home and learn the ways of living in the sea – thedangers – the best places for food – how to avoid sharks? ‘The shell path,’ Teresa smiled enthusiastically still. I wished I had my sunglasses;perhaps I would be as cheery. ‘Crushed shells make this entire route as long as you can see up the hill. When wewalk up this path we are walking through what is known as the cloudy dunes because therocks bordering the path are for the most part grey. Lichen, you see?’ Teresa knelt to touchthe leafy moss. ‘But let’s walk up here until we get to the dune slack. And look out forCommon Blue butterflies too. If we’re lucky one will flutter by.’ ‘I was lucky last night.’ I slid up next to the student trying to be surprising, andsomewhat cheery, although I must have appeared awkward. ‘Sorry?’ The girl asked mustering friendliness, but not the sort reserved for birdsand butterflies. I started with a laugh, trying to be friendlier than I normally am with strangers. ‘Imean, I saw a turtle last night.’ ‘A turtle! Lucky you, they don’t normally come out to the shore here.’ ‘Really?’ I was amazed but mostly vindicated that I should feel as lucky as I feltwhen I woke up. ‘I was on the beach last night and this giant thing – a turtle – just crawledup to the top of the sand there.’ ‘Well, you are lucky,’ said the student, ‘Turtles only come to land really to nest orto die perhaps.’ ‘It did nest!’ I spoke in a higher tone now. ‘It dug a hole and plopped out little eggsthe size of ping pong balls.’ ‘But turtles don’t nest in Wales. It mustn’t have.’ Teresa sounded sorry. I wanted toprotest but she turned away. I was dejected that asking the bubbly animal lover turned tonothing. ‘Okay folks. Can I just direct your attention to the host of pretty orchids here thatare flowering only for the summer months? Here,’ Teresa knelt and swayed an exotic,purple flower between her first two fingers: its tiny branches adorned with miniature cups.‘This is the northern marsh orchid which only flowers in June and July since itsintroduction in 1918. And the brownish splotchy flower there is the western marsh orchid.’ Oh. I was ignored. I would explain that I wasn’t a liar if the tour guide wasn’t soengrossed with the flowers. This made me feel like when I was first in the home, ignored despite my standing upfor life as I knew it. I remembered the first day at the Shellingborne Home for Children in
Southampton. My baby sister was crying and the staff just so calmly bounced Penny ontheir shoulder. ‘Colic, colic,’ was all they could say, whereupon I appeared in the front doorhall demanding a doctor for my sick sister. As the eldest sister of five siblings I had nochoice but to protect the youngest. With all my muster I tried to push the staff memberaway and take the screaming lump, its face stretched in fury, but upon failing thatmanoeuvre I took a sheet of paper out of my cloth bag that had a rainbow and a unicornpatch pinned to the side, and started to compose a letter to the Southampton MP, requestinghim to be so kind as to find some other family member to look after Penny, Eddie, Ellie,Andyroo and myself so we wouldn’t have to venture any further into the dauntingly tall andcold hall. Its floor was laid with black and white tiles and it had stained oak all around itswalls, which smelt like cigarettes and was altogether strange. This letter I would deliver myself and discuss with the man because I was almostten and had learned enough to know that an MP would know what to do for us. I doubted Penny would be in absolute peril but would probably keep crying until Icould find a safer home for us to live, so I tucked the letter in my bag that contained justenough clothes for a summer week and my pyjamas and toothbrush, and crossed thesandstone path to the road. With the beach on my right and the green grass of the home tomy left, I walked with steely determination towards the main street I saw before when twoSalvation Army officers took me and the clan to the home; they were the two uniformedgiants who drove us through the main street and down the curly roads to the place. A minute later I was journeying through a sticky drizzle under smoky clouds. Myrainbow bag was only made of cotton; it could not shelter me from weather. Every step Ithen made and with every passing second, I thought of the children I was leaving in theclutches of the wrinkly women strangers who hadn’t even said hello. Shellingborne Homefor Children, the Salvation Army lady said, was a good place, very happy children livedthere, and some were lucky enough to be adopted into loving families. But a loving familywould take little Penny away. Eddie and Ellie were two-year old twins and it would not beright if they were taken away and even worse if they were not together, and my brotherAndyroo was my best friend. He was only a school year younger. He couldn’t go. I turned around reasoning that I couldn’t leave. From day to night, to months toyears, I was going to look after my family. Now that my parents had gone, it was up to meas the eldest to take charge. In the front garden, dampening from the drizzle, stood littleEddie and Ellie clutching their bags and looking with wide eyes at me marching back up thepath to the doorway. Andyroo looked just as frightened cuddling his tedi ba ba almostsmiling in relief that I was back and looked like I was going to do something. I stood up to a different woman who had taken Penny to stop crying and I held botharms out to take her and stood straight like a brave soldier. The woman placed thescreaming baby in my arms and I said: ‘Sh, sh, we’re okay, we’re okay.’ And little Pennyhushed. I knew at that moment that I had to stay with my siblings, as long as we weretogether, nothing would change. ‘Well, Margarethe. Looks like you should always look after the crying babies,’ thewoman said; the crinkles beside her eyes met together momentarily before the lines aroundher mouth came back. ‘If Penny is ever uncontrollable again, we’ll send for you, okay.Good girl.’ The lady patted my head.
A breeze crossed the path of the walking group; crickets tatted and a butterflywafted through the breeze and over my shoulder. The sun overhead was resting towards thewest enticing a twinkle off the water, bringing an extra brightness to the sand dunes andcasting a shadow over the grassland. Several rabbit-dropping mounds sat here and thereacross the green-carpeted plain and pink patches sat on the tops of the dunes, the pinkflowers were what Teresa named restharrow, ‘which binds to the sand fixing like clover onthe dunes,’ she said. Smells of wild aromatic thyme brushed past my nostrils, so fresh and awakening.Hundreds of birds flew in formation overhead. Seagulls? Sparrows? No, skylarks, saidTeresa. ‘Those abandoned rabbit burrows by the marram grass and scrub land at the skirtingof the field often make the best places for some bird species to nest, as you’ll notice therearen’t many trees to see unless you travelled all the way to the north horizon where theRSPB sanctuary is.’ The skylarks flew to the heavens together before curling to fly northwards thencircling and landing in a swift drop en masse. Across the clearing was a brown rabbit whosefur did not seem so soft to cuddle. It paused to nibble at grass and darted into obscurity onspotting the pointing women who huddled together to ensure all saw the rabbit. ‘Hundredsof rabbits take residence here,’ Teresa explained. ‘Thanks to them we are walking on shorngrass today and have many droppings to dodge. But see those grey mounds all over theplace? They are designated poo spots for the rabbits. They don’t relieve themselves wherethey live you see.’ We then made our way across the grassland to a boardwalk-viewing platform for allto take in the wide flowery vista – coloured by summertime foliage prospering under thesun. It was warm. I flapped my blue shirt with my fingertips and entertained the idea ofgoing back to my pad for shade and a cool glass of rum and coke – if the rum was in thefridge and I had coke. The 360-degree view was breathtaking even I couldn’t deny that, butmy avoidance of alcohol in the name of nature could not last long. From the vantage point I could see the entire coastline and far out over the variousshades of blue ocean as well as the grass field and sand dunes, which clipped the edges ofthe coast and linked it to the field. ‘Further up the beach down there, we’ll see a rather notable wave shape in the rockformed after millions of years of erosion. In fact, at that part of the estuary are many naturalwonders, we will make our way there,’ Teresa pointed out the next plan of action, down thestairs and journey to the north side of the shore. As we descended, a man dressed in khakis, pull up socks and a wide brimmed strawhat stood up. He seemed to be taking notes, looking around and foraging in the plant lifebelow: digging around the marram grass and finding a lone orchid, shaking it, inspecting itssides and then smelling it. ‘Smelling the bee orchid, John?’ asked Teresa. ‘Yes,’ he spoke like he was happy for the attention from the little group of cluckingladies. ‘I am taking note of the flora that has popped up over the summer. Hi,’ he wiped asingle wave in the air, ‘I am Dr John Robinson from the University of Exeter. I am aprofessor of marine biology.’
‘John is here to make observations of the estuary both on land and in the sea. Goodluck with it all.” Teresa nodded and took her group past John on the stairs and theydisappeared below. I stayed. This doctor was one more person to hear about the wonders oflast night. ‘I am hoping to catch you so I can tell you of the turtle I saw, last night.’ I started. ‘Oh you saw a turtle,’ said John, ‘Marvellous, they have been known to drop byhere. What kind of turtle did you see?’ ‘I don’t know. I want to tell you. It was large, probably eight feet, dirty scalyskin…. And it didn’t really have a shell of sorts, just a thicker kind of shield …’ John interrupted. ‘Well that’s probably a leatherback turtle. They have been noticedin the deep water around these parts…’ ‘A leatherback…’ I lost myself in the name, the name to the face. ‘Yes,’ John said and returned to his flower, he marked a tick next to several ticks bythe word ‘bee orchid’ and marked again next to two ticks by ‘sea spurge.’ ‘Yes,’ I repeated him, ‘and then it dug a hole.’ I caught the marine biologist’sattention now. ‘And it laid eggs.’ John held his clipboard closer to himself and shook his head disbelievingly at me.He was going to be firm. ‘First of all, dear, leatherback turtles may swim by here butcommon guests on our shore line? They are not. And to make a nest? Sorry we are not inWest Africa or the Caribbean.’ And with that, the straight backed marine biologist took his study away from meand I stood down to a platform built so the stairs could twist down the dune bank, in spite ofthe bee orchids, helliborine and the northern marsh orchids I could name and identify now.But the estuary had lost its charm. The estuary was nothing but a grass field, commonmarram grass, scrub, flowers and rabbit dung. A turtle was one of the highlights of myexistence, and the snobbery of Mr Robinson was not going to lessen all I had seen andlearned. ‘Well,’ I started. ‘If a turtle chooses this beach to lay eggs, then who am I to tellher it’s not the Caribbean?’ ‘Listen,’ came back John. ‘If you saw a turtle then that’s fine. But I’ll tell you this.This is not the season for turtles to nest, they’ll do that in six months time on the equatorialcoasts, and turtles always return to the same nesting sites year after year, so if that turtleknew that a Welsh beach was for nesting then it probably has been doing it for decades, andwhy hasn’t anyone seen it before? And besides, if the eggs hatched, the turtles would onlyrun into a cold ocean and be swept up by the current to Iceland. I beg to differ, madam.’And Mr Robinson tipped his hat and engrossed himself with the notes on the clipboard. I loathed John Robinson. I stepped down from the stairway back to the beach and Itook slow steps kicking up sand as I stormed. I walked home; I did not want to see the sanddune wave formation or any more delights on the far away part of the beach. I stayed by mydoorway however and presumed that the gaggle of nature watchers was having a good time.
When I was little and in my blue velveteen playsuit with the large appliquéd floweron the shoulder and I had returned home from a few hours playing dress ups with the girlover the road, I was barred from entering my home by a woman in a navy and red skirt suitand hat. So I sat on the rectangle of grass outside the front door with my younger siblingswhile another lady in the same costume held a sleeping Penny and walked up and down thefront hall. Where the hall met the front door, the lady could see us sitting in a circle chattingand she would smile a compassionate smile and walk down the hall out of sight again. A breeze tapped our heads, the sound of distant cars on the motorway rumbled andthe sun peered through a hole in the clouds and illuminated the suburban street, on which,we the Rainer family, lived. Homes were identical, rendered in a flocked white clad and thesymmetrical bricked doorways were a sign that everyone was equal to everyone who livedin an identical house. If it wasn’t for the distinguishable yellow wallpaper adorned withwhite hibiscus print in the kitchen, I wouldn’t know what home was or what it felt like. Itwas a warm place where we were looked after. But the continuous sight of the lady inuniform smiling at the door and disappearing again made me nervous. Soon one of the suited ladies appeared with a bag for each child. ‘Hold on to themdear. Here are clothes for you.’ I took my bag filled with the clothes I wore in the summertime and looked mystifiedat the older lady. Compelled to speak, the lady said, ‘We are going to go to a wonderfulplace. A place that is so lovely, you’ll be thankful your parents thought to send you there.’ I was mystified further. Our parents, I questioned silently, are they sending ussomewhere? The twins had no fear of this statement; they rolled on the grass covering theirbacks with the bits of dried leaves and stems that had once been hidden beneath thescratchy green grass. Their mother would tell them not to do that, I thought and told them tostop, which they did but then everyone grew bored. Andyroo looked as scared as me butwouldn’t hold my hand when I offered it. I felt alone. It was my own fault. I must have been away for a very long time to miss thesestrange women coming into my house. But mummy had sent me, I remembered. I wascertain I must have been bad – naughty – misbehaved. I should have been better behavedand cheered my mummy up when she was sad in the morning. Without a word my motherled me and Andyroo across the road to a place where we stayed for lunch. Now theuniformed ladies had taken over the house. I could almost hear them talking in muted tonesto each other. I moved to the front door to better hear what they were saying. ‘We will take them to Shellingborne now.’ ‘We’ll tell them first. Do you know what to say?’ ‘I do…’ I could hear the clacky heels coming towards the door and I rushed back to take aplace where I sat with my siblings before. The ladies approached us. ‘I have some news,’said the lady who introduced herself as Marion from the Salvation Army. ‘Remember weare here to look after you,’ she added.
Marion continued as the breeze pushed some of her hair out of its curls and acrossher eye. ‘I am sorry children, but your mother has been in an accident. She was driving onthe motorway and I am afraid she is not coming back.’ Andyroo looked horrified at the lady through tear stained eyes. The twins looked atAndyroo and the face of terror and confusion on me and were quiet. ‘What about daddy?’ Isniffed. ‘I am sorry darling, but your daddy was so sad, his heart just broke,’ said Marion. ‘Iam afraid he is with your mummy now, they are with Jesus in Heaven.’ The woman reached out to the shoulders of the children who were just out of reachand staring into their laps at the news. ‘We are going to take you to Shellingborne now.Only very good children go there, so all of you, and Penny, will have someone to take careof them.’ ‘But mummy?’ I cried. ‘I know dear,’ Marion stood, ‘Now everyone take your bags. That’s good children.And get into the car. We are going to go to the home now.’ I sat in the back of the large brown car, with four doors and a boot as large as ourfront garden, I thought. I sat by the window with one twin by my side and another one onmy lap as we all were driven dumbfounded out through the curling streets of our homesuburb. My friends from school seemed to disappear from my mind with every minute inthe car. Rows and rows of houses blurred by and stayed behind with our memories of ourchildhood home. As the car stopped at a corner, a rush of cars streamed down the motorway and meand Andyroo gasped, looked at each other and then held hands behind Eddie’s back. Whenthe car rolled into the busy thoroughfare, tears turned into sobs and then became painful forme as I could only think how our mother was lost to a busy road like this one. It was hard toimagine what happened. She was on a motorway and never came back? She could still bedriving? But daddy died of a broken heart, so I guessed, mummy was never coming back. I looked out the windows at the passing homes which became more sporadic as wecontinued along the motorway until nothing but farms and telegraph wires remained. Ishifted in my seat and Andyroo closed his eyes. ‘Not much further,’ said Sonia, the otherlady from the Salvation Army. ‘Shellingborne is a lovely, lovely home. You are very luckyto be accepted there. They must think you are very special children. ‘You know, I lived in a home like Shellingborne when I was growing up. I have somany happy memories and all the games to play and food to eat. But I knew it wasn’t asnice a place to live as Shellingborne. You are very special children.’ I was mixed with emotion and confusion by the time the car had turned intoSouthampton with a written billboard welcoming us there. ‘Nearly there now,’ sang Marionand turned the car into a wide road reminiscent of the roads we had left behind: the houses
still had rendered fronts but had more red brick exposed on the second-storey. Their frontyards looked bigger too. The power lines still ran above the pathways but there were lesschildren playing. Then the car continued on past the homes, through a high street, past a tall buildingthat looked like a place for men in suits to go and do their business work, like daddy usedto. I imagined my father and his broken heart: standing one minute and upon hearing thathis wife would not be returning, his heart just broke. He must have cried so much, Ithought. If you cry too much you can die, I reasoned. We could see the ocean now. ‘We are just getting there,’ said Sonia and the carturned down parallel to the beachfront and put its two tyres on the curb in front of a grandmanor house which had more ladies in smart clothes waiting to greet us. Penny started tocry as the car doors slammed behind the Salvation Army staff. And I became terrified of thewomen who bent to hug each child on our arrival at the front door. Their big teeth werehedged by dark brown lips as they smiled at us, like they could suck us all through thegrimy gaps in between.
II I was known as Margie once, and my grip on the memories of my past are patchy,as my feelings for them are too. When I was Margie I was key protector of the Rainer family: key protector of thebaby, twins and Andyroo. Behind the tall home were the ‘sleeping cottages’, halls namedafter poets: Keats, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron and Tennyson. I was with Ellie in Keats;Andyroo and Eddie were in Wordsworth. The five-windowed dormitories were made up ofthe one room full of bunk beds and a communal shower room, and they were always underthe eye of Matron Clegg. In the green lawn square that sat in the middle of all the cottages, the gang memberswere named: I was the Hen. Andyroo was Rooster and Eddie and Ellie were the chicks. ButPenny was missing, so our first mission was to find and save her. It was after breakfast, the home’s time, so I rounded my troops and led them downthe back path through the green square to the main house. As soon as we were out of thewarm summer air, the coldness of the Great Hall hit us. Barefoot, our exposed anklesattracted small biting insects; I felt a nip and rubbed it away. Nevertheless, the team inchedup the stairs listening out for a crying baby or any staff member that could catch us fromtheir lounge chairs on the first floor. Andyroo Rooster was in charge of listening at all the doors to hear if Penny was inthere, while the chicks kept an ear out for danger – any footsteps, whistling, shouting – anystaff sounds – as me the Hen went ahead to lead the way if the coast was clear. Cautiously, I sidestepped through the hall, Andyroo pressed his ears against doorsand the twins stood guard at the top of the stairs. Downstairs the great door creaked open.Eddie and Ellie sucked in a breath and ran to me, who with Andyroo, ran along the hallrunner to the second flight of stairs and oh so quietly tip toed our way up those. Positionswere restored again on the top floor and I slid forwards again, back to the old oak panelledwalls, the back of my head occasionally grazing the floral pink and purple wallpaper. I reached the end of the hall undisturbed, not even by a sound of a baby. I turned toAndyroo, who was partly opening a door and scanning the room. He waved me over toshow me a room full of cots: side by side like showing pairs in a game of Go Fish. The team in the nursery whispered, ‘Penny? Penny?’ to each sleeping baby lying ina cot. Not one had turned up Penny. But I knew her. I picked up a sleeping Penny who wasgiven a start. When the baby started, its face swelled up and it began to wail, and we knewwe had a distance to cover to get back to the square. We picked up pace like rats scurryingto a hole in the wall. Penny wailed as I carried her down the flights of stairs. The staff awoke from theirSunday morning papers and saw the dash of children running out towards the sunshine. TheMatron used both arms to swing open the back doors of the hall and saw the scurry ofchildren disappear behind the cottages. She followed the children and saw me with big eyes
shooshing Penny back to sleep in my arms. The Matron took the baby from me and said,‘Penny will meet her adoptive parents tomorrow, you can say goodbye after breakfast then.’And with that the Matron, with Penny, left. The very next day, Penny’s adoptive parents were given a tour of ShellingborneHome for Children. Wasn’t it beautiful? Safe. Kind. Loving, they said. I followed theirevery step. I was interested in every facet and angle of the plans for Penny’s new home.‘When she grows up, will she like that?’ I asked often. It annoyed the adults after the fifthtime. ‘Margarethe,’ Matron Clegg snapped. ‘Of course she will. Don’t ask sillyquestions…’ She then laughed at the parents, wasn’t the child darling? First they went to an empty classroom where five children were pasting cut outsfrom wrapping paper to blank paper trying to express a story, yet as the old wrapping paperwas of the Christmas kind, it limited the stories the children could tell. The prospectiveparents nodded and smiled politely. Stories were told of Santa Claus climbing down theChristmas tree and Jesus sleeping under the chimney breast and other creations of that kind.Girls were also taught to sew by watching a staff teacher thread a needle to duck it in andout of cloth. Now it was time to see Penny. We went to the nursery full of sleeping babies in cots – Penny’s pen, us childrencalled it. We had to be very quiet before we went in the room and could not make a soundlest we wake the platoon. A staff lady dressed in a clean suit dress led us through the forestof cots to Penny’s crib. The prospective mother sighed and held her hands to her breast.This time as Penny was lifted she did not wake, but when the guests and the staff lady weredownstairs, Penny wailed. ‘The colic seems to be behind her,’ said the boss lady, ‘but she doesn’t like to bewoken as you can imagine.’ ‘Oh yes,’ the prospective mother was still touched. She smiled and held out herarms, ‘Can I?’ ‘Sure,’ and Penny was shifted from breast to breast. Penny will cry, I was certain; she hates strangers and always will. She still lookedlike a turnip and she wasn’t old: she was still a pink lump with streaks of hair and eyes thatrarely opened, but still, she was a Rainer and she will protest to this whole thing. But, she didn’t cry. ‘Aw!’ the new mother was happy, she giggled quietly to not towake the baby. ‘She must know you are for her,’ the staff lady said, ‘would you like to come to theoffice now and we’ll sort out the final papers?’ And with that the staff lady, father andmother and Penny went downstairs to the matron’s office.
‘Your sister is going to a better place now Margie,’ Matron Clegg placed her warmhand on my shoulder as they watched the new parents put Penny in their car. ‘A family tolove her and look after her. Hopefully the same will happen for the rest of you. I am sure itwill.’ * The twins never asked questions; instead they kept a docile open view to everything.They haven’t grown opinions, I thought. Every now and then, however, one of the twinswould ask me if mummy would like the picture they have made or if Pen Pen would cometo church with everyone on a Sunday. I would only answer ‘no’ and after a time they didnot ask about their mother or Penny again. They were lucky, I thought, they could play all day and have afternoon naps. Iwould have liked afternoon naps but at almost 10, I had to learn instead. Me and Andyroowent to the local primary school for learning. Mr Trundleson was my teacher and he wasnice to me, I was a good pupil – quietly to myself, though, I called him Mr Trumpet.Andyroo did not have a nice time at school. His teacher Miss Brown would always sendhim to the back of the class or send for the headmaster to wrap his knuckles. The staff lady, Miss Gurston, told me not to worry. “He is probably a bit slow; he’llgrow up to be very clever.” And that was that. Some of the games we played before dinner did not require much smarts, justlistening skills. Because a lot of the time I was speaking and the rest were listening. TheRainers would sit in a corner and discuss their day; that is, I would talk about my day.Andyroo would not want to talk about his, and Eddie and Ellie would have just woken upand would be a bit irritable. I would cuddle them. Games were games without toys and it was often the only thing to do; there wasonly one television and the staff watched that. No television was allowed during teatimeeither. After teatime all the children had to go to their sleeping cottage. Matron or anotherstaff member would make sure we washed and brushed our teeth before sending everyoneto bed. Sometimes a staff member would read a story, like those by Enid Blyton or theHungry, Hungry Caterpillar on the big red round mat in the centre of the room with all thebunk beds around it. Story time was lulling and magical and some girls would fall asleep on the circlemat. A staff member would pick the girl up and take her to her bunk after the story. I never talked to the other girls, instead I would be with my brothers and sister whenthey didn’t have to sleep, eat or go to school. Together we could be in our own world:pretend to sip cups of my yummy tea – all warm, milky and proper – all guests at the teaparty had to sit up straight. I would even prepare invisible scones with jam and cream foreveryone - they were delicious. The best game had to be when it involved running around to catch the little twins;they were so easy to catch. Eddie, dressed in his brown corduroy flare trousers and a little
yellow cardigan over his blue t-shirt, was clearly the faster of the two when Andyroo or Ichased him. He would dart behind trees or hide in a sleeping cottage, once he closed hiseyes so tight that the elder children played a trick, “I can’t see him,” I said. “Neither can I,”Andyroo chorused, until Eddie opened his eyes, darted looks at both me and Andyroo andburst out, “Here I am!” “Margie?” Ellie asked one day, “Are we going to be adopled too?” “I don’t know,” I said back, it was a fine autumnal day; I was relaxing back on thegrass. “Why do you say that?” “Miss Gurston said that one day we’ll get adopled.” “Well, we’d have runaway by then,” I had a plan – a dream to fulfil very soon. “Iam thinking that we can go back home and Andyroo and me will look after you and Eddie.”It was all planned; it just had to happen sooner now is all. We had been training: I knew we’d be okay. Andyroo would be the dad, me themum and Eddie and Ellie would be themselves. I had a kitchen by the tree and everythingwas in the fridge, I’d open it constantly to find things to eat. Andyroo would return fromwork, “I am home,” he would announce and sit on the grass. “What is for dinner?” “Oh, I don’t know yet,” I said, wiping the table tops around me, “I have been sobusy taking Eddie and Ellie to the toy store, they are happy now, and the car broke downagain. You’ll have to pay £100 to get that back again.” Andyroo growled “Rraarr!” and chased me about the lawn; I would hide behind thegiant oak tree – which marked the space designated as my kitchen - but Andyroo alwayscaught me and dug his knuckles into my arm. Andyroo was fast. It looked like rain again, so we would go inside the Great Hall and wait for dinner.The dining room was a big room; in it would be five or six round tables and each sleepingcottage group would have to sit around the same table. The dining hall wasn’t as grand as the rest of the hall, and the children were quitecramped in the muddy coloured room with green and yellow swirly carpet. On the walls,pictures of sea birds, the beach, waves and fish hung on an angle, but above the fire placewas a picture of the Queen in her white ball gown and medals, I would stare and stare atthat picture; it was so close. The children would take their dishes to the kitchen as long as all our dinner waseaten. I stood on a stool and prepared to wash the dishes when it was my turn, so I let lotsof hot water pour out the long tap into the large drum-like sink. Andyroo would talk to me:“I want to watch Doctor Who. I can’t believe I haven’t seen it at all here. I don’t know whatis happening now.’ ‘You should ask to watch it.’ ‘Yeah but I don’t know. What if they don’t let me?’ ‘They could, you just have to ask nice enough.’
A big adult arm reached across me and the hand twisted the tap shut. No morewater, no more suds. I looked at Matron Clegg. ‘We still have a water shortage Margie. Donot waste water. That is quite enough.’ When the plump lady left I said to Andyroo, ‘Don’t ask her.’ Andyroo never asked about Dr Who, I remembered. * One morning after the words of doubt had left my mind, when I came to terms withthe fact that the giant leatherback turtle was a truth only to my mind, I understood that I sawthe mother perform the most important act of all – and that was to bring life to these shores. It was now that I felt I was of a reasonable ability to protect the nest laid by amother who could be anywhere in the dark endless ocean, anywhere in the depths andanywhere as far as the sea is long. But I would not have baby turtles hatch to a heartlessworld. I would not have them awaken to a beach displaying the typical disregard humansbring to any location they visit. I was too agitated by the disbelievers who did not think itwas possible and thought it was impossible that a turtle would make her nest here. I saw itand a liar I was not. So under the noonday sun, I had ventured to the location where I remembered theeggs were laid. I surveyed the area. Litter had been blown in from the main street, probablyfrom the General Store at the top of the street by the strong westerly wind. A branch on alittle shrub on the dunes caught a page of newspaper. The same could be said for at leastfour plastic bags on other dune shrubs. I had also passed aluminium cans between myholiday home and the edge of the sand – faded by the sun and wasting away from theerosive elements that everything on Lloergan Traeth endured. I only had one skill I could draw upon for the incubating eggs – I could rid thisecosystem of rubbish. And if I was going to embark on that endeavour there was a lot ofwork to do. My shadow left a long dirty streak across the beach and to the road. I followed itstrail and walked by the white holiday lets to the General Store – a chalk board welcomedthe passers-by by stating in big cartoonish letters that it’s ‘OPEN.’ I pushed the door thatrang a small bell to which the store woman raised her head from behind a counter. ‘Hello,’she said, her accent obviously of the area: Welsh, friendly and dotted with colour. ‘Can Ihelp you, love?’ ‘No,’ I said and looked past the cereal boxes, sweetie tubs and dishwashing liquid. Ifound three shelves filled with tools, superglue and all sorts of handy things that I thoughtmen would find of interest. It must be a hardware section. And I started a search for mylitter removal project there. ‘Are you building something, love?’ asked the shopkeeper. ‘We have nearlyeverything there.’
‘No,’ I replied and kept looking. Gloves were the first things I saw and I saw bin liners. I reckoned they were all Ineeded to help tidy the beach. ‘Oh,’ said the shopkeeper as I approached the counter. ‘You off for a clean up, Isuppose.’ The woman still remained friendly despite my tight glare in response to theprying. ‘That is good, that is,’ continued the woman. ‘Things do need to keep tidy, if theroad isn’t covered with litter, the homes are untidy.’ Irritated still, I thought it better to prove the biddy - blonde, jeans and sensibleyellow polo shirt – wrong. I didn’t know her. ‘I am “cleaning up”, as you say, the entirebeach.’ ‘Oh that’s good, some people have no respect. Want tidier sunbathing? That is good.I would like a tidy sunbathe.’ ‘No,’ I said, taking some pleasure in disproving the lady’s assumptions. ‘I amtidying the beach for a turtle’s nest; I think it must be tidy for the hatchlings.’ ‘Oh!’ the shopkeeper exclaimed. ‘That is good. I don’t know anything about turtles.I know they come close to the shores and you could see one if you went scuba diving. But anest you say? Well I have never heard of that.’ ‘Yes, well, no one seems to believe me.’ I grabbed my shopping bag and mychange. ‘Oh well, I believe it. I just don’t know anything about turtles is all.’ The lady thought for a moment; her hands tapping her chin with straight fingers.‘But I’ll tell you what. I have to pick up my eldest girl from school at four and then we aregoing to the library. I can pick up a book on turtles that come here and I will learn. Butcleaning up is a good start I am sure.’ She nodded. ‘Thank you,’ I said. My expression softened to a tight lipped purse. ‘Come by later. I’ll have a book,’ said the shopkeeper. ‘Yes,’ I said and left with my gloves and bags and walked down the sunny loosestone road to the beach. The shoreline seemed much messier than when I first saw it. There was nearly a fullnewspaper that had blown onto the dunes and there were many more cans if I looked hardenough. It was a big job. I slid on my loose gardener’s gloves with stitched red and bluestripes down the back of each hand, unrolled a bin liner and waded into the dunes to snatcheach page of the newspaper away. This beach was not to be a tip any longer. The beeorchids could breathe and the skylarks could nest here, when I was finished with it. Cans reflected sunlight into my eyes as I scanned the dunes for each shining pieceof metal that could be hiding under any shrub or rock, or even the plastic bottles distortedby the sun’s rays could be hiding there. As I walked down the entire length of the beach Ipicked up more litter. Once I turned around after a couple of hours, I could see the impact I
had made on the beauty of the beach by picking up the litter. Down towards the wave shapeimposed onto the rock face I could see Professor Robinson knee deep in the water fillingtest tubes and placing them in his shoulder bag. Walking on a seashore at low tide made suction pop noises, making a surprise visitto John Robinson impossible. I navigated my way through the wet rippled sea bed that wasmuch flatter and longer than I perceived it from the shore. I did not feel like the uselesswheel on an ecology project that John Robinson made me feel like the last time Iinterrupted his work – which the biologist made me feel like again as I was stopped by hisflexed palm and the many sticks pointing out of the water by his knees. ‘Do not come any further,’ he kept his balance in the knee deep water whilstkeeping a hand out to stop me. ‘We can’t mess with the water gauges. These aretemperature gauges. Very expensive temperature gauges.’ ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘I only wanted to say that despite any objections. I am cleaning thebeach for the baby turtles to have a clean environment when they hatch.’ ‘Excellent. Excellent,’ John Robinson did not take his eyes off a temperature gaugeby his feet. ‘Although the turtles won’t come, it is always good for people to take aninterest in keeping Lloergan tip top.’ I sighed. Of course that man would not change his opinion about what I saw. Butgone was the respectful layman who first approached him with the story. In her place stooda woman who had more faith in herself than any anorak or authority figure would have ifthey did not believe what she had to say. ‘Well, I know what I saw and I am still doing whatI can. I am offering you a chance to make sticking poles into the water a bit moreinteresting.’ John laughed to his chest; shook his head and picked up a thermometer, shook itaround and wrote a small note on the notebook tied to his belt loop. ‘Well,’ he laughed, ‘AllI can tell you now is that turtle sightings are not conducive to the sea temperatures that I ampicking up. Never mind that it isn’t breeding season for leatherbacks.’ Infuriating, I thought. I shrugged my shoulders at the man in khaki overalls andwellies, his hat still more functional than attractive, and I turned to navigate my waythrough the smoothed waves of wet grainy mud. My feet making gloop noises as I left. Like a holidaymaker, I sat by the spot where I knew the nest was and stroked the topwith a flat palm for a while. And although I saw the marine biologist wasn’t looking at me,I stood up and in a visible huff charged home. I threw pots and pans out of the cupboard, broke glass and emptied my bag contentsall over the dirty bed. I needed a drink and picked up one of the many bottles of rum I hadpacked. I had not been in this frame of mind since I first arrived at the holiday home. Mybottle of mixer was empty so I had nothing with which to enjoy my rum and I wasn’t keenon having the drink neat. I fetched my purse and flew out the front door. The sun wasreceding late in the day as I landed at the General Store. ‘Hiya,’ said the shopkeeper as thebell tingled and the door closed behind me.
