Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Start now. Don't think about it, just write. Where did it start? Last week I guess. Only last week. Yes that's it. At about midnight last Tuesday, at exactly the same time as I was thrown off the bike. That's when I suddenly remembered seeing the mermaid. The chain locked and I somersaulted over the handlebars. Then, as my head was flying towards concrete, she was all I could think about, this woman-but-not, smiling at me, and I was a kid again. I smiled back and she began to swim closer.
And then... BANG! My chin met road and the mermaid was knocked back out of my head.
Was this really only last week? I remember it took me a minute or so to stand up. I squinted, trying to find a familiar object in the dark and by luck I spotted a phone box. That's typical Sam luck that is. God throws me off a bike, but he'll do it by a phone box. It's like when I nearly died drinking a bottle of vodka, but was saved because a nurse happened to be passing. Or like when I fell through that green house and only cut myself on a cactus. Well, maybe that's not quite the same, but there's something weird going on I'm telling you. It's like I'm cursed or blessed or something. If I was religious I'd think I was being punished. Maybe the only reason I keep being saved is because I'm a loveable rascal. I tell you, if I lose my boyish charm, I'm screwed. I'll be struck be lightning on a sunny day.
I phoned home. My brother grudgingly agreed to come in the car and get me. I thanked him and put the phone down, trying hard not to begrudge his grudgingness too much. Blood was dripping onto my shirt from my chin and for some reason the backs of my hands were really grazed. I was freezing, even though it was summer.
I'm freezing now. A bit scared.
My brother didn't seem to be talking. He'd hardly said a word since picking me up.
"I must have been at Nan's." I said.
"What?" said my brother.
"When I saw her."
My brother glanced across at me and sighed. "Don't think that I don't know what you're doing."
I frowned. My chin was still bleeding and I was holding a tissue to it now. "What?"
"I know what you're doing and you can just stop it now. It won't work." he said.
"I'm not doing anything."
"You're pretending to have concussion so that I won't mention that you stole the bike. You deserve everything you get, you little runt."
My brother gets like this sometimes. All self righteous, like he has any right to tell me off. He's okay though, most of the time. It's just when he thinks that he's my Dad or something that I hate him. Normally I wouldn't have let him do it, but I remember he began to sound a bit distant as he had a go at me. All of a sudden I didn't feel so well. I felt really sick, and I was sweating. I couldn't even summon up the energy to argue back.
"Whatever you say." I said.
We got back home and my Mum was up waiting for us. She rushed outside in her dressing gown as I got out of the car.
"Baby." she said, pretending I was about five. "Are you all right?"
"Ummmm..." I said. "Yeah. Just a little dazed I guess."
"Aaaahhh, diddums." said my needy parent, sticking out her bottom lip and trying to hug me.
To be honest, I would have appreciated a bit of motherly comfort, but I knew I'd be back to seven-thirty bedtimes before the end of the week if I let her. I was feeling really sick though. My shirt was wet with sweat.
"I'm sixteen, Mum." I said. "I... I..."
And that's all I remember. Apparently, I was sick over my Mum's dressing gown and then passed out.
I remember the dream I had that night. It was kind of sexy - technicolor and terrifying. I was underwater in a green sea and her face was much clearer. She looked like nothing I'd ever seen before, not in books or movies. Her scales started just below her breasts, shimmering silver and green. The scales covered a tail that was more like an eel than a fish, ending in this thin wiggling point. The un-humanness of it made me feel uneasy and I looked back at her upper half. She smiled at me and I saw that she had beautiful white teeth, ever so slightly pointed.
Then she was so close in front of me that I could touch her with my nose. She put her arms around my waist and touched her cheek to mine. It was almost as soft as the water. She moved her head back slightly and I looked into the brightest green eyes, framed by the tanned skin of her face. I realised that I wanted to kiss her. I shut my eyes and placed my lips on hers. I was relieved when she kissed me back. My mouth opened slightly and my tongue met hers. I immediately wretched, revolted at the feel of the scales on her tongue. The mermaid looked hurt and put her arms out for me to come back. I began to swim away, but she followed. Then I saw that she had no hands, only turtle fins at the end of her wrists. I screamed, panicking as she touched me.
