The Couch

Back

Comments on Back

Nexus
Senior Member
Avatar

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Nov 11, 2007
Location: UK *up north somewhere*

Total Topics: 63
Total Comments: 195
Avatar Nexus
Posted 12/21/12 - 3:17 PM:
Subject: Back
Back.


The hotel room had been expensive; he'd exchanged a good portion of his traveller's cheques now and had plenty of money but since leaving the plane had felt uneasy. The cash seemed like all that stood between him and destitution. The room was tiny but cosy; he watched the television news for the first time in eight years without the weariness that would have once been usual. Without thinking about it he'd plugged back into a contingency - weather reports, murders, facts from the political world. He was a British citizen, a traveller no more. Time was needed, it seemed, like a deep sea diver, to adjust to being back. He hadn't known how he would feel about returning during the plane journey; his flying fear had been nothing beyond the norm for him but enough to keep his attention fixed on the present moment not dreaming about the future. Along with the fear of imminent death had been a general despondency. Now, however, he'd started to revive and had actually felt exhilarated when he'd arrived in London. In Tokyo the city streets had been a homogeneous sea of single race but in London the mix which he'd once been familiar with surprised and excited him. The city felt porous, accessible and many layered - opposite characteristics of the one he had left.

The next day, out in the city again, he felt an energy that had been absent for years. Watching everything and everybody closely he wondered how the country, starting with the bodies that rushed by in the tube stations and on the packed streets, had got on without him. These lives now, if not newly returned from travels or passing through on a wider trajectory, had led complex existences for eight years within the stream of life called British society. Sitting in St Pancras deciding what to do next he felt no desire to hoard his cash, he needed to move, get out into the land he'd left behind and discover its rhythm again. Putting his excess baggage in a locker he bought a ticket for Penzance, summer was ending but there would probably be some days of sunshine left if the weather held out.

The feeling of unreality stayed with him on the train. Leaving his seat to get something to eat from the buffet car the people around still held a curious interest for him. The narrow choice of refreshments available, the manners of the working class woman serving - he fondly entered the established rituals that linked up with complex memory traces. There was no need to read while sat in his seat: the suburbs then countryside and towns which lay beyond the window were a parade, vivid, distant cousins of miracle.

The train emptied as it got nearer to the coast. A man around his own age sat a short distance away having a trivial conversation with somebody on his cell phone about a supposedly wild night out in London. Although not directly looking at him the other seemed to sense that he was being observed closely and his tone changed slightly. The new arrival felt the other man's eyes scan over him - he seemed ill-at-ease, perhaps feeling his contrived surface breached. The psychic interchange went on for some time. Penzance station was the end of the line, as he'd vaguely predicted. He'd realised at some point that his heading toward England's most southerly reach was not entirely accidental. Holidays in Devon and Cornwall during childhood held some of his best memories, part of him seemed determined to retrace this path of former happiness.

At the end of the almost empty carriage was an attractive blond girl in her early twenties, he'd glanced at her during the journey and wondered who she was and where she was heading and decided she was a German traveller, perhaps spending time in London but coming to the coast having heard rumours about Cornwall's beaches. However, she was met on the platform by a woman who seemed to be her mother - his bubble of illusions bursting; she'd glanced his way as he'd struggled with his heavy rucksack, the train shunting along in a low evening sun.

Once on the streets of the town he felt anxious for the first time since finding the hotel room in London. He bought some cigarettes knowing they wouldn't help and smoked one looking out at the harbour. Nearby the high street displayed a familiar progression of stores which held rich associations. When buying the cigarettes he'd witnessed the unchanged order of an average newsagents, established with the seeming conviction it was as permanent a fixture in the universe as the solar system. Alongside the rush of return now, however, anxiety reminded him he needed to find shelter for the night. Looking up the number for the local Youth Hostel he booked a dormitory room.