Without saying a word, I walked straight to the shelves of evening beverages andgrabbed a bottle of ginger beer. ‘Need some tonic for a bevvie, love? Here’s somethingcheaper,’ said the shopkeeper who opened another fridge door and took a plastic bottle outfor me. ‘We went to the library too,’ she added. ‘I didn’t forget.’ And she took a large, flatbook from under the counter and put it in front of me. ‘It isn’t about Lloergan say, but ittalks about all the turtles that swim in these waters.’ ‘Oh,’ I looked at it. It had an illustration of a turtle swimming to the surface of anocean with green seaweed swaying on the floor. ‘Does this have information aboutleatherback turtles?’ ‘I think so if they come here,’ said the peering shopkeeper reading the pages beforeI flicked over. ‘Can I read this?’ I took the book by my chest and paid the lady for the drink. ‘Of course, if you bring it back. You’re at the first flat aren’t you?’ ‘I am,’ I took the bag of shopping. ‘I will give it back soon, it isn’t big.’ I left the woman, but not without asking her name, Delores, I repeated the name tomyself. Delores, Delores. At my flat, I twisted the cap from the fizzy drink and poured myself a large glassover a dash of rum. I sipped the drink. Sitting at the table, which served for everything -kitchen, dining, card, drinks - as it was the only table in the room, I opened out the bookand read the first opening paragraph. Turtles have a unique biology among the cold-blooded reptiles. I skipped a few pages to a story about leatherbacks. Leatherback turtles are critically endangered, in fact, at last count the globalpopulation came in at 34,000 nesting females. Leatherback turtles could be extinct in 20years. They have almost completely disappeared from the Atlantic Ocean, often nesting inFlorida, Mexico or the Caribbean. Therefore, coastal reserves and captive breedingprogrammes have been established to make sure the species do not disappear completely. Gulping a drink down, I felt relief that the day was at an end. I was learning aboutthe giant marine creatures now and no matter what that biologist said, I’d have some wordsto say next time I saw him. Just here, I exclaimed to myself, leatherbacks like the coldwater. Leatherbacks have the distinction among the other sea turtles in that they have thecirculatory system and internal shell structure to endure the cooler temperatures of theNorthern Atlantic and dive deeper than other marine creatures. This is why they are often aregular sight in UK waters. I mixed myself a straight drink of rum. I had drunk little of the thick chemicallybrew, like poison to the lips and fire to the throat, and I would mix the tonic with the nextone. My red-rimmed eyes scanned the room and I moved my heavy legs one by one to thefridge. My hair was burdened with weeks of unwashed grease but I had no mind foraesthetics. I opened the salted shut window with a heave and looked out at the north andsouth of the seashore; I could jump out of that window and straight onto the shore in an
emergency. Suddenly the wind blew into the room and lost my page in the book. I shuffledback to my seat and poured some ginger drink for my rum. I opened the book to where I had left it and read that turtles can live to up to 60years and the newborns do not rely on the light of a full moon for direction to the ocean.This was a myth. But when sea turtles hatch they have the instinct to move towards thebrightest direction, usually on a natural beach, it is the horizon out at sea. Therefore,beachfront lights must be turned off as it could confuse hatchlings when they try to findtheir direction. I turned my lights off but opened the curtains. The sun wouldn’t set at this time ofyear until ten – it was British summertime - no light to be turned on after that. This wasvery important. I read how a mother turtle would lay up to 120 eggs in a sitting – I thought I sawhundreds. I read more about what was becoming a sad life for the sea turtle, especially theleatherback, endangered, threatened, nearly extinct. The poor things confused plastic bagswith jelly fish – their one abundant food source. A clean up was a good idea. Interestingly, the eggs incubate for about two months on average. I had no ideawhen the eggs were laid – a week ago? A month? I had no idea but the grand hatchingwasn’t too distant; I could still do my best for those underground: leg forming, bodymaking brood ready for their journey to a tidy Welsh sea. The big turtle I saw all that time ago would have weighed about 1,300 pounds too, Iread, it was a giant. I vowed to look after those babies I said to myself, wiping my stringyhair from my glassy eyes. I took a sip of rum. Everything was going to be taken care of. Irepeated to myself: lights out, bags out, beach clean. Lights out, bags out, beach clean.Lights out, bags out, beach clean. I came to the chapter entitled Hatchlings. Only about one in 1,000 survive to adulthood. They may not reach the ocean quickenough decreasing their chance of survival either by dehydration and drying out; or theycould become prey to birds, crabs or other predators. However, there was some hope: once the turtles hatched from a particular beach,and once grown, they will then return to that spot to lay their own eggs each year. I almost wept now I had learned the turtle’s plight. Life had not even begun todisappoint them, in fact, life does not even rate for most of those turtles at all; they could alldie. Maths brought out a dyslexia gene in me only seen at times of counting. If only 100eggs were laid and there’s only one in 1,000 chance of survival then if any turtle makes it tothe shore it would be a miracle. I’ll save them. I stood up, swayed and stumbled out the door to the beach where thenest was. ‘Shh, shh,’ I said to the sand. The nest was about somewhere, ‘Don’t worry littleeggs, I will save you, not your mummy, but I will do it. Don’t worry.’ My whispers were not as quiet as I wanted. I plonked my bottom on the sand andlooked out to the moonlight dancing on the ripples of black sea covering all sorts of lifeunderneath its glittering facade. With a little help from me, I was certain, I was going to
make sure they had the best chance of getting out to sea no matter if a supposed expertlaughed at my attempts. I sat there on the sand for at least half an hour until I stood and toppled backwardsand then slept where I fell. A bass guitar sound streamed through the air and kept a pulse,rocking like a lullaby at an uneven count. Drums started the same beat but added a topcymbal flutter. Almost a minute later an electric guitar kept the same pulse as the bass. Itwas reggae music. I woke dozily. Had I slept? Voices sang along to what must have beenmusic on a stereo turned up loud. There was a party. I could hear shrieks and laughter andmale voices challenging, fighting and generally being boisterous. Young people, I wasintrigued, excited and interested. I hadn’t been a teenager for such a long time. If they wereanything like my neighbour in London then I had to prepare for a long night of this loudmusic. The turtles! I realised they may be threatened by the pulsating bass, it might beheard underground. I walked to the street outside my holiday home and counted that themusic was coming from two doors down. I would have to appear cool but firm with thoseguests, I thought. But I would have to be clear above all. If there were girls there, then theywould care about the turtle babies, I was sure. The music did not subdue. Fortunately there were not any other holidaymakers atthe terrace cottages now, but there was me, the shopkeeper’s family AND the turtles. Iknocked on the door, the same strong oak but less weather beaten than mine. I pounded on the door, each rap incrementally louder than before, until I foundmyself pounding with both fists to be heard. ‘Hello?’ the door swung open abruptly. ‘Can Ihelp you?’ The man looked like he had stepped out of a mini minor in the 70s, all the kids didso nowadays, I thought. ‘The music is a bit loud,’ I said. ‘There are people around here, notto mention there is wildlife. You are disturbing the wildlife.’ ‘Wildlife?’ the man said, ‘I thought there are only sheep here.’ I shook her head. ‘No, not just sheep, there are birds and rabbits and turtles.’ ‘Turtles?’ he pulled a face that said it was news to him. ‘Didn’t know that.’ He sounded well schooled and much more refined than me. I glared at him. ‘Oh,hold on,’ he said and disappeared behind the door. The sound was turned down. ‘Is thatbetter?’ he sounded impatient, almost patronising. ‘Yes, thank you,’ I said, and disappeared myself down the street. That rude kid. ButI was not finished and had to return another time. I had not even mentioned the light thatwas left on after the sun had gone down. It was an hour later and the music pulsated loudly again in a Tropicana style. I didtruly hope that it would stop. I was lying down in bed with my bottle and tonic pouringglasses and was only half awake. I groaned; the turtles! Rude kids, but I lay defeated. I wastired and paying the cost created by drinking too much the evening previous.
Glasses rattled to the off-beat. A melody cascaded down and then up making asingsong see saw that was only relieved by a voice of Kingston Town. In KeeengstonTown… it warbled. It was apt to say, I couldn’t sleep. Three o’clock in the morning and sadly it was notjust because of the reggae tones, but what it came to represent: people disrespecting mynewly found authority on the reptiles that were calling Lloergan their home. Not to mentionDelores’s young family who lived here.
III I knew early that Eddie and Ellie were to be taken that day - taken by lovely people,according to Miss Gurston. They couldn’t be lovely, I thought. If they were lovely theywould send me, Eddie and Ellie and Andyroo back home. They would get Penny and thenthey would buy dinner and maybe teach me how to use the washing machine. I sat with the twins and Andyroo behind Keats with our backs against the wall. Theautumn breeze was cool so Eddie wore his smart brown corduroy trousers and orangeknitted cardigan. Ellie had her hair braided and her best flowery pink dress on. The staffhad told them that morning to look smart, sharp. Eddie was handsome, don’t you think?And Ellie was the prettiest thing around - from Southampton to Portsmouth. I couldn’tsmile about this. They were waiting to be found by the Shellingborne staff to be taken awaylike a bag of apples at the greengrocers. We could hear the staff calling out for them from the square. Holding our mouthswith both hands Andyroo and I giggled with a snort. The twins did the same. Time, though,was now obviously short. ‘Make sure I see you again,’ I said, ‘Don’t forget us. Alwaysremember Andyroo and me.’ My voice was breathy, quiet, with an added hint ofdesperation. Ellie put her arm over my shoulder. I wouldn’t cry but I hated the business of beingseparated. One by one, the youngest children were being picked like plums in a bucket.Andyroo and me were all that was left. ‘Don’t end up like them and change and not be a Rainer anymore.’ I didn’t look atthem. It was no use saying this. The twins didn’t understand. ‘Here they are!’ a triumphant voice bellowed with a lilt of relief. ‘Hiding behindhere,’ Miss Gurston stood above us and waved the others over. She looked smart too. Herhair was tied up, her skirt suit was pressed and she wore bright plastic jewellery. The matron and the new parents came around the corner and saw the wide eyes ofthe twins and the wet eyes of mine. The jig was up. ‘Naughty children,’ growled the roundwoman. But we’ve never got into serious trouble. Just called naughty. I didn’t know why. Iwas making no trouble at Shellingborne Home for Children that the staff was privy to. The staff took Eddie and Ellie by the wrists and walked with the new parents backto the Great Hall. The twins followed but looked back at me. I did not rise and did notfollow them. I had given up. ‘Margie!’ cried Ellie not understanding what was happening. I sighed and struggled up from the grass and followed them to the main hall. I knewthe process; they will talk to the twins and then go to the office to sign papers. I waited bythe office with my arms crossed. ‘Uncross your arms and cheer up,’ Matron sternly instructed after the twins had leftin the car. The staff waved them off. ‘No games anymore. You and Andrew must do yourbest here and perhaps we’ll be rid of you too.’
She left and I, with straight arms, my head up, had grown a smile. I constructed itjust to make the matron leave. Only me and Andyroo were left now. With the little onesgone, we would have to wait until someone would like Big Kids. Who would want bigkids? I wasn’t so cute anymore but my mother used to tell me I was beautiful as shebrushed my hair before bedtime. No one brushed my hair now. The staff would tell me todo it myself, but I didn’t unless I was going to school and I only brushed my hair for schoolevery so often but not that often. Often enough, but it was my mother’s job. She used to doit really very well. One day potential parents came to see me but they wanted someone younger. I wasof the age now where I would have to do a lot of work around the home for prospectiveparents to like me. ‘They would need someone to sweep the floors and clean the windows.So you better practice,’ the staff would tell me. A cleanly house was next to Godliness.Miss Gurston would say, All girls have house chores. Now that the babies had gone away, Andyroo and I were left to talk to the otherchildren. I made a friendship with a younger girl called Renèe who was six. She followedme everywhere. Sat next to me at dinner and joined in the games I organised for me andAndyroo. She even tried to talk about her day after school. It should only be me who talkedabout my day. But Renèe made me think of what Penny would be like if she grew up to besix. But she wasn’t Penny. ‘I can spell nearly,’ said Renèe. ‘No you can’t,’ I retorted. ‘I can.’ ‘What can you spell?’ I knew that six year olds only learned the alphabet. ‘A, B, ssseee, kkkk,’ Renèe made letter sounds. ‘That’s not words.’ ‘C A T! Cat!’ Renèe was defiant, proud. ‘Well, you can spell one word, whoop de do.’ I felt a cloud grow over me then. I knew that seeing my brothers and sister wasnearly impossible – they would probably grow up not remembering me. My parents dyingruined everything. I felt that everything was ruined. The day was clear. Renèe’s hair was brushed. Long and straight. Not messy like theRainers, and it was yellow. ‘I hate yellow hair.’ I was grumbley. ‘Why?’ Renèe asked. Why indeed. ‘I just do.’
I sat cross-legged on the grass; it was dewy, still damp from the drizzle that fell anhour before. My elbows fitted between my shins. My chin sat in my hands. I sat up only topick at the grass; there was no point in playing. Andyroo was in the house, the rest werenowhere but anywhere. That yellow hair flew in a gust of wind that gave me a chill. I stoodand grabbed at that hair. ‘Ow!’ Renèe screamed and pushed me away. ‘Oh boo hoo,’ I taunted and pushed her to the ground. ‘Ow!’ Renèe said louder. She could catch the attention of the staff with those ‘ows.’ I pushed Renèe again when she stood up. ‘Ow!’ ‘Get up again. Get up again!’ I instructed. Renèe got up so I pushed her down. ‘Ow!Stop it!’ and Renèe started crying. Annoyed, I crouched down and pushed her again andagain until my pushes turned into hits. Pound pound pound, went my fists until MissGurston’s attention darted towards the girl laying flat and my hammering fists, ‘Stop that,’Miss Gurston screamed. ‘Stop that right now!’ The stern looking lady dressed in a shirt and knee-length skirt horse-stepped acrossthe grass in her high-heeled shoes and pinched and pulled me to my feet by the ear. I didn’tutter a sound but mouthed the words I hate you to the shakened girl on the lawn. ‘I will have your guts for garters, Margarethe,’ said the lady pulling me to the GreatHall. ‘You were always a good girl but the Devil is making work for idle thumbs. So I thinkthe appropriate punishment for hurting poor Renèe is to wash all the floors, varnish thebalustrades and wash all the windows top to bottom.’ Life at the home was never the same but some things were the same – Andyroo andme were inseparable. Under the giant oak tree we would congregate to talk about eachother’s day. Andyroo had something to say this evening. The sun was a couple of hoursaway from setting; the sky was almost silver from the slowly evaporating light. ‘It is strange how everyone is going,’ he started, ‘but they are happy I spose.’ ‘They are not happy.’ I said, neatening the fold of my skivvy neck. ‘I think weshould find where they are.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because…’ I didn’t add further to the because because there was no reason, no need to explain.It was Obvious. I was tired; I had been so busy doing chores. So busy caring. So busyplanning, mulling, scheming, working. Ever since I had started bullying too, the staff hadgiven me a lot of chores to do. Every time they saw a chore to do they would call for me, itseemed. I could see now why my father would spend time at the pub after his work. He wastired too. Going to the pub must have been a way to relax.
‘I bet in the office there are facts. There is where addresses and stuff are.’ ‘What addresses?’ Andyroo asked. ‘Where they are.’ I was tired. My words were hardly a call to action. ‘No,’ replied Andyroo, ‘But they are happy now. In a happy home. It is sad here.The staff don’t cuddle. They only give you work to do. I think getting adopted is good.Hope I get adopted.’ I scratched at the grass with a dry leaf. If I looked up my true feelings aboutAndyroo’s comment would be known. I was hurt by what he said. We were best friends.But I was not surprised. ‘You probably will get adopted,’ I said. ‘You will get adopted too.’ Andyroo would get adopted because he was such a good boy. I was told that goodlittle children get adopted. I wasn’t good. ‘You will be adopted cos everyone wants an Andyroo,’ I said; the sun wasdisappearing behind the perimeter fence. I sighed. ‘I am too naughty.’ Andyroo didn’t say anything in response to that - the statement of truth floated bylike a breeze washing silence across our mouths. No one looked at each other. I noticed thegeese flying in a loose diamond to their nests far away. Andyroo was picking the grassaround his feet. He stuck his nail through the middle of a blade of it. He brought it to hislips and blew. ‘Urgh,’ he sounded. It didn’t work; it was supposed to whistle. He broughtanother sliced grass to his lips and tried again. ‘Ffft,’ he made a sound. ‘Urgh,’ he grunted;he tried again. It took five goes before it worked. The whistle was surprising. ‘You’re not really going to get Penny and Ellie and Eddie?’ Andyroo asked, spittingbits of grass from his lips. ‘Probably not.’ I could feel an insurmountable weight of the thought of disruptingthe little ones in a happy home. I wouldn’t dare. The staff members were big. They wouldwin. ‘They are probably happy now,’ said Andyroo. He still looked to the ground,picking grass miserably. ‘We probably won’t see them again,’ I said. ‘We might, but they would have their adoptive parents with them. Having newparents is weird.’ ‘It is weird. I don’t like it.’ ‘I don’t like it either.’ I went to the kitchen to help with food preparation. Whoever was cooking wouldalways appreciate a hand, the staff had told me. I was sent to set the table and with anarmful of brown flowered tablecloths and fistfuls of cutlery, I entered the dining room.
Flapping the cloths over the tables first I then placed knives and forks and spoons in lines infront of each chair. Seven places for seven chairs on ten tables. That’s everyone. Tonightwe were eating stew. Stringy beef bits with carrots and potatoes and greens in gravy. Mylittle siblings probably ate the same AND had desert every night. That’s what a happy homewould have, I thought. Ice cream, apple crumble and custard and cake. No rhubarb.Children at the Shellingborne Home always had rhubarb and custard one night a week – onSundays. ‘Oh never mind us,’ said Delores when I came to see her the next day. ‘We live atthe main town a couple of miles away from here. But I’m sorry to hear some kids playingloud music. I will talk to them.’ She smiled. ‘That’s good,’ I said. I paid a visit to the shopkeeper as soon as I awoke midafternoon the next day. ‘I was more concerned with the turtles than me. I don’t know if theycan hear it?’ The shopkeeper looked bright with her makeup that seemed like a daily regime ofblue eye shadow, mascara, foundation and pink lipstick. She wore a lilac polo shirt todaywith the jeans she always wore. ‘Oh they could,’ Delores agreed. ‘They say babies can hearin the womb.’ ‘I didn’t even begin talking about their lights on after dark…’ I started but trailedoff. ‘Oh, I can’t tell them to turn their lights off,’ said Delores, ‘They might think that’sa bit much.’ I straightened my neck. I would have to tell the strangers the whole story about theturtles myself and why their house lights must be off to save the younglings’ life. ‘It wouldbe enough to tell them to keep the music down.’ I started a smile and left the General Storewith a readymade sandwich, bread for toast and another bottle of ginger beer. ‘I still havethe book…’ ‘You’ve got another week with that love.’ I walked unsteadily outside to the main street wearing the clothes I wore yesterday;I dragged my feet through the sand at the side of the road. I was wobbly, worried andperturbed by the sounds of a Caribbean songbook giving me a wakeful night last night.Before that, I put a bottle of rum away down my throat. The memories of the eventcompelled my eyes to shut. I stood at the beach and realised I had not presented myself well enough to speaklike the commander to the merry makers last night; I was a common sea harpy de la mer. I felt the warm salty breeze on my face and breathed it in. The sun was shiningabove the sea making the waves dance with light. It was good weather Wales was enjoyingthis summer. I returned to my holiday home but I stopped in my tracks. A long tailedunshorn shaggy sheep bleated at my plastic bag. The beast had a dark blue triangular shapespray painted on its coat and another shape spray painted on its head. Its ears weredeformed into twists. At a second glance it was clear that the ears were damaged and cut
into two. Quickly I disappeared through my front creaking door and closed it quickly.Meeee, I could hear the sheep outside. I rummaged through the cupboards and fridge. I didhave some bread. I saw it sitting brightly in my plastic bag. I grabbed a handful of slicesand quickly threw it on the road for the sheep. I peered out of the cloudy window by thefront door and watched the beast chew on the discards left on the ground. When it finished,it bleeted again. Why was a sheep wandering wild at Lloergan Traeth? The farm was notseparated by boundaries where the field finished and the reserve started. I wondered if therewere more sheep where that came from. Maybe they wandered the mountain range far inthe distance: its blue shadow protected the bay with a hug radiated by its sheer dominatingpresence. The sheep was shaggy; its wool had been left to grow until its coat nearly touchedthe ground. It was hard to imagine that the soiled mane would be shorn and one day spuninto a usable yarn. Its locks were almost knotted into dreadlocks; it needed a good comb.Meee, it said. It became as docile and still at my door like it was in a standing trance foralmost two hours. Then the reggae music started again and the sheep departed my frontdoor to follow its source. I stayed indoors all afternoon and listened to the bass sound again. It knocked theglasses and vibrated the floor of the home. I prayed Dolores would be annoyed enough todo something about the reggae music. This wasn’t an island party, I thought, although Irelished in the idea of sitting poolside with some rum punch in my hand, the music dottingstars in the sky. The music stopped. Delores, who I could hear faintly down the road said,‘okay, love, tar rah…’ I was just getting used to the music now but didn’t even miss it a little when it wasgone. I meandered out through the wasting doorframe with paint peeling away from it,down the steps and to the sandy road which was disappearing further under a cover of thewhite stuff with each passing day. The estuary was nothing but a rabbit infested grasslandto me today; nothing but green grass and rabbit droppings across to the musty darkmountains far into the distance. The dune banks consisted of a splattering of dry grass andsome red fish netting covering a corner of the plant life – that was rubbish, I would discardof that immediately. I loathed Lloergan’s disposition to attract muck from the sea. I slowly bent over topick the red net off the marram grass; I almost stood on a bee orchid as I pulled. I stayed onthe spot and surveyed the land that played host to all sorts of oddities: from rare andbeautiful flowers that find true perfection as they grow to the wild barnyard animals freefrom the confines of organised agriculture. The sun left its place in the sky slowly and clouds moved in overhead. I shiftedindoors and pushed the netting under the sink. I could not bring myself to finish anotherbottle of rum but twisted open the cap and poured myself a glass. The music grew louderagain. Could reggae music be relaxing, I considered. Its lulling beats and easy goingmelody enticed my head to sway and I repeatedly said no, no, no. A strong smell of deep chlorophyll filled my nostrils and intoxicated my driftingmind. It was a highly distinguishable odour of dry plant and fresh natural smoke: like freshchopped grass mixed with a drop of booze. Someone was smoking marijuana outside.Although it had been sometime since I had smelt anything remotely like it, the experienceof what it meant to me was of social togetherness, relaxation, a gathering. I could remember
that odour like I could remember the flats high in London and the purple walls in myneighbour’s home. Those kids must have made their way to my side of the beach. I whiskedmyself outside. I could see the impression of a lone man on the seashore looking out to a smallfishing boat anchored to the floor about 20 metres out to sea and he was smoking. ‘How areyou girl?!’ he exclaimed, he seemed almost in admiration of me. ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I thought you were the kids.’ I turned around. ‘No, no, no,’ he said, smiling. ‘I am no keed but you stay, we’ll check out thislovely ocean.’ The black man had his trousers rolled up to his knees. He was bare foot and wore awhite tank top and his long dreaded hair was tied back. His voice rolled off his lips like thesmoke he blew to the sand. I wanted to leave and could not remove the look of polite frightfrom my face. ‘Don’t be scared. Look!’ He pointed out to his boat where fish flip flopped about it.‘Have you ever seen it? The fish just want to go in the boat. They want to be feeshed man.’He laughed at his joke and blew smoke through his teeth. ‘I don’t want to go back throughda water, you know? The fish might go!’ I stared. A most peculiar smell hung about the fisherman like dead fish poisoned bynettles, and green flies flew around his face and crawled up to his lips which he blew awaywith his stale vegetable breath. But as he pointed to his boat, he was amazed with theabsurdity of the fish, not quite flying but throwing their bodies out from the water to hisboat. Although he wasn’t there to catch those ones with his net, they fell back to the wateronly to try again. ‘It tis amazing,’ he said. He sounded Caribbean. He lit another joint and held it in his lips. I was quite taken by the tall, endlesslycasual man. He jotted his eyebrows up in a double salute and he waded back into the clearwater, the fish dispersing as he approached. He waved goodbye and climbed into his smallboat under the mellow sunshine. After a moment the fish returned to their sky bound playand the Islander brought out a small hand net and scooped some of them up, tipped theminto his boat and started the single motor. He turned the dinghy around and jetted away tothe deep of the dark blue ocean. He was gone. How strange? I told myself and the music grew louder as I walked back. The flieshad left with that man and so had the pot. I only had my rum to drink, but I felt the pull forsomething stronger. The moment I turned to walk back to my shelter I noticed the party hadcollected many bits of wood, including chair legs into a pile and were attempting to light it.A bonfire. A bonfire! Common sense told me that a fire would be worse than house lightsto confuse turtles. There was no time like the present, like the matron used to say, to get thejob done. Instead of walking to my holiday home, I made a path for the firebugs who werestruggling to light the thing. A boy crouched at the pile of wood, he snapped at a sparking lighter over and over,until another boy jumped to it with a box of matches. Covering the lit tip with a cuppedhand, he managed to light the scrunches of paper underneath the logs and blew and covered
with his hands and blew and covered. ‘It is a matter of controlling its air at this stage, nowind but wind, you know?’ the boy said. As I walked along the Lloergan shoreline, I felt like their mother, if their motherwas a harpy from the sea. The group of four boys and two girls looked up, their heads heldhigh like startled seagulls. I arrived to address the group who immediately returned to theirfrivolous chattering and upon my arrival. ‘Ahem,’ I coughed. Some looked at me, smiledand continued giggling. A taller man of the group stood up and walked to me. He seemedmature, I thought. ‘Can I help you?’ he said. ‘Ah,’ I started. I was a bit dry, a bit taught, and I felt a bit too righteous. ‘I am hereto see your fire. Bit much, don’t you think?’ ‘Oh is it a bit much?’ returned the youngling. ‘No, not for me,’ I said, ‘but I want to make sure it isn’t too distracting for theturtles when they hatch, you see?’ ‘Oh, it’s not distracting,’ said the boy who took my old arm and motioned for me tojoin them. ‘You’ll see, come have a drink.’ ‘A drink’ were the magic words and I rather weakly sat on the damp sand in thecircle with the others. ‘Hi,’ said a girl. ‘I am Emily.’ There was also a Mike, Travis,Dunlop, a Mary and the more charismatic male who brought me to the circle was David.They were all young and it was July, they must be students, I thought, on their summerholidays. All English and their accent sounded educated. ‘I’m Margarethe. I’m here to see your fire.’ The group giggled. ‘Yes,’ said David. He put a drink in my hand. ‘Have that. Relax.’ He jumped downinto an empty space in the circle and sat crossed legged. I took a sip of the sugary brew. Rum was in it, I could guess. Sweet, strong andwarming. I could garner a lot of information from a drink. Cheap, I concluded. These weredefinitely students. I studied the fire while the kids resumed chatting. Could it damage the turtlings’journey back to sea? There was not much I could ascertain when the sun was still a coupleof hours from setting. I knew the moon was waning and it was still a bright source of lightabove the ocean, but if this fire was brighter than the horizon, the turtles would soon misstheir miss their target – to return to the sea and be with their mother. ‘What do you do?’ asked Mary, her hair in pigtails, the rest of her garb all loose andflowing. Hippy ideals, I could assume. ‘Oh nothing. A PA sometimes,’ I said. ‘I am in between jobs, I suppose, I am hereon holiday until I would like to return to London.’
The group gasped sounds of envy and desire. Wouldn’t they like that, they agreed,only if they didn’t have to go back to university. ‘Why’d you like to do that?’ I asked, Isounded rather schoolmarmish. ‘If we could!’ Emily made animated faces. ‘My mum would have a fit!’ Mine too, mine too, echoed the young holiday makers. I had almost finished my drink. It left a sweet coconut taste on my lips. I shruggedand stared out to the long flat sea, the little waves played gently under the setting sun. ‘My father,’ said Travis, ‘Would cut me off completely if I left. I have had a gapyear. Now I must knuckle down,’ he impersonated a strict man, ‘I should be in finance.‘Make the big money,’ he grumbled his words again. ‘Good for you,’ I said. ‘Your father sounds very wise.’ ‘Yeah,’ Travis whined his words, ‘it would be cooler if he just relaxed. I am doingokay at school.’ The party had transformed into a therapy circle, the sort that someone would be paidto attend. I soon grew bored. I took another sip of my brew. I wondered if the General Storewas still open. The sun started its descent down the back of the sky and the fire started torage. It also sounded as though those kids have had this conversation many times before.‘You’d be lucky to be earning that sort of money those fellows in the City can earn,’ Ilooked into my cup. ‘Oh yeah,’ said Travis, ‘I would work in the City while I was young and then retireoff the money.’ ‘Once, you’re in there it might be hard to quit,’ was all I wanted to say to the boy,who just shrugged. These kids did not want to be serious. New music filled what space uncomfortably sat between me and the group. Davidsaid, ‘I love Lee Perry,’ as he returned from the house and jumped into his position again. ‘You people love your reggae,’ I said. ‘Reggae? Yes,’ said the young man, ‘But this is dub.’ He started nodding to thequick syncopated and broken beats. I started to feel uncomfortable. Reggae, dub, whatever it is, I scrunched up my nose.My bottom started to feel damp, the sun was setting, my drink was finished and the fire wastoo bright. I stood up. ‘First of all,’ I started, ‘That fire is too bright for the turtle hatchlings andyour lights should go off after dark – that will only kill the turtles.’ ‘Kill?’ said Mary. ‘Yes, kill. Kill, kill, kill! A bonfire on the beach is disruptive at the best of times forall the life around you. So it should go out or you should go home,’ I was commanding
now. ‘Turn your lights off in the house and do not have a bonfire lit after dark. The turtles,you see. The turtles will get lost and die. And my drink has finished and you’re all spoilt.’ Iturned quickly and marched back to my let to the mocking sounds of the turtles, the turtlesbehind me. The group laughed too. I closed my door behind me and I could hear the partyatmosphere and the music. Reggae, dub, whatever it was. * It was a special day. Matron Clegg had entered Keats and told the girls to put theirbest dress on – everyone had pretty dresses from their life of old. I had a white dress withpink flowers and a blue clover print all over the bottom half. It made me feel pretty eventhough the top cut under my arms and the spaghetti straps dug into my shoulders. I hadn’tworn the dress for a year and I had outgrown it. Out in the square the children assembled. All were in their good suits or best dressesand some of the lucky ones had a hat, even though some looked too small. The group had tolook good because the Queen would see them; the staff said they would tell if we weren’tneat and tidy. I didn’t believe them; I had been at the children’s home for a year withAndyroo. I didn’t believe the tales they told to make us behave: don’t make that facebecause the wind might change; the road to hell is paved with good intentions, cleanlinessis close to Godliness; the devil can quote Scripture for his own ends. But today was a special day. It was the Queen’s Jubilee and we all had special flagsto wave at the roadside. The walk we embarked on to Portsmouth was made longer for me as my stiff, whiteplastic shiny shoes refused to bend with my steps. Andyroo walked by my side, our headsdown, not talking, just walking step by step to the next town, the sun radiating burns ontoour heads. We could see the border of Portsmouth coming closer as we approached. Thetops of factory chimneys stuck out like lit cigars and small roadside homes sat very close tothe footpath. The sparse sproutings of rose trees neglected in gardens were littered withnewspapers and plastic bags blown in by the gusts of air whirled up by cars speeding downthe nearby M275. Entering the modest rows of red brick terrace houses the children walked single filein front of the homes on the narrow embankment of dried lawn. I held the hand of the boybehind as well as the girl in front. ‘Nearly there, children,’ alerted Matron Clegg, ‘one moremile and then we can see the Queen.’ When the main road in the middle of town was in our sights, we walked in the coverprovided by food stall covers hiked high on caravans. The smells of sausages and hameffused the hot air. I was tempted to beg for an ice cream and a cool drink from under thegiant umbrella keeping a fridge on wheels in the shade. ‘Here we are,’ said Matron Clegg,removing a tiny fold out chair from her large carrier bag onto which to place her largebottom. She propped open a parasol to balance on her shoulder and pushed her sunglassesup onto her nose so light didn’t shine in her eyes, although they faced the sun. She noticed aboy sitting on the bitumen. He bounced pebbles and pretended to catch them as they stuck
to the road. ‘No sitting on the road please Kevan!’ hollered Matron Clegg, too establishedto move herself from her view of the road. ‘We must look smart for the Queen. Dustyourself off - on your bottom!’ A sea of Union Jacks quivered like wind bustling all the leaves in a forest on bothsides of the wide road. The crowd was abuzz with news of what the Queen will look like.What will she wear? What will she do? The wait now was for a car; just like the one inwhich she was a passenger on the London leg of the Silver Jubilee Tour. It was an open topMercedes Benz with the Duke of Edinburgh by her side. She wore lilac in London and shewas beautiful, said a woman stranger to Matron Clegg. Miss Gurston had disappeared. ‘Where is she?’ Matron Clegg said, flapping anewspaper to fan her face. ‘I am not keeping her spot.’ Next to the matron was a twin foldout seat just wide enough for another adult to sit on. Then the youngest staff member side stepped through the crowds making her way tothe group. She was carrying a large plastic bag with Elizabeth and Phillip in regalia on thefront. She showed the children plates and spoons to commemorate the special day.Souvenirs they were. ‘Won’t they look nice on the mantle above the fireplace at home? Itwill look nice under the portrait of her.’ The sea of people turned to their right. Heads darted up, looking left and right. ‘Is ither?’ ‘I heard it was her.’ ‘Where is she?’ ‘I can’t see over people’s heads.’ The talk turnedto a hush. Those behind stood on tippy toes. ‘To the front children!’ directed Matron Clegg.‘Flowers out now and remember your curtsies and bows, like we know how to do.’ Matron Clegg had shown everyone what to do if the Queen passes by. Curtsy, smile,hand flowers out. Wait for her to take them. Don’t push them in her face. Every sentenceshould finish with Ma’am. Don’t talk first. Answer questions politely. Nicely. If you areasked to say where we are from, say Shellingborne Home for Children. Don’t sayOrphanage. Don’t say a home. She was near. People gasped at the realisation. The monarch took slow steps alongthe crowd accompanied by minders and the Duke of Edinburgh. Then silence. I could hearchildren tell the stories of their Nursery School to the Queen and hand small bouquets toher. ‘She is wearing Mint Green!’ Miss Gurston whispered to the matron. She wasn’t thatquiet. People looked at her. ‘And who are you?’ the Queen had asked Renèe! ‘I am Renèe Ma’am,’ Renèe curtsied and held out her flowers. ‘Where are you from, Renèe?’ ‘Shellingborne Home for Children,’ she replied. The Queen walked to the next group of children. Excited boys and girls. Why didshe talk to Renèe? The thought hung in my mind like a heavy pebble with spikes. I washappy when Renèe was adopted.
‘Wait here,’ yelled Andyroo and he left me on the road not far from the home. Heran up ahead and bent over what appeared, to me, as nothing at all, but he picked up a tenpence coin. ‘Saw that from where you were,’ he remarked. ‘You’re a magpie,’ I said. We found the unmarked sandy pathway to the ocean. It led to a hideaway so duringour scheduled playtime we could escape to the beach. On that day when the sun shined bright and the breeze was so gentle it was nothingto speak of, Andyroo was interested in everything and all the adventures we could embarkupon. He kept saying ‘Me matey, ar hargh,’ which annoyed me, as there were no pirateroles for girls. First, we dug a hole in the sand where the ocean could wash in bringing in a seacreature that would need our help. This sea creature, Andyroo explained, would have beenwaiting for us to arrive and prepare the basin in which it could hide – hide from the evilcrabs with giant claws that use other creatures for slaves. The slaves who could get awayfrom the evil masters would ride a wave to the safety of the hole. After we waited for thetenth wave, nothing turned up. After the fourteenth, sixteenth, twenty-seventh wave,Andyroo resolved, ‘They must be okay today.’ Games in the sun were short lived as our pink skin turned tender and our sweatturned bits of our summer clothes wet. Us saviours sat under the nearest weather-beatentree and made a base that the marine-life could find if they washed to shore. Andyroowould keep an eye out for them. He did find the ten pence coin from fifteen feet away. We made mountains and castles with our feet and miniature holes with our heels,until the heat of the day took the last of our energy away. Instead we remembered. Remember Penny, I asked. Oh yeah, replied Andyroo. Shemust be happy now, we supposed, she would grow up to a whole new world and not knowthat she came from a family. A family where she had older brothers and sisters. At least shewouldn’t remember the home. We both agreed to be happy for that. ‘Margarethe! Andrew! Yoo hoo!’ cried a woman’s voice. Oh no it’s the staff! I followed Andyroo’s lead. We swivelled, spun and laid flat onthe sand with our faces in our hands. Hidden. I doubted that we were hidden and looked up.Miss Gurston struggled her way across the beach, each step looked harder to make than thelast, a newspaper shading her eyes from the sun. ‘Yoo hoo!’ she waved from afar andwalked to the hideaway-children who soon sat up. ‘Children,’ gasped Miss Gurston, ‘Wehave been calling out for you for a while. Do be careful, Matron needs you to be ready.’ Blank faces returned Miss Gurston gasps of information. She panted from her chest,out of breath. ‘You have to be ready for our visitors.’ ‘Why?’ said Andyroo. ‘Some prospective parents want to have a look at you,’ Miss Gurston explained tothe boy.
