From the author: The aftermath of the meeting, and a chat on the beach. Warning for the use of language that could be considered a slur for lesbians - this is used in own voice terms but I'm aware this word is regarded differently in different areas. This is chapter ten of a larger work, which deals with a disabled young woman in a rural community and the people she comes to know once she leaves home. This will update fortnightly.
“Alice, hold on,” she heard behind her as she waited for the automatic door to open. Of course she couldn’t just escape this hellscape of a situation, of course she had to goddamn wait before she could leave. No flouncing out and slamming the door in your wheels, you had the eternal purgatory that was a door trying to open itself.
Her dad caught up with her, breath huffing out of his red cheeks, and placed on hand on her chair.
“Don’t go off upset, wait a minute,” he said, glancing back towards the room.
“I don’t want to be here,” Alice said, chewing the inside of her cheek to keep her temper low. She tasted copper and swallowed, licking her teeth.
“I’ll drive you back home in a second, I just want to try and make some sense of this,” he said, eyes still on the door.
“Oh I think we’re long past sense, dad, don’t you?” she spat and regretted the venom of it, the blood still sharp on her tongue. “They could have come and spoken to me about this. They could have asked me what was going on and I would’ve told them, not that it’s any of their damn business. They could have treated me like an adult, not some simpleton who was too stupid to speak for herself.”
“It was a poor show, love, it was, and I’m sorry,” he said, eyes finally coming to hers. He let her chair go and she sighed as the door finally juddered into life and swung forwards. “I just want to check Jenny’s ok then I’ll take you home, or back to yours, if you want?”
“I want this to have never bloody happened, but it’s a bit late for that.”
“I know, but I can’t do that for you. I can drive you, though.”
The words stung, her dad’s voice was stretched and that hurt too, and she shook her head. “I’m alright, I just want some time to myself. I’ll come over later on, ok? I just need to clear my head.”
“I don’t want to leave you alone right now,” he said, cupping her face in one rough palm. The door began to swing closed again.
“I’m alright, dad, but I can’t stay here. You go and see to Jenny, I’ll be past later.”
“I’ll keep you company, if you want?” Raymond called, creaking over to them.
“You alright?” her dad asked and Alice pushed the button again, willing the door to be faster this time.
“No really, no,” Raymond said, shaking his head. “It’s a bit o’ shite, the whole thing. Upstart little pissant.”
“He’s not my favourite person either,” Alice said.
“Your other one’s in a flood of tears getting comforted by him. I’d get back in there before he talks her into doing something else stupid. Not that she seems to need much help at the minute.”
“Aye, right you are. Alice, I’ll… I’ll see you back at the house. Text me if you want picked up.”
“Sure thing, dad,” she said, shoving herself forward as the door opened again with a yawning judder. Raymond clomped after her, hat on his head and hands in his pocket.
“Fancy the beach?” he asked with a cough.
“Sure, good as anywhere.”
“Could go to the park.”
“Oh yeah, I really feel like getting shit on by a crow, it’ll just top the day off.”
“Beach it is then.”
They moved through the town, the breeze sharp on Alice’s face as she rolled on. She sniffed and realised her skin was still tight from crying, so rubbed a hand over her cheeks to shift the salt lines.
“You don’t look too bad,” Raymond said, glancing at her. “Seen you worse after a good do at the gym.” They were rolling past the pedestrian precinct, the fronts of shops reflecting them back in fun house shapes.
“You never said you knew.”
“I got a letter, figured your dad told you. Didn’t seem smart to get in touch when they thought I was tryin’a influence you.”
“Not about that. Though fuck you for that too. You never said you knew about me.”
“Wasn’t my business being in your business, lass. You’d tell me or you wouldn’t.”
“People don’t usually spot me.”
“You work on a boat, you get a knack for it. Told you that.”
“Difference between spotting a druggie and a dyke,” Alice said and her snorted a laugh, shaking his head.
“Aye, suppose so. Are you allowed to use that word?”
“I am, you’re not.”
“Right you are. As I say, you get an eye. Known a fair few gents who were that way inclined, knew a few that married women anyway. That was a poor fuckin’ show, they were miserable.”
“You’re not…?” she let the question die off, almost certain of the answer.
“Naw, I share your preferences that way. Men are boakin’ at the best of times, being on a boat’ll convince you of that easy. A’ only ever had eyes of Eilidh anyway.”
“That’s sweet,” Alice said, and meant it. “I’m not out, publicly. I know I said it back there, but I don’t tell folk, usually. It’s complicated, up here. There’s a lot of ideas people get.”
“I figured, with the not mentioning it. S’no one’s business but yours. At that one you have eyes for, of course.”
They went down the ramp, past the Salvation Army hall that Alice always eyed with distrust, and onto the esplanade.
“She means a lot to me. We’re not seeing each other, though.”