A light was on in my room when I woke up and it disoriented me, I wasn't sure if it was morning or night. My curtains were just above my bed and I reached up and pulled one of them across. I was relieved when daylight streamed in, pleased that I could get on with life. I put my hand to my chin and realised that there was a large plaster over it, stretching from one cheek to the other.
Subtle, I thought, peeling it off carefully and chucking it on the floor.
Normally I tend to lie in my bed until people start throwing wooden objects at me, but this time I decided to get up straight away. To be honest the dream freaked me out. I don't know, in some ways I liked it, but it scared me as well. I just wanted to forget about it.
I got out of bed and realised that my whole body was stiff, like that time when I decided to get muscles and spent the entire day in the YMCA gym. With embarrassment I realised that I was naked and that my Mum must have stripped me last night. I examined my chin in the mirror. I was impressed. There were blood stains all the way down my neck. Then I noticed that my hair was combed. I mean, how weird is that? I never comb my hair. I pass out and my Mum takes the opportunity to strip me naked and comb my hair. What is wrong with that woman? I know things aren't easy for her, but what is she like? It really annoyed me at the time, I remember. I put on a T-shirt and a pair of shorts and walked into our lounge. She was in there.
"Morning Jane." I said to her, winking as I passed.
"I'm not Jane, I'm Mum." she said.
I started to walk towards the kitchen to get some breakfast, but she called me back.
"Sam." she said. "Come here."
Her voice was stern and I knew I was in trouble.
"What?" I said, in an equally stern voice.
I slouched in our armchair, waiting for the tell off.
"Why did you steal that bike?"
I looked innocently at her.
"I didn't!" I protested, looking doe-eyed.
"Yes you did." my Mum answered back.
"It was Tommy's bike. He let me borrow it."
"Don't lie to me Sam. I can tell."
"I'm not lying!"
"Look, the bike's in the back of the car. We can either drive over to Tommy's and I'll ask his Mum, or you can tell me the truth."
I am so stupid! As soon as I'd said it was Tommy's I knew it was a mistake. I sighed.
"All right." I said, trying to act cool. "You got me. I took it. But I think it was abandoned anyway. I mean, the person didn't even lock it. How stupid is that?"
I waited for the shouting to start, but it didn't. Instead my Mum just got up and walked into the kitchen. I don't know if it was a deliberate tactic on her behalf, but it surprised me. She was normally more a scream now and think later kind of person, like me. I followed her. She was standing by the kitchen table with her back to me.
"Mum?" I said innocently.
She turned around and there were tears in her eyes. My Mum never cries.
"Mum, what's the matter?"
She sniffed. "WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU?" she blurted out. "Why do you do this to me?"
"I'm not doing anything to you, Mum." I answered.
She was really crying, I couldn't believe it. "Yes you are, Sam. You're draining me. Can't you see that?"
I shook my head. I didn't know whether to shout back or to hug her. I went up to her, but she shoved me away.
"I'm sorry, Mum." I said, almost feeling like crying myself.
My Mum took a breath and pulled herself together a bit. Her eyes were puffy and she looked more angry with me than I'd ever seen her.
"You're not sorry though are you?" she said.
I looked at the floor.
"Yes I am."
"But you keep doing it Sam." my Mum said, suddenly disconcertingly calm. "Why do you keep doing it? It's not the bike, it's everything. The shoplifting, not telling us where you are... Why Sam?"
I kept staring at the floor.
"Why?" she repeated.
Then I did something that I hadn't done in three years. I started crying too. I tell you, it was an emotional morning. I kept expecting my Mum to hug me, like she had done every time I'd ever cried before. But she stayed where she was.
"I don't know." I sobbed. "I just do."
My Mum stayed quiet and I suddenly felt embarrassed to make such a fuss. I sniffed as hard as I could, like I was trying to pull the tears back or something.
"You just think you're the Artful Dodger, don't you?" my Mum said, when I was quiet.
I frowned at her. "Who?" I asked. I want her to think I'm stupid. That way she'll be more prepared for when she gets my exam results next month.
"Sit down." My Mum said, pointing at the kitchen table. "We're going to sort this out."
But we didn't sort it out. Not really. I've screwed everything up so badly. And she'll think it's her fault. Sometimes I think if she just left me alone I'd be okay.