‘What!’ I exclaimed. ‘Is Andyroo going away!?’ ‘It is not finalised, dear. We don’t know until they meet. They know all about you,’she sounded kind and caring to Andyroo. ‘They want a nice strong boy to look after.’ ‘I am sick of this…’ I pouted, my head to my chest; left alone in the home was areality too soon for me to endure. ‘Never mind Margie, you will always be close to Andrew still if he went with theseparents. You can visit him if you were fostered too and Andrew could visit you. Theprospective parents know that you two are brother and sister and should remain in touch.’ The woman gave her clucky laugh and almost squished the children with areassuring hug but stood up before she lost her stiff composure. She explained that olderchildren would be put into foster homes and that they can stay with a real family that wouldlook after them and make sure they still go to school. Foster parents, Miss Gurston said,were the loveliest people of all because they look after children out of the goodness of theirheart. We walked back up the unmarked path to the road, and with our heads down, ussullen children trod up the stone pathway to the home. I became annoyed with Andyroo and his way of looking on the bright side. Leavingwith the Hamilton’s could be great and they could be rich and kind AND have a dog.Andyroo wanted a dog to play with. I didn’t believe this and did not share his enthusiasm.‘Still,’ I said, ‘our family would be over.’ ‘No it won’t,’ said Andyroo neatening and patting down his good clothes that MissGurston instructed him to wear when the pair returned to the home. ‘Miss Gurston said wewould visit each other.’ Two adults waited at the front door of the Great Hall and greeted Andryroo with ahand shake and said, hello boy. I skulked back into the shadows. I didn’t care for Andyrooanymore anyway. ‘Say goodbye, Margarethe,’ instructed Matron Clegg. ‘Bye,’ I said quickly raising my hand half way to full waving position. ‘Bye Margie,’ said Andyroo happily, ‘We’ll see each other soon.’ Which, of course, we didn’t. I watched Andyroo in his good clothes walking downthe pathway to a big silver Volvo; the mother woman’s hand gently rested on the back ofAndyroo’s head - the father man was ahead opening the car door on the driver’s side.Andyroo sat in the back seat and waved ardently out of the window.
IV It was only a few hours later when this old woman decided to go to bed. It wasprecisely three in the morning when I first cast my eyes out through the salty window to anight time as dark as mourning jewellery before I would shut them to sleep. I beheld thesilver sea and a waning moon. In the haze of the dulled horizon, I could see my own white,bony hands scrunch the white sheet that covered me on the uncomfortable bed where Islept. The reggae music had come to a stop, so abruptly the holiday homes shook as thefoundations readjusted. They were outlandish, rebellious and crazy kids, I thought –students without the authority to keep them in line. By choice they had decided to holidayaway from their normal society and chose a break that meant they had freedom at theexpense of all around them. I didn’t hold much hope for the turtles when they were here. Something knocked like a pellet at the door. Thump. There it was again. Somethinghard was tapping at the door but I heard whatever it was fall with a bump on the stepsoutside. Thump. There it was again. I pulled the bedclothes up to my chest. ‘Students!’ Ithought immediately. I could almost hear the whispered sniggering. Thump, it hit my dooragain. It was likely that some of those uncivilized holidaymakers thought knocking at mydoor would be an entertaining pursuit before bed. I heard the sniggers followed by a thump. I could not deny the fact that the culprits were who I thought they were and that Iwould have to make an example of them, if I could. Despite the commotion at the door, Ifell asleep mumbling acts of revenge. No sooner had I fallen asleep cursing the existence of students in Lloergan, I awoketo a bright new day with only seagulls and a fluttering flight of waves appearing on theshoreline. I made myself a coffee and planned to take it outside but was halted at the door. Isaw outside along the steps and down on the sandy road litters and litters of rabbitdroppings. At first I couldn’t think why a rabbit – known for its tidy piles of poop along thefarm - would be scattered about so, until I remembered the thumping on the door when Iretired to bed. I stood there for a moment, looking, and it was obvious by some of theflattened droppings that the students had trodden on them as they escaped back down thebeach. There was no sound coming from the holiday lets where the students usually playedtheir loud music despite the protests from me and Delores. But I had made it quite clear thatI was fine with the merriment they had brought to the beach but if anything was going todisturb the turtles – such as lights on at night time or booming bass – they would have toanswer to me. I decided to check on the nest on the beach; the spot where the mother entrusted tobe a safe haven for her babies. There was not a sign of any disturbance or any breaking free.The eggs must still be safe down there. Lucky for them, I thought, lucky the knees-uparound the bonfire had not interfered with the hatchlings’ journey to the sea… yet.
The midday sun shone light all the way from the mountains to the shore – shininglight on the entire estuary: the grass looked long and healthy, the fences seemed strong, therooftops were well maintained, I could not see any litter on my reserve; despite the rabbitdroppings sprayed all across the road where they shouldn’t be, all was well. Around where the bonfire previously burned, I could see beer cans strewn across thesand, as well as empty glasses, crisp packets, cigarette butts and articles of clothing. On thesouth side of the beach, the serene coastline had become the aftermath of a nightclub party. Hungry, I went back to my home and rummaged through the refrigerator forsomething that could resemble breakfast. I grabbed a half empty carton of eggs out from theback. I smelled an aroma that could only be described as rancid as the sell-by date precededtoday’s year. Putting them back into the multi-stained fridge, I made some toast and dranksome straight up rum. Later that day when the kids were up, the reggae music was blaring and their dash tothe water, usually with one girl thrown over a boy’s shoulder, was a staggered pursuit oflaughter, until the flung girl met with the coppery shallows. The group, as the sun wentdown, congregated around the fire with paper plates full of spaghetti bolognaise,accompanied with bottles of beer. I at this time decided to sit close to the turtle nest, out ofthe sight of the party, in the shadows. At least if the turtles did hatch tonight, I could steerthem to the beach and away from the group who, if they saw them, might eat them. I did notknow what those savages would be capable of. The night was long and I didn’t move. I had a bottle of rum by my side as well as afeeling of self-righteousness. With the reggae filling the night sky along with chatter andlaughter, I would close my eyes when the strong, brewed beverage was fire to the tongueand steam to my sinuses. It was my more expensive rum. I opened my eyes and took in thevast starry night above me. There was a lot to worry about in this world, like the rampantcallousness of the country’s future generation – their shrieks and shouts could be heard overthe music – it was one thing to worry about. I could have slept all night if I wasn’t focusing so much on the nightlifeenvironment around me: I heard the chirps of a cricket and the slurp of waves receding backinto the sea. But no sounds of nature could drown out the sound of student activity, though.The stars were glistening above me. But the chattering of some kids evaporated any plans torelax. I rolled over and faced them. There were only two of them now, sitting on chairs,throwing the odd bit of their rubbish into the fire. Lovebirds? I thought, but with blanketscovering their knees and tucked into their waist, they resembled an old couple. They wereprobably more than friends, I gathered, my arms slipping from beneath me as I tried to sitmyself up. Then, as the night grew cold and the lovebirds were stretching their arms to theheavens to yawn, one of them hopped away, maybe to go to the toilet, but it wasn’t quitefive minutes later and the girl stood up with the blanket and rummaged about the partydebris and followed the boy indoors. It was time for me to act and I went home. Twominutes later, I came out again with the carton of the rotten eggs I had seen in the old fridgebefore. Running to the beachfront side of the students’ play pit I picked up an egg. The shellwas softened probably from its retched innards turning a dark brown. I threw it fast to a
darkened window. It echoed a loud thump. ‘Hey,’ I heard. I must have woken a boy.‘What’s that?’ I quickly threw another that smacked the centre of the glass sliding door. Lightsturned on in the lounge room so I ran. Exhilarated like a naughty child playing knock andrun, I ran down around the line of holiday homes and along the street in front, each loosestone stabbing the balls of my feet as I went. I could hear the sliding door open through thehouse and a loud, ‘Oh no!’ which almost made me giggle. What a good trick! The slidingdoor slammed shut and I saw the light switch off in the flat and the darkness return. Mytirade was not over, though. I threw the remaining few eggs, not only at the house doors,walls and windows but at the two cars parked on the estuary field embankment. Lights didnot come on again, and with an empty carton I took it home. I walked proudly satisfied atmy act of retribution. At home in bed, I pulled the covers to my neck and lay there smugly satisfied. Iliked it when I could inflict justice. Although what I did, I knew, was worse than whateverwas handed to me. But it was about the power I felt, and always felt. No one could expectwhat I was capable of. But they knew it if I felt crossed. They always knew. I awoke the next morning to the miserable sounds of ‘Oh no,’ ‘Who would do that?’‘My car!’ ‘Egg ruins a car’s paint you know?’ ‘That woman.’ ‘It must have been her.’ But Ifell right back to sleep with a smile each time those bratty children whined. Poor babies, Ithought in jest, I hope daddy can fix the paint job? I didn’t wake when the cars started, but Iwoke at lunchtime as I always did and paid a visit Delores. It had become a daily routine todo so almost every day when I woke on my holiday, but this time it was not to complainabout the noise but to observe the after effects of my jolly good prank. Having spent what felt like hours elevating myself from my bed, I opened the olddoor to the street and the waiting sheep gave me a great shock. I was feeling rather sleepywith the headache that only too much time in bed can bring. I could not withstand the sightof the dreadlocked sheep, which inched closer to me and bleeted. Its eyes were blank exceptfor an instinct for food. ‘I know how that is,’ I said, ‘But I have nothing. I’ll get yousomething from the store. You should really loiter along the road there?’ I pointed totowards the General Store. ‘There’s nothing for you here.’ I walked down the loose stone road, my feet were still aching from my barefoottirade the night before. I inspected the damage I made last night. There were still eggshellsstuck to the wall along with brown smudges the egg innards made. The heat and the rotteneggs made a pungent stink, which compelled me to hold my nose, but it was still somethingI couldn’t help laughing at. Even the shopkeeper was affected by the smell. ‘Can you smell that?’ Deloresgrimaced. ‘It’s disgusting that is. It wasn’t you was it?’ ‘No,’ I replied running my finger along the many bottles of sweet liquor. ‘Why?What happened?’ ‘Oh someone threw a bunch of eggs at a house last night, and at the boy’s car. Hewas very sorry when he came in this morning.’ ‘Really?’ I said trying to contain my delight.
‘Yes, well, it is not good news for them. Their car is wrecked and my poor Mel isgoing to get the hose to the walls soon to wash it away. Actually I will have to ask himabout that again.’ ‘So,’ I said interrupting. ‘Have those kids gone home then?’ ‘No,’ said Delores, ‘they have gone to the mountains. I don’t know when they arecoming back again. Or if they will. They think it might be nicer up in the mountains thanhere. Don’t know where they’ll stay.’ The mountains, I said to myself. Better there than down here. ‘Well, if they thinkthey will be happy there.’ I said to the shopkeeper whose glassy eyes said she had asleepless night as well. ‘At least there won’t be any loud music.’ ‘I suppose not,’ said Delores. * When I found myself alone I found I was without use. I sat by the great oak treeafter school that day and discovered that I could not even recall what I had done; what I hadseen; what I said, or what I intended to do. With nothing to do I sat and waited for something to come. Andyroo was meant tocontact me, but I hadn’t heard from him in weeks. He had really gone, I thought, they haveall gone now. I felt as blank as I did when the news of my parents’ death was dropped onme like someone drops an egg. I pushed myself off the grass and leant against the ribbedtrunk of the oak tree. Nothing could be done, but I had to do something. I kicked the grassand brought up some damp soil-like dirt from underneath. The grand house seemed empty without my family: a grand empty house withvacant halls except for carpet runners, unoccupied rooms and maybe some screamingbabies, or worse, cross adults if they saw me. But I knew there was a television in one ofthe rooms, and in that room were some board games. And maybe, I thought, if there wereboard games there might be other things to do. Maybe there were toys there. Maybe therewere riches. To enter the hidden and banned rooms – those that were not for children – I woulduse my talents at sneaking and creeping and being invisible. I would first plan my methodof tiptoeing through the halls where the slightest creek of a floorboard would give my gameaway so instead I intended to keep my back to the walls and slide my toes along the edgeswhere the boards were sturdiest. And because I didn’t have my team to keep a look out forthe clumping footsteps of the staff, I would have to flick my head left and right to guardagainst the danger of adults for myself. When I crossed the back sun room and started at the hall, I noticed empty cups oftea on tables and cob webs in the ceiling cornices that made me think that the staff could beso lazy. The children in Keats would not leave their sections like that. The dust collectingon the floor made me think that the floors also needed a sweep. Yet I inched forwards to the
staircase with a feeling of boldness that made me almost climb the stairs with abandon. Iwas filled with imaginings of the staff having no control over me; I never asked for mysiblings to leave me in an institution that I never asked to be moved into, and I should havea toy from the room if I wanted. A toy I could call Andyroo and tell him about my day. When I reached the top of the stairs, the floorboards cried an awkward squeak. Iurged myself to be quiet and resume my original plan of sneaking and creeping; I was goodat that. I consoled myself at bedtime with thoughts of what I was good at, if I received anycompliments that day. But I could only remember a teacher saying once, ‘that’s goodMargie.’ ‘Margarethe!’ stern Matron Clegg appeared on the first floor landing, obviously onher way to the stairs. ‘What are you doing here?’ she tutted, ‘Go back outside now; if I eversee you in here again I will have to get the strap. Have I made myself clear?!’ I weaklynodded and returned from whence I came: alone in the back garden. I stomped miserably downstairs without a care for the noise I made since I wasfound out before I could find the television room. As I walked back to my bed where Icould bury my head, I saw a small whimpering freckle-faced kid stand up with his toy cars.I pushed him down and yelled, ‘Get away,’ and marched singularly to my bed. The thrill ofpushing the boy, however, stayed with me. I had only felt that kind of power and strengthwhen Renèe was a child at the home. I saw another child sitting alone by the door of Keats.‘Stand up!’ I commanded and the girl, her red frizzy hair controlled in plaits stood and I feltthe control again. I could get away with this all the time. ‘Don’t sit there!’ I yelled andgrabbed the ear of the girl, who grimaced with pain, ‘If I see you in my way again…’ I heldup a fist to the other girl’s chin, ‘I will hurt you.’ As the girl cried and ran out of my trajectory, still marching I went to my bed andlaid face down on the pillow, flattened and misshapened from age. A couple of tears fellfrom my eyes and liquid filled my nose, but as I turned and rested on my elbows, I feltempowered by the weight I had exuded at Shellingborne. Except for the staff, I was theboss. It was like a new talent. The sniffling children new at the home and awaiting adoptiondid not have the standing and experience of me. I knew where everything was and I knewhow to sneak and creep into the Great Hall, if an adult wasn’t already walking in my way.But I had workers now to get things from the Great Home for me. Next time, I would justhave to get one of the children to go in there. On the very next weekend morning, I woke to the sounds of sparrows and starlingsin song and wandered, in my nightgown, to the front door of Keats to take in the freshnessof morning and watch the floating spores and feathers aloft in the early breeze. Alive with my new powers and boredom creeping ever closer already, I planned myday. First I would have breakfast and an orange juice and then I would look into somethingto do: maybe a board game or dress ups, but for those activities I would need someone tofind those things for me, rather it be them than me facing the strap from the cold grip ofMatron Clegg. The clang of cups and dishes from the kitchen in the Great Hall was my invitation toready myself for breakfast and I dressed appropriately. But on that Saturday morning I saw
Miss Gurston set out to wake up all the children in the dormitories, so I ran for first choiceof the breakfast fare so I could race to wait by the oak tree for whoever returned to theirrooms first after the meal - not to mention racing to avoid having to clean the tables oncethe meal was had. After breakfast, I formed a plan by the imposing tree, its branches blocking the sky;its limbs still in leaf. I would have to get a child on its own, not grouped in a collective ofpossible fighters, when it is on its own, the child had no one to stand up for it. First in flight out of the Great Hall travelling in a total delight of a day to play wasthe red haired girl without her locks fashioned into plaits by a staff member. I almostjumped in giddiness of my first catch. If I could intimidate her with my height and weightso I could get her to do my bidding. ‘Oi,’ I called to the skipping girl who stopped still andlooked up to the older 12-year-old me. ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Um,’ she whimpered, ‘To my room?’ ‘No, you’re not,’ I said, ‘you are going to get things for me from the Great Hall.’ The red haired girl looked past me to the door of her sleeping cottage and Iinterpreted the glance as a plot to escape me. I grabbed the girl’s ear. ‘You are going to goupstairs and bring back a board game or some makeup from a staff member’s room or I amgoing to get you! Do you understand?’ The little girl mewed from the pain of her ear being stretched to her shoulder andnodded, so I pushed her to the house door. ‘Good, bring it back here.’ And I leant back onthe oak tree and waited for a board game or the little girl being yelled at by Matron Clegg. ‘Margie! Yoo hoo!’ Miss Gurston stepped her high-heeled shoes onto the grass andtrotted sideways like a horse in dressage to me by the tree. ‘We have some news for youMargie. It came last night.’ Miss Gurston straightened her cotton blouse over her tweed skirt and bent to speakto me. ‘There are some possible foster parents for you, we found some.’ That meant that I could leave Shellingborne and all the misery of loneliness behindme. I was excited; I might even see a brother or sister again. ‘Is Andyroo with them?’ ‘No dear, but they do know about him. They are Mr and Mrs Pearce and they havefostered before so you never know, you could have new children to play with?’ I didn’t want new children to play with; I looked at the ground with a mixed feelingof fear and disappointment. ‘It is good for you,’ said Miss Gurston, ‘They live near where you are fromoriginally but in the next suburb in a great big house in a very quaint street with lots oftrees. You will be very happy there I’m sure. You are only one town away from your oldschool; you might be able to play with your old school chums, okay? Now, there’s a goodgirl, fold all your clothes and put your things all on your bed and get changed into your bestdress… there’s a good girl.’
Miss Gurston patted me on my back to propel me to my room and I walked and halfran to escape Miss Gurston and the news that meant change. In my room my mindwandered to the possibility of what it meant to me to be fostered. Would they be actual newparents? Would I be taken to somewhere that would feel like my new home? Would I haveto call them mummy and daddy? Why couldn’t I be with my other brothers and sisters?Would I be happy again? I looked out the window and saw the red haired girl standing with her armsstretched wide to hold a large board game. Matron Clegg rushed behind her to snatch theboard game away and wag her finger in the girl’s face. It looked as though the little girl wasbeing told off like I had a few days before. Miss Gurston came to my bed with a small suitcase and started filling it beforebrushing my hair and leading me to the front room of the Great Hall. Nervously I stood with the two staff members who smiled and greeted the fosterparents dressed in a fashion new to me. The mother had a high hairstyle of bleached blondecurls and her red blouse was only barely buttoned over her breasts. The father, his hairslicked back, wore his flared trousers pulled very high to cover a very rotund belly. Theyboth smoked and flicked their ash into glass trays given to them in an act of hospitality bythe staff members. I was scared and fascinated by the pair. They were very unlike anybodyI had experienced before. They were unlike the staff members at Shellingborne, myteachers at school, and indeed, unlike my parents. I wanted to run away from the pair that were foreign and unfamiliar in a way thatscared me for my very life. ‘Don’t worry love, we are here for you,’ said the bottle blonde who asked to becalled Bethel. ‘Come with us, we have a car.’ Me and my parents climbed into a car that could have been white sometime in itslife; I could see that it was dirty. As the family drove away from Shellingborne, I looked toMatron Clegg and Miss Gurston to wave goodbye but they had already turned into thehouse. As the foster parents left the beachside street, they lit new cigarettes and Bethelasked, ‘Alright, poppet?’ I could not answer while the familiar landscape of Southampton became strange andunknown to me, as I was a passenger on what I imagined to be the dark descent to thedevil’s doorstep.
V The white car bounced, cracked and whistled as it hurtled down the newly builtM27. My new parents hadn’t spoken for an hour so I watched the sloping embankmentsalong the motorway pass, the blank buildings, as well as the birds on the telegraph wires.My new parents, as strange as they were, seemed happy now they were making good speed,according to the father person who had clear passage to accelerate. He would wind downhis window only to tap the ash from his cigarette and roll his window back up again. Themother person protested the opened window, wanting ‘to keep her hair nice,’ and smokedwith the window shut, choosing to tap her ash in an open ash tray below the dashboard. The drive felt like an age to me. I couldn’t remember the journey with the SalvationArmy taking as long from our home to Shellingborne. Miss Gurston’s tale of my new fosterparents living in a big house near my old school could be a lie or a very big mistake. As mytwo parents looked ahead, chain-smoking furiously, I asked in a voice broken with fear,‘Where do you live?’ But the question seemed to go unnoticed. Bethel turned on the radio and I sat insilence feeling the fright of not knowing where these people were taking me. I was scaredof them and had no experience in talking to strangers who were meant to be so important tomy well being. Ken turned into a wide road with a dense row of houses far away from the curb.‘We are nearly there love,’ said Bethel. ‘This is London, innit?’ I opened my eyes wide to the sight of the homes aligned in a row, separated aboutfifteen at a time by a row of shops. It was like where I came from, but as my new familydrove for another hour, I realised, there was much, much more of it. ‘Here we are poppet,Lewisham,’ Bethel stretched her arms above her head and scratched the car’s ceiling withher long pink fingernails. Ken made a sharp turn, followed by another before he took the car over a grassyisland in the middle of the road to take a narrower street to a T junction. ‘Shortcut,’ he said.Both his hands were on the steering wheel, he darted his head left and right while keeping acigarette stuck to his top lip. Five minutes later, Ken pulled into a large space to park his car. There were tallbuildings shaped like windowed shoeboxes either side of the car park and I followedBethel’s curling fingernail and her snappy ‘come on’ to a doorway. We climbed a concretestaircase and I hopped along a few steps behind Bethel’s clacking red heels, her bottomswinging with each step. When Bethel took me, the 12 year old, to a flat landing, which overlooked the carpark from where we came, Bethel announced, ‘We’re here!’ and pushed a blue woodendoor open to a kitchen where she dumped her handbag. ‘I’ll show you your room first, petal,’ she said leading me down a brown shaggycarpeted hall to a room with blue walls, a glossy black wardrobe and a small bed pushed
into a corner underneath a window. ‘That’s it,’ said Bethel and walked back to the kitchento where I followed again. ‘We really cleaned that room before you showed, my love,’ saidthe bleached blonde lady who lit another cigarette. She exhaled, ‘We had to show the fosterpeople that we had a room for you. You can paint it any colour you want. They enrolledyou in school that I think you have to go to soon. Probably tomorrow. A.S.A.P. innit? I’llhave to call about that.’ Bethel seemed lost in the things she was trying to remember and was tapping at hercheek with her nails, searching the ceiling. She looked at the timid quietness of the little kidand smiled, ‘We’re just happy to have you, darl. It’ll be good having a kid around thehouse.’ Bethel kicked her shoes off and offered me a squash. Bethel poured two moredrinks of clear thicker water that came from a bottle with the big word ‘vodka’ on its label.‘I’ll be honest with you,’ she continued, ‘Ever since Ken lost his job we have just been ableto make ends meet. A foster kid means we will get a little bit extra money, not to mention abetter dole.’ Ken appeared in the doorway with my suitcase and bags under his arms - hiscigarette still between his lips. ‘Oh don’t help,’ Ken said to Bethel with sarcasm. Hedropped the bags to the ground, sat on a stool and grabbed his vodka. ‘How’d you go, love?’ asked Bethel. ‘How’d you think?’ Bethel laughed so gently and focused on me. ‘Well, you know where your room is.The bathroom is down the hall and the lounge is there.’ She pointed to an adjoining roomwith leather sofas bordering the walls. ‘I can’t think of anything else to tell you.’ ‘Here,’ commanded Ken who held up a suitcase which I took and wandered downthe hall to the half open door of the room that was for me. I let my bag drop on the floor and laid flat on my single bed and wondered what hadhappened. Only a few days ago Matron Clegg was telling me off, but now the matron wasgone, and why was Miss Gurston who was so keen for me to go to a place where I’d be sohappy? I could hear plates clanging the kitchen benches very audibly. The voices of myfoster parents grew loud too. I was a little girl. I rolled on my side so I could watch mydoor. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that I would have to start looking aftermyself. ‘Margie,’ called Bethel one day, ‘Now I’m sure you picked up good habits at thehome, but seeing you tidy away my fags and pour drinks only in the evening is a ridiculouswaste of time. Now I might not be as fancy as those women at the home, but I am yourmother now. And let’s call a spade a spade. You are the donkey’s roller-skates, aren’t ya?Now stop being useless and pour your mum a drink.’ I did not understand what Bethel meant by a donkey’s roller-skates but I went to thekitchen, all shiny from too much Spray & Wipe on the white units, took the bottle of vodkafrom the back of the bottom cupboard and poured half a glass. ‘Mix it with orange juice,will ya!’ my carer shouted and I, nearly 13 years old, took a full four-litre bottle of juice
and tipped it suddenly onto the glass that made a big orange puddle on the tabletop. I wouldclear up later. I took the glass to Bethel. ‘Thanks love,’ she said sipping the drink. ‘Comesit here now. Corries’ on.’ I didn’t know why my foster mother found Coronation Street so riveting, but I satloyally with Bethel at these times and absorbed the drama like my elder, gasping when shedid and being surprised at the same times when it was called for. The exchange of glanceswhen the drama surprised Bethel was an attention I enjoyed and wished for more of it - forBethel to look at me again. ‘Oh it’s good,’ Bethel would say, changing the channel when the show was finishedwith the remote. ‘I love Bet Lynch. I can tell what you’re thinking – I look just like her.Ooh, if I ever saw her, I would tell her that I love her. But I tell ya I don’t think she’ll cometo Lewisham. There’s enough Bet Lynches to make a hundred Corrie shows!’ Bethelcackled and quietened when Family Fortune began. The woman shouted answers to the screen until the front door opened and shut witha sudden slam that could only mean Ken was back. ‘Look at the mess in ‘ere,’ he sangprompting me to sit up. ‘No, sit down. Ken’ll clean it up. Any luck at the Job Centre, love?’ ‘Nah,’ Ken echoed Bethel, ‘Nah, there’s nuffink. Fuckin’ nuffink.’ ‘That’s too bad doll. Come get yourself a drink and si’down. Family Fortune is on.’ ‘Oh that fucking show.’ Ken said as he sat next to Bethel with a drink. ‘Mad as abunch of fucking hatters.’ Bethel warmed TV dinners in the oven for a few hours later as no one, not Ken, notBethel, not me, had moved from our position on the grey vinyl sofas. They did get upintermittently, of course, to pour another bevvy. So I was with my family again. The ideathat we were a new family did not sit comfortably with me at first, but slowly, thediscomfort of the new home decreased as the memories of my siblings evaporated. It was on this sticky vinyl sofa where I sat. It was towards the outer edge of thelounge room and now had an electric fire switched on, ‘as it was winter,’ said Ken. And Isat still with my arms folded around a mismatched cushion and fell asleep to the warmthand comfort of the room. It was from this sleeping position where I heard whispers in thehall. I was surprised to hear them there because I did not notice my foster parents leave thefront room to have private words. Immediately the instinct for self-preservation flicked tolife in me. I did not think private words were a good sign. Then Bethel re-entered the room followed by Ken. Bethel looked tired at this timein the evening. Too late, I knew, for her to still be awake. Ken dropped on the sofa and shuthis eyes placing a cushion on his face. What could be going on, I thought. ‘Time for you to go to sleep young lady,’ commanded Bethel, to which I rose anddragged my feet to my room.
I didn’t hear any more noises from the lounge; in fact, the television had beenswitched off as well. When I woke the following morning I was told that the television wasto leave the house now and the heater would not be turned on again that winter, ‘You see,’Bethel said. ‘With Ken and me both out of work, we have to cut back on a few things. Nomore television. No lights left on. No radio…’ And I would remember that night as the last I could remember of a time when afamily could sit warmly in the lounge room and watch television I remember when a lady picked me up after school and drove me to differentcouncil flat in which to live. My clothes and belongings were already packed and in the carboot. This was upsetting. I never had the chance to say goodbye to Ken and Bethel. * I took a swig of rum to my lips before jetting outside to sit next to the nest, alldefenceless and unaware of the commotion up here on land. But, I thought, those kids havegone. I might have even scared them away. The weather drifted from a sunny day to overcast and back again. There were wetdots scattered across the road and on the sandy shore. It had been raining a misty drizzle butthe day was improving I’d think, before the grey clouds floated across the sunshine again. Despite the wettish sand, I sat with aching bones alongside where I thought theturtle nest lied. ‘Hello babies,’ I whispered to the nest, hoping that was the actual spot.‘Margarethe is here. I’m still here.’ I had brought my silver flask with me and took it out from my pocket. I had filled itwith rum and licked my lips after I took a swig and looked out to the horizon where a stormwas brewing. I saw a vision of grey cloud and shooting rain out there. In fact, as I took inthe breadth of the ocean panorama, there was not much to see except the jungle of storm, Ithought it did not reflect the newly acquired peace that befell me on the Welsh seaside. I stood up and walked to where the sea started nudging the shore and stared out tothe storm that enraged out there. After wiping my flask clean, I screwed the lid back ontight and tucked it back into my pocket. And as if the storm worked as a vacuum, sand from the seafloor seemed to drag outfar to sea and so did any sign of rocks and seaweed. The dirt evaporated and so did themurky colour. And as the sun returned to Lloergan, I could see the sea had become a silkyturquoise lagoon, as still as a puddle. The sun brought warmth to my face and the heat Iwore like a cloak. The beach had become a tropical oasis and the storm I saw out to sea wasa monsoon of some kind. I thought perhaps that I should go indoors but the lusciousshimmer of the new water captivated my gaze like hypnosis. In my daze, I turned to the turtle nest where there was no activity except that thesand seemed whiter than usual. I returned my eyes to the sea and marvelled at the clearwater, and reasoned that the storm was concocting some sort of spell on the beach.
I looked a few feet out to sea where the water deepened and the colour became dark.I saw a flash of white, which came as instantly as it disappeared again, but then it flashedinto view again and evaporated. I stood where the water could touch my toes. The whiteapparition was a jellyfish. A clear, white, giant jellyfish. Its bell top lifted in and out; itlooked as if it was breathing. My heart was beating. The marine creatures were almost invisible just breathing thewater in order to swim. And it wasn’t alone. Deeper down and further away, I saw it waspart of a swarm: an army of white lungs, perfectly spherical, flattening and curving, werebehaving like organs working in unison. The jellyfish were as clean as the water and asharmonious with the sea and its waves and tides. The sea mushrooms, a name I figured, were like giant Portobellos but were largerand had tentacles. Their legs were wavy and thickened as they joined together on an inhaleand dangled behind as the lungs breathed out. Some jellyfish swam out to sea but as they did more of the creatures as luminous asa full moon on a cloudless night came into view. I took out my flask and drank more rumnot moving my eyes from the spectacle, and I blindly returned it to my pocket not movingaway or trying to. I was now convinced that the sight of the jellyfish was as rare as theturtles. I was aware now of so many more natural splendours in Lloergan than the localscould say, I thought. I felt empowered, benevolent and chosen to see what I saw. I knew, Iknew. Although the storm sat at the end of the sky like a dead weight sucking all what wasunderstood to be native to the Celtic Sea, I could not feel worried about it; I stood like aproud parent of the marine beauty the ocean had chosen to show at the surface. As thejellyfish breathed in and out they swam further and further away from the shore. Like asetting sun, I could watch them evaporate from view. I remembered that sea turtles atejellyfish; maybe they were swimming to sacrifice themselves to the big creatures. Maybethe mother of the turtle babies was out there, mouth open and ready for her dinner. When the last jellyfish left and I could not see any trace of them, I returned to thenest. ‘There’s lots of food for you out there, I have seen it,’ I gently stroked the sand. ‘It’s abeautiful world out there. Under there where you’re going, at least.’ I had spent another insecure and quiet year, after four years, in a home inWalthamstow where I served as a moneymaker for another unemployed couple. I felt Icould have been a lone house spider coming through the flat in the autumn time as I spent ayear with a mother who was blasé about my existence. Living in another council flat in London, I was soon provided with food and second-hand schoolbooks, and a place in a new school, in which I enrolled myself. I pretty muchhad to fend for myself in the big city, as far as school, friends and after-school activitieswere concerned.
When I hit puberty, my new mother Kate did allow me to use her products but itcame with no warning. I thought I was dying that day at school until the nurses and mymother laughed with resignation and said, ‘it is an inconvenience for all of us.’ Then secondary school was a place where I could be as inconspicuous from teachersand authorities as possible. Although I passed my classes, I did so with the slimmest ofscrapes. A C-grade gave me the relief to hide in the shadows, along the walls and stare atthe linoleum floors. I could sit at my desk and stare out of the wooden framed windows atthe busy street outside; I did not completely understand the lessons my teacher would givebut I’d hand in my homework on time and sit exams with the same cognitive impact as atwig on the ground. In this way, I could create a life full of met expectations, of adequacy,of sound behaviour. People who enjoyed such a life, I learned, were safe in the attentionthey didn’t get. Being ‘a student of sound performance’ meant I did not bring disrepute toany teacher and it meant my parents never had to concern themselves with me either, untilthis morning when the Deputy Head teacher had called me into his shoebox office. The man had decided since seeing my performance at the school that I would not beable to cope with the demands of sixth form, and was probably better suited for secretaryschool seeing that I was not showing the promise of someone who intends to go touniversity. Then the official directed me out of school with two letters, one for the Typists,Administrators and Secretaries school who would train and place me in a job for life, andthe other for my parents. ‘Ooh-er, look at you,’ winced Kate who flapped the letter at her husband Bob sittingon the next lounge chair, to which Bob responded, ‘That’s good, at least someone here isdoing something. You will have to pay your way around here someday, so might as wellnow.’ He stretched his arm out to me to return the paper. I left the room with East Enders being the sole centre of attention compelling theadults into a half sleeps. It wasn’t so bad telling my guardians what my school planned forthe future, I thought. Then the angry growls of Bob responding quite loudly to the muffledtuts of Kate followed me through the halls and cut my ears in my bedroom, ‘At leastsomeone would be working around here!’ The sound of glass shattering on the wood chipped walls expressed the feelings ofsomeone, probably Bob, in the lounge, which was followed by a command from Kate whosaid, ‘Shut up, my soaps are on.’ And the bedroom was silent for me and I took note of the Typists, Administratorsand Secretaries school phone number which I was going to call in the morning. I was 15, which would mean that after I was placed in a role as a secretary, I couldbe earning the money to rent my own place. Of course, I would not be lawfully free tomove from my foster parents until I was 16. When I was 16 and free to leave the custody of my keepers, I did, after all, have acertificate of excellence from Typists, Administrators and Secretaries, Kate and Bobdecided to throw me a small gathering in celebration of the milestone of me leaving.
