The problem was I inherited a beach hut. I did want to share it with friends but I didn’t know who they were exactly. On the day of the storm it all changed. Nigel fell off his bike and was taken to hospital – minor fracture but suspected brain haemorrhage. I wanted to stay but they wouldn’t let me and there was nowhere else nearby. What do you do when your lover collapses with a potential brain explosion?
I had to get away. Go somewhere that wasn’t associated with our daily lives. Wait some place near the hospital but not too near. I didn’t want Nigel in my life any more. That was the other thing. I had tried to tell him in a subtle way but he didn’t seem to hear. He was looking at tandems so we could cycle off to Ireland for a couple of months. I didn’t want a 2 month holiday with ex-boyfriend. For me he was always an ‘ex’. I never said it in words; it was just a thought.
The stint in hospital meant I could have a break from him and think it all over. I was afraid to be on my own but I was afraid to be with him. He was taking me places I didn’t want to go. His mind a muddle and that’s why they wanted to check on his brain. He wanted to die, end it all. He didn’t want to take responsibility for himself or his life. He wanted me as his eternal guide and mother. We were only half living together. He had his office bed because he was usually up all night writing scripts for Tammy and Co Touring Theatre Company. Then there were the tours. It suited me. I had the bed to myself for at least half the week and sometimes for weeks at a time. Then he’d be back snoring and grunting, making exclamations in the middle of the night, usually dialogue from some important plot.
So the Ireland cycle trek was a break when his play came to the end of the tour. And for me, I had to just fit into his plans. Yet I had my own, the ones I hadn’t really spoken of. Now I had a strong feeling to go to the beach hut. They say, that’s the council, that you can’t sleep in your beach hut, but you can use it whenever you like. Do they have CCTV cameras inside? No, only outside. They wouldn’t know if I was sleeping or not. I just needed a different place to be for the night. The hut was perfect. Maybe I wouldn’t sleep anyway.
I took the key out of my top jacket pocket and headed there on the old mountain bike I got from Freecycle. The feeling of freedom already took a grip of me. There was something thrilling about going to the sea in the dark, with a key to another world. My lover in hospital with suspected brain damage and I didn’t seem to care. I didn’t believe he would die, and even if he did that was what he wanted. But I didn’t take seriously a word I was thinking. Of course I cared up to a point.
The storm was still brewing up. Breeze gathering speed, sky grey and clouds moving faster than usual, sea noisy and waves rising in height. I hid under my jacket and looked along the front for number 24, derelict yet cosy little hut, shining out under a half moon next to the fishing boats. I didn’t use it much. I had never been quite sure what to use a beach hut for. I liked the feel of pebbles and sand under me. I liked to swim, sit against the rocks, fly my kite occasionally and drink tea from a flask. Why did I need a hut? But now it was November, no-one used their huts at this time of year. I was going to be the exception. I would stay in the hut during the storm while boyfriend lay in a hospital bed with suspected brain damage. It all seemed quite logical. Maybe there was a storm going on in my own fragile head. But you see, stand up comediennes will always look at the dark and humorous side of everything and this was no exception. I was already working on my own script – mad boyfriend knocked out in storm with brain damage. It was all material for me. It seemed cold blooded. I didn’t care. This was real life and a good stand up routine.
There was a seagull nesting on the side of the roof, the top splattered white and grey. Sea kale grew outside the door. I picked some to eat, nibbled the ends. A lone man with a dog stared at me through the moonlight. I heard the waves getting stronger. I wanted my lover with me. Inside my heart somewhere I knew I had to be alone. Aloneness is cruel and this place wasn’t going to be easy alone time.
I took a crumpled up cheese and salad sandwich, one I bought from the hospital shop. Munched a couple of corners and gave the rest to the gull. I had no appetite for food. Only sea kale. Iron for strength and willpower. I had a new line, ‘Just taking my iron supplement in sea kale when …’ But I lost the rest. The man at the sea level was still staring. The dog wasn’t a dog but a cat. He had it on a lead. I made out I was going somewhere else. The thunder came, loud bang. Streak of lightening. I wandered towards the dead beach cafe pretending to look for something. I wished I had a dog. Or a man or giant tarantula by my side.