Jesus, I sound miserable. And I'm definitely not. I'm Sam, people like me. They like my smile. I'll be fine. I know that my Mum's heart's in the right place and everything, but she just worries too much. I mean, I know I do things that aren't exactly legal sometimes, but never anything serious. I didn't say it, but to be honest I think she's a bit hypocritical. She almost always drives ten miles over the speed limit and I've seen her park on double yellow lines loads of times. It's all the same thing. She's just scared that I'm in with the wrong crowd, I think. And that's just stupid. I mean, I'd agree that a lot of the people I hang out with are idiots, but they're not dangerous. Well, maybe a couple of them are getting that way, but it's better to be a friend than an enemy, right? And that doesn't matter anyway now. I probably won't see any of them again after the summer. I just think my Mum needs to relax more. I'm not violent and I don't take hard drugs. She should be grateful.
Going to stay at my Nan's was my idea and my Mum agreed straight away. For the past few years I'd avoided her house like the plague and so I think my Mum was relieved that I'd remembered I even had a Grandmother. Don't get me wrong, my Nan's a great lady and everything, she's just so old. And there's just nothing to do when you're there. She bakes you cakes and you eat them. That's it. But things were different this time. It seems really stupid saying it, but to be honest this whole mermaid thing was just becoming more and more clear in my mind. I can't really explain it, but this memory kept coming back. It sounds ridiculous, but it's true. I was definitely at the beach near my Nan's house when I saw her, and I had to investigate at least. It might be absurd, but after that dream I had, I was beginning to think that it was some sort of calling.
I didn't think this straight away or anything, it just began to seem more and more that way, as though all the pieces were falling into place. In fact, at the kitchen table, when I first suggested going, the mermaid was hardly on my thoughts at all. Mostly, I just wanted to get away from the house and this town for a while. And I wouldn't tell this to my Mum, because she'd just take it as proof that they were all murderers or something, but part of me did want to get away from my mates for a while as well.
The problem is that they just come round every day and expect me to do whatever they want. It's not that I don't like them or anything, but most of them are so stupid it's painful. Tommy's quite bright, and maybe Griff, but the rest of them can hardly tie their shoe-laces. It's pathetic. And do you know what's worse? It's embarrassing, but the worst thing is that I do exactly whatever they want me to. I hate to admit it, but it's true. It's like I'm afraid to be different or something. I don't know. With brains like they've got I should be moulding them into my own private army or something, but instead I'm just a foot soldier for the hollow heads. People see me and they think that I'm just like them, and that's the worst thing. When this summer's over I'm sure we'll all go our separate ways and that'll be the end of it. I hope so anyway. I just want to be alone when I join the dole queue. I don't want them there, making crap jokes about the enormous tits of the woman behind the counter. I don't want to be laughing too.
So it was agreed. I would stay at my Nan's house for a couple of weeks and I would go on Friday. The image of the mermaid stayed with me more and more over those two days, more so because it was something that I was embarrassed to talk about. I mean, mermaids and stuff, it just sounds really childish when you think about it. Finally, the urge overtook me and I mentioned it to my brother.
"This is going to sound really dumb," I said on Thursday. "So just bear with me. You know you thought I was concussed the other day..."
"No, Sam. I didn't-" my brother started aggressively before I interrupted him.
"-Okay okay, you know you thought I was pretending to have concussion..."
"Oh yes I remember that."
He wasn't even looking at me. He was staring at a magazine. FHM or something.
"Well, I wasn't."
"You weren't concussed or you weren't pretending?"
"I wasn't pretending."
"Yeah right." he said sarcastically.
He was already getting on my nerves and I was starting to think that talking to him at all was a really bad idea. For some reason I persevered. "Look, I'm with you on this one." I answered back sternly. "What I'm trying to say is that I wasn't pretending to be concussed at all. I was just trying to talk to you about this memory I had."
My brother looked up.
"What?" he said.
"I told you this is going to sound stupid, but it's true. I've got this really vivid memory of being about six years old and seeing this mermaid. It only came to me just before you collected me in the car."
My brother smirked and a mock-serious look appeared on his face.
"Mermaids...." he said. "Okay."
"Look." I said. "I just thought that you might remember something about it too. I mean, it happened when I was six and I know I wouldn't have been allowed out on my own then. You were probably with me."
