Epilogue: A Last Toast to the Old World
We wanted to take the train, but the train wasn’t there. “Cancelled Forever”, someone had scrawled across the board that had once announced engineering works.
Walk? An epic journey south if we had no other choice; but the guy in the taxi was alive after all, just snoozing between rides. He admitted the sleeps had been getting longer, but could be persuaded to drive to Brighton for a bottle of sloe gin and some aged chocolate.
We drove into what could have once been any day in Anytown, except for the uncanny silence. Back in the Civilised Time the long hill between the railway station and the espla-nade had shuddered with traffic: now, as we made our delicate way down the cracking asphalt it felt for the first time as though nature was winning through. Clumps of daisies poked up between paving slabs; buddleia loomed down from window sills, prising apart the cement, and turning the light-etched walls into a pretty purple picture. Clouds of insects were preyed upon by the birds that criss-crossed the chasm between the moss-dressed buildings.
We both stopped at the unlit traffic lights, more out of habit than anything else; there was still a part of me that urged a crowd of strangers to appear from out of some side street or emerge, laden with bags, from the now dusty and subdued shopping centre off to the right.
Of course we had to do the walk: the driver had given us an odd look when we asked him to drop us off at the station, but by that time the car had been running on air. He knew some “people” over in Kemptown who would be able to top him up again; we only knew that we had to retrace our steps for the last time.
Beyond that lay uniqueness.
You can do anything if you set your mind to it – cider in this case. Trees keep growing and apples keep falling: squeeze enough of them, let them sit for a while and . . . people used to drink cheap, refrigerated lager, and keep drinking it until they fought or fell down. There was a lot to get angry about, but eventually The Machine did most of the work itself; we just cut a few of the strings.
There’s still plenty of plastic around, though – behind a door round the back of the Wetherspoons was an unopened pack of disposable tumblers. We took three, just in case, then crossed the road to the seafront and tumbled onto the beach.
We sit on the shingle as it breathes in the sea. Incoming: each wave is absorbed by the honeycombed voids between the grains . . . a second’s embrace before the water seeps back into the sea.
Whoosh . . . shhhh . . . whoosh . . . shhhh . . .
Incessant but random. Sometimes a larger wave strikes the shore, rushing upwards, bestriding the hollows and touching the tips of our toes.
Tiny bubbles sparkle like glass beads rising up the sandy-yellow liquid in our cups. As they burst, minute puffs of moisture expand and settle down onto the surface of the cider, echoing the sea-froth at our feet.
We look at each other and push our cups together, gently buckling, and toast everything we left behind that was good. Through her tears I can’t help but notice a glint, and then her face opens into a daylight smile.
“It’s finished, isn’t it? All the bad stuff.”
“Probably,” I reply.
Did we deserve another chance? Perhaps not.
As we crunch our way towards Shoreham she points at the smokestack on the old coal-fired power station: idle. Dormant? Extinct?
The wind pushes some pebbles across our path, and in the sky the starlings shake their ephemeral blanket over the setting sun.
“Let’s chase it,” she says.
So we run.
Version 1.0, published 4 Sept, 2012