He made his way along the high street toward the west side of town where he'd been told the Youth Hostel would be. It was a sunny evening but a weekday and the streets were almost empty. It wasn't a town that was particularly geared toward holiday makers; there was a rough and ready feel about the centre which meant it was primarily a place where people lived and worked. As he approached the outskirts there was a vivid green, even the occasional palm presented by the tidy gardens of middle class retreats. Old, dignified, stone built dwellings this had long been demarcated as the well-to-do side of town. He recalled the excitement he'd felt as a child seeing palms in Cornwall - it had seemed like a distant territory to him, almost a foreign land. Then he'd been told that the people who lived there had once spoken a foreign language and might even still use it on occasion. It started to grow dark and he began feeling impatient as houses gave way to fields but then saw the pub which he had been told lay near the entry of the hostel's drive. Crossing a road he started up the latter, a long stretch sheltered by trees which took away much of the fast fading light. He saw an old country dwelling in the distance, with windows invitingly lit. Inside he paid for a couple of nights not knowing how long he was going to stay; it was cosy and almost felt like a family home.

He made the bed - the top tier of a bunk - with the sheets he'd been given. There were a couple of people, perhaps foreigners, lying on other beds, the room seemed about half full. Quite tired he recalled how much distance he had covered since leaving Tokyo a couple of days before; there was a sense of relief that he'd finally managed to break with the life he'd been leading there for six years teaching English. Gradually the repetitive and draining work had knocked most of his youthful illusion out of him; why he had stayed for so long he still couldn't work out. There had been two years travelling before Tokyo which had been very good; he thought that time was one of the reasons he'd hit the ground running as soon as he'd landed in London. Moving unhindered on a whim had once been a good habit - it had stopped him from settling into any narrow state of mind for long.

Preparing a simple meal from the few provisions he'd bought in town he ate in the quite elegant living room watching television with the same intense curiosity he'd had in the hotel. Back in the bunk room he had a brief conversation with a man on a cycling holiday with his wife who said he was from the same Midlands town he had grown up in. Still feeling intoxicated by the revelations of return this news seemed a great coincidence; he even grew a little sentimental and described his past life in the predominantly working class, former mining town in a warm way that he didn't really feel. It was the kind of place any middle-class kid in their right mind would have done anything to escape from. The man, whose accent was regional but not strongly - suggesting he'd found some kind of position, comfort - probably couldn't quite believe the town had produced somebody as well spoken as the new arrival was. It would have been absurd, however, to have lied about coming from such a place.

The next morning he used a ticket he'd bought the evening before for breakfast. Families and couples sat around enjoying budget vacations; he tried to envisage what he was going to do with the day. Glancing at a few leaflets in the end he decided just to leave the hostel and make his way into the town and wander around. Packing a bag after the good breakfast he left the spacious, half empty house. The man from his home town had just mounted a bike and his wife was preparing to do the same. They were going from hostel to hostel and looked focused expertly on the day ahead. The man glanced his way with a mixture of curiosity edged with suspicion. The fact they came from the same town, perhaps, still hadn't, like rich food, been quite digested. The hostel had a large lawn and was seated within mature woodland and felt, as such places often do, like a retreat for the weary.

Crossing the road to the one that lead to town he noticed the pub again - there was a knowledge of what its interior and even clientèle would be like but he also saw it with the fresh eyes of an outsider. He examined the aura of temptation that surrounded the place as if the feelings were not his own. It was a grey day after the sun of the day before and he recalled that windy and wet or just grey moody weather had often been more constant than good weather on holidays but it hadn't seemed to matter that much. Sensations had been more vivid, he'd dreamed and felt a steady calm - two weeks had opened up in the usual predictable round where he'd allowed himself to imagine new vistas of fulfilled expectation. This imagining in itself had been enough - he'd known, perhaps, that nothing out of the ordinary would happen. The dust of recollection blew around as he meandered toward the seashore through the back streets of the town. Still having the leaflets from the hostel in his pocket he looked through them quickly and noticed there was an outside swimming pool on the seafront. He'd even packed some swimming gear. It was a concrete pool painted blue and it looked enticing despite the patchwork of clouds overhead with a war memorial behind looking out to sea as if dreaming of the dead. Using one of the cubicles at the side to change he felt himself connected to a continuum of time and pleasure stemming from somewhere before the Second World War; though he couldn't be sure his reckoning of period was correct he kept imagining anyway. Leaving the cubicle he half imagined swimmers of both sexes in full body suits and swimming hats. There had been a war, then a break, then another war. Lives had been destroyed, society had shifted a little, still the ceaseless succession of generations continued. People had paddled there trying to forget it all.

