Roses and a Pint for Gary

It had been such a wild week, with the roughest seas in living memory; or so the young flirtatious waiter in the hotel had told them. The two old ladies had grown tired of each other’s company and bored with lack of something new to interest them. And on this their last day, it had rained again all morning in a final attempt to completely ruin their holiday.  So, when the weak sunshine had tried to break through, the two had put on their plastic rain hoods and ventured from the hotel for a short walk across the headland.  They found a seat against the shelter of the wall and sat trying to regain their good humour before returning for an afternoon cup of tea and the inevitable game of bingo.
“Why can’t they play whist?”
“Or Scrabble”
“There’s no one intelligent enough for Scrabble”
“True”
    They fell silent, watching as a group of girls appeared across the far side of the headland.  All were wearing ethereal dresses and teetered unsteadily up the rough unmade road, the path more suited to trainers than the flimsy strappy high-heeled sandals they wore.  They carried posies of sweet smelling roses, an air of sorrow surrounded them.  One girl wore a cream coloured strapless dress, its bodice heavily encrusted with seed pearls and sequins, but its hem was uneven and ragged as though its length had been torn off in anger or frustration.  Her posy was of cream roses and waxen stephanotis and in her unkempt hair she wore a matching circlet of roses.  Tears had stained her face with black mascara and the red of her lipstick was like an open wound in her white face.  
    As they turned the corner of the old stone lighthouse, the full force of the wind hit them.  It took their breath from their mouths and whipped their long hair into witches’ tangles.  Shivering in their light clothing, they turned their shoulders into the wind and made their way across the open green turf of the narrow headland to where they could look out to the open sea.
    Some twenty or so young men followed behind, uncomfortable in their buttonholed morning dress, more used to wet suits than dress suits.  Three of them carefully carried pint glasses of ale, froth blowing from the glasses like spray whipped from the rolling surf below their vantage point.

    Gary rode the swell, waiting astride his surfboard for the next big roller and the ride back to shore. He started to paddle towards the beach, and raised himself into a kneeling position ready to rise swiftly to his feet as soon as the swell took hold of the board.  Then he was up, balanced, his feet spread, gripping with his toes, his knees and thighs taking the bounce and roll of the sea, his outstretched arms fighting to keep his balance.  The swell of the sea had been high all week and he had had some of the most wonderful boarding of his life.  But this was the biggest roller he had ever ridden and the exhilaration was extreme.  He felt the excitement throb through every fibre of his being.  He was young, invincible, and alive.  If he could live like this for the rest of his life, what a life it would be.  
    A vision of Sara crossed his mind.  God she was so beautiful and for her he was prepared to give up his life as a beach bum.  This would be his last ride and on Saturday she would be his wife.  Together they would build a new life in Australia.  He had it all worked out.      
    “G’day cobber” he shouted into the wind.  His loss of concentration tipped him from the surfboard into the violence of the sea.  
    A thought of Kieran came into Gary’s mind.  Gary knew that Kieran was in love with him, just as Kieran knew that Gary was straight and that his love for Gary must go undeclared.  But even so Kieran had found Gary’s engagement to Sara unbearable.  
    The boys had known each other all their lives and growing up together, Gary had protected his gentle friend from the intolerable bullying that a boys like Kieran inevitably suffered.  Gary had always been popular and his charm and wit had sheltered Kieran.  Schoolmates eager to please Gary had tolerated Kieran.  
    “It’s time to move on though,” thought Gary.  “Kieran will have to fend for himself now.”  He and Sara were definitely going to Australia.  
    Sara’s mother thought he was ‘a good for nothing beach bum’ and had made it impossible for them to get along as a family and Aus would be a good place to bring up a child.  
    “In Australia a child can run in the sun all year round, not just a few weeks of summer like we are in England.”  He fought to find his surfboard, but the tie to his ankle seemed to have come adrift.  His lungs were hurting and he struggled against the might of the sea, desperately trying to find the surface.

    Kieran stood close to Sara sharing the same loss.  He held her in his arms as she pulled a rose from her bouquet.  She brought it to her lips softly kissing its papery petals; it’s fragrance lingering on her breath as she tossed it over the edge of the cliff.  The wind caught the fragile flower and drew it up into the air; separating its heart shaped petals from the stem; they drifted into the blue sky like wedding confetti.  The heavier stem falling to the rocks below, washed away in the sea swell like her life.  
    The boys stood apart not knowing what to do or say, two or three held the other girls, trying to give them comfort as they laid their posies on the rough grass; or perhaps the girls consoled the boys; who could tell?  
    One of the three lads with the glasses of ale put his glass down on the turf and whispered into the wind.
    “ Have one on me Gaza mate.”
    Another, staring out to the horizon, raised his glass towards the hidden sun and took a sip, as if sharing the moment with someone unseen.  Then he too, placed the glass close to the edge of the cliff muttering softly to himself.
    “To you Gaza.”
    The last just put down his glass and in doing so spilt most of its contents onto the grass.  
    “Oh God! NO!”  He shouted and dropping to his knees tried to gather up the spilt beer, shouting,  “I’ve spilt it; I’ve spilt Gaza’s beer.”  
    His two friends lifted him gently back to his feet and they turned away hunching their shoulders, spluttering and coughing brusquely in the cold air, covering their faces with clean white handkerchiefs, so that their own grief would go unnoticed.   
    The group began to make their way slowly back to the shelter of the lighthouse, down the stony path to the warmth and comfort of the waiting limousines; leaving Gary forever riding his last big wave.
    And the two old ladies watching from across the cliff top wept for them all.

By Kath Croft

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