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The other side of life in a sea-side town.

It takes a while to wake up. Consciousness has to wade through swirling fudge before it arrives for duty, as do new thoughts and last night's recollections. My bloodless legs have been elevated, for some hours, at an acute angle against the opposite wall which is only four feet from the wall supporting my back. The folding fisherman's stool wobbles beneath me as I grab the bottoms of my trouser legs and drag their flaccid contents to thump, thump onto the timber floor. I grimace and clench my fists tightly, braced against the tidal throbbing ache of life pumping into my limbs.

Not fully resurrected yet, my legs groan as I transfer my mass from the tired canvas chair to my pinned and needled feet. The low ceiling and closed walls won't allow me to stretch but my aching back holds the rest of my body to ransom until I do. Crookedly, I push the wooden door and it swings open easily. As the stagnant heat bolts, bright sunshine and a salty breeze fight boldly for the vacated space. One stride delivers me from my cell and onto a wooden step where merry beach life soundtracks the beginning of my day.

Elevated over a family penned in by the multi-coloured stripes of their windbreaker on the golden sand, I stand on tip-toes with gangly arms reaching for the cloudless sky, fingers at full span like routes searching for water. I grunt satisfaction as a torso-ful of sinews untangle themselves and my satisfied back releases its happy hostages.

" 'Morning." I greet the perplexed family as its parents shepherd their lambs back into the safety of their flock and away from this dishevilled worrier.

My crumpled, half-mast black trousers, creased Hawaiian style staff shirt and black Dr Martens were acceptable for washing pots at Butlins but have no place on the beach. The broken lock is hanging off the weather-beaten door but I push it closed anyway. It's the least I can do. Still squinting against the disapproving glare of the late morning sun, I stutter along the sand, away from the families, past the multi-coloured terraced beach huts to find my friends, my belongings, anything, something familiar.

The beach front in Torquay must be two miles long. If I walk along it I'm bound to recognise something from last night, some landmark. What do I know? I know that my bag and my belongings are at that house. I know they're safe because they contain nothing worth stealing. Of course the danger is that they're so worthless that they could be thrown away. They're all I have. I know that the house is not on the sea front. I walked downhill from it yesterday, and turned right onto the prom. Or was it left? I know that if I can find the pub, people there will know the house or its phone number. What was the name of the pub? Something to do with a bird. "The Pink Flamingo" rings a bell. Surely not. It too was not on the sea front I remember.

Walking along the prom, people are giving me a wide berth. My head doesn't suit the close cropped hair style that crowns it and it balances self-consciously on my fork handle frame. I know my black long trousers and white shirt look out of place among the pastel coloured shorts and t-shirts. Sunglasses would hide the toxins burning red in my swollen eyeballs. Sandals would allow my festering feet to breathe. If I had some money, I'd nip into Burtons and buy a disguise. I could pass for one these holiday makers easily. They avoid eye contact and criticise me when I've passed. Or am I being paranoid? I've heard that drugs do that. The prom is crowded. Tourists walk in pins in irregular single files on the path that bisects cafes, burger vans and ice-cream stalls.

People are eating and drinking, not because they're hungry but because they're on holiday yet don't want to sit on the sand. I am hungry though, and thirsty. I see a sign, 'Ice-cream -20p'. If I had 20p, I could kill two birds with one stone. I'm hungry and thirsty and feeling glum. I know it won't be long before I begin to despair.

Ricky will never find me in this crowd, that's even if he's looking. I need to find him, or the house, or the pub. I need to get off this promenade. I'm not wanted here and it offers me no salvation.

Why did I leave the house? I was annoyed with myself now. We'd been lucky to find someone good enough to let us crash or we'd both have been sleeping rough instead of just me! It was the drugs. I'd never been good with hallucinogenics. We'd been boozing all day too. All the way from Minehead to Taunton then on the train from Taunton to Torquay. No wonder I feel so horrible today.

"My mate works in Torquay." I assured Ricky on the way to the station. Only on the train did it occur to me, "No, it's Newquay. My mate works in Newquay!" But it was mid-summer. We were young, untethered, energetic and heading for the south coast. We didn't care which 'quay' we ended up in.

Ricky remembered talking to some punters in the bar who lived in Torquay. They'd said to look them up if ever he was here and that he could find them in the ... I keep thinking it's 'The Pink Flamingo' but it can't be. The fudge in my head won't let me remember.

Ricky and the punters were Scots and shared a kinsmanship made stronger south of the border. They were were big, burly, gruff moustachioed men and extended a kind of paternal welcome to us. We were much younger, 19 at the time, and greener. As we revelled in recklessness, the little ex-pat community rallied to get us started in Torquay. Terry's basement conversion would be finished in a couple of days and we could stay there for a bit til we got on our feet. Frankie-Ray knew a guy with a bar who needed a bar man. He'd speak to him tomorrow. Pete was sure his missus wouldn't mind if we crashed on the floor in his flat just for tonight. Tandy would lend us fifty quid to help us out but would would shoot us if we didn't pay him back. I believe him.

Ricky took charge of our budget and within five minutes was offering me a tab.

"An acid tab Rick?"

Ricky was into his drugs. Ricky was into everything. He was shorter than me but with a larger personality. He fizzed all the time. He bounced rather than walked and every movement was sudden and full of intention, yet his thick black hair remained stoically unflinching. He had a large mouth which was in permanent anticipation of a shiny smile. The smile was always directed at a target, never wasted, and guided by his eyes which seemed to guage your sincerity. I always felt that as long as Ricky was smiling, we could come to no harm.

I stared at the tiny harmless looking square of paper sitting on the end of his finger, a waft of tobacco smoked air tumbled it into my pint.