I returned home after my first week as a secretary to Alan Harvey of Harvey’sHome Insurance to a dark room and found my mother, father and a few of the closeneighbours whispering in a dark lounge room. ‘Oh she’s here!’ exclaimed Kate who threwon the light to about four or five people, in addition to my guardians shouting a happy‘Surprise!’ ‘Ah there she is,’ said Kate with the warmth of a sweet desert wine, who gave me ahug and handed me a vodka and coke, a drink I had been accustomed to drinking in front ofthe soaps when I sat in the good room with Kate. ‘Our little Margie has grown into a fullblown secretary now!’ ‘Oh she is professional,’ clucked Robin from next door. ‘Yeah,’ continued Kate, ‘I don’t know what we are going to do without her now!Get another foster child I spose, if they let us!’ Kate roared with a laughter which was followed by polite chuckles from the otherguests in the living room. I smiled too and gulped more of my drink. ‘There’s wine too inthe fridge Margarethe if you want that,’ Kate offered. But I did not want a different drink and instead forced myself into the circle ofneighbours celebrating my good fortune. As warm hearted as they were, I could not helpbut notice the ease in which they drank. Malcolm from two doors down liberated the bottleof white wine with a pop. I could almost see the computations of a calculator in Bob’s eyescounting the amounts of wine poured into the empty glasses. Then the tall man fetched thecork and snatched the wine out of Malcolm’s hand and returned it to the fridge. I wondered at that moment if wine was so expensive that I couldn’t afford a bottlewhen my pay went in my bank. If I could afford wine, really expensive wine, I was notgoing to hoard it like Bob; I was going to let it flow for everyone and anyone who wantedto drink with me, I thought. When I was the secretary, I did often wish to be working anywhere other thanHarvey’s Home Insurance in Enfield. But this was not to say that I didn’t appreciate theopportunity to earn a crust there, but if Mr Harvey was to be believed, I wasn’t a goodsecretary. I was awkward, careless and sometimes apathetic to the general business of theinsurance firm. Even if I actually earned the trouble laid down by Mr Harvey, I didn’t planto work for him for long. In those days I couldn’t sleep. It was the cyclical situation in which I was living: Iwas too tired to work well but I was under too much pressure by my errors to sleep. Thiswas my reality since I started full time employment. Mr Harvey was wearing his dark blue suit but no tie one day when he sat himself onthe edge of my desk. I was pushing papers across my desk, disarranging them in a furtherjumble looking for the letter that Mr Harvey was expecting from a gentleman who wantedto upgrade his home insurance package. He was patient, calm and staring at his secretarywith the look of hopelessness that he experienced every day with me. But he did stand
when I continued hunting in the scramble of papers I had created and said, ‘Margarethe. Ido not know how you expect to be good at this. In fact, I don’t know why you try.’ He left and I started organising my table by lifting each page, checking it andplacing it in a pile I named, the ‘was nots’. I don’t know why I am here, Mr Harvey, I saidto myself. I was sure that the letter he wanted had not come in today’s early post. Butreluctantly I pursued the letter I was sure was not there. Mr Harvey was an arsehol I knew. I knew that I may not be the prim and efficientsecretary he so tried to form with his critical words, but sometimes he was just unfair. Andif he ‘didn’t know why I tried’ to be a secretary, when I was alright, I knew I could be a lotworse. Others were worse. As I lifted each paper I checked and placed it in the ‘was nots’and the pile grew taller signalling the non-existence of that letter, my hands shook with arage coloured by the additional stress emitted by the florescent strips of light above myhead. One had started to flicker but infrequently: too infrequently to warrant a change ofbulb but often enough to really tick me off. Why did I do it? Why was I there? I asked myself over and over again slammingeach page into the pile at the point of each question mark. Why was I there? Why did I doit? Why after five years was I not a better worker for Mr Harvey? And why did he keep meon? Finally the letter was not to be found as my pile of ‘was nots’ did not lead to itsappearance, nor was it to be seen anywhere else. I had to confront that man, probably sittingso smugly in his office, blaming me for not having the letter that was apparently soimportant to him. I wanted to knock the tower of letters onto the musty blue carpet that waslaid out across the entire office. I wanted to push my black office chair over and make aloud bang. I wanted to make a racket over how horrible my boss made me feel. But I didn’t.I remained as professional as I could and bottled my rage which resulted with me drowningmy head in my hands and letting my tears falls through my fingers. Why was I there? I repeated. Why was I? Resolved that I knew the answer to that question, I pushed myself up from my desk,knocked and entered Mr Harvey’s room. He, swivelling in his chair and talking on hiscream phone, put one hand on the mouthpiece and waved a piece of paper in the other tome. ‘It’s okay, I got it,’ he whispered, and resumed chatting smarmy-like to who must havebeen a client. ‘Yes, absolutely. I like to take out my sons when I can to the seashore insummer. When the one indoors lets us out.’ He laughed. Still at the door I stood staring at the older balding gentleman. He still had hisnatural hair colour but it was receding like a hairpin bend - something the inspirationpictures, which sat on small wooden cupboards behind him, could not inspire back. ‘Iknow, I know, I’m there,’ said the man continuing his conversation. He was such a yuppie,I thought. The 80s were nearly over but he still conducted himself as if he was one of therich ones, one of the winners. His well spoken voice, which I knew wasn’t a result ofeducation, bothered me as a secretary. In fact, Mr Harvey bothered me unequivocally, andwhen his conversation ended, I would tell him so. When he did hang up and linked his fingers under his chin, he said ‘yes’ to me. Ihad been waiting for him for a long awkward time.
‘Just to let you know Mr Harvey, I quit. I am giving you notice and I will be out atthe end of the week because you owe me holidays.’ Mr Harvey did look shocked, ‘What? No. No Margarethe you can’t leave. I knowyou are untidy but that’s what we love about you. You know we love what you do here. Wethink you are the backbone of this company. You can’t leave.’ We? I queried. ‘Okay, me. You can’t leave. We need you… I mean I need you.’ Mr Harvey had walked to me and placed both his hands on my shoulders. ‘Pleasestay. Look, I will give you a pay rise. You will stay. Hmmmm?’ I stood silent not knowing what to say. He needed me? ‘Look, don’t answer now,’ the man said. ‘Come out for a drink and dinner and we’lldiscuss it. It’ll be a business dinner. We’ll discuss it then.’ I found that I had been walking backwards during the revelation and was now in myoffice and Mr Harvey closed his door. With mixed with emotions I sat back at my desk andlooked at my boss’ door. Was I a backbone, then? * ‘Ooh, it’s cold,’ said Delores rubbing her arms, ‘I think I will close the windowsnow.’ And the shopkeeper took long strides to the wooden framed windows and pulled thethree of them down with some might. It was not cold, I said to myself as I read the back ofa gin bottle; the elixir was first bottled in 1069. I was wearing a vest in this weather that feltas hot as a tropical day. The shopkeeper returned to her post at the cash register, and Ialerted her to the quite muggy weather in fact. ‘It isn’t cold,’ I stated, ‘I am sweating.’ ‘Oh, don’t start,’ said Delores, ‘I felt like that about five years ago. It would be cold,raining and look like snow and I would be sweating like I was in the boiler room. It is thechange that is.’ I took some bottles of tonic out of one of the fridges standing in a row like perfectsoldiers in the Coca Cola army. The change, I thought? ‘I don’t think so, I am only 45, a bityoung for the change.’ I paid the woman for my drinks and waited for the few pencechange. ‘Maybe,’ said Delores, ‘Maybe.’ She gave me some pennies. ‘It might not, but it iscold, the wind is picking up. I hope you have a jumper!’ I left the shop and gleaned from the spots of rain on my face that the storm I saw atsea an hour ago must have moved in overhead, but all I could see was a pure blue sky and
some starling jettisoning overhead. The heat pressed my shoulders down and loosened mywalk. I was in no hurry. There was no place to go. All I wanted was to sit on the beach witha glass, mango juice and mix a rum cocktail. In fact, the weather felt so warm I thought ofadding some ice. Rather than sitting by the turtle nest I looked for those moon jelly fish I saw usingthe water to breathe. I longed to see the stringy tentacles dragging behind the domes thatwere pretty to look at but I bet the shock of your life if you trod on one. But I could not seethem, all I could see was water chopping and slapping each other as the little waves went inall sorts of directions except straight. I looked out to sea as well and there was no sign ofthe raging storm that looked like it was to be as heavy as a monsoon. All had changed. The turquoise water was not so clean anymore, and the white,white sand was no longer so unspoiled. Instead the sea had resumed to being the coarsemurky grey-green it had always been and the shore was filled with rocks and debris. Thesight of the crystal water and luminescent jellyfish was now a memory that might not havehappened at all. Was it an apparition? I asked myself that question and repeated it in anever-ending circle of doubt. But when I answered that question as often as I asked it, I toldmyself. Why not? It could have. It should have, jellyfish live all over the world. I was surejellyfish were residents of the Welsh sea. Maybe not the white jellies that resembled themoon, but jellyfish lived here for sure. The sea turtles had to eat something when they cameto these waters and they must be the kind of jellyfish turtles, and more specificallyleatherback turtles, would like to eat. Suddenly, a rolling drum of thunder heralded the coming of a storm and thenlightening struck the sea. It happened so close together, I thought the storm must be closeand I looked up. The blue sky I saw before had gone and was replaced by the thick wool ofheavy grey clouds. Then I felt a drop of water hit my cheek like a fat pin, followed byanother two drops in quick succession on my shoulders. I turned around and briskly trottedwith bottles under my arms back to my shelter. Another roll of the shuddering bellows fromthe heavens preceded the whip crack of light at sea. I closed the door behind me, and with aglass in hand sat at the kitchen table and poured some warm rum and tonic and listened tothe rattle of rain on the roof and the whistle of the wind through the gaps in the windows. Itwas cold. I turned on the radio. I found it on top of the fridge and dialled for a Welsh accentthat could be reporting the storm on the local news. ‘Nah mun,’ said the deep voice, ‘Itcouldn’t be rainin in t’summertime but it is heavy, whooo!’ That wasn’t a Welsh accent but a heavy Caribbean accent, I was sure. I continued totune the dial to any station but could only hear noise. The rattle of the windows from thewind and the white noise emitted from the radio gave me a sense of urgency to hear a voice.Any voice. ‘So I says to myself, what do we do now?’ the same man spoke again on theairwaves. ‘I know what we do,’ said a much deeper voice. ‘We sit back and relax and somesweet music will look after choo.’ ‘Ooh mun, some schweet tunes,’ said the first voice, ‘We play something schweetfrom King Tubby for you.’
And the reggae music was back in my house. The off count beats did not cause meto jolt any longer and the voices were lulling me into a dream state with stories of tropicalparadise. I leant back in my chair and relaxed and thought nothing of the storm ragingoutside. I was definitely in doubt that the men on the radio were based in Wales and wereprobably not even in the United Kingdom at all. First they were aware of the weather buttheir accent and local knowledge was so deeply instilled in a different country and culture.Between songs, the men reviewed last night at a dance hall and gave wind directions onlyfishermen in smooth tropical climates could make sense of, the report did not fit with thepouring of rain on my roof at all. Then came a howl of wind wrapping around my holiday chalet, and probably therest in the row, finding, what it seemed, every gap, crevice and hole in the structure andwhistled. It felt like an intruder was shaking my home until I felt the fright it demanded. Iwas afraid, I felt as though I could die. When the storm raged on and I did not die, I pulled a blanket from my bed aroundmy shoulders, kicked off my flip-flops and pulled my grey socks as far as they could stretchup my shins. I did not know how long the storm would keep me indoors so I poured a rumneat and drank it disregarding its taste. ‘Let me tell you now, mun, I was walkin down da street and I saw a mudda duck.’ Icaught more natter from the deejays on my little transistor radio. It was covered in a thickdust that could only be scrubbed clean with a butter knife. ‘Wot was a duck dere den?’ ‘I saw a mudda duck and I followed it to de black river.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘And she chucked up her guts to the chirpin baby birds nesting at its shore.’ ‘Den wot?’ ‘Den, she went back to de worms she found down de road.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘And a car come quick and she was thrown on her back and her legs were flayinglike she wos riding a unicycle in the sky. And den the mudda live no more. Dis is for themudda duck.’ A reggae chill song trickled out of the dusty radio; it sounded heavy but ethereal - arelaxing reggae tune that didn’t make me feel as though I should be going somewhere, butthen a long crack of thunder interrupted the soothing music. I jumped and felt the rum inmy belly swirl. I felt sick. The rain started to fall like a hail of bullets rattling the roof. Inmy alarm, I sought to see the shoreline from my salty window and through the endless greythat faced me. It caused me to worry about the eggs that I couldn’t check on. I panicked as I
was caught with indecision to see if the nest was not washed away by the boundlessdownpour or save myself from being washed away too. ‘But wot can I do? I couldn’t save the duck. It is nature. Its poor babies… I don’tknow wot happened to dem. So I remember the lady ere tonight.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Dis is for you.’ More sad lovelorn music oozed out of the radio. That was a kind of reggae I didn’tmind even though it didn’t bounce along like the other songs. I had tuned into a reggaenight at a bandwidth far, far away, I presumed before I cried. I cried in frustration. ‘Don’t worry about a ting doh,’ said the other voice on the radio that was listeningto his partner previously. ‘It tis nature. Dose babies will find anuddah way. It is wot Godwants. So don’t worry about a ting and everyone out dere, don’t worry bout a ting. It isnature’s way.’ I imagined I must have cried for a long time, but the deejay’s words were hard tonot follow. There was nothing I could do. The rain moderated and softened to a continuousstream. I poured myself a rum to melt my worries away. ‘We play a lullaby for you,’ said the radio. A song about clouds and babies and stars and rainbows filled the air. It did calm medown but I didn’t sleep, instead, I planned my actions for the moment the storm passed. Iimagined that the rain could have washed the sand away leaving the little white ping-pongeggs exposed. The rain that was so unrelentingly severe. If the eggs were bared to the meanstorm, and if it was ferocious enough, the baby turtles in the eggs would surely be dead. Ifthey were still incubating underground, I would never leave their side again. I would coverthem in a blanket before a storm could ravage their nest again. My thoughts turned to the large truck-sized mother that I knew could have beenswimming in the depths of the ocean for any number of decades: eating jellyfish, swimmingamong the sea grass waving in tranquillity, away from the storm that had battered its waythrough Lloergan. Where was the mother? Why didn’t the mother choose a place wherestorms couldn’t hurt her children? The mother turtle had rejected those eggs, I was sure.But mothers of any species have more of a role to play than to spit eggs down a hole, theyhad a nurturing one to play as well. Like the mother duck on the radio that had died, at leastshe fed the babies while she was alive. She didn’t fail as a mother like the turtle. The turtlethat was free to roam the open seas. I fell asleep at the table. My head dropped to my bosom and the radio slowly fadedto noise. My blanket dropped down off my shoulders and a drop of rum sat undrunk in theglass.
VI I closed the door of my first home – a fourth floor bedsit that overlooked FinsburyPark Road. It was tall but creaky, small but warm, in fact, I thought of it as a snug in acorner of the sky. My place in the world. My flat was one of ten on a floor that squeaked all the way from where the boardsbegan at the stairs. My front door made a curious cry as it opened and shut short of closedas the thick blue carpet muffled its swing. I sat on my sloping sofa that also served as mybed and decided to fix the troublesome shower that sat in the segment of the room that alsoserved as my kitchen. For the second time I thought I could try the shower again – my otheroption was a coin operated hot bath in the communal bathroom downstairs. My flat stillsmelled a little of damp from the first time I used the shower. Maybe the water it expelledwas water that sat in the pipes for a long time and the next shower I run would smell less. Thus I took three steps to my kitchen/shower for second time to analyse how thetaps work. I stood in the square covered in a grey and black linoleum, which wanted toemulate the look of tiles, and I leaned through the curtains to the taps fitted on the wallabove a toilet; I turned on the taps: a mix of hot and cold brown water surged onto theshady lino. The water looked and smelled like it had travelled though the Thames beforearriving at my bedsit. Quickly the spray of muck ceased with a flick of my wrists. Thecommunal bathroom better be functional… and private, I thought. I sat back on the sloping sofa; its tan material was paler on the window side anddarker towards the wall in its shaded situation. From this position I could hear voices in thehall: a couple’s petty snaps at each other about change from the supermarket with theclumsy bumps and knocks of heavy plastic bags transported through a door. As the doorslammed, I assumed the shopping probably went into a flat like mine but with flatter carpet;I could not hear those voices after the door so quickly shut. But I could hear next door; from where I sat I could hear a woman shouting in aforeign language at an argumentative man. I hadn’t heard them before. I felt smug; Me andAlan didn’t argue, not even at the office anymore. I thought it was probably because he hadshouted enough at home at his wife and his misbehaved children. But because he caredabout those children was why he shouted and why he wouldn’t leave them… or her, hesaid. The sun disappeared over my building and the room became void of natural light. Ihad been watching television and hadn’t noticed the transition of time but soon flicked onthe central light hanging by its cable and it illuminated the entire room. It was an adequatelight source; there were no dark corners or shadows in which to miss my night timepleasures: a recipe book given to me by my foster family in Walthamstow, my pyjamas,slippers and my bottle of Lambrusco. When I made my dinner innovatively like I did most nights, with mash potato andtins of tuna, I sat at my coffee table and ate in front of my nightly soaps, another pleasure,when East Enders, Corrie and Emmerdale was on.
It was a little after dinnertime when I had finished two glasses of the easy-to-drinkred wine; I drank it in far less time than it took to finish my meal; my dishes sat in mykitchen sink and washing them was a task I chose to ignore – that was a habit. This was me as a weary adult. I had felt this way for about for over 20 years nowand felt the onset of my ways sticking into an unmovable mud. My habits were the subjectof many anecdotes in my internal monologue and to Alan: my employer and lover for thepast five years. I could tell that my habits may be a reason why he had not paid me a visit atmy new flat yet. We were still patrons of the local two-star hotel accessible by a slender slipof stairs between a pub and a drycleaner in Enfield. I sighed and chose not to be offended; Ihad only lived on Finsbury Park Road for a couple of weeks. The hotel itself was in a hidden corner of the High Street that was frequented bymany men Alan’s age, which was middle aged. But it was in the pub next door that saw usas a couple who have the most fun, although, in some evenings, it could be a place where Iwould watch Alan put away pints of ale like it was the only liquid for miles. It was thosetimes that I was happy Alan would return to his wife. At home, I sat comfortably with a glass of wine in my hand. I fought any feelingsthat would make me face myself with the distracting visions of the television and the blearymind induced by wine. With my eyes closed and my head dropped forwards, I would lift my eyes for amoment to see a bulldozer clearing a back garden until they closed again, only to wakeagain to a late night symphony orchestra plucking through a quiet phrase of arrangementthat made me think of the squirrels at Shellingborne scurrying across the square of lawnunder the giant oak tree. I put down my glass on the coffee table and checked for any signsof a spill, and as there was none, I swivelled and curled my legs on the sofa and placed acushion under my head. And there I slept through the sound of the humming test pattern onthe BBC. In the foul-smelling North London bed sit, I alighted from the sloping sofa andsearched for a broom, with which to hit the ceiling at the heavy bass beats that woke me.Failing on finding a broom in the moonlight, I looked for any long handled object thatmight make a desirable sound of protest at what I could only describe as a party in the roomabove mine. My clock on the yellow wallpapered wall told me it was about four in the morning. Iflicked on the light to find a broom or duster but only noticed the pile of dishes that wereleft to rot the night previous and had now started to fester. I sat defeated by my lack of cleaning tools or initiative on the sofa and listened tothe booming bass, the creak of the door upstairs opening and closing and the sound of lonefootsteps in the flat walking up to the door and back again. It sounded like one person wasdancing to the music despite the many visitors coming to the door - to complain, no doubt, Iguessed. But I knew my attempts to protest through the ceiling, I shared with the dancingindividual upstairs, would not work.
I listened to the pounding, singular beat and tried to adapt to its energising sounds,but as footsteps stomped the floorboards above at every second count, I felt compelled to gotalk to the person. Dressed in my pyjamas, I wrapped a robe around me and headed for the flat thatwould be directly upstairs from mine. And I thought, when I pressed my ear to the identicaldoor to my own, it was the flat of thumping music. I rapped loud slow knocks at the doorand stood there for a long minute before a man, his hair shaven to hide a receding hairline,swung the door open and thrusted his body forward. His torso was bare, except for a silvercharm on a black leather strap around his neck and he had track suit trousers on his bottomhalf; he whistled ‘wha?’ He looked left and right to a bare hallway quickly. I felt a nervous intensity forcingme back. He was a skinny man, but muscular, I spoke fast. ‘Your sound is too loud.’ ‘It’s wha?’ he winced like he couldn’t hear me. ‘Turn your sound down.’ He looked up and down the hall again. Looked at me and said, ‘Come in.’ And I entered a purple-walled room, laden with posters of marijuana plants and onewith a smiley face, and heard what I thought was like a disco tune playing with a screamingsinger howling messages of hope, heaven and gladness, while a shouting man wouldencourage everyone to put their hands up. ‘What can I do for you?’ said the man whooffered the sofa for me to sit upon. ‘The music is a bit loud,’ I said, ‘It woke me up.’ I looked around at the maze of oldfurniture that cramped the room. His kitchen was as small as mine. ‘Do you live here then?’ he said lighting a cigarette. I said I did and we introduced themselves. He was Alistair and he promised to keepthe music quiet when he came home early from the club again. It had been a rockin’ night,he said. His apology had been satisfactory, and I forgave his one time only wakeful activity. I enjoyed Alistair’s company for many years. He was my shoulder to cry on, he wasmy good time pal. Sometimes I did entertain the idea that we could be best friends but didnot dare communicate it to the shaven head party boy in case it turned out to be a one-sidedfeeling. Guests would constantly enter his flat, which I could hear by the sound of footstepsat the door above and the quick firm shuts after them. Alistair would not make any soundup there, as he had offered all those years ago to wear socks at home and not ever stompabout. I would even look away during those times the guests arrived at his door when I wassitting on his sofa, feeling tiny as his couch was big enough to swallow me in a navy blue
velveteen gulp. I would instead read a magazine intently, change the channels on histelevision or pretend to see something out of the window. When somebody was at the door,Alistair would greet the guest, be informed why they had come, shuffle to the bigmahogany dresser and remove tiny packets from its drawers and exchange it for money. Hisguests would leave after the deal was done. My upstairs neighbour had a life similar to mine in that he was a foster child too.His parents had problems with alcohol and one too many run-ins with the law. His fatherwas in prison and his mother was a drunk. He lived with his grandparents until they weretoo old to be capable carers. Then he had to be fostered. He lived in Dulwich then inLewisham. Alistair had a home to where I could escape if Alan would disappoint me. Usually itwas due to Alan drinking too much alcohol somewhere far away that would cause theabsences. Alistair did not like Alan, the idea of him or anything he stood for. He would beimpatient with me for seeing him, a married man, who would never leave his wife. I shouldrealise that. It had been years. It was these conversations that would leave me in a desperatestate of disarray. I couldn’t speak to Alistair about Alan - he was a demon I would have toface myself. Alistair, after a while, forgot about the agreement we had made about the volume ofhis late night bursts of music. * I knew it may be fruitless, but I went out to the clear oceanfront. Well, it was clearexcept for a wafting feather afloat in the breeze. It was the next morning after the storm. Iwas awake early to check on the nest and that it hadn’t been ravaged by last night’s turmoil.The day, aglow under the new sun, was sprinkled in bird song and the gentle lapping of thesea on the shore swooned in serenity. I wanted to feel relief after the torture I endured bythe storm that trapped me powerless to protect the life encased in eggs. The nest was myduty to protect as it was familiar only to me. I found the site where I remembered it was andsaw nothing but unsullied sand – like the storm was never there and blew away anyevidence of man and their footprints. I had grown a great affection for the nest and however many lives were kept in it. Ithought nothing of any other soul who dared compromise the baby turtles return to sea and Iworked to pave their journey back to the ocean with no obstacles, light or treachery in theirpath. I looked around Lloergan, and except for the clear untouched sand about my feet,there were no footprints visible except my own. I saw driftwood, grass, masses of seaweedand a tyre which must have arrived on the beach ferried by the storm. I fetched mygardening gloves, a bin liner and a hat and monitored the beach for any more storm debris. Since I could count some blessings that the storm didn’t mess with my nest, I didnot feel burdened by the litter I started to clear away. With two strong arms, I would lift
pieces of any knotted seaweed, wet and lined with pods, and hurl it into the ocean. Anypieces of driftwood I would stick in my rubbish bag. My gaze rested on the thick black tyrethat sat heavily by the shore and couldn’t think how I would get it off the beach. I lifted itonto its curved rubber end and started to roll it away from the ocean. When it slipped frommy hands, it splashed my face with the salty shallows. I wiped the briny flecks away. It hadlanded too close to the shore and I wasn’t happy to have a large foreign obstacle be a part ofa natural coastline – besides it could block the turtles’ journey home, depending I supposedon where the moon hung. I pulled the tyre from the sandy seafloor and with all my might struggled to push itup. However, two giant black hands grabbed the top of the tyre, and the fisherman I hadmet briefly before, tucked the tyre under his arm and walked away from the shore. ‘Wheredo you want dis den?’ he said. ‘Ah,’ I started, my mind was fixed on the man and wondered where he had comefrom. ‘On the road there.’ The man, with long black dreadlocks hanging down his back, his dark legs pushingthrough the sand like combustion pumps out of his cut off jeans, dropped the tyre on theroad, which settled on the ground like a coin. He walked back to me with a casual bounceand smiled. ‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘No problem, girl. You want the beach clean and tings. No problem.’ I looked back to the gentleman’s boat. Anchored again at the same point, ‘No fishjumping in your boat?’ ‘No, dere’s no fish here today.’ ‘Maybe jellyfish? I’ve seen jellyfish?’ ‘Yup.’ ‘And turtles? You haven’t seen a large leatherback turtle out there?’ ‘Turtles? I don’t know. Turtles live in the deep sea.’ ‘I’ve seen one. A big one. Out here. It nested. No one believes me though.’ The man swung his arms, pulled his dreadlocks off his back and scratched the backof his head. ‘No one believes you?’ ‘No, they say that turtles only come to beaches here to die. That they don’t nest andhave babies here. But I think they do. I saw it. You’ve seen turtles out this way? Being afisherman…’ ‘Sure, turtles are here. They have been here for thousands of years, mun. Longerthan you and me.’ ‘And they nest…’
‘Of course they do girl. They are the sovereigns of the oceans. They have been heresince the salt was made for the oceans and before the fishies come to eat.’ ‘They eat jellyfish.’ ‘Jellyfish have been around that long too. It was just the turtles and the jellyfish.’ I took the man’s explanation as vindication. Turtles are here. ‘I am looking after anest.’ I pointed to the sand. I felt pride rush to my mouth as I spoke. It is what a purposecould do. The man said goodbye. I had experienced a very busy morning so far, I exhaledaudibly, waved goodbye and thanked the man for his help. I walked backwards to the nestand crouched down. I watched the fisherman slip into his small fishing boat, whichwobbled under his weight. He pulled in the engine’s cord until a constant stream of pulsingguns propelled him away, and he disappeared. ‘You hear that?’ I gently stroked the sand.You are going to grow up to be kings and queens of the ocean.’ Delores was present on the road. I could hear her sliding boxes into her GeneralStore. Poor Delores did this work alone with no sign of her husband, I noticed, and Ialighted to help. And, I realised that I had been on holiday without sitting on a sun lounger.I could keep a better guard of the beach and the turtles if I could be there all the time. On asun lounger with a rum cocktail. I dodged puddles that had amassed on the road. I saw Delores take the last box fromoutside her store and take it in. ‘I was going to help you,’ I said as I tinkled the bell whenthe door shut behind me. ‘No, I’m alright.’ I looked around the store for ingredients for a rum cocktail but didn’t know whatwas in them. ‘There’s Walter out on the beach today. He will take your order,’ Delores said. ‘Do you have sun loungers too? I would like to sit on one out on the beach.’ ‘Walter is putting them out.’ * Having heard Alan speak my name over the public telephone line, and havingfinally agreed to visit me after almost a year of avoiding any intimate contact with me athome, I was extremely excited. I couldn’t sleep as my mind kept waxing and waning towards what I could offerAlan in terms of food and wine. The visit brought a feeling of acceptance and normalitythat made me feel like it was my birthday. As I tidied and swept the floor of my 10-footsquare flat, my feeling of occasion grew. I collected the photo I had of Alan and me at theSmoky Dragon pub in Enfield, rubbed it on my chest to flatten it and placed it on the centre
of my windowsill. And once I returned to my lemon and peach sloping sofa, I rememberedmy conversation with Alan an hour before. He said, ‘Yeah, sure I will.’ His answer to myinvitation asked again for what felt like the thousandth time. I had almost given up. I gaspedat his words. I couldn’t help it. Mind you, I would rather be in the position of having to beathim back from my door, not have him relaying his many excuses on me. I did believe the excuses before, but after a fashion, I did not know what to do withthem. The excuses usually involved an illness in the family. But when the excuses about hischildren became too repetitive, the excuses then involved being roped into arrangementswith his wife. Sometimes he was just plain tired of me asking. ‘No,’ he’d say, ‘I’m busy.’ At last his words dripped honey found my soul and caressed it with his answer,‘Yeah, sure I will.’ However, my lover had still not arrived, but maybe he was still at theoffice or packing an overnight bag, I thought. I leaned back on my sofa. At first it served tocalm my nerves and relax, but instead I heard Alistair wake or come home and turn hisenergising music on followed by his pounding dance steps. The beats were simple and loud. I could understand why Alan would describe thatmusic as doosh, doosh, doosh. That was what it sounded like through floorboards. My brow crumpled over my eyes. I had to quickly rectify the peace Alistair hadsucked away from my tidy prepared flat. I can’t stand that noise. Alan would say. It’s not music. Young people do notunderstand music. And I don’t care if I sound old because I am old enough to know thatTECHNO is just a phase and its difference with what music stays for good. They said Elviswas a phase, but that is solid music. ELVIS is music that stays… His face would turn pink if he heard dance music belting out of a car parked attraffic lights. I knew instinctively that Alan would not stay at my home a second – or ever returnagain – if he heard the good times Alistair was creating upstairs with his latest CD. So, Ifound myself impatiently knocking at Alistair’s door. ‘What’s up?’ the baggy jean wearing man said. He returned to his sitting room assoon as he saw it was me at his door. I think it is bloody stupid those people who don’t get that music moves on, Alistairwould say. THIS music is the future. Music had to progress man, and it went this way.People should know that. Except I can’t go anywhere in my car and listen to this musicbefore the cops try to fuck us up. Alistair would curl his nostril and nod his head with this story. ‘I know, I know,’ I said to Alistair as he became agitated. ‘But just give us tonight,alrigh’. He never comes over.’ To this news, Alistair grabbed his shiny blue jacket with XL woven in white on thelapel and left me alone in his room with empty take away containers as ornaments and astrong stale smell of cannabis as incense.
I followed the quiet halls back to my room where there was no Alan waiting for meat the doorstep. I squatted on the sofa and resumed my waiting to the peaceful sound of thefridge humming. Alan would not have a problem with that noise, I thought; in fact, hemight offer to fix it if it was annoying. As the noises of the block augmented in the silence of no television or the sound ofAlistair’s rump bumping, I could hear the couple next door speak taut and audibly throughthe walls and the distant sound of a baby’s wails. The cries down the passageway soondiminished probably in the cuddling arms of a mother, and as the argument next door grewinto a shouting battle of volume, I turned my television on loud. The clock on the flowery wallpaper wall ticked to half past one in the afternoon.Alan was quite late. I turned to the prospect of opening a bottle of wine before my guestarrived, and as it was a red wine, I decided that perhaps it would benefit from a breath ofthe stagnant air contained in my flat. I poured myself a small glass from which to sip, and I found that I took gulps as itbecame more and more obvious to me that there was a chance Alan would not show. I didnot have a phone or know where to call him at this time on a Saturday, so I drank. I thoughtit was understandable why half a bottle would have disappeared due to waiting for someoneand not having to share the drink. Explaining why the entire bottle was drunk might havebeen difficult to understand but at that point in the evening I no longer cared and I openedthe second bottle of pinot. I sat on my sofa to pour the first glass from the second bottle and knew that Alanwould see me with a shining red nose and stained teeth if he came now. But he wasn’tgoing to turn up. And whatever the reason for his absence, it was going to be somethingabsurd. I was absurd, I thought, and laughed. I laughed into my glass of wine and laughedto the ceiling at the empty apartment Alistair had left - for what was now no reason. I laughed and laughed which could have been crying but I was quite aware of mypathetic situation and never wanted to think about it again in case I remembered how sadand pointless I felt that day. I did discover later, as I gave my notice to Alan, that he had an emergency with hiswife and could not get in touch with me to explain. I didn’t work the month of my officialnotice and Alan never asked me to. It was sometime after I left Alan and Harvey’s Home Insurance when I had thechance to fit in a pool of actual typists, assistants and secretaries on Chancery Lane. By nine o’clock in the morning, I would transform into a typist proper. I would evenarrive early to have my breakfast at the rows of desks with all the other typists at their wordprocessors. At half past nine, I would be ready to commence the rat a tat tat of inputting thelaw reports that needed entry into an arcane filing system. I looked the part too with a black skirt suit, long tie, shirt, pantyhose and highheeled shoes that would pinch my ankles.
In the ladies bathroom, I would see a lonely desperate woman staring back at me inthe mirror – I could see the distraught longing in her eyes. But when I would walk in theroom of the busy fingers tapping out reports, I held myself like a secretary: worldly,professional and with her head held high as if she belonged a level higher than as part of agiant human processor of information. Edwina Lindsay walked along the backs of the ladies peering over shoulders toensure the standards and styles of the company were adhered to and having the qualitysomeone working in law. She would often review my work when I was a novice but after ayear her eyes would cast over the work of a woman called Jenny de Lacy who was adept atproducing the lowest quality of work and escaping the wrath of Edwina all the same.‘Sshh,’ Jenny would whisper to me when Edwina would enter the birdcage. Jenny wouldquickly pick up a piece of paper from which she would transpose and study intently. ‘Stand,’ Edwina would command to review Jenny’s short passage she had workedon all day. ‘Up,’ Jenny would behave with a tone of understanding the strict woman of 1,000skirt suits. I only had one. ‘Is this all you’ve done?’ Edwina would question. ‘Yes, ma’am.’ ‘We don’t pay you to type like a sloth walks’ ‘No, ma’am. I was confused by the handwriting on this…’ she waved the piece ofpaper from her hip like a silk belt caught in the wind. ‘I can’t read it or know what they aretalking about.’ ‘You don’t need to know what they are talking about. Here,’ the stern womansnatched the paper from Jenny. ‘It says for recommendation to the ingenuity of the… oh, Ican’t read that either. Take these papers…’ she grabbed my work for Jenny at those times.‘I will find something else for Margarethe.’ When Edwina was gone, Jenny would lean across the desks to me. ‘She mightforget about giving you new work,’ she would say. ‘You’re welcome.’ I never felt welcome at Jenny’s imagined service. There was a laziness in that girlthat I had never been allowed or have the luxury to feel. Jenny sometimes would blame mefor her mistakes with the explanation of ‘I took that favour you owed me,’ when I wouldreturn from the bathroom or annual leave, much to my irritation. Sure I would have difficultmornings when I was hung-over or still drunk from an evening when I was home aloneexcept for a bottle of spirits, but apart from those mornings I would do my job to theexpectations of my superiors, stay invisible like the C-grade student I was at school. Neverhad I enjoyed the abandon of the carefree work-shy woman who sat next to me in the pool.It was never the case that I could stay with parents if the earning of money went awry. So unpleasant to me was the character of Jenny that one day I did take a complaintto Edwina. Jenny, to my mind, didn’t deserve any of the work the company gave. She waslazy like a cat and as slippery as trying to catch one too. Edwina one day would study
Jenny’s employment contract thoroughly and speak plainly to me, ‘we can’t fire Jenny,Margarethe, but we are aware of her constant excuses involving you.’ One day, during a vast reorganisation of the company when the legal secretariesbecame executives and more lawyers had Personal Assistants, I became a PA for a younglawyer named Adam Farley. What happened to Jenny, I never knew, but I did know thatJenny was not a Personal Assistant or lunched in the same circles as the other PAs onChancery Lane. * I sat on the plastic sun lounger that pointed out to sea. I accepted a rum punch froma polite man in a waiter’s uniform, Walter. It was a very good rum punch and I sipped itwith savour. When I looked up, I was not looking at the chalets or even at the turtles – theywere safe beside me – but out to sea and the vast might of its depths. Behind me I couldhear giggling and car doors slam. No more than an hour later when I had dropped off to sleep under the burningyellow sun, I was woken by a rather tall laddish looking fellow who cast a long shadowover me. ‘I see you’re still here.’ It was David, the young well-spoken student I’d metbefore. ‘And you’re back,’ I said not looking at him after I inspected him up and down.David didn’t have the clean-cut look I admired in him before, he was unshaven, his legs hadsmears of motor oil running up and down them and his hair had grown shaggy. ‘Yeah, we were staying up in the mountains. Anyway, I’ve just come over to let youknow there’s no hard feelings?’ He had my attention now; I looked straight at the shaggy-haired brave one wholooked at me unblinking with a smile that wasn’t unfriendly but commanded cooperation.‘Hauh?’ I said, and David responded with his hand out. I shook it lightly and said, ‘Well,don’t do anything to disturb the turtles this time, hmm?’ David looked surprised. ‘You’re still keeping the turtles?’ ‘Yes and if you tread anywhere near them or disturb their incubation, I’ll kill you.’ The man almost laughed when he said okay, turned and left down the beach towardsthe chalet he shared with his friends before. ‘She’s really lost it this time,’ I heard him sayto a friend who ran up to greet him. I sipped my rum cocktail and pushed the sunglasses Ifound in the depths of my bag up the ridge of my nose. I did have some affection for those young people and I didn’t want to repeat theincident with the rotten eggs again; but now those driftwood youths had floated back toLloergan. Some debris is almost impossible to be rid of completely, I surrendered.
