When the tide is high, the bodies wash upright on the concrete bank. Their skin is almost translucent, a kind of pale-aqua punch, perhaps the shade of the blueberry nectar you suckled on as a puppy.
That was back before they carved out your innocence and filled you with bitterness. I should know – they carried out the very same procedure on me. Mobilised soldiers, dressed in liquorice-black suits, told you, and then me, that it was okay to hate the world. They gave you a badge, a number, and told you to fill your position. They sent you East, towards Romford and Rayleigh, and you landed in Burnham-On-Crouch. You sat around in your station, waiting for the signal that would set you free. You’re still waiting and I’m still here, watching the bodies wash up on the beach and waiting for the buggers to quit coming.
“A reminder of my humanity, caught in a glance in a mirror, told me this was not appropriate”.
The procedure is simple: when a beach body arrives, you drag it up, by the hair (don’t touch the skin) and you pull it up to the crane. You chuck the body into a bag, attach the bag to a pulley, and scoot up into the control room. The body comes up as you extend the rusting leavers and you sling the bag into the back of the idle truck, a truck that’s wheels are too small for its frame, so the suspension doesn’t work, and because the suspension doesn’t work, when Terry comes to drive the truck away often a body or two falls out the back and lands in a violent heap upon the floor – an ankle breaks, or maybe a whole set of teeth fall out. You can never be sure how old they are – unless it’s a child. If it’s a child then you can be pretty sure their age by the look in their eyes – there’s still happiness there, no cynicism.
When the tide is high, the bodies wash right on the concrete bank. I see them in the morning or afternoon, depending on what time of year it is. During spring, the water bursts over the bank and the bodies fly with the current. Occasionally I get lucky and one or two fall straight into the back of the truck. Other times they get caught in the bramble and a nipple tears off when I pull them out. At low tide during spring, the bodies are far out over the sand, and I drag their pale frames through the muck on the shore – seaweed, old plastic, a can of Fosters that didn’t disintegrate. Some afternoons, during loading, I notice plastic bottle caps caught up in the hair, but I leave them there for they will only fall out on the long drive to Some-Where.
When she washed up on the shore, I knew she was going to be special. I kept her for a little longer than I should have. She truly had a beach body, this beach body. Curves in all the right places dressed up tightly in a yellow swimsuit. Auburn hair that fell desperately across her mauve breasts. Nails, still painted, in three or four different colours: vermillion, teal, cream, chartreuse. Perhaps she came from France – after all, her breath did rather smell. I made that joke to nobody and nobody laughed back, so I tried to imagine her laughing, reeling back her head to emit a guttural sound straight at the moon. She was a beacon of hope for me, a reminder that I could love and I thought about taking her there and then. A reminder of my humanity, caught in a glance in a mirror, told me this was not appropriate.
The memo from above says that the bodies will stop coming but I have seen nothing to suggest that this is true. More seem to come each and every day. I have made the conscious decision to keep the yellow swimsuit and she sits quietly next to me through the afternoons, scanning the horizon for signs of floating flesh.
In many ways, she is the perfect wife, I am blessed to have her with me. It’s remarkable how similar we are. We’re both starting to fall apart.