In reality there were only one or two other bathers making slow circles of the concrete hole. He plunged in expecting the shock of cold that woke him from his dreamy state but was surprised it was salt water. Joining the other solitary bathers in their patient circling his body was slightly numbed by the cold but he felt invigorated. An image floated in the back of his mind - it was a full submersion ritual, a Christening of sorts to mark his re-entry into British life yet no dogmatic religion or set of teachings lay behind his solitary enactment of rite - his existence, lodged within the still rigorous body was the only symbol which made its gesture toward a larger world. He got out for a while and watched the others. A couple more half hearted bathers arrived and he rejoined the circling for a while then went to towel off after a brief cold shower. Leaving there was salt water still in his mouth and his skin felt slightly numb.

In town he walked around a new mall looking in shop windows; Argos seemed like a cultural symbol of dynamic significance - he went inside and spent some time leafing through a catalogue. Deciding to take lunch in a smart restaurant bar looking out to sea he noticed to his surprise that the blonde girl from the train was a waitress. She came over to his table and had a light of recognition in her eye. They'd looked at each other quite a lot on the train and he thought strange the world of images he'd built up around her only to find she was a local girl, living a local girl's life in an insignificant coastal town. She dealt with him lightly and cheerfully but nothing was said beyond the required; she glanced over now and then as he ate his lunch looking out to sea, continuing the wistful exchange of glances that had gone on the day before.

Now he just wanted to walk. Going back to the seafront he went beyond the promenade and then joined a road which left the town and continued on along the coast. The weather had started to get warmer and the sky clearer. Passing beyond the last of the houses he eventually reached a cafe that sat solitary at the side of the cliffs looking out to sea where he bought scones with jam and Cornish cream, not particularly wanting it but knowing it was something one ate when on holiday in Cornwall. Walking on he reached a small town and wandered around quaint narrow streets for a while then decided to make his way back. When he returned to Penzance he didn't want to go back to the hostel until late - he saw himself sitting in the lounge with strangers and the image didn't feel welcoming. On the seafront was a hotel which had a bar open to the public and he sat down with a pint feeling lonely but still caught in the strange fog of being back after a long time away. Drinking a few pints for want of anything else to do he watched the other holiday makers in the bar; English families from the lower end of the social scale they took their pleasure in the scruffy place occasionally launching outside for a fag - probably cursing the smoking ban which had come into being during his absence. He watched the children and realised how probably full of novelty even the dark bar was for them within the glamour of holiday ritual. Feeling hungry he knew he would be able to buy fish and chips in the town and leaving the bar slightly drunk he began salivating over the prospect. The place he found already had a fair queue and he stood watching the busy preparations behind the glass displays and fryers, people left with paper packages stained with vinegar and grease. Taking his parcel down to the seafront he ate his battered cod and chips with some nostalgia for the orgy of taste that had been lost to him for years. It had begun to get dark and dog walkers and couples drifted along the promenade, lights began to dot the headland beyond the town, his mind was heavy with thoughts about what he was going to do over the coming days and where he would eventually end up.

The next day he found himself again caught within the nostalgic glow of the past world of remembered childhood vacations. Land had thinned down to a tendril probing out to sea, north of Penzance was St Ives and he seemed to remember it had pretty beaches and more quaint narrow streets. The family had ensconced itself on those beaches during an unbelievably warm summer, it had seemed like a paradise and the blueness of the sea had amazed. That was the Cornwall he remembered. He caught a bus from the station which took a meandering root through countryside to the northern side of the tendril of land. After a disappointing grey it had again become sunny, he felt a little deflated getting off the bus, the town seemed rather ordinary and not the postcard fantasy he had remembered. However, after he had negotiated the shopping streets he found the beaches right on the edge of the centre of town next to a sheltered bay area and time seemed to collapse for a moment. It was hot now, he dropped on the sand on a crowded section of beach and lay for a while looking at the sky listening to people happy but distracted in family rituals around him. Eventually he summoned the will to swim, going out some distance then looking back at the tiered rise of town which had restored itself to the picture postcard image that he had remembered. He and his brothers had hired one of the motor boats which now bobbed around nearby and snorkelled in the bay. Staying on the beach until early evening he walked slowly back through the town and waited for the bus.