Since I had experienced a very relaxing afternoon so far, I had expected it tocontinue and took a deep breath to oxygenate parts of my body that needed freshness. Yetmy mind recalled why those kids had bedevilled my holiday before they left. The reggae music blared across the beach and stung me. I could hear the Jamaicanrap so casually over the brass instruments blurting out staccato. Birds alighted from thehidden flats of the estuary and flocked together to head north to the sanctuary. Wind pickedup the marram grass and pulled it away from the sea. The air turbulence rippled the top ofmy rum punch and I shivered. The uplift of the world blown around me may have been asignal to wander indoors but I sat proudly at my seat and succumbed to the wind that rushedabout my shoulders. Reggae music won’t scare me away and I hoped that it would notaffect the turtlings beside me. As the students chatted wildly outside their chalet, with moments of laughterrambling out to the shore, I let my head fall towards them to spy at their wrong-doings.Their volume of chat, laughter and music was increasing. If I caught their eye, they wouldsee me looking suspiciously at them over my glasses. I knew they were only going to getlouder. Although their noise and activity disturbed me, it was a grain of sand in thewhirlwind of emotion contained in my aging frame – I was feeling so much older sincearriving at Lloergan Traeth. I watched the flurry of students falling in and out of their flatand then scanned across the bay until fixing my gaze on an intangible phantom dipping hisarms in and out of the sea towards the wave rock. I stared and shifted myself until the figurecame into focus. It was the biologist, planting stakes into the seabed again. ‘Yoohoo!’ I shouted across the beach. Yoohoo, over here.’ I waved my arm abovemy head to a man not registering I was talking to him. ‘Yoohoo,’ I waved both hands abovemy head. ‘Hello! Biologist! Over here!’ John looked both ways until he saw a figure lying on a plastic deck chair near thechalets. He waved back and cautiously drew his hand back to his stakes. Returning to hiswork, I felt frustrated. ‘Yoohoo, biologist John! It’s Margarethe, come here!’ He shook his head and pulled his stakes out from the seabed and kicked the waterwith his shins as he walked to the shore, his sticks under his arms. He dropped them to theground and walked towards me. He looked much the same as the last time I saw him. Khakishorts, a white shirt. I could make out pens in his top pocket. His face was old and he worethick brown glasses this time. His fisherman’s hat did little to cover his nose and I noticed itwas burning red. ‘Lovely day,’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he said. He was impatient and commanded quick realistic responses from mewith the shortness of his reply. ‘I’m looking after the turtles, as you can see.’ ‘Are you?’ he said, I hadn’t got his concern. ‘Yes, I thought what better place to keep as eye on them, so to speak, than waitingright next to their nest.’
‘Yes.’ ‘Yes, well, they need closer attention since the storm a couple of days ago.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Not to mention those students bringing their ruckus here. The music is too loud.Don’t you think?’ ‘It is loud but it is the tribulations of having the young nearby on holiday, I’mafraid.’ ‘Yes, but don’t you think their music is too loud?’ The reggae was as clear as if itwere playing in front of us by a band of steel drums. ‘It isn’t too loud for this time of day. No one could legally say anything at thistime.’ It was true it was the mid afternoon. ‘But wouldn’t the vibrations disturb the babyturtles?’ He sighed. ‘I don’t think so.’ ‘They haven’t hatched yet. Should they hatch?’ He sighed, tutted, and began to walk away. ‘I don’t know. I am a marine biologistwho is more interested in the algae count in this water. I am not an animal biologist. I haveto get back to my monitoring work. Good day.’ He walked away but not before I quicklyasked. ‘Well, who should I talk to then?’ ‘Talk to the Royal Society for the Protection of Marine Wildlife. They would beinterested in that kind of thing.’ Of course, I thought, some sort of animal protection body needs to know this. Ilooked around. It was a quiet spot on the Welsh coast. No one came to this beach except forthe odd environmental boffin, the General Store family, me and those students. I liftedmyself from the lounger; I wobbled onto my feet until my head commanded my body tomove. I had to get in touch with the Royal Society for turtle protection, or whatever theywere called, and tell them what I had seen. It was not yet four o’clock in the afternoon of a weekday. I knew I only had an houror so to report my findings to the people who would believe me, and most probably, dosomething to protect them. The prospect of those turtles not having the best chance in lifetook the colour out of my face and hollowed my chest. I set off, walking briskly, anxious tomake contact with the organisation before it was too late. As I crossed outside the studentshome on the sandy road, a clique of scraggly youths who collectively looked as though adip in the sea was the closest bath time event they’ve had since their holiday began,watched me walk past without taking my eyes off them. Yes, it was too early in the day toaccost them with a music curfew, but it didn’t mean I was completely powerless. ‘Yourmusic is too loud,’ I curled the unassuming words into something significantly threatening.
‘Ooh,’ they mocked, laughed and turned away. ‘You might not think your loud music, lights and bonfires aren’t a problem. Andyou may think that all of us around you have to suffer it. But I am calling the AnimalProtection Agency and I am sure that your loud music would be a problem to them.’ ‘Ooh,’ they said again and laughed. Many turned into their house while the othermore brazen stayed and followed me to the General Store. Oo-er, they taunted, don’t callthe egg police, they might have pistols. Eggrenades! They laughed and turned away. The General Store’s door jangled the bell as I walked in. ‘Did you hear that?’ I hungmy mouth open as I spoke to Delores. The woman reading a true-life magazine received me kindly over her large glassesto look at a shocked woman. ‘No, sorry love, I was reading the stories. A woman gave allher lotto millions to orphans in Africa! I can’t believe it. Are you after some booze? We’vegot a shipment of wine in this morning. We will have to sell some of it cheap. There’s toomuch of it.’ ‘No, I meant those kids! They are being very noisy.’ ‘Oh yes, those kids. They aren’t being too loud this time? I said to them don’t be soloud this time and we will let them back.’ ‘They are being loud,’ I said, ‘I’ve been speaking to the biologist here and he said tocall the Royal Protection Society or something, and they would be interested in knowing aturtle nested here and probably do something to protect the nest from harm.’ ‘Royal Protection Society is it?’ ‘Well, I’m not sure of the name but could I borrow your phone and Yellow Pages.’ I ran my finger down the best page of the heavy weight book after Delores found acurrent copy of the reference system. I read The Royal Academy, Royal Society of theProtection Of Birds, Royal Society of Chemists, The Royal Society of the Protection ofWildlife. There. I summoned the number on a large circular face that jutted back to itsoriginal position after each dial. I listened to the phone ring and responded to the RoyalSociety for the Protection of Wildlife with ‘I’d like to report a turtle sighting please.’ ‘And whereabouts was this?’ ‘In Lloergan Traeth on the Welsh Coast.’ ‘One moment, please.’ I was on hold and listened to an eighties band. I looked up at Delores who hadresumed reading her magazine. She stood and read it behind the counter. She seemedenthralled with what she was reading and gave it her sole focus. She was wearing her bluejeans and a yellow polo shirt. She always wore that, I thought. ‘Hello?’ said a man’s voice on the phone.
‘Oh hello.’ ‘How can I help you?’ ‘I’d like to report a turtle sighting.’ ‘Really? Whereabouts?’ I gave the details of where I was and what time I saw the large mother turtle. ‘And it’s alive?’ questioned the man. ‘Yes, I believe so; it pulled itself back out to sea. That’s what I’m calling for. It laideggs and then went back out to sea.’ ‘It laid eggs?’ ‘Yes, hundreds of them. They are underground now.’ ‘Underground? So there isn’t a turtle there?’ ‘Yes, hundreds of them.’ ‘But they’re underground?’ ‘Yes, they have just been laid.’ ‘Madam. We do not appreciate crank calls.’ ‘This isn’t a crank call!’ ‘But you do not have a turtle there that we can see?’ ‘No, but…’ ‘Turtles do come to the Welsh coast madam, but they are of adolescent age and areusually lost. Then we would rehabilitate them and send them home to the Caribbean orAfrica. We are not in the business of hearing stories of large mammalian creatures washedto shore thousands of miles away from home and nest in Wales. We will take a note of yourcall and its contents but don’t ring again unless you have something of note or an actualturtle.’ ‘Okay…’
VII All day long, I had been chasing dry cleaning as outlined in dockets left on my deskwith a note: I have shirts left everywhere. It was a long list of items I had to collect for mylawyer employer Mr Farley, Adam Farley, Solicitor. Yet, when I read on my silver plated watch that I could clock off, I was somewherealong Fleet Street and could not locate the nearest convenient tube station. It was from thereI could catch a train to take me straight home. I decided to walk the distance to CoventGarden Underground Station at that time to take the Piccadilly Line straight to FinsburyPark Station eastbound. The sun had set an hour or so earlier so I walked to Aldwych – the crescent street offlickering lights - and then took Kingsway. My eyes traced along the thick limestone bricksof the buildings looming above me. I stopped at the Great Queen Street junction at LongAcre and read the street signs which spelt out clearly in black and white that I was in theRoyal Borough of Camden. I arrived at the side streets cornering the Covent Garden tube station bustling withtourists and rickshaw rides at every inch. I watched those tourists stare wondrously at theirlocation, at the next group of arrivals on rickshaws, or those stepping out onto the lane, whoall had the same expression which melded together into a blur of opened mouths. I continued into the station and took the industrial elevator to the platform andjumped on a train destined towards my home in the sky. I wondered if I was on the righttrain for me and that it would stop at Finsbury Park as the doors closed in on my reachingfor something to hold onto in the crush of people. The automated words announced the trainterminated at Kings Cross. I knew I could change at King’s Cross or even walk, if it wasn’training out there. Invariably, another train eastbound arrived a minute later so I didnt have to wait foranother train further down the line and it wasn’t raining, despite the clouds hanging thickand low in the sky. I walked the distance from Finsbury Park station to my home withoutwaiting for a bus that would take me to my home 400 metres away. I made sure to dodgethe pavement bits where the slabs were pushed so close to one another they lifted; I soonwalked in a stride and in a rapid pattern that saw me slip past other pedestrians walkingtowards me. I could even enjoy the smell of fresh spice smouldering in pots from the Indianrestaurants opening their doors for the first run of evening business. At last I climbed the stairs to my flat and could fall onto my sofa in exhaustion. Theamount of deep puffing from the exercise needed for my journey induced me to breathe indust, exhaust and all kinds of particles; I sniffed, good London air. It was a quarter to eight when I was sitting down to my dinner of schnitzels andchips when the telephone rang. A nasal voice on the other end apologised for the late hourand hoped he wasn’t intruding but he had been searching for me for almost a year andwanted just a minute of my time to introduce himself.
‘Who is this?’ I asked, incredulously. ‘Ah, you don’t know me, well, that is to say you might not remember me, but I amAndrew, Andrew Rainer, we both went to Shellingborne Home for Children, and I think wemight be related.’ ‘Andyroo?’ My voice lifted to a register I hadn’t heard for a long time; my braintravelled to the far depths of my memory I hadn’t accessed in years. ‘You’re my…’ I wasalmost puzzled by the recollection the voice on the phone triggered … ‘… brother?’ ‘Yes, I believe so. There are five of us altogether. I am locating all of you. I havespoken to Penny, Eddie and Ellie. Now that I have spoken to you I have the set!’ I was shocked at Andyroo’s, I mean Andrew’s, lightness of knowledge of a life Ibarely thought of anymore. ‘But… wha…’ ‘Listen, I am in London next weekend, maybe we can meet? Where are you?’ I would not say my address to the voice on the phone and said to meet at the kaf bythe train station. I only partially listened when he spoke of my siblings, I was moreconcerned how this individual found my phone number; apparently the foster agency had arecord of my post at Harvey’s Home Insurance. Alan must have been involved in this. I set the receiver down after we reiterated our meeting next Saturday and turned tomy schnitzel, for which I no longer cared. I instead dipped my chips in tomato sauce andmayonnaise and stared at an insignificant spot on my kitchen floor dumbfounded. I lived at the home, I remembered, when I was ten, for a couple of years. There weresiblings there, I remembered, and especially remembered Andyroo in his brown corduroyslacks and lemon t-shit. We were best friends. Under the giant oak tree we would talk forhours until teatime. Andyroo would talk endlessly about Dr Who. I wondered if he still didlike him. Then, like a leaking balloon, I remembered why we were there. My mother. Mymother who would dress me in fake pearls and let me wear her scarves and high heels haddied. That poor woman; it was a car accident, I remembered. That poor woman. Iremembered she loved me. I was purposefully late for our meeting at Finsbury kaf where my brother wassupposed to meet me. I stood at the cold metal doorframe and scanned the wooden panelledroom with a dirty terracotta floor for a face that would trigger a childlike memory butinstead I watched the girls take money for 50p coffees from an urn. I immediately thought Iwould like to drink the same. I walked through the tight path between the wooden chairs and shuffled past thelarge builders’ bottoms, they were stabbing their large all-day breakfasts with a silver fork.When I held a mug of black instant coffee, I turned back to the almost full kaf and spied thelarge eyes of a man trying to catch me into a gaze of acknowledgement. Was that Andyroo?
‘Margarethe,’ he called, and I sidestepped to the corner table he kept with a half-smile thatsaid, okay, I am here, but talk fast because I already don’t believe a word you say. ‘Well,’ started the tall skinny man, smiling with a careful optimism. ‘I guess I betterintroduce myself again then. I am Andrew; I believe we go way back. I believe even thatwe are…’ ‘Whoah there,’ I interrupted, ‘I don’t know if you are taking the mick...’ ‘No, no, I’m not,’ Andrew, still smiling, said. He took a file from a briefcase thatseemed inappropriate for a man dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, navy blue shell suit trousersand hair coated in what I could only describe as coffee icing for a cake. His hair was dyed;it made his face seem paler than clean china. Like he thought he was tanned to complete hisholiday-making look. But he smiled. His optimism made me not despise him entirely. ‘See, look.’ Andrew opened a manila folder to a stack of paperwork, not inuniformed size but in small pieces here, larger folded birth certificates there. ‘See I haveyour birth certificate. Edna and Arthur Rainer are your parents aaaaand…’ He pulled asimilar birth certificate out from the bottom of the pile, ‘And Edna and Arthur are mine…both born at Princess Anne Hospital see?’ I couldn’t decide whether this fallen Ken-doll was having a laugh or not, but thatfile required some effort, too much to take a jaded jenny for a trot around the racetrack. Istayed in my chair, watching distrustfully even as he pulled the birth certificates of Eddie,Ellie and Penny from the pile. He was careful not to smudge them and held them from theedges. When he looked up to my expressionless face his with wide blue eyes, he lookedquite eager to impress his knowledge and work on me. I gave him a break when heproduced a letter from Shellingborne. ‘Okay, okay,’ I said. ‘I believe you, but what are you doing? Why are you seekingus out?’ ‘Because,’ said Andrew, ‘we are family. I don’t know about you but I rememberShellingborne. I have good memories.’ I could only remember trying to keep my family together, but they had left. ‘Iremember that I was promised to see you and the rest again. It didn’t happen though.’ ‘Oh gosh, I don’t remember that.’ ‘Oh well,’ I soon forgot about him anyway, I huffed, ‘so what happened to you?’ ‘Well, I was fostered to a family in Portsmouth and after a while, I went to Medway,then Tonbridge, Folkstone and finally Crawley. I mainly lived in Kent.’ ‘You moved around a lot,’ I said. My voice had softened. I then told the story how I came to London and stayed with families who lived incouncil estates in Lewisham and Walthamstow and now live in a flat on the street aroundthe corner for the past ten years. ‘Are you married?’ he asked me. ‘No.’
‘Neither am I.’ Andrew, I had learned, was never kept for long whenever he was fostered. I askedhim if he ever wanted to stay somewhere for longer anyway, and he said he longed for anormal family, and wanted it more than being the council tax collector he was and morethan the home he almost owned in Slough. I then saw Andrew as a man unfulfilled in hislife, much like me, but instead of resigning to the situation like me, he was on a crusade tofix it. ‘The Church is very understanding,’ he said, ‘They are the ones who first lit thetorch for whom I should seek.’ I then saw I was subject to a God-seeking recruitment drive. ‘The Church…’ Irepeated. I could have guessed. I took my sight away from the fidgety man and glanced atthe images horizontally aligned above the patron’s heads on the walls, covering the countrykitchen wallpaper. ‘No, no, don’t get me wrong. I am not on a mission for Christianity. It’s just thatthey were there, you know.’ I saw a man pitifully alone. Like how I felt about myself, some days. ‘So, where tofrom here?’ I asked. ‘Well, I am thinking that we should all get together, you know, for a barbecue. Atmy place. Penny is in Surrey. Eddie and Ellie aren’t far from here in Essex. I think ifeveryone took a train from Paddington, they could get to my place. I am not close to thestation but I can get you all in my Mazda. It’s small, but big enough.’ I leaned back in my seat and looked upwards at the peeling paint curling away fromthe ceiling. I realised the separation would end: I could see the grown women and men Iremembered only as babies. I was a much older woman sitting hunched over on my chairand stirred the grounds that had congregated in the bottom of my almost empty cup. Thesmell of stale coffee poked my nostrils and I left it alone. A horrid sound of Andrewslurping his tea and gulping its remnants down made me wonder about how those threebabies thought of the awkward man in front of me, and if they trusted him enough to droptheir lives in Surrey and Essex to travel to his home, and also, what they would think of me!I tried to look after them when they were babies. They would not remember or recogniseme now. ‘Are the others going to your barbecue?’ I asked. ‘They are open to it,’ said Andrew wiping his mouth and blowing his nose in thenapkin. * The bass was a creepy crawly tune and a deep, deep voice spoke in rhymes over asubtle beat. I liked reggae when it was casual, it made me relax.
‘A drink you like ma’am,’ said Walter to me. I was sleepy on my sun lounger. Itwas right where I left it when I walked back to the spot to sit by the nest in the morning. I was expecting a volunteer now from the Wild Thing Conservation Trust. I hadspoken to a disarming man on the phone who, upon hearing I had seen a leatherback turtleon the Welsh coast, said they had volunteers all over Wales who were eager to investigateturtle sightings, and he would send a volunteer right away. So I waited on the sun bed for my visitor, but not before I told those students that aProtection Agency was on the way. ‘Is it?!’ they said. ‘Yes, just so you know. This is a wildlife protection site here.’ So I waited on the beach by the turtle eggs. I ordered a rum cocktail from Walterand gulped it like flavoured water when it arrived. Rum was not the punchy elixir I knewwhen I first drank it. It was my eminent daily drink now. ‘Are you Margarethe, then?’ said a voice that appeared behind me. I turned. ‘Yes, you must be the volunteer.’ ‘Aye, I am Rhys from the Wild Thing Conservation Trust. So there is a turtle here isthere?’ ‘Yes, it came from the ocean. Late at night three weeks ago.’ Rhys took a notebook and biro out of his baggy jeans and he also wore a ripped t-shirt and old sand shoes. His ginger beard had a couple of crumbs lost in it that I could see.I wondered if Rhys was unemployed except for his volunteer work for the Trust. Whenasked, Rhys said he was from a coastal town not twenty miles from Lloergan, and yes, hespent his days working for charity. ‘So, what size was it like then?’ ‘It was huge,’ I explained, ‘Like if two beach towels were stapled together.’ ‘So it was old?’ ‘I guess so. But she’s gone now. She pulled herself up the beach here with herflippers and dug a hole… right here.’ I pointed beside my sun lounger at the hallowed space I was keeping safe from thenon-believers that trod these shores. It was where I believed the eggs were. Based on mymemory. ‘It dug a hole?’ Rhys slapped his pen flat on the notebook. ‘Yes,’ I said properly. ‘Then it laid eggs.’ ‘No,’ said Rhys. ‘It did.’
Rhys looked out to the ocean that was grey and thick with the earth. It churned as ifit was sad today. ‘I think it is a bit unusual that a turtle that size comes here and lays eggs. Ithas never been heard of here in these parts before. I can tell you.’ ‘It did. I saw it with my own eyes. It was late at night and I just saw this mound. Alump, dragging itself. I thought it was a full refuse bag caught in the wind at first. But as itcame closer, it groaned, and I knew it was alive. And then it turned around; started flickingsand in the air and laid eggs. I saw that, even in the dark because they were bright white.’ Rhys wrote the story down. He brought his brow down between his eyes as he tookdown the words. I saw his gaze resting out to the grey sea and then concentrating on hisnotes. He became so immersed in noting the surroundings of Lloergan. Rhys seemed to betaking my claim seriously when other nature workers had been dismissing me as a kook. ‘I’ll just feel the water,’ he said as he strode determinedly to the seashore. Hedropped his hand into the water and appeared alert to what he was feeling. I brimmed with ajustification I felt bouncing in my chest like a glowing yellow ball in my rib cage. He walked back directly to me and pointed at the sand. ‘And it laid eggs there, youthink?’ ‘Yes but I haven’t seen the mama turtle since.’ ‘Well, I don’t know if she would come back. The water doesn’t feel especiallywarm. It’s a pity that you don’t have any photographs. You need pictures… otherwise…’ He paused and looked around. I couldn’t see any crumbs on the young volunteeranymore, in fact, I thought he was handsome. ‘We could find some temperature measuresof the water for summer. See if it was warm enough for turtles. We do get turtles in Wales.But the water is too cold for nesting, except maybe for leatherbacks, which are fine in thecold but are usually just swimming about here right out at sea, when they are adults though,eating jellyfish and the like.’ ‘That guy over there,’ I said pointing to John in his khakis reading the sticks as hepulled them out of the water. ‘That guy is a marine biologist.’ ‘Well, why don’t we speak to him?’ Rhys smiled at me as we purposely strode to a lone John, lost in his project. WhyRhys took an interest in my claims, I couldn’t tell you. Although, I thought that I could joinhim in a love of the Welsh wildlife. It could be the escapade of the day. I did feel like asleuth and the temperature of the water might offer a clue. ‘Hi there. I’m Rhys from the Wild Thing Conservation Trust. I am investigating thislady’s sighting of a turtle. Have you seen anything like that here?’ John, not surprisingly to me, rolled his eyes and sighed. ‘No, I have not seenanything like that here, nor am I likely.’ ‘Oh no, you might,’ said Rhys taking out his notepad. ‘Leatherbacks are seen out atsea this time of year, but the water would have to have been very warm if she came to land.Are you noticing any warm waters out here in your studies?’
John looked pained. ‘The water is getting warmer now…. But not warm enough foran entire transformation in the ecosystem.’ The elderly marine biologist flipped pages on his wooden clipboard. He held out theboard with a page corresponding to a few weeks ago, which Rhys took from him. Withoutspeaking a word, Rhys ran is finger down the page. ‘A few weeks ago was it?’ ‘Yes.’ It took a moment for me to realise I was in the company of academic minds. Itherefore mirrored the expressions of John and Rhys in concentrating on the world aroundme. I felt bigger than just a tourist but an eco tourist or someone using their time worthily. Icould smell a particular stillness in the water where the marine biology study occurred. Icould smell seaweed, algae, fish and sweat, but I had no way of knowing if that was thesmell of an integral ecosystem or something more coarse: the smell of scientists hard atwork in the ocean. ‘Well, the water was certainly warmer here a few weeks ago,’ said Rhys handingback the file to the researcher. My hopes made me smile as they lifted. Rhys continued, ‘But I can’t be sure until Iread something more conclusive.’ ‘Oh. This work is considered conclusive, my good man,’ said John protecting hisfile with the smoothness of his hand as he pressed the pages back down. ‘I am sure they are. I just have to get it confirmed by national records and then I cantell you Margarethe if the ocean was warm enough to lure a turtle to shore. She may havebeen lost.’ We returned to the nest site and Rhys looked about the area for clues, he said. ‘Ithappened a while ago now; I don’t think any clues would survive. Did you see what marksin left in the sand?’ ‘Yes, it left ripples in the sand like a trail behind it.’ ‘Yeah, those ripples would look like what powerboats leave on a river. In this caseit’s like a powerboat on sand.’ Rhys continued scouting the shore for signs of the reptile’s presence. He said, ‘Ican’t see anything she would have brought with her. This seaweed here is red mind. Shecould have brought that from the deep. Seaweed changes colour, you know, brown andgreen towards the shore where the sun shines, then purples and reds deeper down. But whocan say if that didn’t wash to shore?’ We walked to a small yellow two-door Citroen and passed the young people whocongregated at their front door again. I had come to feel that their time at Lloergan Traethwas not so much a stay but a trespass. Their music vibrated their cabin walls. My emotionswere stirred by the noise that drifted through their walls, out across the estuary, and perhapsto where I feared, underground too.
‘Don’t you think the turtles are disturbed by that,’ I said loud enough for the scruffychildren and the conservationist to hear. ‘I think if they did hear it,’ said one of the loose jean wearing boys, ‘they wouldcome out with dreadlocks and Rasta hats.’ ‘Yeah,’ said another, ‘they would probably dance out to the sea all relaxed andsmoking a spliff.’ Rhys opened his car door, ‘There,’ was all he said and turned to me. I was visiblyupset. ‘I will call you with the temperature report,’ he said almost reassuringly, but lookedat his path out from the holiday inlet and sat on the driver’s seat. ‘Hey, you never know,those turtles might hatch without any problem. Just make sure to take a picture of it okay.’ ‘But the flash…’ she said. ‘Yes,’ Rhys became serious once more. ‘That isn’t good is it? Well, take a picturewithout the flash and we’ll see. She might even come back sometime.’ ‘Who?’ ‘Your mother,’ he said, ‘If she does, you could take a photo with a flash then I’msure.’ I waved to the car as the conservationist drove away. I was sure the mother wouldn’tcome back and turned to the beach again. ‘We’re monitoring those turtles now,’ I said as Ipassed the boys standing on the road. ‘So time to be respectful huh?’ I could hear sniggering behind me and felt more deflated by Rhys leaving me tocare for the nest on my own. I reached deep inside my pockets to feel for loose change andbrought out a shiny one pound coin. Maybe Delores could let me buy film and borrow acamera with that. I sat heavily on my sun bed and looked up to Walter standing there with a platter offruit: paw paw, mango, pineapple, banana and some other fruit I didn’t recognise, and heoffered me some to taste. I picked up a slither of the most yellow fruit and let it slip downmy throat. ‘That’s beautiful,’ I said tiredly. ‘Paw paw, ma’am, some mango?’ I took the juicy orange slithers and let them rest in my mouth. They were sweet,succulent and unique; I could never mistake the taste of a mango for another fruit. Walterleft a small plate of pineapple and banana at my feet on the lounger, which I ate feverishly.I was hungry and grateful for the sugar. ‘A drink, madam?’ The sun had moved from behind a cloud and the sky became a luscious azure. Theocean did not look so sad now, as I looked out to clear blue green waters. Seagullsdelighted in flying in circles predatorily over something they later tore between themselvesthat washed in from the sea. The sand was a smooth white as well and I relaxed into theclear surroundings that didn’t need me to tidy from seaweed and rocks. I looked up to
Walter. He was a kind helpful man. ‘Yes please, Walter. Can I have a rum cocktail? Maybemake it fruity. Can you use fresh juice?’ ‘Yes ma’am. A fresh juice rum cocktail.’ I sat under a hot sun. It was so warm it began to scald my skin. I did not move.Instead I gazed across the vista before me. I watched a red legged gull dart across the wetsand and I relaxed. I could not be fearful for any living creature here. * I waited at the train station at Reading. It wasn’t too far away from home in London;Andrew was almost a leap away all this time. Yet even as I had approached ReadingStation, I felt how far away Andrew actually was from me: he was a stranger, I wouldn’thave known him if he was my neighbour. In fact, the thought of meeting Penny and thetwins filled me with an anxiety that felt like sandpaper scratching my ribs, lungs, neck andface when I breathed. The thought was enough to send me back to my flat, where I wasalone except for the sounds of my noisy neighbours. The footpath outside the station was filled with men and women tailored for theoffice but some were casually dressed in jeans: there were lots of legs walking in smart bluejeans. I guessed Reading was filled with those young computer-types on their lunch breakat this time. I saw mouths open for long rolls to be squashed into them, and some peoplecould talk on their mobile and walk and smoke at once. The bustle in Reading looked fastbut perfectly ordered. I almost lost myself in the crowd gazing at the station; it was the firsttime I had left London since I arrived there just over 30 years ago. I wasn’t a Londonerborn and bred, I knew that, but I had come from the south, like the family I was to see againsoon. Anxiety scratched all over again. I took a deep breath of the air laced with themonoxide of passing traffic snapping by me as I sat on a red wooden bench. Yet all the time, a man had been walking up and down in front of the beige station:the pathway was by the tall archways on one side and had the road on the other; he boundedonto the street when he saw me sitting tensely holding my large canvas bag filled withitems that I thought I may need, such as a hairbrush, coat, a jumper and trainers. ‘There you are,’ he panted, ‘I have been everywhere.’ He drew a loose circle in theair before returning his hands to his knees for him to catch his breath. ‘I never got yourmobile number.’ ‘I don’t have one.’ ‘Oh,’ he pointed to the car park. ‘I am parked in there.’ We walked along the train station wall. Andrew did not stop the quick pace he musthave used to find me. I held my bag tight to my chest and almost jogged to meet his speed.As I did so, my mind wandered to thoughts of being with Andrew when we were children:how we rode bicycles on the street and went exploring by the grassland before we weretaken to Shellingborne. Andrew did move fast even then.
‘Have the others arrived?’ I asked. Andrew started the engine of his silver car thatlooked Japanese with an interior that lit up as the engine started. The headlights seemed tobe hidden under the squares on his bonnet. It looked like this car could have been very slickten years ago, I thought, now it looked dated. ‘They are driving. They said they’d be at my place at three.’ It was an hour later when Andrew pulled into a paved front yard. I noted the rows ofhomes with rounded front windows and rendered walls that meant we were in a suburbia Ionly knew when I was young. Here was a home that evoked our past. Inside I saw picturesof vases with bright flowers in plastic frames and pink lacy cushions on a well-used faded-brown sofa. ‘Very pretty?’ I said. ‘Oh you know. The place needs a woman’s touch. A drink?’ I said yes to a glass of white while taking in the bright curling wallpaper and theboxed television set on a corner unit filled with videos. ‘So how long have you been here?’I asked. Ah,’ he shouted from the kitchen, ‘four, five years.’ In a moment there was a ringing that sounded like it was twisted at his wall. ‘That’sthe doorbell,’ said Andrew. ‘Well, hello,’ he smiled grandly to the opened door. ‘Welcome to my home. Micasa, su casa’ Stepping into the hallway was a boy and a girl who must have been in their earlytwenties. They were blonde like Andrew and looked sceptically at their surroundings. Eddieand Ellie, I whispered to myself. I did not stand to greet the pair but waited on the sofa tosee if they would join me there because they seemed frightened. I was stunned intostillness. The girl was quite tall wearing pale blue trousers with a purple dress shamefullycovering her arms and neck and all. She was tall probably two inches taller than me butEllie was not taller than Eddie who towered over his twin sister. Both of them brought two-litre bottles of Coke and a bowl of salad. Ellie turned her head into the living room, ‘Hi,’ she said, briefly lifting her palm tomake a quick wave. ‘I’m Ellie.’ ‘I’m Margarethe,’ I mirrored the girl and politely smiled. ‘Oh, are you Andrew’s girlfriend?’ she asked. I looked at the girl unblinking. ‘No, I am Margarethe, Andrew’s sister.’ ‘Ah,’ said Ellie breaking into an embarrassed laugh. ‘Andrew said that Margiewould be here. Oh! Is Margie short for Margarethe? Oh!’ Ellie sat down by me. I felt likethe much older woman. ‘So you’re like one of us who was adopted? Isn’t this weirdmeeting here like this? Eddie didn’t want to, but I thought it would be a laugh. And we hadto meet everyone. Our parents…. I mean our adoptive parents would not like this if theyknew we were here.’
I smiled a polite smile again. It was hard to think that this audacious girl who spokeso fast was remotely related to me. Ordinarily, blonde haired Essex girls and me would notever meet. ‘Well,’ said Ellie. She looked at Eddie who was more interested in the videos in thecabinet and back at me. ‘Were you adopted?’ ‘No, I was fostered; I am quite older than you. I knew you when you were bothbabies.’ I waited for the actual lunch to begin. I knew my connection with those two wouldnot mean much; they were so small when I knew them. They wouldn’t remember the 10year old girl’s attempts to protect them in the home or my efforts to keep the familytogether. ‘Well, looks like Penny is late or not coming, so let’s go outside and I’ll put thebarbecue on,’ Andrew smiled at them from the kitchen. ‘I am not looking forward to eating,’ said Ellie, ‘I feel like I have been eating fordays.’ This from a toothpick, I thought, as Ellie ambled behind us to the outdoor area setup with plastic plates and napkins ready for five guests. I sat with the boundary fence behind me and glanced at the entire back garden. Itwas only big enough for the table, and a small stretch of grass made the entirety of it. ‘Hereyou are,’ said Andrew placing a bowl of crisps in front of us, ‘Eddie and I will start thebarbecue now.’ And I was left alone with the girl. ‘So, do you remember anything aboutShellingborne or Andrew and me?’ ‘No!’ replied Ellie, ‘I never knew Eddie and me were adopted til two years ago. Iwould love to visit that place though. Maybe we should go there, Eddie?’ ‘You won’t see it,’ said Andrew with a mouthful of crisps and a spatula in his hand.‘Shellingborne is flats now.’ ‘Oh,’ said Ellie to me, ‘I guess we won’t.’ It was not long before my brothers had returned to the table with an array ofcharcoaled meats that could only be recognised by their shape. I took the long cylindershapes and others that looked like countries, steaks and sausages, and ate them with thetwins’ salad and another glass of wine. ‘So, what do you kids do then?’ I asked. ‘Okay,’ said Ellie hurriedly chewing, ‘I am in a shop in Colchester, and Eddie isstarting a trainee program at some engineering firm.’ ‘I am impressed,’ I said to the quiet Eddie, who shrugged and continued with hisfood.
