“Cheers,” he wheezed, as the salt dripped down his soaking ginger curls to his fresh, slick chin. “But I think I’ll be savin it for the last.” He coughed at the single cigarette with a blue violence, but he sniggered. “I’ll not be dyin of the cancer so that’s a lark innit?”
He was sure about two things. The first was that he knew he was the dapperest fucker to ever die in Australia. He was certain of this. He had gotten a posh haircut not three days ago in Dresden. It was clean around the ears. Nice and tight. The top was floppy and wavy, the way all the swells were wearing them these days. His natural ginger-blond curl made it a positive ease to coif and, although he purchased the pomade, he knew it would be better served on another handsome buck. And so after using it to it’s fullest potential, he screwed the cap on, listening to the slow sherrr sherrrrr sherrrrrrr of the metal lid on the porcelain until it stopped short and was quiet.
The mirror revealed a strikingly handsome bloke. “Not so bad at all,” he thought, regarding his muscular physique that was such a source of pride. His broad shoulders allowed him look formidable, allowed him to intimidate when need be, but he had a softness to him that almost invited people to trust him. He grinned, despite himself and then his eyes followed the trail down to his fob pocket. There was a slight bulge not held by anything pertaining to a watch. As he instinctually averted his eyes he forced himself to look at his strong chin. Yes. This chin. Look at that fucking thing! Look! He reached so hard from his innards to his eyeballs but nothing could take away the image of himself, encumbered with those words in his fob pocket. Denial was never his strong point and he solemnly lowered his eyes from the mirror, heavy with the weight of inevitability, humbled by the end.
That was the other thing he knew. He knew the end.
Dresden was so goddamn cold. It was not what he wanted to be doing but who ever gets to do what they WANT to do these days? When he was a boy in Croydon his father had gone off to Flanders and he was told to stay still and be happy. If he complained that he was cold he was strictly informed that cold existed to make him grateful for warmth and it should make him happy he at least had a fire, unlike “all those poor boys in Flanders.” He couldn’t figure what “flanders” was exactly. It was spoken of as “over there” and in hushed tones by the adults. He reckoned it was some kind of exotic bird or at least a place where exotic birds lived. Great flapping things that flew over those “trenches” and the sort, those hidey-hole things in the papers where his dad was. He liked the idea of Flanders. He liked the idea of anywhere that wasn’t Croydon. He fancied adventure stories in far off countries.
He was a good lad, even if he was a dreamer. He was a bit of a sneak though, watching to take as much advantage at just the right time, when the adults were not paying attention and, more often than not, getting away with a little bit more than the rest of the kids his age. He was angelic, you see. People never suspected him to be the one raiding the larder, especially because of his great flop of ginger curls. And because his mother was a slight and pretty thing that everyone referred to as a “dear” and whom had, evidently, a “big heart.”
It turned out that her heart wasn’t all that big. It was small and quite ill. And when she passed it was as if nothing had ever been there at all. Perhaps it disappeared like his father in Flanders. Maybe his father took it for good.
As the tide began to come in, the man looked out at the growing purple blackness and couldn’t quite distinguish the water from the sky anymore. The stars merged between air and ocean giving the whole beach an other-worldly quality. Appropriate he thought as his moist, pruning hand pointedly sought out the lump in the fob pocket. When he looked at his hands they were still the same. Elegant, just mottled with cold and wet. But nothing had CHANGED. Not from when he was snatching crumpets to when he was removing the labels from his clothes in Dresden to now as he held his hands in themselves, his brain murmuring, “Flanders.”
He shifted himself, nuzzling up to the sea wall, it’s old stones and new cement acting as a slow furnace keeping the day’s heat burning as if it is the last party-goer making sure everyone finds their way home, preferably with a drink in their hand.
He looked at the sky again. It was early he thought, counting the minutes in his mind and then dismissing them…because who really needs minutes anyway?
“Flanders” he said aloud. It was the first time he had truly spoken in days.
The girl smiled vaguely. Her back was resting against the same wall that his head was propped upon. “It’s a pretty place, I think.” She said. It was obvious she had never been there. “Flanders.” She said it and somehow it both enlivened and depressed him.
“Don’t worry about it.” He said dourly.
She sat in the rocky sand, listening to the waves on the beach. She had never seen a place like this. Perhaps she would bring her mother here someday. When it was all over. It is so WARM.
“It’s nice here.” She said, looking him in his increasingly yellow eyes.
“Yes. It’s not half bad. Good place to make a mystery anyway.” He sighed and coughed a bit.
She lit another cigarette for herself and took a long, deep drag as she burrowed her toes in the sand. She was so content in this moment. Damn, it was beautiful here! She cocked her head to the side and calculated how long it might take to move her mother and stepdad and uncle and his youngest out to this lovely red and orange warmth. She giggled when she realized it was less than she thought.
“I think I’ll move here!” she exclaimed as she grabbed his arm. Her girlish laughter snuffed out by the waves. He didn’t move, just merely glanced at her with mild disdain and resigned remorse. She offered him nothing but a kind, simple smile then blinked and looked out at the sea, singing to herself, “I’m gonna get you on a slow boat to China all to myself, all alone…”
He closed his eyes. He could no longer taste the remnants of his pork pastie but instead a metallic sourness was permeating from his throat and onto his tongue. It tasted like bile. Was it bile? It doesn’t matter. That pastie was good though. Real fucking good.
“…I’m gonna keep you in my arms ever more! Leave all the others waitin’ on a far away shore!…”
The waves we pretty close now. Near to high tide. Her cigarette plumes billowed out to sea with her mousy little voice as it sang.
“…out on the briny where the moon’s big and shiny..”
There was no moon. In fact it was completely dark. A new moon. Nothing but black with little pin pricks and the lights from the tavern far away.
“…melting your heart of stoooooone….”
She trailed off, lost in thought for a moment. Thinking about China. About maybe going to China. Hong Kong? perhaps…dadada “slow boat to Chiiiina…….” She absentmindedly put out the cigarette butt and placed it in a small tin compact with the others she had smoked and she turned back to him.
“I think I might go to China!” she exclaimed but this time her whimsical plan fell on silence. Cold, still, silence and empty eyes. She cocked her head, smiled and placed a hand on his strong jaw.
“Oh you,” she said “Good for YOU.”
She stared at him with glassy eyes. She loved and loathed this part the most.
“Let me get your head,” she pulled on his neck, making sure he was propped up comfortably. “It was a good run, my friend. I will always know yeh. Don’t yeh worry none.”
With a ruffle of his ginger waves she proceeded to empty his pockets of identifiers and anything else deemed important, leaving him, in return, what was left of her Kansita cigarettes, taking one out and placing it between his cold lips. As she lit it she caught sight of a pocket she had not noticed. A watch fob pocket. With nimble fingers she eased out the small roll of paper and unrolled it.
It said simply “Tamam Shud.”
She wasn’t aware of this phrase. It didn’t mean anything to her or to anyone she reckoned might be interested. She looked at him quizzically as the ember on the cigarette started to fade and then rolled the paper back up and placed it back where she had found it. She then took one last look, straightened his tie and padded, barefoot, off on the dark, quiet beach.