"It's in yer beer now man. Ye might as well just take it." Of course, I knew I could have just put the drink down and ordered another, but Ricky's pitch was all that reckless me needed to tip the balance away from cautious me. I swallowed the tab and drank the beer. The night went well; laughter, dancing, new friends and the prospects of jobs and accommodation. The pub closed much later than it was licences to and we poured down to Pete's house swaying, cajoling and planning the next day.

The living room was large and tasteful. It's contents obviously carefully selected and collected over a number of years; the gallery of a relationship of mutual tastes. Then what had made me flee? There wasn't any one incident or item or comment. I felt a sudden malodious claustrophobia, purely drug fuelled I know now. But even though I knew it then too, the compulsion to flee had bordered on manic. My companions had pleaded and protested briely and dutifully but could see that my temper had been about to fail and they'd let me have my way.

Outside I was calmer but I felt critical, condemning eyes watching me from the black windows of the enveloping houses - the drugs again. I needed to get to the sea, to the elements. Instinct and gravity led me down unfamiliar roads until finally I escaped the houses.

I stood holding cold steel railings under a bright moon, looking across mercury painted sand at the black ink see and absorbing it's vapours. I felt peaceful then as though I'd arrived at a long sought destination. I had no concerns and stood for a while until the cloudless sky vacuumed away the remainder of the night's weak heat and my remaining energy. Twenty yards away was a tree illuminated by green coloured lights. It was a beacon to nature, to verdure. It was appealing to others to come and share it's view and rest in its lea. Near its feet slept a small stack of deck-chairs.

It felt therapeutic being cradled by the taught, striped canvas, and the canvas of the chair I'd laid over me was all the insulation I needed. The luminous tree was happy to watch over me now and as the surf shushed me rhymically, I let my head loll to the left and I sagged into slumber.

He was young for a policeman, only three years older than me, maybe. He was fair and slightly tubby and my first thought was that I could outrun him easily.

"Come on mate. You can't sleep here." his tone made it sound more like advice than an order. I noticed my jaw shivering now that the deck-chair blanket had been removed.

"I haven't got anywhere else." Wasn't it obvious? Could he put my chair back on me now?

"What's your name?" His notebook was out now and I knew I wasn't going to be allowed back to sleep. If I cooperate, maybe he'll help. I gave him my personal details through quivering lips. Then,

"You couldn't put me in a cell for the night could you?" He took the question in his stride. I'd have thought this an unusual situation, someone asking to go to jail! I could have been asking for directions for all the impact the question had.

"No mate, it doesn't work like that." I got the time from him, five to four, ages before daylight. The thought of a nice warm cell appealed.

"Have you been in trouble with the police before?"

"Yeah, I got arrested last night in Minehead." He took notes as I expanded and I was sure this would earn me a bed. I waited for him to finish verifying my profile on his radio.

"Well you can't sleep here mate. Try and find somewhere warm eh."

"You're not taking me to the station?" I was agitated with disappointment. "What if I throw a brick through that window?" I wouldn't have done of course. I was irresponsible but I wasn't a thug. He gave me a sideways warning look through narrowed eyes. He looked older than his age now.

"Look after yourself." As he dissolved into the distant lights of the prom, I thought it must be nice being a policeman in Torquay.

I considered climbing back into the deck-chair but felt as though I'd be letting the policeman down. Besides, it was much colder now and a more substantial shelter was required. I tried huddling in various doorways and alcoves but none offered enough warmth or comfort. Some were already occupied and their residents made it clear that they didn't tolerate trespassers. I slunk down the concrete steps to the beach. I'd walk until sunrise then find somewhere to rest in the sun. In the distance I saw the beach huts, their vibrancy reduced to contrasting shades in the lunar filter. I'd only seen them on postcards before. I went for a closer look. What else was there to do?

1, 2, 3 doors were shut fast. 4, 5, wait. This one was closed by a padlock on a flimsy fitting with only a weak purchase on a rotting wooden door. Instinct made me check around me for witnesses. Of course there were none. The first pull produced a scraping sound as something gave way. One more check then, yank. Two rusty screws fell to floor, casualties of the break in. Inside I was instantly warmer. I pictured explaining myself to the hut's owners and assured myself that they'd sympathise. So with a clear conscience I made my nest. I'd worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

Maybe the tree is the key? It's near there that the road leaves the sea front to take Torquay's residents home. I've already patrolled the sea front twice and haven't spotted it. - Night time towns bear little resemblance to their daytime alter-egos. Awnings, A-boards, tables and chairs, lifted shutters hiding obscene dawbing are the make up and dress of the daytime tart, demanding attention, maximising earnings. Night time reveals a town's weary wrinkles. This harlot town was resting last night and had no interest in customers. It was simple and kind. Now its wrinkles are covered and it's intent on enticements, it has no welcome for the likes of me. - Last night the tree stood alone, radiant, beckoning to the whole parade to gather there for safety. Today there seem to be a hundred imposters, each as convincing as the next.

I start to weaken now. I haven't eaten since yesterday's breakfast. The alcohol has drained me of fluids and the come down from the acid magnifies my pessimism. The midday heat scours the streets and invades would-be shade. I need to sit down but tourists are everywhere. I'm in an ants nest under attack from a mean kid with a magnifying glass. I have to get indoors. Into a cafe or a pub. If I had some money ...

"Andy." I crane my neck to try to search from above the crowds, scanning for the voice. "Andy." He's right behind me now. "You alright? Where've you been man?" Ricky is looking up at me, inspecting me. He's smiling that big shiny smile and I know everything is alright.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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