My brother was silent, but his expression remained.
"Well..." he said. "I don't remember any mermaids... but you know my memory always has been bad. I remember the faces but not the bodies."
I think he was expecting me to laugh, but I didn't. God, I hate him sometimes.
"I'm serious about this." I said. "I remember it really vividly."
My brother stared at me. It was probably the expression on my face which made him stop.
"Look Samboy. I have a vivid memory of flying around my bedroom when I was little."
"Really?" I said.
"Oh yeah. You know those bunk beds we used to have? I jumped right off the top and flew around the light bulb until I got tired. But the fact is that I know that I couldn't have been flying and so it can't have happened. It must have been a dream or something. I'd probably watched Peter Pan or something before going to bed. There's no point in dwelling on it."
I sighed. It kind of depressed me.
"Yeah," I said. "I suppose you're right."
But I couldn't give up that easily. I just couldn't. There was something more to my memory than watching a film or reading a book before I went to bed. I was sure of it. It just felt so right. And going to my Grandmothers just seemed to fit in so perfectly. I've told you I'm not religious, but there was something going on. It couldn't be just coincidence. The mermaid's face was so clear to me now. It had happened. It must have. Why would my memories lie?
So I arrived yesterday evening, and walked the ten minutes to my Grandmother's house. I rang the doorbell twice and then knocked. Eventually I heard the floorboards creaking. A little old lady answered the door, much smaller and older than I had expected. Her white hair was tied back in a tight bun and a delicate pair of gold rimmed spectacles sat low on her nose. I don't think I've ever seen her look through those glasses, only over them. It made anyone who received her glare feel like a naughty child. I felt six years old again as soon as I saw her. If my mermaid had fallen out of the sky at that moment I don't think I would have been surprised.
"Hello boy." my Grandmother croaked. "This is a surprise."
I swallowed before I spoke, feeling guilty that I hadn't seen her for so long.
"How are you Nan?" I asked.
The old woman in front of me smiled and I felt a sudden panic that it might tear her face. Her skin had aged the most. It wrapped itself tightly around her cheekbones and was slightly oily from where she hadn't rubbed her moisturiser in properly. I feel bad saying it, but her face reminded me of a greasy paper bag. I half expected there to be a crinkling noise when she moved her mouth. There was no sound though, and instead two rows of perfect teeth were revealed, pristine white. They had to be false, but I don't like to think it. She seemed so old that seeing her teeth made me feel like there was something still young about her, something more than the croaky little antique standing in front of me.
"Do you really want to know how I am?" she asked.
"Of course." I said, lying.
A twinkle appeared in the old woman's eye.
"Fuckin' Freezing!" she said with a giggle. "Now get inside before I die of this wind chill factor that they're always talking about."
My worries vanished and I grinned. She hadn't changed. God, I love that woman. How she ever spawned a woman as nervous as my mother is beyond me.
Have you ever gone back to your Primary School and been amazed by how small everything is? The chairs that you used to sit in comfortably are suddenly really small, and you feel like a giant. That's kind of how I felt at my Nan's. It wasn't that the rooms that were small, just everything in them. Even my Nan. It was really disconcerting. When I went into the living room the chairs were these tiny things that I thought I might break when I sat on. I mean, they probably weren't much different from your standard size chairs really, it's just that when I was a kid I'm sure they used to swallow me up. My parents used to panic because they thought I'd gone missing and then they'd find me two days later, stuck down the side of the sofa. But now they were just normal chairs. It gave me a fairly odd feeling, it didn't quite upset me, but I suddenly felt a bit isolated, like I used to belong here but didn't now. I don't know. I'm probably just whining for the sake of it now.
"Well, sit down, Scarface." my Nan said, looking at the scab on my chin. I sat down quickly, as if she was an army officer. "I baked you a cake."
"Oh thanks, Nan." I said.
"I'll get you a slice now."
She left the room. I don't think I'd ever noticed it before, but she moved in this really odd way. Her back had become hunched with age, making her bend slightly forward. But, despite this, she still seemed to glide across the floor, like she was on little wheels or something. It made me realise how graceful she must have looked when she was young. I remember being pleased that I'd found another thing that didn't seem so old about her.
My Nan brought in the cake and sat down. "Help yourself."