They were selling hot-dogs on the pier, not so far away. I began to walk. He appeared to be following me with his black leashed cat. Maybe just walking the same way. I took a banana out of my pocket, started tearing the skin off. Potassium is good. Took a bite. The man turned a corner and disappeared. I saw him out of the corner of my eye. The cat stared back and snarled. I never saw the man again. Had a hot-dog on the pier. I’m vegetarian. Two boys asked me for a light and another for cannabis. That’s what happens when you wear a pink and purple caftan and stripy woollen hat.
Headed back to the beach hut in frazzled state. Couldn’t find a bottle opener. I wanted beer, but I’m teetotal. Years at AA teaches you how to handle yourself and drink – but obviously I hadn’t learnt yet. I wanted him out of my life, but how would I cope alone? The thought tortured me. The black sky was like a sheet of hell around my throat. I couldn’t tell if it was the middle of the night or dawn. I had no concept of time. The beach hut seemed to allude me. I couldn’t tell where I was on the beach. I kept seeing yellow zig-zaggy strips across the sky and hearing bangs. I wanted everything to be all right.
Number 24 was still there but different. The gull had deserted me. I kept seeing black cats, staring, haunting me. It wasn’t the full moon yet. Not till next week, 8.05 on Saturday, moon in Cancer. Why was I going into my full moon frenzy already? I wanted to see Nigel. I could slip into his hospital bed and everything would be all right. But nothing was right all of a sudden. I was losing something. The air didn’t feel calm. Too dark. I unlocked the door. A mouse or something similar ran out. The crates of empty bottles lay in one corner and a syringe in the other. God please don’t make me go back to it – not that. I’m happy with my life really. I can’t go backwards, only forwards now. Nigel is keeping me alive somehow, awake, well. If only he was all right, different, we could make a life together – his madness would keep me sane. But he’s not here now, ever. He isn’t here any more. He could be dead.
I searched for my mobile but it was lost under a mound of bananas and cheese sandwiches. Switched it on but no message, just muffled reception – no reception in the storm. God it was going to rain now. I had to get inside. I forgot to clean it. Fungus growing in one corner and an old wasps nest in the other. I couldn’t go home now, too late on the bike and no buses. It was 12.30. I wanted to snuggle up to Nigel and forget it all. You’re not my ex my sweet Nige, just a bit annoying at times. It’ll be all right. I was talking to myself and searching for a light. I only had a wind up radio torch. It wasn’t strong enough. I could see cobwebs, ants, a large spider and a broken deck chair. Nothing else here. What was I thinking of? I remembered the old blanket. It was all I had. Another 5 or 6 hours cramped in this dark, cold space with just a blanket. I was seriously scared now. I wanted a joint. Too late to go out looking, probably all gone out now. I wanted to hitch home. No, too dangerous. Cycle? Too far. I wouldn’t make it and there were no buses. Taxi? No, on principle I never get taxis.
No! I stopped myself. I was going to bear it, the storm, the beach hut, the solitary blanket. For some reason I had to do this in the middle of the storm. It was the ideal opportunity. For what, I didn’t know. The blanket was moth eaten. The roof had a small drafty hole in the middle. It was dark, wet from sea froth. I wished there was a camera in here so I could call for help. It was going to be a long night.
That’s when the boys came – lots of them onto the beach in the storm to make fires and hang out. I hid away. I could hear them smoking, laughing, fishing for haddock or night fish, maybe wales. I don’t know. Somehow the storm brings them out more – the boys and the fish. It was reassuring hearing them. Knowing someone was around. I wanted a joint desperately. Maybe I could join them. No, too risky. I was going to hide and not reveal myself. I inhaled the remnants of cannabis wafting in the air through my drafty beach hut. I listened in on their jaunts. Then it stopped. Too windy and rainy for fires or fish. They came down for a puff in one of the fishing boats. Then they were gone leaving the wind, rain, clouds and me in my drafty little beach hut wishing I was on the other side of life, just like Nigel.
