Joe Pickard works as a journalist in London. He studied English with Creative Writing at the University of Chester. He has had writing published in Confluence, Prole, Flash Fiction Magazine, and elsewhere. He has recently established an online literary journal, Pulp Poets Press, which is currently looking for submissions.
I Can See the Sea
He’s about to start asking me every question he can think of apart from the one he wants to ask. We’re driving and there is no escape from the inevitable conversation which is looming over us like the dull-grey sheet of sky. The road stretches out, trailing over the moors. The heather expands on either side for miles, only cut apart by the road and dry stone walls. The sheep make temporary paths between its bushes but then, like the unseen sea in the distance, it soon fills the void left behind. People fly kites on the edge of a valley cut by giants or glaciers. There are more cars parked on the grass verge than when we have, so many times, come this way before. The extra wide layby car park is only half-full, we notice a newly installed parking metre, he points it out, like it is the only explanation needed; I acknowledge it with a croaked “yeah” verging on a grunt as I haven’t spoken in a while and my throat is dry. I clear my throat, a noise he hates, I apologise. He keeps looking ahead, eyes on the road. We can see all the curves and bends for the next few miles ahead, we can see the small bridge passing over a beck trickling over smoothed granite, and a warning sign; Think Bike. I’m crunched up on the seat. My feet rest on the dashboard, revealing odd socks where my jeans have pulled up.
“Take your jacket off if you want, throw it on the back seat.”
It is the second time he’s said this since we set off.
“I’m fine with it on. I will if I get too warm.”
I try to put a smile into my voice.
“So, have you been looking for any other jobs then?”
“This and that. There just doesn’t seem to be much out there at the moment, well, there is, but nothing I want.”
“It’s just the way it is at the minute, isn’t it? I think it’s just the way it is.”
“Yeah, it is what it is…”
I let the sentence trail off into nowhere, like the B-road we just passed.
We pass over the bridge passing over the beck.
“Have you seen the new Tarantino movie yet?”
“No, I don’t really like going to the cinema anymore.”
“No, me neither. I’ll wait ‘til it comes out on DVD.”
The bridge is burnt. He allows silence for a while. I can tell he is already struggling for things to say. Normally it’s a comfortable silence accompanying us on drives like this. I know I have to start a conversation soon, before he will eventually work in the conversation and I don’t have an answer for him.
“How’s that young brother of mine doing?”
A smile begins to break at the corner of his mouth, he realises he is still speaking to a person, a son.
“Well, you know what he’s like. We don’t really hear from him unless he needs money. But yeah, I think he’s doing okay.”
“That’s good, I haven’t heard from him since he left.”
“I wouldn’t take it personally, I don’t think anyone has really.”
“I don’t. I know what he’s like.”
“Yeah, he is a funny one.”
I’m glad we can talk about my brother, though there is not much to talk about, as it shifts the focus from me for a while.
“I wish I could sack it off for a while like him.” I muster a short laugh.
“Why don’t you, son? It’d do you some good.”
“No money, do I.”
His eyes take a break from the road.
“That isn’t why you…”
“Dad, no, it isn’t.”
We fall back into silence. The car begins to struggle as it swings around a tight curve in the road and begins to rise up suddenly. I can hear the gears clawing to take hold. He adjusts his posture as he pulls on the gear stick and leans in towards the windscreen to concentrate. The struggle eases slightly as the road becomes straight in its ascent. A motorbike streams past as if it’s still descending. We’ve forgotten about the last conversation as we’re too busy wondering if the car is going to stall or not. The gradient drops and we reach the apex of the hill.
“I can see the sea.” He says, in a playful mocking of someone it was known from the setup would win the game of monopoly.
I can’t help but smile and a genuine laugh slips out. I am nostalgic for the game my brothers and I would play at the start of every holiday. It is nameless and there is no other rule than to declare when you are the first to see the sea. There was no prize other than to have the memory of playing. I strain my eyes trying to see the slight discrepancy of shade where the sky falls down to meet the sea.
“I can see it now.”
We roll down the hill and pass a pointless escape lane which is too little too late. He pulses his foot on the break. The sea slips out of view as we descend and begin to approach an outlying village of the old port town. Shade passes over the full width of the road due to the colonnade of trees and its thick canopy meets above the dotted white line.
I know it is coming. His voice has grown deeper, almost reasoning.
“…I’m only going to ask once. And, you don’t have to tell me…”
I knew it would be like this, inevitable and unavoidable. I wonder if it’s too late to play dumb.
“…but why did you do it?”
“Oh come on, son. Don’t make me spell it out. Why did you try doing that to yourself again?”
“I don’t know.”
But I know he doesn’t believe me.
© 2018 Joe Pickard