I sat there perfectly happily for the next couple of hours, slowly chewing on the dense creation in front of me. Don't get me wrong, it was a lovely cake, it just had a certain firmness that most others lack. That's how my Nan makes them. That's how I like them. Anyway, my Nan was talking at me, and I was vaguely listening, trying to watch the television at the same time, when she asked the question I'd been dreading for ages.
"So, have you got a girlfriend at the moment, Sam?"
I cringed immediately. I'd known it was coming, but I'd hoped to avoid it for a few more days. At least she hadn't use the word 'courting'.
"No." I said, staring at my cake, wishing she'd start talking about her kitchen lino again. I knew she'd persist. She's that type.
"What about that girl your mother was telling me about, Amanda. What happened to her?"
"Oh," I said, trying to hide the fact that it upset me to even talk about her. "She's still around."
"What's she like?"
"What's she look like?"
Now this is where I didn't something really weird. I can't explain it really. The thing is, I hadn't seen Amanda since Christmas because she wasn't speaking to me after I spread the rumour that we'd had sex. I don't know why I did it, I didn't really mean to. I just didn't deny it when Tommy was interrogating me about it. And then it got out of hand. So when my Nan asked what Amanda was like I did this really odd thing. Instead of describing Amanda, I described the mermaid. Not the tail of course, but the mermaid's face. Her tanned skin and green eyes. I stared at my cake as I did it, concentrating on how I'd seen her. It was a really embarrassing thing to do, I guess. I'm such a freak.
I wish Amanda didn't hate me though. It's not like I painted her in a bad light or anything. I mean, I'd said she was good. I feel really stupid about it now. All my mates just started making fun of her when she passed them at school. I wish I hadn't done it. It's not like it did me any favours. When she started denying it, they started having a go at me as well, saying I couldn't get any. And they still acted around her like she had. Both of us ended up looking really dum.
I actually went up to apologise to her a couple of months ago, when I'd finally given my mates the slip for a while, and she just started screaming at me. Apparently one of my friends had been giving her these really dirty phone calls to her house late at night. And she'd thought it was me! She accused me of it really loudly in front of loads of people. It was really embarassing. It really made me look sleazy. I just got really angry with her and started calling her some really horrible names. I wish I hadn't now. I started regretting it as soon as the words came out of my mouth. I mean, those phone calls must have really freaked her out, and I guess I was the obvious suspect. She shouldn't have accused me in front of everyone, but I shouldn't have said what I said either. We haven't spoken since. I really liked her as well, that's they annoying thing.
"She sounds beautiful." said my Nan.
"Yeah," I said. "I guess she is."
"You knew each other at Primary school didn't you?"
"So..." my Nan said, giving that ominous pause which meant she was about to say something rude. "Have you slept with her yet?"
I looked over at my Nan and she was smiling at me, blatant as anything.
"Nan!" I said.
"What? I know what kids your age get up to. I watch a lot of daytime television."
"It's none of your business."
"Of course it's my business." she said. "I'm your Grandmother. I'm old. Pure osmotic pleasure. Have you done it or not? It's nothing to be ashamed of. I'm unshockable."
I shook my head. "No."
"Are you going to?"
"No!" I said, not quite believing that I was talking with my Grandmother about sex.
"Why not? Is she religious?"
"Nan," I said. "I really don't want to talk about it. It's embarrassing."
The dirty old woman sighed. "I blame your father. You're mother wasn't at all repressed until she met him. How often do you see him these days?"
For a moment I was relieved that she'd changed the conversation.
"And has he had the sex-talk with you yet?"
"Nan." I said, smiling slightly now as I realised that she was only doing it to embarrass me.
"What?" she said, laughing at how easily flustered I was. "Honestly. Young people these days."
And then I felt a sudden need to pour my heart out to my Nan. I wanted to tell her about Amanda, about my mates, about the mermaid, about everything. I wanted her to know what it was like to be me. I wanted her to know what it felt like to have my life. I just wanted her to listen. I'm kind of annoyed that I didn't now.
My Nan went to bed about ten thirty. I stayed up for a while to watch television, channel surfing for porn. I think I went to bed about midnight.