It was getting dark by the time he returned to Penzance and he went looking for the movie theatre mentioned in the leaflets and found it in some back streets nestled between pubs. After queueing outside as he remembered doing as a child in his home town he eventually found himself in a tiny foyer; it was a brave outpost resisting the luxury of multiplexes, plenty of locals were there looking like believers in a declining religion. The seat was uncomfortable and the screen very small and he was soon anxious for the film - a remake of 'Superman' and inferior to his childhood favourite - to end. Walking back to the hostel he realised it was the weekend; locals staggered around between pubs, shouts and laughter could be heard from within the late summer night. As he got further from the centre of town the street lights began to dwindle and he noticed it was a clear sky full of stars. Nearing the drive of the hostel the sky seemed to dominate the scene, arching over the world. It felt romantic to him and he was surprised that he could still feel that way after painful years of rationally pulling himself and the world to pieces and coming up with little. Walking up the drive moonlight meant he could still see where he was going, a night light was triggered by his pacing toward the house.

He left in the early morning knowing he needed to return to London to pick up the rest of his bags and then move on to wherever he decided to go next. Eating a fry-up in the railway cafe while looking at a paper he felt it was, like the fish and chips, a sacred ritual joining him back up - like so much else - with the circuitry of British life. In the hostel he'd found a Lonely Planet guide to Edinburgh. He'd never lived in Scotland and there was nothing tying him to England any more so he'd decided to make the distinguished looking city his ultimate goal. When he arrived in London, however, he still felt the drive to extend his 'holiday' and so got a ticket to Cardiff with his mind set on reaching Tenby, the South Wales seaside town which had also been a childhood holiday destination. By the time he got to the city it was early evening so he decided to go out into it and leave the next stage of travel until the morning. It was an unimpressive place and felt like a large town which had lost its former, stronger economic heart beat. London had felt even more prosperous than he'd remembered it - new varieties of chain coffee shops, bars and restaurants had sprung up everywhere, many staffed by Eastern Europeans. Wealth had grown - from what he had gathered from the occasional British newspaper he'd found abroad - but was probably only having a superficial impact on most people's lives. In Cardiff he felt back in the sluggish throb of British life that he had been familiar with growing up in a very ordinary Midlands town. Eating his dinner in Mcdonalds he felt the urge to sleep out, a habit he'd grown used to during his two years travelling. Launching out into the streets he found a supermarket on the edge of the city and patrolled the brightly lit aisles fondly, eyeing familiar product lines and watching people restock within their busy lives. He knew the city was located next to the sea but hadn't yet seen any sign of the coast. After tunnelling further into the residential zones around the centre he found a beach, hidden away as if it were an embarrassment. It was nearly dark and he positioned himself between some sand dunes overlooked by posh apartments as a ferry probably going to Ireland moved slowly out to sea in the distance. When it was dark enough he pulled out his sleeping bag and tried to get some sleep despite a cool breeze and drizzle.

He awoke early and felt dazed and uncomfortable. As he walked toward the station his mind was working over-time, trying, always trying, to get to a place of security. The city centre was a little less grim in the morning light; Mcdonalds was just opening and he moved shyly toward it like a child into the kitchen of a stranger's house. Coffee helped him to settle his mind; he watched life starting up, humans crawling from their holes to examine the prospects offered by an indifferent world. Argos beckoned, he knew he would be able to buy a cheap tent there which would mean he could save money on accommodation when he arrived in the Southern town after tackling the local train networks.

