This is part one of a serial, I’ll get to the next part when I can think of it.
There is no greater satisfaction than winning the race. The breeze over one’s face, the cheer of the crowd, the smell of oil and fumes. It is greatly desirable, despite the risks and the deaths. My compatriots care little for assessment of these, and I evince a similar attitude, but I cannot say that I do not care. There is Marina, always Marina, and I must return to her no matter the humiliation of survival, no matter my place, I must see her again, and tis more than anything drives me forward.
I have no greater desire than her despite my passion for racing, for speed, for winning; it with her that my heart races, when I am travelling at speed, my heart is calm. It is with her that I feel that I shall burst with pride, that my very heart shall beat out of my chest.
I met her first on Pendine Sands, surveying my attempt for the second run. My team and I had established our record the year before, 193-, and we were ready once again to broach the zenith of engineering and human endurance, and, as was my habit, I was wandering the sands of the beach in the very early morning to inspect conditions and calm my mind. She was there, a figure in the distance, looking out to sea; an oil painting in the making, her white dress whipping around in the wind, a sail signalling travel upon the seas. I ignored her at first, lost in my thoughts and wandering the seas edge, but as I walked, I could not help but notice that she did not move even as the tide came in gradually and by the time I reached her the water was up above her ankles, and starting at the hem of the light dress. I felt perhaps that I should intervene.
“Excuse me?” I took a few steps closer, and out of long habit, I looked at my watch and noted the time. “Excuse me, Miss?” I called, more loudly. She seemed to start, somewhat taken aback by my presence, and looked around. She smiled, and I saw that her round hat kept fairly short, blond, hair, neck length, around her head. The dress was cut in a round neck with little decoration, and she seemed possessed of, somehow, an enchanting demureness and delightful pertness around the eyes, which, I noted, were pale green. She took a few steps back, to what one could reasonably call the water’s edge.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, “I simply didn’t hear you. I was contemplating the suicide of reason.” It was my turn, it appeared, to be taken aback. I did not know how to reply to this. I must have signalled my confusion, because it seemed that she was moved to continue. “Given our current socio-political circumstances; the rise of Mr Moseley and his cohorts, the economic environment, the protests and difficulties, I must conclude that the age of reason is past, and that as arguments of reason are used to justify our circumstances, reason itself is done. It has not been killed, it has performed a ritual suicide, and we have fallen upon its inelegant point. Do you not think?” She waved her hands in the air a little as she spoke, and ended her speech by clasping them behind her back.
I flapped my jaw ineffectually, unable to approach the lady or her subject emotionally or intellectually. I remember feeling as if under siege, but any well behind my fortifications had run dry, and under pressure from my passions and limbic system I managed to blurt out,
“I was thinking that it was a very fine morning for a paddle, if one was of a mind.” It was weak, but had the sole merit of addressing the facts of the case, some of them. Her reply, however, was a devastation upon my soul.
“Ah.” She said, and turned to look out to sea again.
I largely found the Irish Sea pleasant if excitable at times, but today it took on a grey and accusatory colour, as if reflecting the dullness of my response, and the pain of an unmet need.
“I don’t like ‘em.” I ventured. The sea washed in over my boots and flooded them in a particularly vicious and unwarranted attack, while washing around her pretty, bare feet as if Michael Angelo himself had painted a tableau around her. She took another step back, and I followed suit. Of course, she stepped back daintily, and I squelched back, my boots full of water.
“Of whom do you speak, Sir?” She asked not looking around.
“The lot of ‘em, Moseley, the Mail, strikers, poor people, the lot.” I gave this some second thought, “Poor people are alight, not their fault, I just don’t like ‘em being poor. Moseley’s a rotter though.”
She took the opportunity to swing her scythe through my heart again.
I put my hands in my pockets and I’m pretty sure my face arranged itself into a semblance of misery, because she next said,
“Don’t be like that, you’re not a scolded puppy.” And that was fine as far as it went, but she spoke again. “Have you fallen in love with me?”
I have to say that if I was dumbfounded by this pretty, slight girl before, I was now completely flummoxed, poleaxed, brained. Of course, I had, completely and utterly with every glance and word, my heart was given over to her, but I wasn’t sure yet who she was, nor did I even know her name, and I was once again silenced by her question.
I retired to my keep and drew up the planks.
“I can assure you, er, Miss, that I am not in the habit of accosting young ladies at this hour of the morning and falling in love with them.” She looked away from the sea.
“And at what hour is this your habit, may I then ask?” She looked at me with her clear green eyes.