I didn't sleep well last night. I just couldn't turn off my brain. My head goes crazy when I'm trying to sleep sometimes. My thoughts just seem to be happening twice as fast as they do during the day. I think when Nan mentioned Amanda it sparked off memories of school. I suddenly felt guilty about everything. I began to realise that I probably wasn't a very nice person. I do stupid things for no reason. I steal bikes and nick the hubcaps off cars because people dare me to do it. I feel like I'm Robin Hood or something, but last night it hit me that the poor probably don't want my hubcaps. I just do it because I'm scared. And I shouldn't be scared because there's nothing to be scared of. But I'm still scared.
I don't want you to think that I hate myself. At the same time I was also kind of thinking that I'm charming too, and pretty funny. I'm sixteen years old and I'm blessed with good skin. That's pretty rare. I should be taking advantage of my luck while I still have it. There are plenty of other girls apart from Amanda. Plenty more mermaids in the sea. Okay, so my loveable rogue image cracked a little when I shouted at her, but how many people knew about that? Twenty at the most. Just twenty people who thought I was more Bill Sykes than Artful Dodger.
But then I began thinking that if each of those people told two of their friends, and they told two of theirs, then practically my whole year would know about it. And I began to think that maybe people were treating me a bit differently for those last couple of months. It had never occurred to me that it might be because they didn't like me. It was a weird thought. Everyone likes Amanda, just everyone. They were bound to side with her. It freaked me out a bit. But then I realised that I was blowing it out of proportion. Those people who saw me shout at Amanda just didn't care enough to go whispering about it to their mates. I wasn't that important. But for some reason this wasn't as comforting as I thought it would be.
I think it was about then that I turned the bedside light on and sat up in bed. I decided to read a book until I became drowsy, but I hadn't brought one with me. There were a few books on a shelf on the opposite wall, but they were all really dull romantic paperbacks. I flicked through a few of them for porn, but they were too romantic even for that. I was about to give up on finding anything to read when I noticed a cardboard box under the bed. I pulled it out and opened it. It was completely full of hardback writing books. On the front of each one there was a label saying 'Memory Book' in my Nan's spidery handwriting. I picked one out at random and got into bed.
I don't know why I decided not to read it. My brother used to keep a diary and I had no problems reading that. I mean, that was as dull and romantic as the paperbacks on my Nan's shelf, but the curiousity kept me coming back at least three times before I got caught. But something stopped me reading about my Nan's memories. Maybe it was the fact that it said 'Memory Book' rather than diary. I don't know. I think I was still feeling a bit guilty about not being a nice person or something, and it felt a bit like maybe this was the first test that I'd been given to prove myself as someone better. I really wanted to read it though, but I'm not sure why. My Nan had been speaking to me about her life just a few hours earlier and I wasn't even listening. Now she'd written about it and I was desperate to know what she'd said. I stopped myself. I just kept staring at the cover.
I don't know how long I was looking at it, but eventually I did begin to feel drowsy. I put the book back in the cardboard box and pushed it under the bed.
I didn't dream about my mermaid last night.
I woke up this morning to the smell of bacon and my Nan's out of tune humming. I almost always wake up happy and today I probably felt better than usual. I don't know why really. I guess things just felt different. My brain had slowed down to a trot again and it probably helped. I went downstairs.
"Oh." Nan said. "The scarface is up. I was going to treat you to a breakfast in bed."
"Thanks Nan." I said, and kissed her on the forehead.
She giggled. "What are you doing today?" she asked.
"Oh I don't know." I said, but then added, "I thought I might wrestle a few sharks, hunt down a few mermaids. You know, the usual things in these sleepy seaside towns."
Nan smiled. "Yes, your brother told me about that on the phone. I thought you just visiting me for the sake of it was a bit too much to expect."
"My brother told you about what?" I asked quickly.
"About you and the mermaid."
I flet so angry. I can't believe my brother did that. God, I hate him sometimes. I felt really stupid. It made me feel ridiculous being here. I mean, what exactly was I planning to do?
"Oh that." I said, and pretended to laugh. "That was just a joke."
"Well, yeah." I said. "It's dum really. I have this stupid memory of seeing one in the sea here when I was about six. I mean, I know mermaids don't exist and everything, so I can't have."
"How do you know that?"
I looked at my Nan, and she looked at me, peering over her glasses and smiling slightly. I wanted to play along, but I couldn't. I wasn't a kid anymore.