Andrew must have seen my boredom and spoke for Eddie. ‘Eddie is an engineer inmechanics…’ ‘Aeronautics,’ corrected Eddie. He was still chewing on a mouthful as he spoke. ‘Yes, aeronautics and can build entire airplanes, can’t you Eddie?’ ‘I can design them,’ chewed Eddie. Silence fell upon the group so I scanned the table for any kind of similarity sharedamong the siblings and could see how the other three were linked by a mass of thick blondehair lifted from their scalps by course waves. Me on the other hand appeared to be anoutsider with my brown hair as flat as rain. I supposed we were all linked by thickeyebrows that stopped short of a completed arch, except for Ellie who drew the stumpedeyebrow to finish its intended span. For an hour, we had finished our lunch and emptied a bottle of wine. Andrewstacked the makeshift plates together and stood to the sound of the twisted ring doorbell, thetiming of which caught the attention of everyone feeling naked without conversation andlaughed. After a moment, Andrew returned with a stunning girl with my darker hair, buttall, pale and sylphlike. She sauntered head high with a majestic smile for her family. Aburly man followed behind not smiling but helping Andrew with chairs and plates. ‘Hi,’ waved the girl who sat on the chair pulled out by the burly man, ‘I’m Penny.’ Ellie perked up into her chatty self and introduced the guests at the table. I thought Iheard Ellie’s tone of voice drop when introducing me, but started with the usual questions.‘So you are one of us? How great, when did you find out we existed?’ ‘About a month ago,’ Penny replied eating some of the lunch no one had eaten.‘Andrew called and came to Surrey and talked to my parents. I knew I was adopted since Icould remember, so it wasn’t a big deal.’ ‘Same!’ agreed Ellie, ‘I knew we were adopted but Andrew was new. Did you thinkhe was strange?’ ‘Yes!’ agreed Penny, ‘But I have never had a brother before. I thought brothersshould be nerdy.’ Ellie laughed. ‘Mine is. I mean Eddie is too!’ The two girls spoke like this for what felt like an hour but shortly Andrew returnedwith Ben and another chair from the kitchen, and sat down with them. ‘Ben is Penny’sboyfriend,’ said Andrew. ‘No he isn’t,’ said Penny. Ben seemed sad about that. ‘So, Penny,’ I enquired, ‘What do you do?’ Penny laughed at the question, to which I felt out of touch with the youngermembers of the party. ‘Everyone always asked that! What do you do? What do you want todo? I mean, I have only just finished sixth form. We’ll see how well I did at the exams.’
‘Oh, I did terribly at GCSEs, that’s why I left,’ Ellie gushed and the two girlspartook in uninterruptible chat about life - a life so very light in respect to what I knew it tobe. So that is how the Rainer family reunited, who were in no way lessened by theabsence of each member growing up and not necessarily strengthened by their renewedacquaintance either. My sisters and brother were homed with loving parents before they hadknown what had happened to their real parents; how suddenly and young they were whenthey were taken? How the younger ones laughed together without missing a mother orfather? And Andrew, although alone, was the owner of a home and was employed. As forme, I had made some errors in my life: such as not doing well at school or wasting toomuch time with a married man, not having friends, and I felt now, in comparison with thefamily, how not having the guidance of a mother may have cost me. I felt its absence. ‘So what happened to our real parents?’ said Ellie, ‘I mean I know they died.’ ‘No,’ said Andrew patting his mouth with a napkin, ‘only dad is dead, mum is alive.She ran away to Jamaica.’
VIII In the morning confusion I experienced due to being awakened by a modern danceversion of the reggae music pouring out of my young neighbours’ home, I wandered to theGeneral Store, and kicked a stone at the door of the flat from where the music was playing.And before I knew it, I was picking the ingredients of a rum fruit cocktail, taking a mueslibar and was talking to Delores. ‘Breakfast time, love?’ Delores asked. ‘Oh,’ I said looking at my items. ‘I don’t know what I have here. I don’t need rum. Ihave a lot of it at the chalet there. It’s too early for me.’ ‘It is 12 o’clock.’ ‘It’s not?’ I returned the items, except the muesli bar, which I tucked into my trouser pocket,tapped it as I paid for it and walked outside. A beaten orange bus rolled onto the sandy roadin front of the General Store, it was decorated rather excessively with gaudy pictures offlowers and birds and ribbons around the words ‘Estuary Walking Tours.’ There were rowsof half open windows bordered with tied muslin curtains and the faces of various womendressing themselves in caps and visors, and rubbing sunscreen onto their arms; and as aresult, a happy cavalcade of women poured out of the automobile which hissed as itlowered and opened its door to the road. About a dozen or so women were looking at the sky and at the green expanse totheir right and didn’t notice when I stood to the back of their huddle. The collective werefilled with wonder and chattered about what they could see. Teresa, the woman I had metbefore on this tour, stood before us with a clipboard, and what I thought was a pasted-onsmile. ‘Okay, ladies,’ Teresa looked up from her board, ‘Here we are at Lloergan Traeth,or Moonlight Beach, as it is translated, so called because the people of an early day, maybeas far back as the Middle Ages, admired the area under a brilliant moon. Full, I imagine.But let’s walk to the seashore now and start our tour, okay?’ No more than 30 seconds later, the group were ushered along the sandy road to myholiday stay and looked out to the ocean where we were met by a friendly sea. It playfullyturned small waves and ran short resonating streams of water up and down the shore, whichimmediately pulled back into the white bubbly foam again. ‘How may I help you Mssss…?’ Teresa was facing me and primly tapping her penon her clipboard and raising her eyebrows. The woman was wearing an efficient uniformtoday with ‘Estuary Walking Tours’ printed on a logo on the left hand side of her navy poloshirt and on her white cap. Her hair was tied in a pony tail and pulled through the gap at theback. ‘Oh, I’ve seen this tour here before. I’d like to join it again.’
After a brief negotiation period where I was told the walk was not free but avoidedpayment because I was not a passenger on the bus, I was permitted to tag along if I wasn’t anuisance. Lloergan was a sea of distinctive odours: salty water and still seaweed that had beenpushed up onto the beach and was baking under the sun. I was going to move that later. Icould also see my sun lounger becoming hot. I would sit on that when the sun started to set.‘Just come this way,’ Teresa said as she led the women, who were feeling the heat, to thepathway that marked the beginning of the tour. ‘This is a shell-path and as we walk throughthis way, keep your eyes open for little lone flowers, they could be purple or cream or pinkclose to the ground. These could be the marsh orchids native to the estuary. And if you lookup…’ The ladies, shading their eyes looked up to see the birds that silhouetted in the sky.‘These are skylarks, darting about in the sky there. There is a bird sanctuary a couple amiles north, so we see many species of birds here: skylarks, linnet, stonechat, meadowpipit. Birds of the dunes. If we’re lucky we’ll see them all. But up there are the skylarks.’ Towards the top of the shell path, the group saw a mass of flies covering the carcassof what must have once been a rabbit. ‘Oh, I don’t know why a rabbit has died here. Thenatural predator of rabbits is the Red Kite, but its skull is crushed. Keep walking.’ Teresapointed to the mountains beyond the stretch of green grass and the women quickly divertedtheir attention away from the gruesome sight. Me, however, stared intently at the crushedrabbit skull. Flies may have been festering on its body but most of it was still intact so musthave never been the prey of a Red Kite. I thought something large would be responsible forthis death. Something large with a stick, or a baseball bat. Could those students be so cruelduring their time here? I would ask them later. Focusing back on the tour, I ran to catch the group as they had found a purple marshorchid and were marvelling at its covering of brushing petals. A Common Blue butterflyhad also fluttered by Teresa’s eyes, which caused the ladies to grab their cameras only tosnap too late at nothing after the event. ‘The dunes and estuary of Lloergan make up the Dafid Nature Reserve and iscurrently under consideration by UNESCO to become a full Biosphere Reserve, whichmeans it is a place of so many natural wonders, it has become a place of internationalimportance,’ Teresa stated, almost as if she was reciting it from a book. The group walked by crickets twitching perhaps in the marram grass and as the sunwas just beginning to lose its intensity, the group felt collectively at ease. I took advantageof seeing Teresa walking behind the group and approached her. ‘The Wild ThingConservation Trust is investigating the area now as a turtle nesting site,’ I spoke with theauthority I had assumed after my discussions with Rhys. ‘I am expecting a call from theirrepresentative soon. They are checking the seawater temperatures to see if such as eventwas likely. Wouldn’t it be great if the area became even more special and linked to theshores on the other side of the world?’ ‘It would be special,’ said the woman tightening her ponytail by pulling at it in twohalves. Teresa moved her legs quickly to be heard by the tour group who had wadedthrough the grassland and were staring out to sea. The sea was still now and I smirked at therippled expanses of the dark blue mystery that kept so many secrets, of which I was privy to
some. It was a magnificent vista today – its water was flat and heavy like it had anunderstanding with gravity that it was master of the Earth while the rest of the universe hadall the space above. ‘You’ll notice that the plants growing down the steep of the dunes are also reachingup towards the sun. These plants, the ones with the fleshy leaves, are sea rocket and pricklysaltwort. The marram grass there also provides a home for the linnet bird to nest in.Otherwise it protects the dunes and the over trampling of it, which can help make itvulnerable to erosion blow outs.’ As the group stepped down the estuary staircase along the face of the dune, I stoodback with Teresa. She shielded her eyes from the sun as she talked. ‘You know, I’ve beenthinking about your turtle sighting. I was reading an article about the nesting sites in Africaand along the equator to the Caribbean. And many conservationists have their work cut outfor them with new developments popping up along the coastline and the increase in tourismthere. In fact, so many people are staying along the coast where turtles have historicallynested, the turtles are staying out at sea, confused. Now, I don’t know if they are giving upon these sites entirely or if they could be possibly be looking somewhere else - somewheresafer to make a nest.’ I gasped. Really? As a two, we walked down the rows of pine wood planks thatconnected the estuary to the shore. Dots of pink and purple orchids grew just out of thestaircase’s shadow and clasped onto the strength of the dune foliage. ‘Do you think that turtles could be coming to Wales and turning away from theirconventional sites along the equator?’ I asked like a school child. This theory made me feelgiddy. ‘Well, maybe it’s possible. The estuary here is not one that is crammed withtourists. Maybe as leatherbacks come out this way from time to time anyway, they thoughtthat this beach looked safe. But more than likely, if this theory is right, then it would havecome out this way because it was confused.’ Confused, that’s right, I thought. It is not entirely unthinkable that the turtle wasconfused. Both of us walked towards the group who were leisurely looking up towards thedunes as we continued north along the shore. The rich greenery found on the dunes beforewas dissipating and sightings of any foliage was scarce, and when we did see anything itwas just the tips of leaves, it was usually that of a plant covered in the smooth white sandfreshly blown in by the wind. ‘And here we can see the effects of erosion,’ said Teresawhen we had caught up with the bunch. ‘Now this is caused here by the wind, obviously.’Teresa raised her hand to feel the opposition given by the wind that felt stronger at this partof Lloergan. ‘Obviously, there is a lack of flora growing natively here. Now perhaps thoseplants have been solely covered by sand blown in by the wind, but recent thought has it thathundreds of years ago, this dune may have been the causeway for fishermen to themountains. Archaeological findings of tools and cutlery suggest as much.’ I almost grabbed Teresa’s shoulder as the assembly continued to amble, but insteadI tapped her on the shoulder. ‘I am waiting for a phone call from the Wild Thing ProtectionTrust soon. Is that theory something they should know?’
‘Sure,’ said Teresa as she turned around, walked backwards, and then stopped. ‘Butalso, interestingly, the conservationalists in the Caribbean had a time trying to make thosenesting sites ready for the eggs to hatch. They had to shoo people from the beach at night,clear all the day’s rubbish left behind, not to mention scaring away seagulls…’ ‘Seagulls?’ ‘Yes. Seagulls are the natural born predator of the newly hatched turtle.’ I hadn’t thought about the seagulls. I never thought they were important. But Teresaknew more about these kinds of things than me. There were flocks of seagulls that landed on Lloergan everyday but I had neverthought anything of it. Maybe if I could scare them away myself, they wouldn’t return tothe beach. I had no time to lose. Thinking I had to make up for lost time for allowing theseagulls to have such free reign on the shoreline, I excused myself from Teresa and ranback to my section of beach. The space by my holiday home had about ten gulls facing each other while a grey-legged one puffed up and bullied the others to stand back. As I ran, I headed straight for theflock, which dispersed the moment I entered their circle, only to see them regroup atanother space closer to the surf. With both arms stretched as far as I could reach I ran tothem again growling like a pirate. The birds did fly a few metres into the air but hoveredand landed back to the same spot when I turned my back. Those darn seagulls, I thought. Ifelt panic grip my throat and I ran again at the birds. They are just waiting for those eggs tohatch, I tutted in worry, shook my head and ran at them again. * It was a pleasant day, fine and humid, although perhaps a little too warm for runningin short bursts up and down the stretch of beach shooing away seagulls - too warm to shooaway the birds with a small shot of rum in my belly, and certainly too warm to continue thisactivity all day every day. In any case, I knew that something had to be done to protect the baby turtles fromone of the fiercest predators known to them – seagulls - but it wasn’t something to be donemanually. I’d try a few things, I resolved, but I would first have to see what supplies I hadto work with from the General Store. From the beach the General Store was only a few yards away, but I was not keen topass the place of stay for the handful of students, who had, I felt, no regard for my efforts atLloergan and the new sleeping inhabitants tucked away in their eggs. Music thumped the sandy road on which I walked; I could feel the vibration as Ineared their place. It was unavoidable to hear since they stayed next door to the store. Butwhen I looked at their home, the door was closed and it was quiet there except for the loudmusic. It was like this, I realised, because every one of those young people were assemblingon the estuary. One, I saw, held a shiny silver stick into the air only to swing it at a white
projectile that flew in the air. I could hear faint yelling ‘four!’ laughs, shrieks and sawrunning around the field with some trying to see where the ball landed. Seems like fun, Ithought disapprovingly, and I continued to the clear glass door of the General Store. ‘Hello, Margarethe, love. What can I do for you?’ Delores had more energy thanme. I felt quite fatigued after running so much under the sun but I managed to mosey aboutthe shelves in the store looking at the hardware goods. ‘Oh, I just want to fashion something frightening to keep the birds off the beach.’ Delores sounded doubtful. ‘Why do that then?’ ‘To keep the seagulls away from the baby turtles, I was told that they are a predatorof them.’ The shopkeeper looked away and suddenly jumped, startled. ‘Oh, that reminds me,love. That young man from the Conservation Agency called looking for you. He wants youto call him right away. He says it is interesting.’ Delores held out a piece of paper with the ink scratching of the name Rhys and atelephone number. ‘Thanks,’ I said and I wandered out to the stark public phone boxoutside the store that allowed me to view the goings on of the student party while listeningto a phone conversation. When Rhys got to the phone he sounded happy but intrigued, compassionate butwary. ‘It is interesting,’ he said. ‘You remember that I was going to see what watertemperatures were recorded on the Welsh coast for the summer?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, it is interesting, you see, because there are higher than average watertemperatures for the summer. Why this is occurring, I don’t know. But it could be the ElNino in the Pacific Ocean.’ ‘The El Nino?’ ‘Yes, there are large scale variations in the atmospheric pressure between the Indianand Pacific Oceans and the water has been recorded to be very warm in the Caribbean Seawhich is unusual and all the countries around the Pacific Oceans are in absolute climaticchaos, I don’t know if you see the news, but scientists say it is because the atmosphericsystem is in complete disarray.’ The boys out at the estuary swung what must be their golf club again, but this timethey chased the ball through the grassland, as it was in mid-flight. ‘Now, why this has anything to do with the unusually warm water in Wales mayhave something to do with the Gulf Stream.’ I didn’t say anything to the Welshman, but instead heard what he said and stared atthe party who hit the dirt with their club with enough force to upset the turf.
‘The Gulf Stream is one of the strongest ocean currents flowing about here. It isdriven by changes in density when it starts as salty cold sea water in Greenland and isreplaced by warm water when it travels to the Gulf of Mexico. It can change again when itcontinues through to the Atlantic. It isn’t entirely impossible that more warm water isflowing with the Gulf Stream current to our shores.’ ‘I was told by an estuary tour guide here that turtles’ current habitats are being overdeveloped and too many tourists are scaring them away!’ I said. ‘Yes, and I was going to say that the leatherback turtle that you described is finewith the cold water and likes to feed on the jellyfish out here at this time of year anyway.’ ‘So it is possible that the mother turtle was too scared to approach the beaches in thetouristy Caribbean and came here?’ ‘It’s not impossible. She may have followed the warm current all this way to layeggs.’ ‘That’s right!’ ‘It’s not impossible, and with global warming, the planet is in a mess anyhow. Poorthe turtles being confused with what we have done to the planet.’ ‘It could be global warming!’ I repeated. ‘There are so many reasons why a turtlewould choose to nest here.’ ‘It’s not impossible.’ When I put down the phone, I saw that the students were returning to their home. Iwatched them pass haughtily by me while I stayed in the clear glass phone box decorated inthe phone company’s logos. I stepped out and walked back to the beach only to see seagullscircling above the nesting site. There was nothing I could do when they were up high likethat there short of shooting a gun. But there were more reasons now to keep the birds away!Rhys had said that it wasn’t ‘impossible’ that a turtle nested here. I had agreed to take aphotograph when the turtles hatched and show it to him. This discovery could be one tochange what scientists knew about the ocean and indeed the world. Turn the Earth literallyon its head with this discovery, he said. But I’d have to take a photograph. The fisherman gave me a start when I returned to the beach. As I crossed the whitesand to the cool turquoise sea, I thought I liked him here; he always gave me a feeling ofrelief because he was my friend. He sat by the lapping of the water with his legs crossed and knees up. The water ranup to his feet and he didn’t seem to mind. He said hello to me and threw a roll up butt a fairdistance out to sea and pulled another fat roll up out of his shirt pocket. He lit it with aflame that grew long out of his lighter. He was continuously staring at me and patted thesand by his side for me to join him. He breathed out a pungent smoke that stank like grassand carrots. He forever stank like that to me. He told me to relax and feel the rhythm of theocean. The reggae music coloured the air in tangerine brass, yellow guitars and blue bass
and I felt like I was on an island while I breathed in the perfume of fresh grass. My mindspan. He told me how he had seen a giant beast eating jellyfish a mile out to sea. I toldhim that the water was unusually warm and if that turtle is confused, it may have nestedhere on shore. He said I should come away with him to the deep sea on his boat and see theturtle. I didn’t notice the high count of seagulls that had landed on the beach behind me orDelores, who dropped cardboard boxes, markers and the kinds of sticks real estate agentsuse to put up their signs on the ground. ‘A hoy hoy!?’ she yelled and waved to the back ofme. ‘I have things for a scarecrow here. Get them before they blow away! Come see me ifyou need anything else.’ I turned to see the pile of things I could use and a number of red and grey-leggedgulls patting the ground with their webbed feet as they trotted about the sand. They leftdistinguishable footprints. I felt observant like a hunter when I noticed these details. ‘So what are you doin’ den dere girl?’ the fisherman turned to see me pick up thematerials, which compelled the seagulls to scatter, their little legs picked up speed but theynever took flight. I felt I had gotten up too fast. My head felt like it wanted to lift out of my skull, andwhen it settled down, I said, ‘I am making a scarecrow.’ ‘Why?’ ‘To keep the seagulls away from this beach.’ ‘And you tink a scarecrow would do dat?’ the fisherman laughed and blew smokeout of his nose. ‘You can’t scare de gulls, mon.’ He laughed. ‘Seagulls are everywhere. Deyare de sight of land. Dey tell you and all de people out at sea dat dere is land near. Dey arethe flying flags of the land. How is a scarecrow gonna scare dem away? Where are theygoing to go?’ ‘I don’t know,’ I said looking at a box in one hand and a wooden stake in the other,‘Just not here.’ ‘And why do you not want a seagull here?’ I stabbed a stake through a box and felt that was a good head for a constructed manmade of rubbish. I pushed the other end of the stick into another box and connected that boxwith two other stakes to make the feet. ‘Because seagulls are predators of baby turtles.’ ‘Seagulls are baby turtle killers! I see dat. But you can’t scare seagulls. Dat robotbox is not going to scare de birds.’ The fisherman shook his head, inhaled his joint and exhaled out to the sky. I wasexamining the multicoloured markers that I assumed Delores had lifted from one of herchildren’s school bags. I chose a red one. ‘Well, I have to get rid of them. When the turtleshatch I don’t want them to be gobbled up by a scavenger gull.’ I drew the beginnings of amad scary face on the box before picking up a green pen to make its hair. ‘If this scarecrow
doesn’t work, I will chase them myself. I will stay up all night and protect this beach fromseagulls. I will chase them down and follow them to the next beach if I have to.’ I was outof breath. ‘Your box isn’t scary. What is that on the top? Is dat a face? Dat aint scary. Datwon’t scare a baby.’ ‘It isn’t meant to scare a baby, it is meant to scare the seagulls.’ I lifted my human-like composition onto its box shoes and stabbed stakes through them to attach it to theground. I pushed the stakes as far as I could through the sand. I stood back. ‘There.’ ‘I tell you woman, that is not gonna scare de birds.’ It was difficult for me to converse with the man, who I felt, was not as supportive ashe had been as the last time I saw him. It was even harder to argue with him when the nextseries of events proved he was right. When I sat back next to him and looked at my creationsitting crookedly out of the sand, the seagulls didn’t move, in fact one flew by the awkwarddummy and landed not even a yard away. ‘See,’ he said, ‘look at dat bird.’ The bird did fly away when a strong gust of wind blew by the beach, lifting up thetop surface of sand. I felt it hit my skin like tiny stings. I closed my eyes to protect them.But I squinted at my scarecrow as it fell onto its side. I walked towards it to put it back onits feet, only the wind caught it. I ran after it as the wind pushed it along the length of theshore. * It was windy and fresh in the summery conditions and whenever I raised my headfrom the lumpy pillow that I called an awkward bed mate, my head would swirl like apatient in a hospital ward and I felt the need to call a nurse. Sometimes I couldn’t bearanother moment of my holiday where my sense of self-preservation had left to fester in badhealth and a drinking problem. For my part though, I had only taken a short spell out of my normal day-to-day life,and if I wanted to drink, I would. Besides, I was entrusted by Mother Nature, or theuniverse or some cosmic force that put me in the path of the groaning giant that entrustedme as guardian of the hallowed nest. I was now bursting to get through the unsteady forces that kept me to my bed; I hadheard the noises of laughing young adults splashing in the sea close by me. I knew that Iwas the crazy witch of the sea to them, and it was apparent to me, as it was apparent toother experts I had talked to, that I could be out of my senses. I was someone who believedwhat I saw as fact and was following through with the upkeep the situation demanded. I was also feeling rather drained and weary, but this did not stop me frommeandering out my door. As a matter of fact, I summoned the strength against my will toventure outwards to sit by the turtles and make sure the giggling children didn’t muck about
and disturb the sacrosanct of nature. But why couldn’t they show that respect bythemselves? I imagined them thumping above the spot with their play, upsetting an otherwisestill and peaceful womb. I saw how they ran up and down the shore kicking up water withtheir feet as they leaped to catch a Frisbee. I would have wanted to move the play at least 50metres down shore, but I was sitting at my sun lounger now and would be as deterring tothem as a scarecrow. Walter arrived with a plate of succulent fruit and a rum cocktail and placed it on mylap. I also watched as the gentlemanly waiter motioned his arms like a rotating motor toencourage the student activity to be conducted somewhere else. I watched Walter herd themtowards their part of Lloergan. I saw David, the taller and more sociable of the pack, turn tome and wave. He waved with a smile and seemed good-natured about them having to leave.Not that it took long. One boy threw the disc far along the shore for another to run andcatch it. I sat back and covered my eyes with my sunglasses, triumphant that the morningruckus had left so easily. I didn’t have to say a word. The sun lounger – or maybe me - had morphed in a shape that fitted me well,although the seat was made out of a hard plastic and was immutable to any solid force. Inoticed how my thighs gravitated to a particular space on it. I was sure grooves had formedaround me. Throughout all the chaos caused by the students’ ruckus the beach kept itsnatural tranquillity: the dotting of lonely seagulls flapping their wings to land nearby andthe placid breeze skimmed across the sand and ocean. It flattened the water to gentleripples. I held my post, like the Queen’s guard and was as immoveable as my plastic chair. That is until I heard the arrival of a car full of new visitors. Although I could not seethem, I thought these tourists were shiny and new to the conservation project I was leading.I had to pay them a visit to act as a messenger of ecology. As I rose, I saw the arrival of the fisherman’s boat and the tall deadlocked man dropanchor. He was a hundred yards out and I thought I could visit the new arrivals before hewaded to shore, so I waved when he saw me and dashed around to the terrace housebetween mine and the students’ to make myself known. It was only an hour since I woke and I was walking barefoot on the sandy pavement;my knees were reacting from the pain my feet felt as I trod on sharp pebbles. But I saw thatthe entire party of people I heard arrive must have vanished. I did peer in the window of thespare house and saw wooden floorboards, green painted walls and a small amber lampglowing through its glass petals on what appeared to be a bar. My eyes adjusted to the darkroom and I saw movement in there: a man behind the bar, a man sitting at a stool andanother sitting at a table in the corner. When the man behind the bar motioned for me to come in, I stepped back from thewindow. My heart beat so strongly in my chest, I could feel it in my throat. I entered the house without anyone glancing towards me and the barman put a smallcup down as I sat at a stool and he poured rum into it. I sat without anyone saying a wordand I feared I had entered an underground hideout that seemed dangerous and was, withouta doubt, out-of-bounds.
What are you doin’ ere den, girly?’ said the black barman in tan trousers and whitet-shirt, busily wiping glasses and stacking them on shelves. I had to think for a moment. Why was I there? But I remembered, ‘Ah, I just wantedto visit, introduce myself, I’m Margarethe and…’ ‘You look like you are a long way from home,’ said the barman. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I am not. I am heading a conservation initiative…’ I scanned the room to ensure I was receiving the attention the issue deserved. But Isaw I was in some kind of gentlemen’s club, everyone was looking at me as I spoke, but themen there looked disinterested, and returned to drinking their little glasses of rum. ‘I am looking after a nest of baby turtles.’ ‘Oh, you are the turtle lady,’ said the man sitting next to her. ‘I ‘av ‘eard of you.’ ‘Yes, well, there are some things to consider because they are due to hatch soon.’ I dutifully began relaying the information I had accumulated on baby turtles andwhat tourists like themselves should do in order to support their voyage from sand to thewondrous sea. The man sitting next to me, elderly and grey and listening, despite me losingthe attention of the rest of the house’s patrons, said, ‘And I ‘eard you’d say dat.’ He snorted into his drink, but I didn’t mind. I was savouring the taste of the brew infront of me. It tasted of wheat and spice, much unlike how I was drinking rum now – with amix of fruit juice. I did like this drink. The barman rose from bending under the bar, which was soon followed by afamiliar Jamaican vocal singing of Zion, forgiveness and freedom. ‘Bob Marley,’ I said. The barman nodded. The man next to me slid a white roll up as fat as what thefisherman smoked. ‘Oh, I know who should be here,’ I said as I left my stool. ‘I’ll be oneminute.’ Before anyone said anything to me, even a goodbye, I was tiptoeing across thesandy road, grimacing at the pain the sharp pebbles induced, towards the soft, sandy beach.I strode onto the cool sand, completely devoid of gulls but the wind had succeeded in eitherrevealing small rocks on the sand or bringing them to shore with the waves. The ocean wasgrey, murky and dull, and covered by a layer of waves cresting at small peaks atop of giantswells. There was little chance that the fisherman I sought would be fishing in theseconditions and I assumed it was for that reason that I could not see his small blue boatwhere I first saw it a moment ago. Three of the young students were seated outside thesliding door at the front of their residence, but none sat up or even noticed me standingthere. But as I looked across the row of houses, my attention did not linger at the studentsbut at the florescent glow in the window behind them. They still didn’t care. I was not happy with what I saw on Lloergan that afternoon. Bad weather, newstones, lights on at the holiday lets, a tumultuous sea, and the absence of my friend thefisherman. I wished I wasn’t seeing what I was, but it was too late. I was reminded of thework protecting the nest entailed.
No more than 30 seconds later, I returned to the gentleman’s club playing thefamiliar reggae. It was a pity I couldn’t knock on their door with the fisherman in tow; therelaxed atmosphere at the new house seemed like something he would have enjoyed,especially now that they lit one of his special smokes. I sat back on the stool and was offered another cup of rum. It was very tasty rumand I sipped it attentively. When I looked up, it was not at the other gentlemen but at amirror on the wall behind the barman. I saw my eyes were red and raw; maybe I was a littleupset. ‘Wos he not dere den?’ said the man beside me. ‘No.’ ‘Well, don’t worry yourself about dat. He’s not worth de tears.’ Shocked, I rubbed my eyes and spoke defiantly, ‘I’m not upset at him! I don’t knowwhy I’m teary.’ Another guest turned and accepted a refill from the barman. Although I had lost hisinterest, I spoke, ‘I don’t know why am teary. It is certainly not because of that man. I guessit is because I saw those kids that are next door from here. That and the bad weather. I tryso hard to make sure those baby turtles will have the best start in life. And if they hatchednow, the weather is bad, and the sand is full of rocks and those kids have the lights on!...’ ‘Sh sh sh,’ said the man. ‘Now, why are you troubling yourself, girl?’ ‘I don’t know,’ I said dabbing my eyes with my shirt. ‘Dere’s no ting you can do. The baby turtles, dey belong to nature. Let nature takeits course.’ I appreciated the wisdom and smiled. But I didn’t know why I cared so much andwould make such a fuss. But I had to see those turtles back safe in the ocean. ‘Just relax,’added the man. I smiled at that too. I had been hearing much of that advice of late. I should relax. I stood and left the rum bar. I, however, stood at the doorway for a moment with mybrow furrowed over my eyes. It was not clear how I could relax, but I soon departed myneighbour’s home and wandered out onto the road again under a distinctly cloudy sky. Asprinkling of rain on my nose did count me out of finding a way to abandon my worries onthe sun bed, and as the drizzle became pellets of rain on my hair, I indeed found a reason torun and take cover and relax at home.
IX I soon found reason to doubt everything Andrew had said about knowing that my(our) mother was alive. First, there was the Salvation Army who had said my parents haddied and, second, how had she never visited me at the home or when I was fostered out tostrangers or at my flat now; and third, she just wouldn’t, a mother couldn’t. It would be tooshocking to think she had faked her death to cover an escape from me and the rest of thechildren. But a shock I got. Andrew had spent months researching the Rainer family andsomehow found, by way of a lack of death certificate, that Edna Rainer was indeed alive.Salvation Army records showed that the mother was missing. My father was dead and Ednahad remarried… in Jamaica. ‘According to what was in the Salvation Army report, Dad had committed suicide.Put his head in the oven. Mum was missing. Never to have been found. ‘Maybe that waswhat pushed him over the edge?’ Andrew said. Then tears poured from my eyes, heavy uncontrollable drops of it, and I cried frommy throat for the happiness I never experienced. Perhaps from not having a mother. I couldremember the woman: she was a giant in my eyes as a 10-year-old. She had blonde hair andwore skirts. A red one I remembered particularly. But most of all, I remembered thecostume jewellery Edna had kept on a dressing table in her room. And makeup too. I wouldspend what felt like an entire afternoon putting on my mother’s makeup and wearing thelong strands of plastic beads. My mother had told me that I looked beautiful when I dressedup like a movie star. ‘I don’t know why she left, but it is okay, I forgive her,’ Andrew said, ‘I neverreally knew her. And I turned out okay.’ I was not sure that I could forgive my mother. I felt rejected, sure, but I saw noreason to love or hate her. At this stage of my turning over the news in my head, I musthave slept, not eaten, and be very lucky to have made it home from Reading at all, since thenews sent my mind spinning and I felt lost, without anchor, ever since. I looked up towards the ceiling as I heard the roll of a voice commanding for allhands in the air. Alistair must have a microphone plugged into his impressive sound system.It was before 11 at night, too early to complain. I began to cry but stopped short of crying for myself because I found that I hadnothing to cry about… really. Edna had become separate from me. ‘What was wrong with her?’ Ellie had asked upon hearing the news. ‘I don’t know,’ said Andrew. ‘And we might never know. But I am planning towrite to her to find out. Maybe she will write back?’
‘Well, whatever was wrong with her, Eddie and I don’t want to know, do youEddie? We have our parents. The ones that took care of us since we were babies.’ ‘Yeah, I know what you mean. My mother never ran out on us. I still live with herand my dad,’ Penny added. I wasn’t surprised to hear the reactions of my youngest siblings, but Andrew hadseemed to be complacent about it. Too complacent. I felt frustrated. Didn’t he feelannoyed? Wasn’t he fuming mad with her? He must have been when he first heard? Ibombarded my brother with questions when he drove me back to Reading Station. His gazewas attached to the road, but he would quickly glance at me and shrug. ‘We don’t knowwhat she was going through. A woman doesn’t just leave her family without good reason.’ I understood what Andrew was saying but saw glimpses of sadness in him as helooked back to the road. Andrew was eight when Edna left, she must have hurt himsomehow. ‘Besides,’ he said, ‘to forgive will bring you peace.’ It was easy enough to say, I thought. I distanced myself from his words that wouldhave come from some Church reading material. Where was God when I was all alone andfound only by a string of strangers who drank and sinned and were only interested in thepay fostering could bring? Where was God when I broke up with Alan? And why has Godleft me so sadly alone? I closed my eyes and drifted back to sleep on my sofa, only to be woken to Alistairbounding up and down on the floorboards shouting wicked, wicked, wicked, into hismicrophone. By now I was willing to forget that I knew Edna was alive. My father had killedhimself, and that I was alone. After the weekend, I resumed dashing about London for myemployer. I typed his letters and arranged his meetings. I had even begun to lunch with theladies who PA and not have my thoughts wander to the dark place where my real parentsexisted in my mind. Until, while I was eating salmon fish cakes, the phone rang. It was Andrew. ‘She answered my letter!’ his voice flipped with a sound that made me nervous. Hecould have been crying about this. ‘She is in Jamaica, near a place called St Anne’s Bay.She said she was sorry.’ ‘She would,’ I said. I didn’t realise that in forgetting about Edna, I had becomecynical. ‘Ah, yes,’ Andrew stuttered, ‘she was sorry. She said she was so miserable beforeshe left, she thought we would be better off with our father. She didn’t know he had donewhat he done.’ I didn’t say anything to this news. I didn’t know what to think. Andrew was reallyturning on the lights to the reality that had surrounded me but I still didn’t want to know. Ihadn’t forgiven Edna or my father or anyone for what they had done. ‘Yes well, she sends her love to you.’