“I mean to say that I am not in the habit of accosting young ladies and falling in love with them.” Her eyes danced and her smile was disarming, and indeed I was disarmed, but I could not contemplate the entirety of my vulnerability.
“So, can I assume the second part thus stated is not the habit, since it is clearly incumbent upon the first part, and that the first part is not complete of practice, rendering the second part of your assertion redundant?” She paused and took a breath. “Or do you mean that you do neither habitually and this circumstance is unique?”
“The latter?” I ventured. She turned to face me suddenly.
“Aha! So, you have fallen hopelessly in love with me!” She clasped her hands in front of her bosom, and rolled her eyes provocatively. “How delightful!”
“Er,” I said. “isn’t it?” I was now completely off guard, and I felt as if some greater truth had been dropped on me from a great height, without warning. An embarrassing truth.
It would have been less embarrassing if I had not, as was my actual habit, worn my work boots and overalls, greasy overalls, to inspect the beach that morning, and let the sea water run into otherwise impeccable footwear, which I would now have to have repaired at some inconvenience.
It would have been less embarrassing if I had brushed my teeth, although that embarrassment was entirely internal, or pomaded my hair even the slightest bit; instead of being carefully coiffured I had a painfully long strand over one eye, and no amount of subtle blowing would repair this very visible and external pain. I resolved internally to have my hair shortened again at the earliest opportunity.
No ramparts, no portcullis of the soul, could repel the invasion. Within seconds of meeting this woman, whose name, at this time, I knew not, had invaded my very soul and taken possession of it, and I was reduced to a gibbering, slobbering wreck, with no defences, and not even the wit to offer myself up to her as a sacrifice to do with as she pleased.
She let me off the hook, no, she eased my pain a little, but I was still hooked, merely struggling less.
“Might I know your name?” She asked. Of course. It would be the most natural thing in the world to tell her my name. She would know it, and call me by it, and by this I would know that she wanted to address me. Her lips wold hover about the syllables of my given name, or my nickname, or possibly my professional name; but right at this second, just temporarily, for a brief moment, I could not quite bring to mind any of these and unfortunately the helpful physicality of my mouth parts muttered something that I did not quite hear either. I had to repeat it, for my own sake.
“Buttons.” I said. It was the nickname my mother had for me and I had not used it since I was six and my father came back from the Great War.
“Well, Buttons,” she declared, taking my arm, “I suggest that since you have given your soul away, you feed the poor girl bearing the weight of it, lest she fade away.” And she put her hand dramatically on her brow and arched her back in a pantomime of the same. I nodded and started to walk gently into the wind along the beach, speed record, for moment, forgotten and abandoned.
I, “Buttons,” strode along the beach with a pretty girl on my arm at some ungodly hour of the morning, the Miss being a paradigm of delight and the bearer of her arm a step away from the devil’s own work of scruffiness and degradation.
And yet this work of art trod gently with me, wriggling her toes in the wet sand at every opportunity, and talked and talked about everything and nothing. When the breeze blew up she placed a hand upon her head, revealing more about her delights than I could properly deal with, and I was forced to look into the middle distance least I lose my decorum as well as my soul. Of the two I was more fearful of the loss of decorum, my soul was gone, and the would be, for it, no recovery.
Eventually she seemed to come to a proper pause in her chatter, and I cleared my throat somewhat before asking,
“Might one ask your name, Miss?” I felt as if there were some sort of glitch in my voice right at the end there, and reddened somewhat. She had the grace not to notice the embarrassment, but she was not done with me.
“One might, if one were of a mind.” She answered, eyes flashing up at me.
“Well one is of a mind.” I replied.
“Then you should ask if you are of a mind to ask, and you assert that you are, but I hear no further interrogative forthcoming, and I wonder, Sir, what gives you pause in your inquiry.”
“I do. I said it, and I meant it, I wonder that your curiosity about my name is stemmed by some hindrance I cannot discern. Indeed, I would go further; I wonder if your mind is not fully made up on this matter, and if your curiosity might be idle, a mind wandering through a forest of ideas, but too insipid to grasp firmly at the apple when presented.” She looked terribly serious as she said this. I felt that she had no so much scythed my heart at this point, but minced it, and was frying it, perhaps with a little butter.
“What is your name dear lady?” I asked in desperation.
“You may call me Marina.” She said, slipping her arm out of mine and bowing and curtseying deeply in the sand before taking my still crooked elbow again.
I thought her name was the sound of a thousand church bells ringing out in celebration.