After slow trains and changes in sleepy country stations he finally reached Tenby station. It was located on the edge of the town and it took him some time to walk with his considerable luggage to reach the centre. The weather was good now, he used a payphone overlooking a fine beach to call a local campsite and check they had spaces and find out how to get there. It was on a hill over-looking the town and he would have a steep climb up there so he decided to take a rest on the beach to gather his energy.

During the climb he'd passed bed and breakfasts and hotels which took advantage of the impressive views over the bay. He met the woman he'd spoken to on the phone at the farm house which rented out an area of land behind it to campers and she gave him a lift in a Land Rover to his camping spot. It didn't take him long to erect the rather fragile looking dome he'd purchased in Cardiff; he turned after it was up and his gear inside and realised the scale of the view from the hill. Tenby hung below them with its wide bay and small rocky islands. The campsite was simple but the sight made it feel luxurious. Entering the tent he felt enclosed in a welcome privacy and went to sleep for a while. When he awoke he heard a young woman's voice from within a tent next to his. It sounded like she was an athlete, probably a cyclist, preparing for some kind of big race. She talked to someone who he assumed was one of her parents in an almost obsessive way about times and how she had managed and preparations for the next day. There was nothing in the conversation beyond the will to get the best from herself, the voice seemed strained and tired. Leaving the tent it was almost dark and Tenby was lit up below as he walked to the shed which was used as a washroom. On the way back he noticed a couple of young girls looking his way as they nursed a barbecue; inside the tent again he caught snatches of conversation about boys and G.C.S.E results.

The days went by as he walked and sat in pubs and cafés. He'd followed a route over the cliffs away from Tenby to a neighbouring town and routes around Tenby and beyond in the other direction finding himself in the glow of a pub, usually, by evening watching life around him as if it were his to study. This pattern continued for nearly a week; the weather was good but not good enough for using Tenby's sprawling waste of sand - another remembered family holiday encampment. The cyclist had disappeared on to another place by the first morning but the teenage girls lingered for a while and he'd amused himself listening in on their conversations. One evening he'd heard one of them say he was 'sexy' and when they'd walked past his tent on the way to the washrooms there had been looks towards his open flaps, heads often wrapped in towels. He'd even thought about going over to borrow some boiling water for a cup of tea but couldn't find within him the inspiration for conversation.

Eventually he packed up and descended back into the town with his burden of luggage and made for the train station. The rough living had begun to take its toll and he felt weary waiting for the train and didn't look forward to the prospect of tackling the slow progress of the local line with regular changes. His plan was to get to to Edinburgh by evening and the ticket he bought in Cardiff was for one of the last trains. On the way north he began to look forward to the new life that lay ahead, the one which Edinburgh now represented. Finally he was releasing the pent up stress and depression that had seemed to mount in the final months of his time in Tokyo. There had been a serious wrong turn; he had stayed there much too long through what had been, perhaps, a fear of return. During the nearly two weeks he'd been back he'd more or less kept the traumatic memories at bay and all they represented to him. Away on an outward bound course that was meant to help make him a more resourceful and independent person the four of them had been overcome by smoke before the flames had eaten out the interior of the family home. What remained of them had been found near their beds. It was the reaction to those events but rather the shock of first hearing of them which had been the hardest thing to cope with. Of course his brothers - those passionate boyhood holidays and the tense intimacy of childhood - of course there had been love for them and confusion still, sitting looking out of the window, over everything having come to an end so violently. Yet weeks after the news he had also experienced a strange sense of release. There was a realisation his parents probably had never loved any of them - at first this feeling had begun as a faint recognition but had grown more and more into a conviction as the years had passed. He'd been sixteen and so almost independent; yet the sense of release did not feel natural and he had sought help trying to understand and eventually truths had begun to surface - and the wandering and travelling had begun.