“Not yet. We’ve spoken around it, but it’s not gone past that.”
“Well given the way she looks at you it’ll be there eventually. I thought she was gonna belt that little shit who mover your chair.”
“She nearly did, she ran him out of the gym. Two month suspension for misbehaviour.”
“Closest she could get to it then, within the rules. It’s not easy for her here, I bet.”
“Well the accent’s hardly local and I won’t be the first to notice she’s a shade or two up on the rest of us. I love the town but we can be a bit bloody racist, even I know that. I might say the wrong word now and then but I’ve no problem with folk. Some’s here still have golly dolls up in the windows, can’t be fun for your lass.”
“Heh, no.” Alice nodded, watching him out of the side of her eyes. They’d made it down onto the sand now, Raymond’s steps still a bit uncertain on the uneven surface. She slowed her roll so they were in pace with each other.
“You doing alright?” he asked, glancing over at her.
“Not really. You?”
“Bit shite too.”
“Was it true what you said, about that lad?”
“Andrew? Aye, that was right. Poor bastard just led down and died. It was a week or two after the accident, she’d been in a crash on the A9. Dead on arrival like, she’d not suffered, but it just broke him up.”
“No one checked on him.”
“Naw, used to him being away with the boat. He’d been there at the funeral, said his bit after the minister like they get you to. His fether was already gone, he’d been in the ground since Andrew was a young ‘un, and folk assumed he was working to pay for the lair. They charge you £600 just to go in the ground, I can see why people thought it.”
“Jesus, expensive to be dead.” They’d stopped, looking out at the water and the looping crash of the waves.
“Aye, can be.”
“And you thought I was going to fling myself into the ocean.”
“You did look a bit miserable.”
“That why you nearly shoved me in the water, help me along the way?”
“Fuck off, wheels.” He laughed, shaking his head at her. “Thought if I interrupted you’d have to think of something else. Then you were down here on the sand again, rushing up and down it like a rat in a drainpipe and I thought maybe you were just working on some shit. Then you invited me to the gym.”
“Then I got you dragged into a meeting where they thought you were trying to fuck me.”
“Aye, flattering they think I have the balls to try. Your sister certainly seems to think I was. Some funny ideas that one.”
“I didn’t know she thought it. I’d mentioned to her about going to the gym, but she knew about Hatice.”
“Might just be grief, doing funny things. Sometimes folk go a bit daft.” He shrugged, rubbing his hands together. The wind off the sea was brisk and sharp, cold enough to take the water from your eyes. Alice liked it, liked the burn it gave her lungs.
“Hrm, grief. That why she called my chair ‘that stuff’?” she asked, shaking her head. “I didn’t know she was like that. Thought it was good she never made a big deal about me being gay.”
“She got a bairn yet?”
“No, they’re trying.”
“She might calm down after that.”
“Or be an asshole to her kid if it’s gay too,” Alice said, worrying the wound in her cheek with her tongue.
“Maybe. You’ll have to be the rebel aunt they can come and talk to.”
“If she lets it near me, she might throw the bible at me next time I go near.”
“Aye, or send you a Chippendale in the post.”
“Oh yeah I can see that going down well in the sheltered housing. Barry’d have a fucking fit.”
“Probably give him a nosebleed, aye.” Raymond sighed, hands shoved deep in his pockets, and looked over at her. “You alright to get back?”
“Yeah, I can make my way home.”
“Do you no think you should head up to your dads?”
Alice paused, screwing her face up. “You’re probably right. I just don’t want to look at him much right now. He knew what this was about.”
“Aye, but would you have felt any better knowing before you went in?”
“I wouldn’t have to have fucking outed myself.”
“Tha’s fair lass, tha’s fair,” he said, nodding. “I don’t think anyone will do anything about that, you know.”
“Barry might. Hatice is technically part of my care system. Can’t be seen to be influencing me or having inappropriate contact.”
“So that’s why you’re not together.”
“Probably,” Alice shrugged, shaking her head. “I don’t think on it too much. She knows how I feel. If we don’t say it out loud it doesn’t have to be looked at.”
“You gonna walk with me to the house or throw yourself in the water?” Alice asked, looking Raymond over. His frown was back, grooved into his forehead like her wheel tracks on the sand, and his shoulders were hunched up against his neck.
“Aye I’ll walk you there part way, need to pick some things up before I head home.”
“Sad mans pizza, frozen meal for one?”
“I do cook you know!” he said, laughing at her.
“I’ve yet to see evidence of this.”
“Well I’ve been too bloody scared to come into your house. What if you have a bunch of sticks in there to get me with?”
“Drat, you’ve found out my secret. I do indeed hoard walking sticks with the specific intent of accosting old men grumbling at the beach. My whole plan has been ruined.”
“Thought as much,” he said, nodding along with her. “Come on, your dad’ll be fretting about you.”