But I was hungry.
This was the first concrete thought I’d had since seeing her, and this gentle creature had entranced me so, I had not noticed that, when I looked around, we had walked five miles down the coast. In fact, I was lost.
“Let’s have breakfast!” She said excitedly. “I know just the place, and it’s just opening.”
“At this time?” I said, looking at my watch.
“Indeed.” And I remembered that she had suggested that we have breakfast some time ago, but my presence of mind, well let’s just say that there was very little presence of mind and lay the matter aside; the point is that even at this hour she maintained that there would be breakfast, and I thought that would be a very good idea indeed.
The café was open, and right on the very edge of the beach, and I understood that it would be open even at this hour when I saw a number of dour gentlemen sitting around the external tables, got up in fishing gear, and being delivered of large fry ups and mugs of tea by an equally large man sporting a bald head and a butcher’s apron. He bustled back inside. The gentlemen said something, and Marina gaily replied to them, they looked somewhat startled, but gave me a nod of acknowledgement. We went inside.
What greeted us was a small space for patrons, three tables, none with tablecloths, looking as if they had been reclaimed from the sea more than likely. A sign for Lipton’s Tea hung over a hatch, and to one side a door. The hatch banged open and the man spoke, but again I didn’t understand a word, marina negotiated the conversation for a moment and then the man said in heavily accented English,
“I have to ask, Miss, how come you can speak Welsh? You’ve not a trace of Welsh accent.” She smiled happily, as he’d payed her a huge compliment.
“I’m terribly well educated, don’t you know?” And then the let forth quite a long statement, again beyond my understanding, and finished, “but I expect some of that is hard unless you have relative in the south?”
“Aye. If you’ll excuse me a minute I don’t want these eggs to overcook.” And he slammed the hatch shut.
We sat, and a very short time late two large plate were delivered to us crammed with all the accoutrements of a full English Breakfast, as enjoyed by the working class everywhere.
“Actually,” said Marina, “many of the working class start their day with bread and butter if the fire isn’t going.” The chap chose this moment to come out and deliver pint mugs of very strong tea. My fork was halfway to my mouth, loaded with egg and bacon, but I had just stopped.
“Anything wrong with the food.” He said. It wasn’t a question.
“No no, not at all!” I said, “An excellent repast with which to break one’s fast.” He looked at me, as if I’d said something slightly insulting. Marina spoke, something I’d heard before on previous trips.
“Da iawn.” She said touching his arm. This seemed to satisfy the big man and he stamped off into the kitchen.
I ate steadily and silently, looking at Marina occasionally, she seemed to smile when I did this even when she was looking out of the window. The men from outside were walking down the beach with their fishing equipment. For one of them this seemed to involve a big stick.
“It’s in case of a shark.” Marina said.
“How did you know what I was thinking?” I asked, somewhat rudely, but inside I felt a little indignant.
“It’s nice to see you regaining use of your faculties.” She said.
“That’s all very well dear heart, but how?” She laid her hand on mine and took a big swig of tea with the other.
“Partly predictability, I can see what’s on your mind and where you’re looking, and partly maaaaagic.” She said, and laughed again.
“You are terribly pert all the time, you know. I wonder how I shall bear it when we are married.”
“You should ask a lady you know.”
“Were you thinking of refusing me?” She arched an eyebrow.
“Formerly no, but I am reconsidering.”
“There is no life that means anything without you.”
“That’s sweet.” Sweet. How did I bear it?
“But,” I prompted.
“Usually something follows ‘You’re sweet,’ some devastation for a chap from which he will never recover.”
“Because all you chaps soldier nobly on despite repeatedly broken hearts?”
“Something like that yes.” She looked me right in the eye.
“You know that’s all a load of nonsense right?”
“I say!” I began, but she waved her hand dismissively.
“Half the chaps are looking for their mothers in marriageable form, the other half are looking for some little woman they can dominate, some intersection of those are looking for someone who’ll take charge of everything and let them potter around on their estates or in their potting sheds and some other lot are looking for trophies to display because they have to dress like penguins a lot of the time. The commons have much more meaningful and real relationships when they have them if there is time between being down the mind and cleaning for the gentry.” She sipped, or should I say supped, her tea again. “The commons might fight and argue, but when push comes to shove they stick by each other.”
“You’re not some sort of communist, are you?”
“No dear, I have far too much invested in the west.”
“What a peculiar thing to say.”
“Not if you’re an ambassador.”
“I do beg your pardon,” I began, and then a much stranger conversation ensued.