The rain came heavy onto the roof, mixing with gull pooh. I cried and laughed at the same time to keep myself alive. The splashing, splattering of water on wood and glass; my hands frozen and trying to squash them together so they didn’t stop living altogether. I ached all over. There was an old sheepskin rug in one of the cupboards. I was vegetarian, not vegan but sleeping with a dead sheep was better than freezing into an icicle. I lay it on the floor and snuggled up with the blanket. I started imagining red, fire red entering my toes and head and fingers. I imagined hot fires and hot toast. I rubbed my legs with my woolly jumper. It was all coming back to me now, the alternative health conference – how they helped people with burns by showing them pictures of snow. It made their temperatures actually go down and the burns heal quicker. So it must work the other way round.
I was getting disturbed by the syringe now. Didn’t want it staring at me. I took the wrapping from my sandwich and put the sharp object there, opening the creaky door to let it out onto the sand. It had been my last shot, a year ago now. I wasn’t going there again. I remembered, that was why I hadn’t used the hut – because of the syringe, because of the speed. I’d gone to the conference to find another way after rehab. I couldn’t go backwards now. I was with Nigel for stability, to stop me from going under again, looking for love in a bottle of pills or a slimy liquid that makes you an addict, gripped to its spell. Nigel’s love was simply that, stability with a small ‘s’. Just someone around who didn’t have the guts to leave either.
There was a box of candles in the cupboard. They were to light joints when we lost our lighters during the late night summer smoking sessions. I heard the boys sitting round a fire fishing because that’s what we used to do. When you smoke, your friends are all smokers or addicts. When you stop you don’t fit in anywhere. AA helped a lot just to keep me on track. Nigel didn’t do that. He just had breakdowns.
I lit a candle with my rusty pink lighter. Put it in an old beer bottle. Let the glow rest over my hands for a while. The frost was melting off. I liked the silence, cold, waft of air through the roof and sound of tapping seagulls on the roof. I was going to make everything change and better somehow. ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ it was a chant off a CD I bought at a market in Marrakesh. They say if you chant it every day you keep away evil spirits. It’s the mark of protection. Something about a lotus bud opening inside your heart. I chanted the words over and over again till it was almost day break and the candle down to its last quarter.
‘I am safe and protected by Archangel Michael.’ I remembered that one too, affirmations. Makes you change your perception. I felt Michael wrap his wings around me for a while, then I sent him to Nigel. I knew Nigel wouldn’t die. He just needed something different in his life, just like me.
Day break, yawn, think of something else, not Nigel ill in a hospital bed. No you can’t get out of your head any more. Have to stay sane for my own and Nigel’s sake. You see it did matter really, I did care. But I broke the syringe in two and put it in a landfill bin. That was the end of a rotten habit that would put me in the rubbish or rather looney bin. I grabbed the dirty mug with the broken pottery handle bought at Skegness funfair and flung it outside for the mosaic maker on Freecycle. Time for a clean up and turnaround. It was all the past and nothing was going to be the same again. I sucked a sea kale leaf for breakfast and looked for crabs in the rock pools but remembered I was vegetarian – another good line, ‘gobbled a muscle, still alive, until I remembered I was supposed to be a vegetarian.’
A boy fluttered past at high speed on some motorbike contraption and after the storm there were a couple of fishermen trying to kill fish coming close to shore. I had an idea then, hunt for stinging nettles along the derelict railway line. Grab them in bunches pretending not to squeal as they bit into my sore arms. It reminded me of the time we lived in the van, not Nigel but Steve. That was more real, more about who I really was. We used to eat stinging nettle soup, horseradishes from lay-bys, hawthorn berries, linden leaves, fried comfrey leaves.