I didn’t know if I wanted it. ‘I am writing to her again. I’m going to ask for her phone number.’ I didn’t hear from my brother for a couple of months after that phone call. Mymother was an alive human. She was easier to dismiss when she only existed as a memory,now she was a theory. By the springtime and at dinnertime, Andrew rang me, his sister. ‘She gave me hernumber.’ His voice jumped like he had been jogging. Breathlessly he added, ‘She wroteback and gave me her number.’ ‘Okay.’ ‘I am going to call her… what’s the time difference is Jamaica?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘I am going to find that out…’ I held the phone away from my ear. He had hung up. I hardly knew Andrew and hisexhilaration and his tendency to think out loud was new to me. It was dusk and I wasfinishing my dinner. My amusement at Andrew made me nearly forget that my brother wassoon to speak with the woman who had left me. It still seemed separate. I was absorbed with liquor when Andrew called again. I had returned home after afew ‘shooters’ with the PAs – who were coping with their workload of late with some harddrinking. I had the taste for some straight up vodka after the soiree on the town and hadalmost drunk myself into oblivion when the phone rang. ‘Margarethe.’ ‘Yeeeessss,’ I purred into the receiver, stumbling across the chair as I leant to pickup the phone. ‘Margarethe. What would you say to a trip to Jamaica?’ I missed chair when I went to sit on it and when I spoke on the phone I was heavingmyself upright. ‘Have I won?’ ‘You could say that, but you would have to pay for yourself.’ Andrew was laughing. ‘Is this Andrew?’ I was disbelieving. ‘Are you talking about our mum?’ ‘Yes. I was just speaking to her. Well, for the fourteenth time. And we werethinking that I should come over there. And I said that I would ask to see if anyone elsewould like to come. She said she would love it if you’d be there…’ ‘Where to?’ ‘Jamaica!’
‘Well, no one would say no to Jamaica. Is mum paying then?’ ‘No, you’d pay. I can help you with the hotel or flight or something.’ I only remembered parts of this conversation. I may have said yes to a holiday inJamaica with my brother. My thoughts at work, which saw me dreamily flick my blue penleft and right, were of that conversation. I remembered Andrew offering to ‘help’ with thetravel expenses. ‘I have rung the others as well,’ Andrew had said, I remembered. The others meantPenny, Eddie and Ellie, ‘And they aren’t coming. It would just be the older children seeingour mother. And her new husband too. Jimmy. Jimmy Brown. He sounds Jamaican doesn’the?’ I strolled down the high road to my block of flats in which I had resided for the pastten years and checked my mail from the ratty metal pigeon holes. One, which wasaddressed in a scribbled hand, had my address and a simple stamp of the Queen’s head onit. I opened that letter first when I was inside my flat. It was an itinerary of a flight fromHeathrow to Norman Manley Airport, Jamaica - then a seven night stay at some hotel inNegril called The Castle. In the same pen scratching a sentence read, ‘We’ll have a greattime at this seaside resort. Remember the beach at Shellingborne?’ I did remember the beach near Shellingborne Home for Children. Andyroo couldsave any creature that had washed up on shore, although, more often than not, it was acreature that would be thrown in my direction, to my squeals of terror at anything slimy. Itwas fun, though. I held the photocopied itinerary. There was only one way to meet my mother andAndrew had jimmied that door open with a determined crucifix. I still, however, did notknow how I felt about meeting my mother, despite my reasons against it being so logical; Ifelt more comfortable with the idea of lying on a clean white shore line and becomingtoasty brown. Rather than an indoorsy London white. Andrew had, in what was a nervous greeting, outstretched his albatross wingspanfor a hug as I arrived at Terminal 5 pulling my small suitcase on wheels behind me, and myoversized carry bag under my arm. ‘Ready for ten hours on the plane?’ I made a donkey sound for yes, which sounded as awkward as I felt. ‘I wasn’t sure if you were going to come in the end. I thought, oh no, there’s anempty seat to pay for. But here you are.’ Here I was indeed. Off to Jamaica. Off to a place that had not meant anything to meexcept for Bob Marley and the accent my upstairs neighbour sometimes feigned on hismicrophone. But now I had family there. My brother grabbed my bag as we reached a British Airways worker behind herdesk who rushed our tickets through a system, checked our passports and strapped barcode
labels to our bags. Leaving us with our boarding passes and passports, me and my brotherpassed the security points and sat on the padded plastic chairs within a sea of people, touristfaces, suitcases, papers and direction signs. ‘I’m going for a drink,’ I rushed with my carry bag to a sports bar. Andrewfollowed. I was feeling a panic in my situation and drank straight up vodkas to lighten mymood. I must have been in a positive frame of mind to agree to this journey. A mood I wasbent on recreating with as many cups of the stiff clear drink as I could manage. My planwas to devour as many as possible within the hour before the plane was scheduled forboarding. * I did truly wish I had better materials to work with: just three nails, two lengths ofwood that gave me splinters and one long, thin heavy hammer. This was not to say I didn’tappreciate the help and insight of Delores, and the generous contribution of materials, I justcouldn’t see how I was going to make a menacing scarecrow with what I had. Now, I held up the structure to the wind that blew grains of sand here and there, intomy eyes or onto the corner of my mouth. I pushed the ‘crow into the sand in front of myfeet and slumped onto my knees. I had made a cardboard crucifix, I knew it. It wassomething that could maybe frighten the beach goers into making better moral decisions, orto make them flee the destination entirely, but it wouldn’t scare away the seagulls andwould become an opportune perching roost instead. In fact, the few I spied earlier were stilltrotting about the sea edge and hadn’t shifted since the scarecrow’s assembly. Delores, in her ever-reliable way, had opened her shop early and said she was thereall day – that meant until school had finished. I was frustrated and a little disappointed withthe tall wooden cross made out of stakes in front of me, and thought, I could at least visitDelores in the General Store and discuss possible faces. This morning had seen me have a fruit breakfast on the sun lounger courtesy ofWalter, followed by a tall Jamaican Ice Tea, and then I grew ever more relaxed and feltready to start my day in construction. Delores gave me the nails and hammer to fix thestakes together so it would not, this time, blow away. Which it didn’t, but I had to admit, itwas in itself, still completely useless for its purpose. ‘Here,’ Delores said after rummaging behind her counter in the small dark roombehind it. She returned with a clownish green plastic bucket. ‘I don’t mind you using this,we have others. Stick it on top to be a head.’ I looked at it. The surprise I felt and the tiredness that betrayed me made Deloresreact with an impatient sigh, ‘You can nail it on top, see, and…’ she ran her palms underthe counter and brought out a black marker, ‘and you can draw a face on it, see?’ I did have a nail left and said thanks. ‘That will do.’
I took the bucket by its thin metal handle and swung it beside me as I walked. Thesun was shining hot today but a chilling breeze made the temperature tolerable. I wasn’t hotor cold. I saw the students drinking beer outside their house. It was at that point when Ipassed their front door on the sandy road when they spotted me stepping quickly anddrawing the bucket to my chest like I was protecting a sensitive secret from them. Theycalled out. ‘Ah Mrs… ah Margarethe?’ I stopped and looked at the motley crew of three boys dressed in sports clothes that,by the look of their misshapen appearance, served as pyjamas as well. Their hair lookedgreasy and knotted like dreadlocks. ‘Come have a drink with us!’ David said, ‘Go on! We haven’t had a drink for awhile now; it’d be good to get together. You always have a drink in your hand.’ I was taken aback by the frank observation. ‘Go on,’ he continued with his tone changing to that like enticing a cat towards him.‘Go on, you know you want to…’ I was flattered by the attention, no matter how basic it was. I warmed to theacceptance to my neighbour’s inner circle, despite the crudeness of our past disagreements.I walked through their front door, still with a rucksack of suspicion tied to my back. ‘Excellent, I knew you were a groover,’ said David who smacked is hands togetheras he followed behind. A groover, I heard, I had never been called that. The front room in which I walkedwas bordered by ruby felt sofas, lying like tormented soldiers laid to rest. Two girlsstretched themselves into a full recline on a couch each, their eyes were glued to the blueflicker of a television that gained a poor reception. The walls were bare except for thecream rotting wallpaper curling at the edges. In some places it had been dramatically rippedaway. The four of us continued through to an ill-kept kitchen. Flies were attracted to thedarkened bench tops and unwashed dishes. But above the sink was a nice view of thewater’s edge. They slid the doors beside the kitchen open and walked straight onto avanishing metre block of sandy grass that sat right at their door. Everyone grabbed a piece of plastic garden furniture to sit on. I was given a lawnchair, not dissimilar to the material of my plastic sun lounger, and sat at the matching table.David appeared a little later with a glass of rum and coke for me and bottles of beer for theothers. ‘How long are you here for anyway?’ I asked, scanning the prime position theirholiday home sat upon. ‘Aw, are you trying to get rid of us?’ said a boy, whose name I remembered to beTravis. ‘No, no,’ I said calmly. Travis laughed, ‘Not much longer anyway. A couple more days isn’t it?’ The group sat down. There were mumbles of yes, and that’s right. I didn’t knowhow long I was staying for. Until the turtles hatched, I supposed.
‘Still believe in those turtles, hey?’ said David shaking his head. ‘They haven’t hatched yet?’ said another boy. I didn’t know his name butrecognised his hissing giggles from the other times I had passed them. ‘Well it is not a matter of believing in them. It is a matter of protecting them now.You see, Wales is not their usual home. They need help to survive…’ ‘Yes, yes, yes. Let’s not talk about the turtles tonight, hmm?’ said David, patting theair as a motion to call an end to any potential argument. ‘We are having a lovely timerelaxing, having a few drinks.’ Thus I became quiet. I knew these students were too young to care aboutresponsibilities. They were here to have a good time, that’s all. However, I was relieved inknowing they were only here for two days more. Among the students, they chatted about the weather, returning to university andmundane activities such as paying the bill for their stay. I had become invisible; well, theycertainly didn’t put on any airs or effort in their conversation because I was there. So I sat on my plastic chair and felt myself blending into the wall behind me, whiletwo of the boys, David and Travis, whispered together by the sliding door. They looked atme, the sliding door and each other. I felt most alien to the goings on amongst the youngpeople, especially when the two boys left and I remained with a silent man, to whom Imanaged a slight closed-lipped smile. ‘What is your name?’ I asked, feeling my words ride the silence like they wouldexpose the lack of my inner confidence. ‘Dunlop.’ Then the silence became something tangible, if I could see it, it would be smoke. Iwas more uncomfortable and felt the need to leave when the other boys returned followedby the two females, looking dishevelled on the one side of their face. They had been lyingon the sofa for a while. The first of the two women was Emily, who was thin and long in the face, plainexcept for the scattering of freckles across all of her exposed skin. The other was a plumpermore ordinary girl who hovered by the doorway until it was settled where Emily would sit,and sat on the chair close to me. She looked younger but maybe that was because sheseemed shyer and did not come across as audacious as the others. I heard Travis call herMary, when he took drink orders, and he disappeared for a moment into the kitchen. There was a time towards the beginning of the setting sun that we all sat around thesmall plastic table, not talking but drinking assorted elixirs, when another boy, Mike, hadappeared looking scruffier than the others, perhaps he had emerged after a long day ofsleeping. And between the boys they told ‘in-jokes’ that the inner-circle would laugh at,while David took delight in making the girls scream in fright at the seaweed or the wet sandhe would bring from the turning ocean to the table.
I was happy to sit and drink laughing at the attempts to entertain the group, butwhen Travis and Mike marched from the General Store with arms full of short fire logs, Ispoke finally, ‘And what are those for?’ Travis mocked the coming of what he knew I going to bring to the table, the rules.He stopped, laughed, rolled his eyes and continued to the spot on the beach where I hadoften seen them sitting by the shore. ‘It’s getting cold,’ said Travis, ‘time for a fire.’ Chairs dug and tipped into the sand as they were pushed back and the remainingpartygoers at the table reconvened where the boys were dropping the wood. They pokedballs of scrunched up paper under the logs and lit it. Despite me holding the hope that thefire wouldn’t take to the logs, I thought the wind would have made a bonfire impossible,smoke billowed high into the air, and the flames caught onto one side of the wooden stackand the smoke blew into my face. I spat the smog out of my mouth and rubbed my eyes. ‘That means you are a witch,’ said Emily. ‘The smoke blows towards the witch.They say.’ I moved from the smoke and instead stood in the glow of the flames. I felt mycheeks flicker in warmth. ‘You know you can’t have bonfires on the beach,’ I said. ‘O-oh, we knew that was coming,’ said Trevor, reliving the mocking joke. ‘So you know you shouldn’t.’ ‘No,’ said Trevor, ‘you don’t know that we can’t.’ ‘No you can’t.’ ‘Yes we can. There are no rules here that say you can’t have a fire on the beach. Weasked Delores and her husband.’ Delores, I whispered to herself, she … she… was really two-faced. But I thought I’dworry about Delores’s duplicity later. ‘No, Delores knows. You must have asked her beforethe conservation group arrived…’ ‘Oh no, we know where this is going,’ Trevor’s mockery saddened and infuriatedme. ‘Yes you know where this is going. A turtle has made a nest here for her young. Shehas obviously chosen this beach because it looks safe and far away from tourism. But if youare going to make a mockery out of…’ ‘Listen lady,’ Dunlop stood. His tone was schoolmarmish, ‘Turtles don’t lay eggs inWales. It’s too fucking cold.’ I stood, my bucket in one hand, realising that all this time I was concentrating on thenever-ending flurry of seagulls when the obvious threat was the tourists. ‘Now, you listen tome. Baby turtles are going to hatch any day now, and…’
The firewatchers groaned. ‘And,’ I continued. These people acted like they were inschool, so I thought, I would teach them a lesson. ‘And, if that fire is the first thing theysee… I’ll.’ ‘Oh you’ll what,’ said Trevor. I pursed my lips tight together. I was angry. I turned and brought my bucket to mychest. And saying to myself, those bloody kids, those bloody kids, I took my bucket to thesea’s edge, filled it with water, stomped back and splashed it over the fire, which hissed asit instantly dampened and extinguished. The group yelled at the deadened flames and turned their angry gazes at me. I hadturned then and was making my way to my house. ‘What did you do that for!?’ I heard. ‘Oh the fucking turtles.’ ‘You don’t have to do that!’ ‘There are no turtles here, you hear!’ ‘There are no baby turtles in Wales, you harpy.’ ‘You witch.’ ‘There are no fucking baby turtles in Wales, you mad cow!’ ‘There are no turtles here. You are mad. There are no turtles here, my love, and Iwill prove it, do you hear, I will prove it!’ * It was the jasmine that first aroused my senses as me and my brother walked out ofNorman Manley Airport, Jamaica. It was the smell of jasmine, palm trees and maybecoconut, infusing the fresh air. It may not have been these things but I knew it wassomething exotic and strange. There were no smells of yesterday’s alcohol and piss that Iignored in London where we left. But the smells were sweet and fresh and gave me afeeling of spiritual freedom. We stood at the airport’s pick up point and admired the tall palm trees waving to theleft in the strong wind vibrating its leaves like a soft rattle. ‘We’re looking for the hotel van.Castle Hotel,’ said Andrew who changed into a Hawaiian shirt and shorts on the plane.Although he dressed aptly for a holiday, I felt more protected against the strong wind in mylong sleeved shirt. Leaning against a small, white bus was a man dressed like Andrew but with a t-shirtunder his hibiscus print shirt, canvas shoes and long dreaded hair tied back with a blackband. He was smoking and reading the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper. He was leaning on asmall bus, full of seats, lined with tall tinted windows and the words Castle Hotel and a
palm tree emblazoned in blue paint on its side. When the Jamaican man saw the twotourists looking left and right by our luggage, he threw down his cigarette and paper andgrabbed our bags. ‘Castle Hotel, all right?’ he asked. In the bus, we sat on upholstered seating and the driver started the engine. ‘No one,else,’ he called, and the van drove off the crescent pick up road, drove through the car parkand sped comfortably down a main road. The road was devoid of cars or pedestrians and instead the roads were lined withthick green wilderness under a solid blue sky, unwavering in its brilliance. I saw woodenhouses, painted in green, yellow or blue not far from the road where they looked likeshacks. I saw rusted cars outside their doors, drums and maybe people lazing on verandas.In this residential area, tall telegraph poles linked across the road, as more homes appearedcloser together and closer to the road. Yet, even as we approached what appeared to be acity, neither me nor Andrew said a word and the bus avoided a chaotic maze of cars drivingin what looked like a myriad of directions. ‘We’re in Kingston,’ said the driver across thecabin. I peered up to the high residential blocks of people out of balconies or dryingclothes in the outside air. We saw children climbing the rails without fear and men standingat their cars in groups, smoking and perhaps conducting business. The bus inched through the mass of cars and in a moment they were free to pull intoa petrol station called Toucan. ‘I am just filling up and then we go to the hotel,’ said thedriver to us siblings who were not saying a word, we were still stunned by oursurroundings. I could hear the nozzle scratch into the tank and I looked out at the cars on the mainroad looking busier than Finsbury in peak hour. ‘Hey, hey,’ a man tapped at the window ashe passed me and strolled to the shop window. I enjoyed the yellow colour of the station, itswalls complimenting the blue sky that peeped through the tall buildings. I thought it musthave been hot outside for the gang of men who stood in the shade of the station. They woretank tops and long shorts, wiping sweat from their brow periodically between taking dragsof a cigarette. I admired their manly flip-flops and how some wore necklaces tight to theircollarbone. I looked at their faces and thought they were handsome but quickly lookedaway. I thought they saw me looking from the bus. ‘Hey, hey, who we got in dere?’ saidone as the group followed behind them. ‘Come on out there. I see you.’ He tapped on thewindow to the hooting laughs of his friends. Our driver returned with a receipt and a bottle of fluorescent yellow pop and startedthe engine. ‘Aw, don’t go,’ said some of the men, and the car drove back to the jam of carsoutside the station. I looked back at the gang of men who returned to their place in theshade. I didn’t think I was in their interest anymore. It was dusk when our bus reached a main strip of road by the triple coloured sea:green and two shades of blue water stretching out to the horizon. Grass and weeds creepedover the edge of the wild lawn to the road. I thought Jamaica was creeping on me too. Therewas nothing but beauty and invitations to relax by it, but I knew that the bus was taking mecloser to a confrontation. I felt the impending confrontation and would prefer now to stayonboard the long vehicle.
When the car took a little road down to a tall white wall with an authoritative blackgate in front, which opened to a click of the driver’s remote, I knew that the car journey wasto stop now – and I knew what the next step was. Us siblings stayed in rooms 31 and 32 on the third floor and could talk to each otheragain as our balcony walls touched. I looked out at the still blue water glistening under thesunset and sighed. The clean white shore and the fun of the people, who sounded American,made a perfect picture of what I thought an overseas holiday would look like: a place torelax, smile and, most of all, abandon all my worries. I would float in the water, laze on thesun beds, maybe drink rum cocktails and wear sunglasses. ‘I don’t have sunglasses,’ I said to my brother and escaped from his presence, thepresence that led me here and was taking me further into this land, away from the fun, sunand abandon. Andrew represented a mission to see my mother. I landed on the beachfront and met with the wind that knocked my hair into my faceand forced me to walk past the empty sun beds to the flickering light of a late night dinerfacing out towards the drooping sun. I flitted like a seagull caught in the wind and wasbrought up onto the patio with the other late night diners. The wind chimes were knocking the veranda posts and the flat sea slid up the shoreonly a few metres away. It was idyllic, I thought. I was happy to be free of Andrew and hisplans for a moment. I noticed the other diners ordering meals straight from a windowthrough to a kitchen and did the same for myself. I approached the window – a slit betweenthe two-toned blue and white walls sitting on the reddish concrete of the floor. ‘What I doya for, hun’?’ said the lady cook from the kitchen. ‘Ah,’ I paused, looking at the rough display of chalk outlining the menu. ‘Ah,chicken?’ ‘Okay, a jerk chicken!’ shouted the chef. I stared at the large lady in floral with herchef’s hat wilting in the heat of the kitchen. ‘Whatchoo looking at?’ said the cook, with her hand pressed on her bouncy hips.‘You never see a fat chef before, den? Well you know you never trust a skinny cook, nowoff wid you, we bring out your jerky soon.’ I sat at one of the picnic tables and meditated on the ocean; it was silvery now thesun had gone. A man with his dreads scattered freely about his shoulders, wearing a shirtand jeans, sat by me with a thump making the table creak in unsteadiness. ‘Hello there, shylady, you mind if I sit widchoo. I don’t want to sit alone, and a lady should not sit alone.’ I smiled and enjoyed the rush of receiving my chicken, ordering a rum and coke andhaving a guest for dinner. ‘Where are you from?’ he said. ‘London.’ ‘London? Well, I have many family dere.’
‘Are you from here, then?’ I asked pulling at the tough texture of the chicken withmy teeth. ‘Don’t forget to eat the bones,’ laughed the cook. ‘I am born and bred in Jamaica,’ said the man. ‘I am born and bred. My family hasbeen here for generations. Since the slaves.’ ‘That was a long time ago,’ I said. ‘Yes, my family goes back to the maroons who escaped the slave owners anddisappeared to the mountains. We were the first free slaves cos we said so.’ I nodded, smiled and enjoyed my chicken. ‘But I no go on about dat, but youunderstand that we feel it. He tapped his chest with his fist. How long are you in Jamaica?I show you around.’ I felt uncomfortable at this request and explained I was here with my brother to visitmy mother, but continued talking to the man called Smooth until I had finished my meal,rum and was ready for sleep. Smooth walked me back to the hotel and disappeared. When I woke the next day in my hotel room, unremarkable with cane furniture anda red quilted bedspread, I was careful not to make a sound and rouse Andrew and totted tothe downstairs buffet. I chose from the selection of fruits: paw paw, mango, passion fruit,pineapple and banana, and relaxed on a sun lounger before anyone was awake to join me.One by one an American or European tourist secured a lounger. The peace of birdstwittering and the wind rustling the palm trees diminished to the sounds of parents’controlling the screams of children and the general hum of conversation. It grew louder andlouder. A waiter asked me if he could get me anything, to whom I asked for a rum cocktailand pink and white umbrella with a cherry as an accompaniment. I ordered another andanother as the sweet drink tasted more like pop than a beverage and had the bill sent up toAndrew’s room. ‘There you are!’ said a stern voice towering over me and blocking the sun. ‘I havebeen looking for you.’ Damn, I thought. ‘I said to mother last night that we would be in St Anne’s bylunch. She has sent Jimmy down to drive us there.’ ‘Jimmy?’ ‘Jimmy. Mum’s new husband.’ When I remembered why we were in Jamaica, and I found, to my great surprise, thatI was able to lift myself off the sun lounger and follow Andrew to the front of the hotel, Isaw a black man sitting on a rusted blue and brown Ford waiting for us. He was bald exceptfor a sprout of hair cupping the back of his head. ‘Hi Jimmy? I am Andrew, this is Margarethe. Are you here to take us to St Anne’s?’ The man nodded and started the engine that sluggishly ignited. I studied the man mymother married. He wore a thick gold band on his wedding finger. He was black but did not
look as relaxed and Rastafarian as the other locals I had seen. He seemed gentrified in histan trousers and cream short sleeve shirt. But he could be putting on airs, I thought. Heseemed tense and was very untalkative. He finished Andrew’s questions with one-wordanswers until they spoke no more and turned into the countryside. I saw fields of burning sugar cane and thick untouched woodland alongside the roadas we drove. Clouds were streaks of white across the stark Jamaican sky and the roadsideidylls were stores with tatty signs painted on used flat metal or wood advertising chicken orfruit or motorcycle hire. After an hour or two, we turned down an unfinished road and drove slowly to dodgegoats and children playing on the road. ‘Malcolm, get back home, your mother’s makinglunch,’ Jimmy commanded a child stunned into a straight posture with wide eyes. He hadpale black skin and Margarethe wondered if Jimmy meant Edna. But that child must havebelonged to another mother of the many houses that lined this lane. My mother didn’t likechildren. * I diligently stood at the front door of the General Store, as I did like clockwork uponwaking up. However, this morning the store wasn’t open; I had never been quite ‘open’myself at this time of the morning. But I couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t because the noise fromlast night’s party was especially wakeful, it was because there was no sound at all and thatstirred my thoughts all night. I asked myself, had I bitten the tail of a lion? It could turn andoverpower me? Perhaps dumping a full bucket of water over their tiny bonfire antagonisedthem into full red-blooded foes. I admired the General Store’s shop front window: posters of specials, cut price dealsand new in store bargains curtained the view of the shop’s entails, perhaps shielding it frombudding thieves, but the honesty of the alerts’ cost effective spending ideas charmed mebecause this General Store could be as expensive as it wanted; there was not another storefor miles. I was enjoying the summer sunshine that poured onto my back at that time in themorning. I was thinking to buy some of the advertised deals when Delores appeared at thedoor. ‘Ooh you’re early, love? Come on in,’ she said. I felt compelled to follow the woman into the store out of friendship. I pushed theglass door open and listened for the tinkle of the bell that sat atop of the frame and walked,my sand shoes squeaking on the flat floor, to the counter and ran my fingers over the boxesof chocolate bars, each as brightly coloured as the next. I sighed. I helped Delores byadding more boxes to the counter. ‘I doused the children’s fire last night.’ ‘Sorry,’ Delores looked up, ‘You doused?’ ‘Yep, they were mouthing off about the turtles and their fire was too bright. I toldthem…’
‘So you doused it, with water?’ ‘Yep, I used that bucket you gave me, filled it up with water and doused it.’ ‘Oh dear,’ said the shopkeeper. ‘I am sure they didn’t like that? Unless it was ingood fun?’ ‘Nope, it wasn’t fun. They called me a witch.’ ‘Oh dear.’ ‘Well,’ I looked to the shop ceiling, a glaze of water coated my eyes; I was tired, Itold myself, the tears were not to be misconstrued as emotion, ‘I try so hard for thoseturtles. I keep the beach clean every day. I guard their nest in my spare time. I have tried toshoo away those seagulls, which doesn’t work.’ Delores moved boxes behind the counter but left two on the table. She shook herhead at me. ‘My dear poor girl, you sound like you are doing too much. Those turtles arenot even your children.’ Delores tore a box open to replenish the shelves with chocolatebars. ‘You know what I do when Jack and Nancy become too much? I go for a walk. Youhaven’t done anything like that since you’ve been here.’ ‘I have, I have been on the estuary tour.’ ‘But even then you had those eggs in mind, didn’t you?’ I took a deep intake of air and agreed. ‘You need to go for a walk and get your mind off those turtles. Just a day’s walk.Go up that hill there. You will get a great view of Lloergan Traeth from up there. It is quitebreathtaking. Go on. There’s a gate that leads to a path. Don’t go far, come back at sunsetand then you have the night to be with those turtles. Right?’ I doubted the wrath of the students anymore and knew a day away from them wouldgive them time to calm down. If they were still mad, I wondered. Despite my worries at the beach, I left the sandy road that curved around the holidayhomes and began my trek across the straggling green grass that struggled to cover thepaddock. The fresh air awoke my mind to the pleasures of bees buzzing past my trajectory;a simple brown butterfly caught in the breeze also passed my view. I pulled my cardiganacross my chest, and marvelled at the tiny daisies that grew towards the edge of the field. Isaw another dead rabbit by the fence that stood at the edge of the mountains and avoided itby walking in a huge arch until I saw the gap in the fence, I didn’t see the gate that Deloresdescribed but saw a series of wooden stiles and climbed over it and looked up. I was confronted by something that was craggy, unwalkable, spiky and leering, I felttiny in the might of the hill – a hill that looked nothing more than a shadow from thedistance, it could have been a cloud, but now I saw that this hill rolled in every landscapeimaginable: there were parts that were arid, there were sections of green forest, lusciousgrass, a trickling stream, rocks that stretched high through the mountain, and if I could seethe very peak, it could be snow covered, for all I could tell, a hazy mist sat above it.
I was impressed. Who wouldn’t be? But there was no way I could attempt such anascent. I looked up and down the fence looking for the path Delores mentioned but wasquite affronted by sheep, ten maybe even twenty sheep, all spray painted with blue marks,their long tails waving side to side, looking at me. ‘Baa,’ said one inching closer. I didn’t have food; I could not be of interest to this untamed sheep! I dashed awayfrom the stronghold by the stile, and ran, my feet picking up behind, my folded armsswinging by my chest. I was out of breath when I stopped. The sheep were not movingfrom their place. I fell to my knees to get breath. I thought, those horrible sheep. I had lostwhere I was along the mountain. It was prehistoric, I knew, the hill seemed older than me, older than everything. Tothe northern side of the hill I saw how the rocks were mounds so they looked like seats. Iclimbed across another fence and pulled my legs one at a time to the seats. The stiffenedearth beneath my feet helped me push through the effort it took to walk uphill, and then Isat: I saw the sheep turn to something that had caught their interest, was it grass? And I sawthe clear sky; there was the sun out. It was a lovely day to find another direction to walk, Ihad traipsed the coastline long enough. I could only view the tops of the holiday homesfrom where I was; I’d have to go up. My brief sprint filled me with exhilaration. How aliveI felt. Under a dust of sand, the beginning of a path became apparent at the surface. I couldsee there was flattened rock, cratered and rough, maybe it was a natural slate? Maybe, asuncultivated as it was, that was a path. Treading on it felt sharp through my sand shoes, Imoaned at the daggers of each step, but I pulled through. Each step was difficult and thesand would often cause a leg to slip down and flatten me to the Earth, but pushing up withmy hands I summoned the strength, I knew I had all my life, for it to come to my aid again,and I ascended some more. The rocky terrain soon became a wilderness that I had only read about instorybooks. It was as if I was in the moors. Plant life appeared cold and pale. It was a scrubthat cusped the rocks and hardly called for water. Looking up I saw large birds of preycircling overhead. I gulped, I wasn’t dead yet, although my mind filled with thoughts ofnever being found, staying up the hill forever, learning to live like the wilderness, notneeding water but tough enough to endure the strong downpours of rain I knew happenedhere. There were banks of flat rock pointing to the sky. Years of erosion, I assumed, until Inoticed, for the past hour, I was walking upon a flat rock, much like the others I saw. I was not taking the pedestrian path I planned, the one Delores spoke about thismorning, I was rock climbing. I shuddered, never in my life did I ever plan for this one day,or any day, it was not an ambition. I turned back down the hill; the steep view made me sit,gulp and worry like I stood in front of a barrage of muggers. It was obvious to me that toget down to the paddock, to the safe, green paddocks, I would have to slide down on mybottom. If I stood I’d fall down, I imagined myself falling headfirst, somersaulting over thespikes of rocks, tangling my hair in the sparse flora and slipping along my back to the gangof sheep. It was a long way down and the ocean just peeped above the lets in the distance. Itlooked flat, peaceful and as strong as the earth beneath me from the distance. I thought, itwould be lovely to see Lloergan Traeth from high in the air. Agreeing that I had come sofar, I memorised the rocks back up the hill; I stood on one and chose another and another to
climb higher towards the sun. Trees grew so rarely but majestically, I saw as I workedupwards; small, windblown and perfect miniatures of great oak trees, the singing-kind, theones that shake and whistle in the wind. With each great step and intake of air I felt power growing in my spirit, my mindbecame sharper and strength worked in my muscles. I ignored the instinct that made mewant to curl into a ball and sleep. Thoughts of my bed rampaged in my mind as cracks inthe rock beds caused my toes to drag in their crevices, but I continued. After a few fits of initiative I stopped. I was in a plantation of pine trees, I could seeright up into the maze of branches that extended into the other’s reach. A brown seabirdfluttered away from me. The ground was soft where I was, the rock was now behind me. Iwas cool in the forest. The sunlight was only visible as a fan of beams that spilled throughthe leaves. I walked to stand under one; it was the sort of hallowed light that made me thinkof angels, of a presence that looked over me. Leaves cracked under my feet and a windrustled the leaves. I followed the light that disappeared as I approached. It wasdisappointing but then I saw through the trees, a babbling brook. It was a little waterfall in an open clearing. Sun was beaming down on the tinystreams of water that played over rocks and smoothed the surfaces as it travelled down thehill. It was a pretty sight and delicate white flowers grew by its side. It was lovely, and I satby the whimsical stream dazing up to the sun that shone greatly overhead and made thestream sparkle like magic danced there. All around me were pine trees, rich and green, but aview of the beach was still in my mind. Delores said a lovely view exists up the top, andthat, I told myself, was why I was there. The forest ended abruptly as I followed the stream to its source. Obviously thisforest was manmade. But the thought that it would be lopped one day would be a miserableone. I persevered through. The stream narrowed until it disappeared and I stood beforerocks that were taller than I had seen before; the forest was behind me and I turned verycarefully on the flat rock beneath me. There was Lloergan Traeth. The ocean was as blue asthe darkest sky and the sky was as blue as the lightest ocean. Streaks of cloud were like a jetstream of darts in front of the sun. I breathed in the air expecting the taste and smells of saltand sea but took the aromas of pine and dew instead. I kept standing because if I sat theview would disappear behind the trees. I marvelled about how much this beach had becomea part of me; it had now meant so much. I would do anything now to preserve it. I sighed. Ifelt so lonely.
X If I had not drunk so much rum at breakfast, my stomach would not have felt sodoubly knotted as I stepped out of the car and onto the dirt track driveway next to a woodenwhite house. It was like most of the homes I saw along the way but it had a few Englishtouches: net curtains in the windows, a gap for post in the front door, and roses. They werestruggling to stay fresh in pots on window sills and in the hanging baskets on the veranda. But my stomach was twisted. I felt ill. So I was easily led to the front door and intothe home of my long lost mother without a word of protest or request to catch my breath. Two teenage boys, who must not have been older than 14, stormed through thehouse, thumped on the wooden floor boards and disappeared through a large gap in the wallthat led to the kitchen. I let my eyes follow along the framed pictures on the walls and tothose resting on the small side tables next to the sofas. There were pictures of the two boysI saw on the road and of an older lady with a different, young boy; there were also more ofthe lady with the boys who bounded through the house before and also with Jimmy. That ismy mother, I whispered. ‘Oh, you’re here! There’s Andyroo,’ a woman with her skin leathered by the sunand hefty big hips, from what I thought could only be from having so many children, wadedinto the living room with her arms outstretched to Andrew. His head pressed into her neckand Edna held him tight, gently swinging their embrace side to side. She and Andrewsqueezed each other for a time that made me feel awkward. But I did feel the longing forthe love that Andrew received. They broke the hold and Edna turned to me. Edna partiallymoved towards me before I betrayed my feelings of wanting what Andrew had and waved asingle palm across my chest and said, ‘Hi.’ A sound of pots and pans rumbling in the kitchen caught Edna’s attention. ‘Roy andTodd, that’s enough of dat noise. We have guests.’ She smiled at me. I was taken by the odd mix of a South English accent when Edna began speakingand as she continued fell into the bouncing tones of the Jamaican accent. ‘I hope you had a good trip so far,’ Edna began. ‘Kingston can be frightening.’ ‘No, it was okay,’ said Andrew. ‘Different but okay.’ ‘Well, you are in your hotel now. Nice?’ I nodded. The paintings on the walls were of the English countryside. I nodded tothem. ‘When did you leave England?’ ‘Ah, I was 30, I had met Jimmy in London and we married and moved here a coupleof years later.’ ‘Were you hiding out in London?’
