Kids darted like goldfish, in and out, of the flashing lights of arcade machine into the cloudy day, landing at the feet of their waiting mums and dads. The sweet scent of candyfloss spun out its sugary goodness to pantomime sized shirts, garish skirts and pink open mouths. But casually flung coins on counters seemed to fall short of 2nd Sight. Something about the name made me shiver and look away from the booth, as if I'd been caught snatching a look at something indecent. I told Jeff, when I saw him, because I knew he'd find it funny. But I changed it about, said that it made me feel sad, because there were always two chairs sitting at the front of the booth, like props in a play, that nobody ever came to see.
'Jesus,' Jeff said, 'if it's called second sight then surely they know that nobody is going to turn up-ever.'
His little hiccup laugh, at his own joke, bubbled up out of his mouth and nose with the lager he’d swallowed. It was our last big blow out, a curry in an actual restaurant, before we went back to our digs and packed our bags. We had to get our bus home in the morning.
We waited for a replacement bus to come from Glasgow, to take us back to Glasgow, were the scheduled bus had broken down. Jeff got friendly with another couple in the bus station. They'd a couple of young kids; one a baby, one a toddler. Their childish argy-bargy kept him amused, but it was the mother’s breasts he kept sneaking a look at. Jeff, of course, told them about 2nd Sight.
'Dogs and strays, Jeff said, nodding his head in my direction, 'what's she like?'
'You should go,' said the kid’s father, smiling at Jeff.
Jeff, being Jeff, thought it was a great idea. If I'd have asked him to go he'd have palmed me off with some excuse.
'We can't,' I simpered apologetically, 'we've got all these bags'. I nodded at the green haversack, filled with dirty washing, and the tartan suitcase at our feet. 'I'm not lumping them all the way back down to that pier for nothing.' I almost convinced myself with the rising tone of indignation in my voice that I was angry and upset that anyone could make such a suggestion.
'Don't worry, we'll watch your bags.' The kid’s father looked at me for what seemed a long time, but he was talking to Jeff.
'Yes,' added his partner, pushing and pulling back one squirming gummy attack from one shrieking baby to the infant, held two dummy-tits between them like a referee, plugging one into one mouth, then gagging the other in the same way. 'That will be the least of our worries. You go and enjoy yourself, when you can'.
Even from the end of the pier I could see someone sitting smoking on one of the chairs outside 2nd Sight. As we got closer, the shape became more distinct, a young woman, holding her leg loosely by the ankle against her torso like a ballerina, as if sitting was a performance. The effect was accentuated by her curious costume, which seemed to be some kind of pearl lace wedding dress material. Her hair was oil black as a slick, and covered by a dove white mantilla. But it was her eyes, hard as obsidian, which seemed to pick me out and apart from a great distance. When she'd seen enough she flicked her neck muscles and a curtain of hair came between us. She dismissively pinged a fag end, catapulting it like a sparkler, onto the wooden pier.
'Come on,' I said to Jeff, grabbing at his hand, and pulling him in close, away from the path his legs had set for 2nd Sight. 'We'll nip down, get a cone and go for a walk on the beach'.
'Maybe later,' said Jeff, smiling his little snaggle tooth smile and stopping to look at me. 'You all right?'
'Why wouldn't I be?' I asked.
'Come,' said the woman, standing up dramatically in one sudden movement, her dress falling about her like a dance.
She was much younger than I’d first thought, perhaps even pretty. She wiped her large hands on the front of her skirt like a car mechanic carefully weighing Jeff’s worth, before getting down to the honest business of fixing a price.
'How much?' said Jeff pre-empting her.
'Five pounds,' she replied with a nod and a smile, as if the matter was already concluded.
'Jesus,' said Jeff puffing out his cheeks, 'I didn't think it would be that much'.
He looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders and set my face as if to say that it was fine and we could do it another time.
'For the two of us?' said Jeff turning suddenly and holding his two fingers up to the woman, as if she didn't speak English.
