‘The Rhossili Effect’ is the third piece in our Story: Retold series, published in association with the Rhys Davies Trust. It is inspired by the Dylan Thomas short story, ‘Extraordinary Little Cough’.
For the other people, the nurses, the occasional resident on the mooch, a visitor, once, David existed in 1961, swept hair and square jaw superimposed against the coastline.
David was 8 by 6, framed in gold emboss.
David was just a good friend. David was my brother. David was the golden boy of the Brazells. It would be easier to tell them these things but I’d given up doing what was easier a long time ago. David was none of these things and yet all of them, in his own way.
The structure of my days is decided by the Cwm Gwyrdd management committee.
Inactivity is the enemy.
I sometimes forget where I am or where I’m meant to be but the notice board at the foot of my bed is there to remind me.
Your days at Green Pines follow the PISCES formula. Where P stands for?
People we say back.
I tell them he is my David. They busy themselves.
We met on that beach, that’s how I picture it now. The past is putty and it’s mine to mould. I’ve earned that, at least. He always said that we couldn’t change the past but the future was ours to live, ours to love. It’s different now.
Why cry about spilt milk, Brays? Let the fuckers break their neck in it.
That crooked laugh.
The Rhossili Effect, that’s what we called it. There was something about the light down there, at sunrise, at sunset. It did voodoo tricks. The way it bounced off the sea back in our eyes and made everything hazy, different, not like real life back up those steps. It felt foreign to the rest of the town. We’d pretend we were tourists, not from there, out of towners in brand new windbreakers. Our feet pinching from christening boots. Heads held high.
We played our little games, the rules a secret, only for us.
No English today, Brays. Not a peep.
David had guessed that no-one would bother a pair of French hikers, and as was often the case, he was right. We’d point to the menu in the Worm’s Head Hotel, agreeing with a oui, correcting with a non. He’d do this shrug. I used to think his arms would fall out of their sockets. When he got bored, he got easily bored, always onto the next thing, he’d see how many dog walkers he could ask où est le Big Ben? before one of them bit, me stood embarrassed and out of the way, smoothing a Labrador or hurling some driftwood into the sea.
I sulked that day, because of the rain. I’d always hated the rain. What you doing in Wales then? We must have walked for miles and miles. Up and over the Down, slipping across the rocks to the Beacon, David giving a mini lecture about the Bronze Age, me just lost in the views, not listening, looking, across the sands, at the shipwrecks, the Devil’s Bridge, the rocks snaking out into the sea, the thick raindrops rippling pot-holes in the wash. And then he was behind me, his hands on my waist turning me around, his breath on my chin.
It was our island in the storm.
I don’t remember everything, not any more. I used to spend hours sitting and thinking, walking and thinking, trying to tease it all out with thoughts of the beach. Where were we that night he sat me down in the corner of the bar and told me the news? Was it 1986? Or 1987? But you can’t trick the brain like that. It’s having the last laugh like it always promised it would.
The childhood memories are in full technicolour. Clichéd, perhaps, but clichés have to start somewhere. We’d have been down there all summer long if we’d have got away with it. We ran and we wrestled and we bled and we healed and we laughed. I sometimes wonder what happened to the other boys, where they are now, if things worked out differently for them. The red-haired boy drank himself to death in New York, everybody knows how that one ended. I doubt the others would want to see me, even if they could.
But the rules were different as a boy. Or rather, the game was the same I just didn’t know how to play it yet. I didn’t decide to do the things I did back then. Fifteen years searching for acceptance, the rest of my time actively avoiding it. The squarest shoulders in the school. The broadest arms in the town. A stomach free of butterflies. The others were all stutters, all nervous energy around girls. At that time, mine were saved for Skully. Fifteen years old. I knew I loved him but I didn’t like anything he said or did. A different love to David. The other boys would talk and talk, playing, poking but I’d say nothing. I learned that most of life can happen around you if you just say nothing. That’s how I remember it anyway.
Come on Mr Brazell, you know the words to this one….
I want to be happy.
But I won’t be happy.
Till I make you happy too.
Life’s really worth living.
When you are mirth giving.
Why can’t I give some to you?
David found the note pushed under the door one sunny September morning, I forget the year. He’d left me in bed, there was no work to rush to that day, while he prepared the breakfast things downstairs. The light broke through the blinds of the bedroom window making the atmosphere fuzzy, all orange and cream. I wasn’t sure if I was awake or asleep. I knew I was alive. As I dozed, I dreamt of it there, a white tiger striding across the sand, its tail still despite the velocity. I knew David and I were there, watching it, from up on the Beacon, but I couldn’t see our bodies.
We pray for you every night but God will punish you.
Save your prayers, save your prayers, I whisper and close my eyes.
Illustration by Dean Lewis