‘Margarethe!’ gasped Andrew. ‘No, no,’ Edna placated with her hands and pressed at the knee of Andrew who wassitting so close to her. ‘I was not hiding. Your father, God rest his soul, knew where Iwas… I’m so sorry for what had happened. When I didn’t hear anything from him, Iassumed you were okay and he didn’t want to speak to me. I wasn’t surprised.’ I didn’t respond to the conversation any longer and chose to look around theplastered walls: they were wood chipped and shared the space with a wall of wallpaper,speckled in dainty flowers. When a short pause of the conversation had passed, Andrew moved his chair closerto Edna and took her hand. ‘You didn’t know dad had killed himself.’ ‘No, I didn’t know. It is horrible, I know. I didn’t think he would do dat. He wassuch an angry, controlling man. His dinner had to be warm and ready when he came home.And the house! Clean of course. I always thought he would be too proud to do anythinglike that. I look back at him so differently now…’ Edna’s gaze drifted to a space in the air and must have been accessing a place whereher first husband existed in her mind. Her earrings grazed her neck as they dangled. Shestill wore costume jewellery, long strands of plastic beads, I noticed and some memoriesstreamed back to me. ‘So, why leave then?’ I said. I couldn’t say more words than that and held my faceaway. I was feeling teary all of a sudden. ‘Oh,’ said Edna, ‘you have to understand. I wasn’t good at being a mother.Especially not to you elder children. I couldn’t feed you and Arthur and keep the housetidy. I couldn’t keep an eye on you all when I prepared the house and dinner so your fatherwouldn’t get angry. It was just too hard. I wanted you to have the best life but I was tooyoung. I was only 17 when you were born. Arthur was 42 and stuck in his ways.’ I could see the emotion punctuating every word Edna said. I looked away from her. ‘And then when the twins were born and then Penny…’ Andrew calmed Edna at that moment. It was obvious that this was a story that upsether. I rolled my eyes and rose to my feet. I watched Andrew comforting the old womansaying ‘it’s okay, it’s okay, you’re like the prodigal mother,’ to which Edna laughedthrough her tears. ‘I’m going outside,’ I said grimly. I walked outside onto the landing and sat on the swinging net hammock that wastied to the veranda balustrade and the house. I saw out to the end of the street: a streetcomprised only of a dusty ill-maintained road, hydrangeas and wild bush land. Althoughthere were two homes further down the road, I couldn’t count the locale in which mymother was living as a residential area of any description, it was not even a village. Therewas a tropical jungle-like wilderness growing around them and I saw a parrot fly into a tree.Its orange and blue-feathered head was very neat on its glistening green body. My mothermight not be living in an area I could describe as civilised but it was a paradise.
I sat for a moment and allowed myself to let in the words my mother had said. Afew words seemed to be a chorus always repeating itself in a song: she didn’t know, shewas young, if she knew it would be different. A syncopated boom bounced a car along therough road and rested at one of the neighbours’ homes. The boom seemed jewelled in ajangle of horns and guitars. Reggae, I thought. I appreciated the atmosphere it evoked in theenvironment. The whole country, I thought, moved to the laggish beat I heard from thebeaten silver sedan. I missed it immediately when the engine was turned off. Flies buzzedabout my face and attempted to rest on my lips, so I blew the flies away with a spit.‘Margarethe, love, come in for lunch,’ Edna had opened the door and disappeared backindoors. As I stepped into the house, a boy younger than the others pushed a BMX bikethrough a hallway to which Edna shouted, ‘Don’t come down here with dat thing, boy, gooutside.’ ‘How many children do you have here?’ I said as I walked to the kitchen table. ‘I have five boys,’ she said, ‘No g…’ Edna stopped and looked for my reaction. I sat at a dark wood oval table covered with a white lace tablecloth and a couple ofroses in a small vase sat in the middle. The kitchen was painted blue with shambolickitchen units that looked like Jimmy could have picked them all, including the rusted ovenand hob, from a roadside, seeing they were separate from each other and all different shadesof beige and grey. ‘So, you’ve had ten children altogether, then, pretty fertile?’ ‘Mmm,’ Edna agreed, ‘I was always pregnant. I’m too old now.’ Edna rose and retrieved a large serving plate of cold aioli, chicken jerky, a plate ofwhite root vegetables and what looked like goat curry for everyone to eat. ‘This the nationalJamaican dish. You have to suck the bones…’ I had heard that before, sucking bones. I heard the reggae music again in thedistance; the car must be pulling out of that driveway. I liked reggae. ‘Did you ever want tocontact us?’ I felt my voice finishing that sentence stronger than I had spoken to Ednabefore. I didn’t want to challenge her. ‘I did, so many times. Especially before I came to Jamaica. But I would stop myself.What could I say to you or the people that had you then? I might’ve been arrested.’ ‘Yes,’ I said into my curried goat. ‘Do you have anything to drink?’ ‘Beer?’ said Edna. ‘Yes. Can we listen to reggae?’ ‘Of course. Jimmy has some Ska tunes. From the 60s. Jimmy! Put on some music,man,’ she yelled and he pounded the floorboards and then the stereo was playing sometinny and raw vocals of men singing into an old microphone. ‘Do you wish for girls?’ I said, ‘This is very nice.’ I pointed to the meal. ‘I did wish for girls,’ said Edna.
Andrew let in a deep breath and exhaled with a new subject. ‘So where do yourecommend for us to visit in Jamaica? We have a few days.’ ‘Well,’ said Edna after swallowing a mouthful. ‘The Blue Mountains are gorgeous.You can visit the bird sanctuary there and see the view of the Caribbean Sea. We can takeyou. Jimmy can drive us to your hotel and den take you to the Blue Mountains.’ She lookedup to smile at me. I had just finished a bottle of beer. ‘Another one?’ ‘Yes, please.’ ‘There are also some very good bargains to be had in the flea markets in Kingston.We could take you there too.’ ‘So, why did you say you left again?’ I asked rather matter-of-factly. I heard myself.I only wanted to meet the woman. Not confront her. ‘Margarethe!’ Andrew said firmly. ‘You must all go to the beach a lot here. All thissun.’ ‘Yeah,’ said Edna gingerly. I had turned away from them. My beer was almostdrunk. I was quiet. ‘We do go to the beach in the dry season. There are beautiful beaches onthe north side of the island. Not many tourists are there. You might even get a beach toyourself. We can take you both dere too.’ I felt like a big spider in the room. Everyone was going about a normal conversationbut glancing at me every so often. Edna’s face, aged in a wisdom that seemed to earth her,looked flushed. Her hazel eyes darkened as she finished her meal. She picked up the plateswhen dinner was eaten and although Andrew helped her and offered to help, Edna declinedit and hid herself in the mounting dishes that needed clearing. When she joined her olderchildren in the lounge, she said, ‘Jamaica has its problems, though. We have had cycloneshere nearly every year for the past 15 years I have lived here. And the gangs! Whoo…’ Shetrailed off. ‘The gangs. I count my blessings every day that my boys don’t get injured orkilled. They don’t seem to be in dem. But dey could not be telling me!’ I thought I could ask them for drugs and then know. ‘Can I have a beer, please?’ ‘Help yourself, lovely. You don’t have to ask.’ I wanted some fresh air. I motioned for Andrew to join me or leave. But he was indeep conversation with Edna. ‘What about the history of Jamaica,’ he asked. I walked outside and onto the dirt road and followed it to the T-junction. Turned leftand walked. A wall of leafy bushes shaded the road and made my journey, however long itwas going to be, feel cool. With each step I took, I felt freer but still burdened with sadness.I was ready to be brave and meet my mother, but on meeting her, I felt hard done by. Ialmost regretted being here. I walked beside the rich green bushes that soon tapered off and only straggledgrassland remained. I walked; the sun became hotter and hotter and my temper started tocrush my mind. A few dips and a climb of the road lay before me. I was at the very end ofwhat seemed too far away from my original plan - just for some air. I would not wander toomuch further.
A shiny tin roof freckled with the afternoon light appeared and as I approached theshack, I did not question why I would go in there. Blindly I approached what looked like apub or a gentleman’s club. I stepped onto the concrete floor of the house and peeredthrough a dirty window. I saw a swathe of men sitting by a bar drinking brown shots ofliquid in little glass cups. Here at this establishment I could find relief from the pressures inmy head. I pushed a cracked yellow door open to a snap of eyes placed on my presence. Anelderly man stood up and offered me his seat before he sat in a corner over his drink.‘Thank you,’ I had said and ordered a beer. ‘You sure you don’t want rum dere girl. This bar in on a little rum distillery,’ said aman in jeans and a white t-shirt. His hair was short and otherwise hidden under a thatchedfedora hat. ‘Ah well, when in Rome,’ I said. ‘That’s it exactly girl,’ a man in trousers and a patterned shirt leaned towards me. Ididn’t seem to mind my surroundings. ‘What is a girl like you doing here den? You looklike you are a long way from home.’ ‘No,’ I said defiantly, ‘my mum lives around here.’ I pointed blindly behind myself.I was more interested in the bottom of my empty glass. I liked that drink. It was strong butgentle, fuming with alcohol and I sensed the subtle spices, was it cloves? ‘Can I haveanother, please?’ ‘So who’s your mum den?’ the man asked like he would know, ‘Is it Rosalind?Sarah? I know, that fat lady, she is with Jimmy.. what is her name…?’ The elderly man yelled from his corner, ‘Edna…’ ‘Edna, that’s it. You are Edna and Jimmy’s girl?’ I didn’t argue with him. Why not be both their kid? Better to be known amongstrangers. I ordered another drink of rum ‘Yeah, I haven’t seen her for 30 years or something like that.’ ‘30 years!’ whistled the man. ‘So you come to see her after all this time?’ ‘Yeah, I haven’t seen her since I was 10.’ ‘So you got questions for her and you no like what you hear. Is dat it?’ Soon enough I felt the attention from the men in the bar wane. I guessed they didn’twant to get involved, much like how I was feeling now about it. There were pictures of BobMarley over the bar with the Jamaican red, yellow and green flag imposed over his face.‘Bob Marley,’ I pointed to the picture and slurred my words. ‘I see him everywhere like heis Chairman Mao.’ ‘He is not Chairman,’ said the man who introduced himself as Jon, ‘He is the Kingof the Rastas.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, disinterested and ordered another rum.
‘You should look after yourself now, child. Jimmy is a good man. You will not getin trouble here. I will make sure you don’t go wandering in any Kingston garrison talkingabout Bob Marley like you tink you know, but you go back to your mamma drunk it’s yourown problem. My mamma still gives me hiding.’ Jon said to the hoots of the other men wholaughed at him. ‘Yeah, I’m sorry,’ I said as the barkeeper played a recording of Bob Marley on hispersonal sound system. ‘Redemption Song,’ he said. ‘Yeah, I’m just drinking. I can’t stop. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I shouldhave stayed in London. Sometimes it’s better not to know, you know? I wish I didn’t knownow.’ Roy lit a cigarette. ‘Ganga,’ he called it and offered some to me. I inhaled a smalldrag. ‘Well you here now girl,’ he said. ‘I am here now,’ I repeated and thought about what it meant. I was here, sitting onthe red leather stools, listening to Bob Marley with my mother around the corner. Althoughmy first instinct was to go back to London, maybe turn back time and never come in thefirst place, I had to think what I could tell my mother now I had the chance. ‘That horrible bitch,’ I hissed. ‘She ran out on us when I was ten. We had to live in ahome.’ ‘That is a terrible ting, mothers don’t leave dere babies.’ ‘Yeah, and I wasn’t a baby. I remember her. I remember living with her. I rememberholidays with her. I remember her putting me to bed. And then poof! No more…’ I wasturning into a sad drunk. I hated being sad and drunk at the same time, so I opened my eyeswide to stop the tears, stretched my mouth, roared a dry growl and drank the rest of mydrink. ‘Thanks,’ I said and pushed my glass towards the barkeeper. ‘I feel better and BobMarley is excellent. Seeya Jon!’ I trounced out of the little room and stood at the road, itshills leering at me from both sides. Now I had to remember how I got there. I shuffled towards the little rum distilleryfrom either side to see which felt more familiar; I remembered I turned left into it because Ihad never crossed a road to get where I was, so that meant turning right and right again toget to where I started, at my mother’s house. I took a right through the road cutting through the scattered grassland and returnedto the road bordered by wild tropical hedges. The sun had almost set now and although Iwas hungry, tired and quite drunk from the shots of rum I drank in quick succession, all Ithought of was what I couldn’t remember! For all the things I did remember about her, Icould not remember ever being in trouble. When I thought back to when I was ten andbefore, I remembered being good. I remembered being helpful too. So if I was good,helpful, kind and no problem to my mother, then why would I then deserve to be leftbehind?
‘Well, there you are. Don’t go wandering off in the middle of Jamaica. I wasworried sick,’ Edna greeted me stumbling through the front door to find Edna, Jimmy andAndrew in the Anglofied sitting room sipping tea from dainty cups. ‘Nice of you to worry, but I would only have cared for that when I was ten. Forget itnow,’ I fell onto the sofa, I felt like a teenager and rubbished the feeling immediately. ‘I would worry about any girl alone ‘ere.’ ‘Yes, any girl,’ I said. ‘I don’t think I have ever meant more to you than that.’ ‘Margarethe…’ Andrew stood up. ‘You have never been any girl. You have always been more than that to me,’ Ednastood too and approached me. I stood too but only to move backwards. ‘More than that!’ My tone began to shrill; I felt the sad drunk return. ‘More thanthat! You left me. I was ten. I remember you!’ Edna flapped her muumuu and brushed her brown hair out of her eyes. She sighed abreathless groan and shuffled towards me. I was wiping away tears, and upon seeing her,stepped back to the front door. ‘I was leaving you in better hands,’ Edna said pleading. ‘Better hands!’ I collapsed my mind in what I thought was a nonsense. ‘Betterhands! Strangers! Why would a mother leave her eldest girl with strangers? You don’t thinkthat a girl of ten needs her mother?’ Edna was silent and I thought she looked defeated. ‘A mother would have taken her.A good mother would have taken her daughter who followed her. Who looked up to her.Who was under the care and protection of her. But you may as well have left her towolves.’ ‘I didn’t leave you to wolves…’ The chuckling surrendering tone of Edna irritated me. I felt my temper rise out ofmy mind and opened my eyes. Wide. ‘You might as well left me to wolves. You had noidea what happened to me, where I went. What became of me!’ I felt my shouts laced incries. ‘You are a terrible mother. A failure! Why would you leave a girl who remembersyou? I remember you! And you left me! Why didn’t you take me with you?! I neverremembered being trouble. I would have liked to have this…’ I didn’t notice but I was moving towards, leering and crowding Edna with my wordswho muffled to Jimmy. ‘I think she should go. I think you better go.’ ‘Why did you leave me? I remember you! Why couldn’t I have come?’ I cried. ‘Oh,rejected again,’ I said as Jimmy took me by the arm and ushered me to the front door.‘What’s happened? Rejected again. I am rejected my by mother again. And I remember youagain!’ I saw the empty expression of Andrew who clearly didn’t know what to say. ‘Iremember you now as a cowardly mother. Someone who means nothing to me!’
I didn’t know if Edna heard my final words to her because the next time I feltconscious I was in the front seat of the brown sedan with Jimmy driving along a dark unlitbay. I closed my eyes again. I slept on my arms along seats in the Jamaican airport. I had arrived at the airportwith all my clothes and bought a heap of duty free rum to stuff into my one oversizedcanvas bag. My arrival there was hazy but as the sun came up, the shine of my alcohol-intake was replaced by a headache. I summoned what had happened the night before. Whathad happened? I knew but didn’t want to remember, my headache pierced my eyes. Andhow horrible I felt in my chest too? I hated my mother. I remembered that. And I hated whoI was. And I hated who I myself had become because my mother had left me. And now, Ithought, it had happened again. ‘There you are!’ said an exasperated Andrew who rushed to me, panting andshaking his head. He looked to the ground to recover his breath. ‘When I couldn’t find youat the hotel… I thought maybe you were on the beach or went to a bar… but I asked thehotel porter…’ ‘Oh you care too.’ ‘Yes, I do care. We all care.’ ‘All of you care?’ I almost laughed. ‘Edna…’ ‘… No, well, she’s upset. Well she was when I left her.’ I didn’t laugh. I sat up and turned away from Andrew. ‘Listen, I feel terrible,’ said Andrew. ‘Let me make it up to you.’ He pulled out hiswallet from his holiday shorts. ‘Do you want to go back to London? I will pay for that…’ ‘I am on holiday. I don’t want to go home.’ ‘Okay, do you want to stay here?’ I laughed then. ‘No, obviously you wouldn’t wantto stay here. You wouldn’t want to see her!’ he joked. ‘That was quite the exhibition. Hey?’ I looked at Andrew and thought, an exhibition? It wasn’t an exhibition. ‘No jokes, okay. Well, why don’t you stay at my little place on the Welsh coast? It’seasy to get to, just take a bus from Cardiff Airport. You can stay as long as you like…’ hepulled a bunch of jangly keys from his pocket and slid a singular key off the ring. ‘This isit, and if you have any trouble see the people at the General Store. They know me. Just takea bus to Snowdonia and jump off at Lloergan Traeth. Moonlight Beach. You can relaxthere. Forget all about this.’ I took the key and a napkin, upon which Andrew had written directions. ‘Please gothere,’ Andrew said, ‘you have had a hard time of it here. I understand that you don’t like ithere. But let me make it up to you.’
I didn’t know if Andrew was being nice or if I was cooperating in a ruse to get meoff the island. My mother didn’t want me there. And when I thought about how I felt andmy time on the island, it only reminded me of my mother, and I didn’t want to be thereeither. Maybe a brief trip to this moonlight beach would help me escape this mess, andmore significantly, myself.
XI I could see the beach, the ocean and the row of homes. I could see the lollopingwaves chopping out from the shore. And after quite a lot of staring, using my hand as avisor, I could see a fishing boat moored off the coast. My heart jumped. The fisherman. Clouds were setting in from the west and their approach to the hills was visible.Their speed was not altogether fast but I could see the feathery grey haze covering theocean like a bird’s wing coming in to rest. Lloergan Traeth was a pretty picture, a gorgeous little cove from a distance. Deloreswas right: the view was worth catching, a perfect dalliance from my conservation effort. Itook in a large portion of air into my lungs. The freshness of it was felt in my head, sinuses,chest and mouth. I felt sick. Fresh air, exercise and healthy living were making my headspin. I thought about returning. There was activity on the beach. Little people were busying themselves with somecommotion, but I could not be certain. They seemed to be at work. I could see peoplemoving forwards and back; even though I couldn’t see exactly what they were doing, it didcause me concern. If there was something going on down there, surely I should know. Ifound some solace; however, knowing the fisherman would not let anything too horriblehappen to the turtles’ safe haven. Rain lightly patted my head. I left the peak on which I stood and embarked on thejourney downhill without an umbrella, or a raincoat, to protect my face or hair. And myimpractical footwear did not protect me from the solid ground fast turning into mud beneathmy feet, but on the threat of unknown activity on the beach, I moved as quick as I couldback down through the forest. It had caught some rain in the mess of leaves and deliveredhuge droplets onto my head: they felt like tiny ponds on my crown which streamed downmy face. The brook was streaming now too as it caught water. It was raining heavily. My legs slipped underneath me and I slid on my side downten feet of mud. I hated this now, but on trying to pick myself up again, I collapsed andasked myself, ‘Why am I here? Why did I think this would be okay?’ I sat still and stayed there. I saw water cascading down the rock slabs that served asmy pathway up and now as it was supposed to offer safe passage down the hill. I had totake the rest on the journey on my bottom. The prospect disgusted me but also offered thesafest option. It was not the sensible choice I knew. I realised, with the horror of repugnance, theprospect of my bottom being in danger of collecting the entire mountain face as I descendedwhat was becoming a trap to me. I let my feet pull my bottom close to them whilst using my hands to push for themaximum gain on ground; it wasn’t the most direct way to descend the hill, but I followedthe path I remembered I’d taken to get to the top of the hill and did not question whether itwas the quickest route to the bottom or not.
I was, as those students would tell me if they saw, a stupid, wicked old lady whowas making a fool of herself. But I knew, despite what criticisms would come my way ifanyone saw, I was an ill-prepared cowardly woman who did not plan for rain on this trip orwore the most sensible footwear for hiking; but I continued on my bottom across thebedrock in haste. The busyness I spied on the beach might mean that the eggs were indanger. I had to make sure of their safety. I shuffled my bum across the bedrock and stood near the end of the mountain. I feltthe bottom of my good canvas trousers pulled almost to my knees. What I must havecollected there to make my trousers sag as much as they did? Rain fell more briskly in acontinuous stream over my clothing; I lifted each foot burdened with the weight of thewater and pulled my sopping hair behind my ears. Carefully I took the few steps to thegrassy field at the bottom of the hill. I looked back up the hill; I had climbed down thatmountain fast. I spluttered and looked around for the sheep that were so aggressive at the gatebefore. They were nowhere to be seen. I would envy them or anyone else indoors at themoment. That business on the beach must be over now it is raining, I thought, but I madehaste across the slippery paddock to the beach anyway, minding the piles of rabbitdroppings, glistening under the wet weather; I passed the rabbit carcass too, I saw itsinnards removed and just a soggy and shaggy outer skin remaining. Its fur disappearing intothe grass and turning to soil as the rain pushed it down. ‘My God! What happened to you!?’ Delores shouted at the door of her GeneralStore. ‘You look like you were dragged down that hill!’ I stood at the end of the paddock, relieved to be almost home: that is, to check thatthe turtles were safe first, and then to sit in a hot bath. It would be the first of my holiday. ‘Igot caught in the rain,’ I returned, shouting as much as I needed to carry my voice throughthe downpour. ‘Well, go home, get out of the rain!’ Delores shouted. I wasn’t sure she heard me. ‘What was happening on the beach before, when I was gone?’ ‘Nothing, I didn’t see!’ ‘Are those students there?’ ‘I don’t know,’ Delores was still shouting. The weather did not let up. ‘They left afew hours ago! Get out of the rain!’ I wondered if what Delores said about the children leaving was true. I could hear thefaint baseline of someone playing reggae indoors. The light was on at the rum bar, I saw.The gentlemen’s club must be in full swing, I thought. I walked down the small road; the sand I was so used to seeing on it had washedaway. I wrapped my arms around my shoulders, shivering. I could see there was no activityon the beach from the road but saw the fisherman and Walter standing in the rain. Theyweren’t happy. I thought they were as crazy as me to be out in this weather.
Outside my place a great wind picked up around me blowing the rain sharp into myeyes. I squinted. The beachfront looked hazy as I approached it. There was Walter in hiswaiter’s uniform standing there in the downpour: his tray upright on his palm. ‘Is that you?’ I yelled. ‘Yes, ma’am,’ answered Walter. I pushed myself against the barrage of wind, while I tried to make out the otherfellow standing at the water’s edge. The phantom in the hazy spray, as if sensing hisidentity was sought, waved his arm briefly and called out ‘his girl.’ I was at ease to knowthe fisherman had come, despite the torrid storm, maybe to protect my turtles. Nevertheless,he could not stop the rain, but he was there anyway. With an outward sigh that capsized my chest into a puddle of relief, I took longsteps on the damp sand. I was walking but then I was falling and I found my body flat onthe ground and one leg deep inside a hole. I could not bear to be so ashamed to have fallenand I rose with an embarrassed grin. I could not laugh for the rain caught in my throat. Ibrushed the sand off my body but it stuck like a painted texture impossible to remove. I walked again towards the fisherman who didn’t seem to see my accident, or didn’tcare, and I walked again with the rain in my eyes. The one leg that was raised up in the aircould have been picked up by the wind and flown me back to my home, I guessed. I put theleg straight down but it travelled further than I expected the earth to stop me and my otherleg followed into another deep hole. Deeper than the other and somewhat smoothed by therainfall. I pushed myself up again. What was going on? I stood towards the ocean and sawthe trail of holes leading to the sea. Slowly I turned back to where I came, careful not todescend back into the trench. There were holes at every step behind me. It was a marvelthat I only fell in two. I gazed up the dune side of the beach. My sun lounger was discardedinto the vegetation, and everywhere I looked, up and down, where I sat and further alongthe wet messy sand, there were holes. So many holes. There were so many holes that somewere close enough together to join into larger holes. And there were no piles of sand, theywere somewhat flattened by the rain. But the beach had definitely been dug up. My turtles, I gasped, shocked, tears formed in my eyes and I wept. I could not seeany eggs shells. Maybe they were okay, I thought; it was a brief glimmer of pretending thatwhat I saw was not that bad. But I knew. The turtles must have gone. There was no waythey could survive whatever happened here. Wherever I could see, the beach waspunctured, stabbed. It was completely ruined. The haven for turtles was no more. I couldsee that. ‘My God!’ I wailed. ‘What has happened?’ Sobbing, I wished a hole had engulfed me. I hopped quickly to each one to check ifany eggs were left. Not even one. Those poor turtles! It was hard to believe but I visitedeach hole visible on the sand, as wet as it was, and felt the bottoms of each hole. I didn’tknow why I did that, but I felt them all to feel how real the emptiness of each hole was.
There were no turtles, not a trace. Whoever did this did not leave any alive, Ithought. Then the sad stare of Walter and the fisherman pressed on the back of my head as Ilay down with my arms hanging over a pit. I had sand on my face, along my arms and Isniffed. It was cold and I was very upset and did not want to believe it. What about theothers, I thought? Walter and the fisherman were there, did they see anything or come toolate like me? I flicked my wet hair from my neck when I faced them. First, the loud reggae musicdied and the men looked down. Walter bowed so diminutively. He looked up; he was sadand stepped backwards. He disappeared like an apparition. The fisherman shook his headand disappeared like Walter shortly after. I fell to my knees and cried to the heavens to stop raining. I knew my friends mightnot have been real. I knew that my mind could have invented them as I left Jamaica soquickly and I didn’t want to leave there. Not really. But the turtles? The big mamma turtle that visited me on my first day at Lloergan, Ithought she was real. I was so sure. I saw the massive female pull herself with so mucheffort, with a majestic haul only a mysterious queen of the ocean could have managed. Iwas so sure. So sure. But everything seemed unreal now. Whoever dug up the beach had taken away mypurpose. Even if it was the only purpose for the one time in my life, I felt needed, or evenexemplar. But taken away like a young life: I thought it was tragic and the most violentreality check I had ever experienced. I walked out of the rain back to my holiday shack. I was dejected for the loss. Iknew those students probably sought revenge on me. It was troubling that they would killan entire habitat like they had. But they never believed me anyway. Maybe, I thought as Iopened the door to my place of residence, maybe I should stop believing it myself as well. I had always shown great loyalty to the natural way of things at Lloergan Traeth. Itwas reflected in my daily routine during my stay: I shooed away seagulls, cleared litter,alerted the neighbourhood and always stood guard at the nest. I thought of nothing but theprotection of the new ecological visitors to these shores. Even if I couldn’t prove theirexistence with the various experts and authorities that came my way, I did have them admitthere could be chance. The subject of my obsession did not know the extent my efforts I would reach toconserve their path back to the ocean, but their lack of existence now was exposed, andwithout a doubt, proved false. I knew. But I could not come to terms with the efforts thosestudents must have gone to, to contradict my truth. Since I was experiencing a very unhappy day, now with my purpose dismantled, Isat myself down with my carry bag, dirty, worn and leathered like my spirits, and tried toput thoughts of the sea creatures behind me. They were like a fairy tale, which enchantedmy mind away from my lonely life in Finsbury Park, the awkward meeting of my siblings,the trip to Jamaica, and meeting my dead mother.
The next day I had a visitor. Delores was also shocked to see the beach in a state ofhollows and trenches. Delores knocked on the door of my holiday home and poked her headin. ‘I saw the beach, Margarethe. I am not surprised you are packing to leave, pet.’ ‘The eggs are gone. They might not have been there at all.’ ‘I know pet, you must be disappointed, and after all the work you’ve done. To seethe beach dug up like that…’ ‘I did so much. It seems like it was for nothing now.’ Delores pushed open the door and greeted my sullen self. Delores had a sadness inher eyes as she looked pitifully at the woman sitting on a dusty ground, scrounging for herclothes and drink bottles to put into her bag. ‘It was not necessarily for nothing?’ Deloresput a lift in her voice to encourage some cheer. ‘I know we appreciated it, even if thoseyoung guests didn’t. If only all guests took an interest in the upkeep of the beach. I must sayit has never looked as lovely before you came.’ I zipped my bag and walked with Delores to the door. I looked across from the plantlife on the dunes to the sandy shore. I sighed. It was nice of Delores to say that she hadnever seen the beach look so nice before I came along, but look at it now: it looked like achoppy sea with mounds of sand flattened by yesterday’s rain. The dips looked cavernouslike a reef. The narrow ridges between the holes looked as if they would collapse if troddenon. But I decided, in the name of all the work I had put into the upkeep of this beach, Icould not leave it this way. ‘I suppose there is a shovel about?’ I asked the shopkeeper. ‘We do have a shovel somewhere. I am not sure where it is now.’ ‘I know where it is.’ I dropped my heavy bag to the ground. The clink of bottles knocking against eachother did not bother me, and I strolled around the front of the holiday homes to thecollection of plastic outdoor furniture, bare and shaking gently in the wind. I pressed andcupped my hands so I could peer into the students’ rental through the sliding window door.For a second I thought the place could be occupied for all the bottles, beer cans, crisppackets and piles of pots and pans stacked across the kitchen tables, benches and floors. Butthere was an eerie emptiness to the darkened rooms that I could see. I had looked aroundmy feet and inside the home and saw the shovel, the tool of my discredit, lying face downon the lounge room floor. I slid the door open. I was not surprised the students would leavetheir home in such disarray and unlocked. I walked in and quickly grabbed the shovel. Itseems, I thought, those kids would abandon their home like they discarded the beach. Now with the shovel still turned down, I scraped the mounds of sand back into theholes. It was clear how unhappy and impatient I was with the chore in front of me. I sighed.How I had cared for those eggs, but the gloom of my mood was overtaken with a darker fogwhen I thought of how much I had failed the eggs. I should have been nicer about thebonfire, I knew it happened because I put that fire out, quite dramatically, I recalled. But, I thought, if I had ever doubted the existence of the turtle eggs, after theirmother’s triumphant carriage up the shore to nest here, I would not have cared as violentlyas I did.
The students were aware that turtles do not detour far away from their summerCaribbean route, and are only in this part of the world to eat jellyfish, not to lay eggs. Ibelieved so strongly in what I saw. But perhaps, I cried as I carried some sand with theshovel from a flatter part of the beach to drop in a hole, if I had listened to them, theecologists and the marine biologist, that it was an impossibility, I would not be feeling likethe fool I felt now. Turtles nesting in Wales? I spat at myself in my thoughts, what was Ithinking? I smoothed the surface of the sand with the tip of the shovel so the beach was againuncompromised by vandalism. I took bits of seaweed that had appeared since the storm, putthe litter I saw safely by my bag and threw the rocks into the ocean. The final touch in mylast act as caretaker of the beach, I thought, was to remove the white plastic sun loungerfrom its overturned state on the dunes and return it to where it was, by the side of theturtles’ nest. The imaginary turtles’ nest, I chastised. And laid upon it one last time, Icovered my eyes with my hands. Once I had closed my eyes I soon reopened them again,and before too much time was spent waiting for Walter and the Fisherman to reappear, myhead began to nod and lull at my chest as I fell to sleep with dreams of the turtles’ demise todrag me down.
Epilogue I opened my eyes to a starry night, and I saw, reflecting back at me, my soulrevealed as a sopping wet disappointment. I saw my foolishness exposed by those creaturesthat never existed. The beachfront I was ready to leave behind was a depressing stretch of sand, so farremoved from my quiet existence in London. I was not an outdoor-type and never was. I stirred from the hard plastic lounge chair. When I finally sat up and freed my facefrom the corrugated indents, as the chair constituted a pillow for a few hours, I wasrewarded with the sound of silence: not a bird whistle, or guests in the villas; I could onlyhear the gentle slide of the waves on the flat of the sand. I sat with my head in my handsand listened to the calm of the sea. The day’s effort in tidying the beach did not dismiss the whirlwind of my discredit.While I was sleeping, the sun must have burned bright because yesterday’s storm was nowjust a memory Lloergan Traeth didn’t seem to remember: the beach looked the same, just asit did when I arrived, but I didn’t see litter strewn on the ground. I felt that I was at leastleaving the beach a better place than how I found it. Now I let my hands down and decided it was time to go, seeing clearly that my timespent at Lloergan was not in vain. Thus, very wearily I stood and managed to leave mychair and start up the beach. But I stopped and stared at the activity emerging from acircular mound right back past where the holes were, near the dune vegetation. Like boilingwater, bubbles of sand swelled, dropped then were flicked away. It very soon bubbledfuriously as if the sand undug itself and the contents from underneath made itself known. I drew in a sharp breath of air and held my palms to my mouth. Under the starlightand full moon, reflecting a white luminescent stairway on top of the ocean, I saw little blackarms as thick and short as a bite of liquorice flap sand away revealing a hole full of littleblack lumps rising from their cave. I stood back and pulled my plastic lounge chair away, asone by one, they struggled over the edge of their nest and beelined straight to the moonlitstairway. My palm covering my mouth helped stop my tears turning into audible sobs. I wasnot going to disrupt the turtles. They were here! They were here all along. When Lloerganwas destroyed the villains missed their nest, I saw. They missed their nest! My sobs werealmost bursts of restrained laughter. Their sandy bodies were partly covered by white dots speckled down their spine andtwo more parallel rows of the spots were an inch each way down their shell. And theypulled their bodies, hundreds of them, now pulling and flapping in unison across the cleansandy shore towards the light. All this time, they incubated, I marvelled, and there theywere entering the wild underwater world. It was not an ordinary place to start, but therethey went pulling their little bodies to the water, just like their mother did when shedropped them off. And they were doing this march to the sea without a mother to care for
them. I imagined that maybe the mother would wait for them far out to sea, if they canmake it there, but I knew that was not to be. I could not see their faces or their eyes as the miniature creatures waded into thewater and struggled to find their swimming legs. It was amazing to me. I stood back by thehole that was nestled by the marram grass and watched them submerge under water. Theyhad no mother now, but they were lucky. Each and every one of them, I thought. They weresurvivors. I sighed as the turtles disappeared away from sight as they travelled deeper into thewater. There was nothing to do now. They left streams of curvy marks down the sand. Theirtrail looked like many tiny ripples on a flat river. It was funny how they stuck togetherknowing where to go. It was a miracle. The trail started, as it should, from the hole. I thought I should take a photograph ofit, but I didn’t have a camera. I never had anything to document my own life before. Ilooked into the hole and saw those little creatures’ first home. And then my gaze fell upona glistening white stone and I saw at a tiny black rupture streaked down its side. I bentdown to inspect it; I saw it was an egg, an egg sitting alone in the wet sandy hollowamongst other broken shells. I dusted the other shells away. It was the only egg unbroken inthere. But it had a crack in it. I was sad for it. That unborn turtle did not even have thechance to swim out into the uncompromising ocean and battle against the elements, thepredators or anything that would threaten its survival. This one never had a chance to hatchwith its siblings. I knew then that I had more reason to stay at Lloergan. I held onto the egg making abenign cavern in my hands. This little egg was to have purpose after all. It was going toprotect its brothers and sisters and begin Lloergan Traeth’s first steps to turtle conservation.
About the author Mi Wae was a music reviewing, web editing, news writing, poet in a former life, nowlooking after herself since the multiple sclerosis came to stay. Care and calm are the order oftoday... lest the MS monster grows... Leatherback was written in 2008 when the creative juices flowed and I managed to get itdown in a year, published in 2012, I am just happy its out there waddling in the world. http://alifesedentary.wordpress.com