She nodded, looking at me with a smile and rattled off some guttural sounds, a strange language that seemed to hang in the air like forgotten notes of music and disappeared inside the booth
I edged forward taking a last gasp of the sea air into my lungs and plunged through the booth’s dark curtains. It may have been the play of shadow on light, but it was as if I'd been blinkered. I looked at Jeff, then at the woman, but I had to move my legs and concentrate. I didn't seem able to take in both of them at the same time. And the thought of being in the embrace of the cubicle rose up my throat and I let out a long moan like a pregnant cow giving birth, and theatrically surrendered to the toxicity of the idea that there was something wrong as my legs buckled and gave way.
The woman splashed a little water on my forehead. I knew it came from the bowl that she had sitting on the table between her and Jeff. There was no crystal ball, no tarot cards, just water. It felt cool and fresh, even though the bowl that held it looked ancient, covered in some kind of verdigris that grew up and around the edges like moss. I couldn’t open my eyes. The woman was crooning and I wanted to cry out to Jeff, ask what he was doing to help me, but my voice wouldn't work, and I caught some sense, like a wind against my face, that there was only the woman, and me, alone in the world. A cloying briny smell, not incense, something else, I wasn't quite sure what, came from her. I heard a whisper of words, different languages and accents, which shifted inside me and became a river, then an ocean of words.
'Jeff,' I said, sitting up suddenly and spluttering out his name from a great depth, like seawater.
'You fainted,' he said, his face looming into mine as if it was under a magnifying glass.
'Did I?' I said, trying my voice and slowly moving my arms and legs to check that they still worked, as if I'd been in a car accident.
I got to my feet and the woman moved away, sat down beside the table and looked intensely into the water in the bowl. I don't know, but I thought I saw a stir and flash of colour in the water. Jeff sat in the other wooden seat, diagonally across from her, as if nothing had changed. He casually tapped at the other chair with his foot, inviting me to sit, but his eyes were on the other woman, waiting for her to say something. I spun away from both of them, plunged through the curtains and out into daylight. I walked as quickly as I could away from 2nd Sight, leaving it and Jeff in my wake.
'Jesus,' Jeff said, catching me up. 'What's a matter with you? I had to give her a fiver.' He tried to laugh it off. 'A fiver! 'For nothing.' Jeff said again twice, muttering to himself, echoing in my ear.
I kept walking, glad to taste diesel fumes and the haphazard sprawl of people hurrying in the bus station, glad to get away. Our bags were safe and, as we said our goodbyes, I almost felt the same. Jeff shoved me into the window seat on the bus, but the hazy heat drew me in and helped me doze most of the way home.
We'd got our bags safely out of the luggage compartment and sat them at our feet. Other people milled around and away from us in the bus station, but Jeff stood, like some stranger's child, with his petted lip
'You alright?' Jeff finally said. 'It's just you've been.' He couldn't find the right word, his face, twisting and turning in on itself, looking at my face for inspiration. 'You've been a bit... funny.'
'C'mon,' he said, giving up on me and growing into his adult body, 'if we hurry we'll be able to get the 64 bus home.'
Jeff ran ahead, with the bags, flinging open the door. Our flat had the empty feel of a tomb. The air hung like strips of cloth we could only part with our bodies. He flicked at the light switch in the hall. It stuttered and hissed and marked the clean emulsion white of the wallpaper, before clicking off and retreating, leaving us in coal tar darkness.
'Meant to fix that,' said Jeff, ignoring the shadows that reached out for him in the hallway, plunging into the kitchen, and clicking the kettle on, bringing the room to life.
We had an old double bed pushing out from the alcove, in the kitchen, to claim half the room. Jeff dived across, over to my side of the bed to put the lamp beside it on. I jumped when he grabbed at my hand as I passed him. He dragged at my arm, down into the depths of our bed. He planted a tame kiss on my nose instead of my mouth, but his clammy hands were already moving up and under my blouse.