"Look Nan," I said. "I'm sixteen now. You don't need to entertain me with fairy stories anymore."
My Nan looked back at the bacon, but she kept smiling. She didn't speak for a few moments.
"I'm old Sam." she said eventually. "But I'm not dead. I've been your age. I know what I needed when I was your age."
"With all due respect Nan," I said, in a tone that must have sounded really annoying now I think about it. "You were my age a long time ago. Things have changed."
"Times have changed. I'm not denying it..." She opened her mouth to say more, but then seemed to change her mind.
I waited for her to speak, but she just carried on cooking. She still had this really weird little smile on her face.
Anyway, after breakfast I watched a bit of TV and then decided to go for a walk. And as soon as I left the house I felt the gloom descend. I've never really thought about it before, but my Nan really lives in the most useless town. It's always dead during winter and these days it's dead during summer. I suppose, years ago, people used to come here because they couldn't go abroad. But now only the really fat old chinless grey people come here. Everything's grey. Sometimes I wish there was just a bit more colour around. I mean, it's meant to be summer, but I couldn't even work out which direction the sun was meant to be in. It really began to make me angry.
I walked for a long time, down to the sea shore and along the pier. I played the 2p machines in the arcade for a while, but I lost everything I won and so I left. I remember that it wasn't even midday and I wanted to get drunk. I sat on the beach for a while and watched the tide. I just felt so angry that I'd come here all of a sudden. I felt like I'd been duped, I felt like this mermaid had stood me up. I decided to try my luck at getting a pack of beer at the off-licence and was relieved when the guy there didn't check my age. He looked even younger than me though.
I went back and sat on the beach and opened a can. I sat there for a long time, just thinking. I guess my Nan was expecting me back around lunchtime, but I knew I couldn't go back to my Nan's smelling of beer. I did my coat up to the top and waited. I thought about a lot of things. Amanda again I guess. And what I was going to do after I failed my exams. I guess I could do resits, but to be honest I really can't be bothered. I just want to get on with my life. But then I began thinking that at the same time I don't want to forget how I feel about stuff now. I guess that's why I'm writing this. I guess that's why I finally got up off the beach and went to the newsagents to buy myself this book and a biro. I sat on one of the benches that lined the shore for a long time before opening the book, but even when I did I didn't know what to write. I began to think that maybe I should have looked at my Nan's memories. I began to wish my life wasn't so crap.
And then the weirdest thing happened. It began to rain. Not proper rain, just drizzle. But when I looked up I saw this huge rainbow, arcing across the sky. I swear it was as bright as any I'd ever seen. And I just knew it was there for me. The more I stared at the rainbow, the more the memory came back to me. I could see myself, six years old again. And I knew where I was on the beach when I saw her. I stuffed the remaining two beer cans in my coat pockets, put my book under my arm, and ran towards the rock pools. I kept glancing across to check my rainbow was still there and it was. I knew it was there for me.
I guess I kind of half expected my mermaid to just be there, but she wasn't. I slowed down to a walk and looked out to sea. I sat down on the beach and waited, staring at the rainbow. I'm sure it was getting brighter. I was only about two minutes walk from where they keep all the wooden row boats, tied to this old wooden jetty. They float up when the tides in, but at the moment they were just sitting there on the sand. I could see them in the distance. Most of them were so old now that they were hardly ever used. And I remember thinking: 'What the hell!'
So here I am, in this row boat, telling my story. And I haven't found my mermaid yet, but I figure it doesn't do any harm to wait. I haven't got anywhere else to go. The shore's a long way off now, but it doesn't matter. I'm in fate's hands now I guess. I'm okay. I felt stupid about it again a minute ago, but I'm okay now. I've got these beers and my coat will keep me warm. The rainbow's gone now, but maybe it's just behind those clouds. I mustn't forget about it. I know it was meant for me. It's really cold now, my hands are numb. Maybe tonight the sea will freeze. I can step out of my boat and I'll walk behind the clouds. Perhaps I'll get my lighter and set fire to the end of the rainbow and I'll watch it crackle across the sky like a burning ribbon. And then she'll appear under my feet and smile and beckon me to join her. And maybe I will.
John Griffiths, 1999