I scuttled back to my sea cave with armfuls of iron and greenery, ready for a quick brew before the hospital. There were silvery, yellow strips of sunlight shooting into the water making pools of light. Crunching pebbles under foot I was about to turn around my whole life. Gas stove still working, cup manageable, water on tap I brewed up some nettle tea. It was the best I had ever tasted.
The number 48 ambled snail like to St Georges. I sucked 2 fingers all the way there. It was a queasy feeling as if something had to be done, was about to change and an urgency to get there as soon as possible. You can’t push the bus. You just have to wait. Images of Nigel in some operating theatre kept haunting me together with a feeling of needing to be there, wherever he was.
The hospital was busy, too many medical people running about with trays and trolleys and little white hats. Long corridors with no end and signs with ‘DANGER’ or ‘X RAY in progress’ or ‘Lift’. It felt like some spaceship where we were confronted with alien monsters and could be abducted at any time. Here I was, ward 4, floor 2, Oncology department. I passed the nurses station and the Ward manager or sister nodded and smiled vaguely at me before questioning why I was here out of visiting hours. I mentioned Nigel’s name and was given a bed number. They said his condition had been fatal but he’d pulled through. I had no idea. I felt pangs of guilt as I remembered my night time comedy making sketches, my thoughts of wanting time alone. And all along he had been in a ‘fatal’ state!
His head wrapped in a bandage, drip in his right arm – I barely recognised him. I walked stealthily up to him like a fox. He blinked. His mouth looked dry. I wanted to give him water and a kiss. He looked calm, fragile, angelic almost. I wanted to wrap him around me three times and never let him go. He stared, his big blue wanting eyes glaring at me speechless. I clutched onto his hand and wanted to stay there stuck to him. I felt water in my eyes, dripping onto my sore cheeks. ‘I’m sorry Nigel’ I said without thinking. ‘I’m all right Jack – I made it through. I wish you were here. I wish they’d let you stay.’
I reached down and we hugged. I stroked his sore head, the one that had always given him trouble. I still loved him. I wanted to smother him with kisses. The man opposite was staring while he sat twin like with bandage round his head. ‘What happened Nigel? What happened?’
‘You stopped loving me Jack. You just stopped.’
‘I’m sorry Nige. I’m sorry.’ There was nothing else to say. It was the truth. Nigel deserved more than this. So did I. I loved him so much yet not always. I knew we had to part.
‘I didn’t care for you enough Nige but I do love you, I know I love you now. You’ll be all right Nigel. I know you will. We both will. I had an experience last night that made me think of everything. It wasn’t easy…’ I wanted to go on and on telling him everything, but he put his good arm up to my lips, gently, not in a gagging way. ‘I love you Jack but I know this isn’t right. I wanted to get away from you too. I needed time and space. I had a new play in my head and you were talking. I wanted to listen but I couldn’t. It happens all the time. You need more than this, than me Jack. You deserve better. I know you’ve had some adventure. I can see it all over your face, your jacket.’
I looked down, saw the splattered ketchup dried up on my jacket, the squelchy mud on my boots and felt the matted texture of my unwashed, unbrushed hair. ‘Are you all right Nigel? You came through didn’t you?’
‘I came through. I went somewhere else but I’ve returned. It’s all different.’ I could see how much he’d changed overnight. I saw the lines had somehow lifted from his forehead, the sternness, the sorrow. We’d both somehow somersaulted into different worlds during the storm and entered new zones.
‘Go on a new adventure Jack. Come and see me when you get back. You need a break, new material, something else. I see it on your face every day. You don’t want me here. You’re just stuck. We both are.’
I had never known Nigel to be like this before, so honest, straightforward. It was almost miraculous. ‘Thank you Nige.’ We sat holding hands for about an hour while the nurses did blood pressure, temperature and filled up his drip. We barely talked, just smiled, grinned knowingly as the passage of time had passed into a new dimension entirely. It was going to be better times for us both now.