'No,' I said, pulling myself away from him.
His hands followed me, pulling me back down to his hungry mouth; waiting lips.
'C'mon,' he said, in that false cajoling joking tone he used to make me feel bad. 'Don't be such a frigid cow.'
I ached to be speechless; to be dumb. 'No,' I said, in a voice that sounded nothing like mine.
He bartered no more words. Arms straining, wrung with sweat, with a grunt and a groan, he won his fight. I lay beside him, partially clothed, unmoving, cold as a corpse. The howling rattling of the wind, clawing at the window to get in, made me shiver and want to crawl under the covers and find deliverance in sleep. In the comfort of its black depths a smell blossomed outwards, or inwards, I wasn't quite sure. My eyes wouldn't open, but I felt the light touch of the inky darkness rolling and cascading forward, reaching out before rolling away again. I tried to move, to scream, but my throat wouldn't work and I couldn't crook a finger or a toe. Jeff pushed away from me, to his side of the bed. A guttural sound beside the enamel sink with unwashed dishes gave the buzzing sound in my ear voice and depth. I could feel it reaching out to find me. I didn't believe in God, but I prayed that I'd die as it got closer. There was a clicking-clacking sound, like a tongue searching for speech and I could feel its weight on the bed. Blind panic gave me leverage and I broke up and out of sleep with a cry.
'Jesus,' said Jeff, sitting up in the bed, 'what's the matter with you now?'
'Nothing,' I said, turning away from him, pulling the covers up and over my ears, like a skullcap, to feign sleep.
Jeff half smoked a fag, stubbed it out and turned towards the warmth of my stony back. I waited and listened until his breathing began its regular rattle. I slipped eel like from the bed, my cold feet leaving no imprint on the linoleum. Jeff's wallet had only coins, but I knew all his secrets and where he hid his notes. The bags were already packed, ready to go in the hallway. I stepped lightly though the front door of our life, like a pick pocketing funeral director, carrying our remains and a photo of him in a cheap fall-apart plastic frame.
On the bus going back to Blackpool my escape went unnoticed among the excited holidaymakers. I slept well. Her voice filled my head, like laughing gas, with words that floated away from me, that I could not catch and needed to know. I carefully stashed my bags in the lockers at the bus station, an expense Jeff would never have allowed. The only thing I took with me was his photo. My heels clicked purposely on the pavement as I pushed through the throng at the bus station. I turned toward the sun, closing my eyes, feelings its life giving heat and sucking on the sea air.
Somehow I expected her to be sitting in the same position, outside 2nd Sight, smoking the same fag. My heels hit a staccato beat on the wooden pier, but my heart raced even faster, and my thought whirred and dived like seagulls: 'What am I going to do? What am I going to do?' I reasoned that it was still early and the stall wouldn't be open yet, but there was a slash in the curtains.
An old crone sat staring into the pewter of water, humming what sounded like a lullaby, rocking back on forward on her chair. I slipped unnoticed into the other chair. I placed the photo of Jeff carefully down, frame up. I cleared my throat, wanting to catch her attention so that I could ask about the younger woman. But she continued with her rocking. I was like a ghost to her. My body started, imperceptibly at first, to move in the same way. My hands came together into a steeple of prayer and as I looked deeper into the water, a word, then a phrase, began to make sense and needed no translation. I felt their foreign shapes on my tongue and a sound tolling inside me, part of me, vibrating though my body, the song of yearning for new life that had been borne lying in bed with Jeff.
A peroxide blond head pushed though the curtains, wearing a “kiss me quick” hat. I could make out another blond, wobbling, uncertainly, on high heels, behind her.
'Sorry to bother you,' she said, 'but how much does it cost?'
'Five pounds,' I replied, looking at the photo of Jeff and then the stirring in the water.
'That's alright,' she said, turning to her pal for reassurance, before scuttling in and folding her long legs in the other plastic chair and looking at me through her false eyelashes.