He didn't even miss his brothers anymore. They had already grown apart before the fire, all the important times together seemed to be locked in those happy moments of release on holiday - their rough companionship had acted to protect them all from the knowledge of the unloving parental walls that defined their lives. 'Sick' he thought, looking from the train window as dark villages passed by as they negotiated the Lake District, 'mankind is full of sickness and obviously it breeds in families too'. Leaving the station the air was cool in Scotland. It was close to midnight and the streets were busy with revellers. Already he fantasised about an interesting life being launched in the fashionable bars and restaurants that greeted him as he walked along cobble-stoned streets dreaming about the future. First, however, he would have to find somewhere to sleep.
Nexus
Senior Member
Avatar

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Nov 11, 2007
Location: UK *up north somewhere*

Total Topics: 63
Total Comments: 195
Avatar Nexus
Posted 12/21/12 - 3:43 PM:

Happy Xmas to you all, particularly those who read my stories!

kooky
libertygrl
Administrator
Avatar

Usergroup: Administrators
Joined: Apr 16, 2005
Location: San Francisco

Total Topics: 425
Total Comments: 4672
Posted 12/23/12 - 11:40 AM:

hi nexus, happy holidays to you! hug

not sure if you saw in other topics but i've been swamped with schoolwork these last couple of months. finally i'm on christmas break and able to check out your stories! will let you know what i think, stay tuned.

heart
libertygrl
Administrator
Avatar

Usergroup: Administrators
Joined: Apr 16, 2005
Location: San Francisco

Total Topics: 425
Total Comments: 4672
Posted 01/06/13 - 4:51 PM:

my favorite lines:

"Time was needed, it seemed, like a deep sea diver, to adjust to being back."

"towns which lay beyond the window were a parade, vivid, distant cousins of miracle"
(having taken the train through england i could really relate to this sentiment)

"plenty of locals were there looking like believers in a declining religion"
(lol! ouch!)

"he found a beach, hidden away as if it were an embarrassment."

as a whole, i found this story resonating a lot. i've gone to far away places and come back, and without spoiling the end for would-be readers, i'll just say i could just relate to a lot of it. my only criticism would be that through much of the story there seems to be a lot of sensory detail happening without a lot of (apparent) emotional significance (there is some but not a lot). some details supplied at the end do cast some emotional impact in retrospect, but it seems like a lot of buildup for the amount of payoff that comes in the end. this of course is only a reflection of my personal tastes. in a more existential context or one of "the journey not the destination" it probably doesn't matter as much.

i wondered how much of it is autobiographical, since the detail of it all is so rich and seemingly close at hand. of course, i say this while at the same time never ceasing to marvel at your keen sense of imagination. kudos and thank you as always for sharing these stories.

Edited by libertygrl on 01/06/13 - 6:42 PM. Reason: typo
libertygrl
Administrator
Avatar

Usergroup: Administrators
Joined: Apr 16, 2005
Location: San Francisco

Total Topics: 425
Total Comments: 4672
Posted 01/06/13 - 9:52 PM:

by the way, have you seen the movie "up in the air"? i haven't seen it yet but want to. i think it might be thematically related to this story.
Nexus
Senior Member
Avatar

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Nov 11, 2007
Location: UK *up north somewhere*

Total Topics: 63
Total Comments: 195
Avatar Nexus
Posted 01/09/13 - 5:54 PM:

Yes, autobiographical all the way.

Haven't seen the movie.

This 'being back' in my own country. It really lifted me out of a depression to move again and relate to the world I'd known. It lasted for months but the reality of the world did and has reached me again. The sense of something overcome - my past, that I was accepting it and could now go forward - is the prevalent feeling. Yet the high didn't last too long. I was soon back into the complexities of post thirties life. It's a jungle out there! I think there is a certain 'innocence' required for writing autobiograohical stuff that I just can't summon any more. Same goes with writing period.

My family didn't die in a house fire by the way! That's a metaphorical thing. That I had got over them - sort of.
Search thread for
Download thread as
  • 0/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5



Sorry, you don't have permission . Log in, or register if you haven't yet.



Acknowledgements:

Couch logo design by Midnight_Monk. The photo hanging above the couch was taken by Paul.

Powered by WSN Forum. Free smileys here.
Special thanks to Maria Cristina, Jesse , Echolist Directory, The Star Online,
Hosting Free Webs, and dmoz.org for referring visitors to this site!

Copyright notice:

Except where noted otherwise, copyright belongs to respective authors
for artwork, photography and text posted in this forum.