A Short Walk Down the Beach
By Ian Cassidy
Published: October 16, 2007

The sound of an aircraft overhead awoke Cosmo. The night-light was out and fighting back panic he ran his hands over the bedside table. The night-light was not there but a table lamp was and he almost knocked it over. As the lamp teetered unsteadily he grabbed for the switch, panic rising as he could not remember his mother putting a lamp by his bed and he wanted his night-light. Cosmo's right hand found the switch but he hesitated. It was one of those where the switch is a part of the bulb socket and if you did not pull your hand away very quickly after you switched it on, the bulb would get hot and you could burn your fingers. Cosmo hated this type of switch and steeling himself, he knelt on the mattress and faced the light.


It was then that he noticed that the bed felt strange, it was lumpy and larger than his own, almost a double. He choked back a whimper. He had to get the light on.


He reached for the lamp but in the darkness, his aim was poor and his lunge set it rocking again, breathlessly he caught the lamp with his other hand. With one hand holding the lamp steady Cosmo inched his other hand up towards the switch. He held his breath as his finger brushed the cool Bakelite of the fitting and then carefully positioned his thumb behind the switch. Next he wound as much of his forefinger as he could around the other side. Bulbs could get very hot, he knew and this was no time to make a mistake. Still holding his breath, he pushed the switch, dull light flooded the room and Cosmo tore his hands away from the chasing illumination. He lost the race and warm yellow light engulfed his hands and fled to the corners of the room. The light may have caught him but the heat did not and panting heavily he sat on his hands to keep them safe. He looked at the bed, it was not his own bed, where was he? He had never seen a bed that was this size before. He slept in a bunk bed that was long and narrow and Selma slept in the top bunk. His parents slept in a double bed but this bed was bigger than his single bunk but not as big as a double. Who would sleep in a three-quarter sized bed, two very thin people or one very fat one. Cosmo did not know anyone who was very thin or very fat. He did not know where he was. He was frightened and tired but he did not want to fall asleep again, he had already had one bad dream that night. In it he had walked into a yellow room like the one he was in now with just a bed in the corner. The bed was tidy and made but there was a lump in the centre, a man shaped lump. Cosmo had jumped at the lump, aiming both feet at its podgy centre but before he landed the lump moved and Cosmo saw that it was Bruno. Bruno was smiling but his eyes were black and his face was quite cold. He was wearing suit but in place of a tie he was wearing a bungee rope. Bruno swung his fist at Cosmo but he missed. He swung again and missed. He was missing on purpose, he was aiming at the air behind Cosmo's head. Bruno was swinging and roaring when Cosmo awoke. Cosmo thought that was a very bad dream indeed but this was worse and he could not wake up. The tears were coming as he looked up to survey the room.


The whole room was dusty even the walls, dusty shiplapped panelling, that had once been white. Large patches of the panelling were yellow and faded but others were just cream. Cosmo looked at the patches, why did parts of the walls look older than others. There was no furniture and the pictures were gone too. There was nothing in the room but the bed and the table. Where was he?


Cosmo's eyes came to rest on the wash basin in the corner of the room. It was screwed to the wall, that was why they had not taken it. Cosmo got down from the bed and walked to the sink. Standing on tiptoe he could just reach the taps. He turned on the cold water, it came out clear and fast, he had expected it to be brown and squirming like he had seen on films. Relieved and disappointed he turned off the tap. Between the two taps was a bar of soap, dried and cracked and as yellow as the panelling. Cosmo picked it up, it did not fell like soap, it was hard and powdery at the edges. He put it up to his nose, it did not smell of soap, it smelt of dirt and nothing. He licked it and the powder clung to his tongue. It tasted of soil like the earwig he had eaten as a dare. He spat and threw the soap on the floor.


Cosmo stopped on his way to the door. He had better pick the soap up first. Whoever had put him in the room might be angry of he left a mess on the floor. The remains of the bar of soap were behind the sink pedestal and as he knelt down he noticed some writing scratched into the panelling just below the basin. At this sheltered point the panelling was still quite white and the black dust in the scratched writing made it easy to read.


In this room in July 1965, Bruce Sutherland planned his brother's death.


Cosmo fled back to the bed. He buried himself in the blankets and there was a lot to bury oneself under, not like at home where he had only a duvet. On this bed there were sheets and blankets and throws and eiderdowns. Cosmo pulled them all on top of himself, drawing comfort from the weight and cried as quietly as he could. He slept. In his dreams a boy came and sat at the bottom of his bed. The boy who was slightly older than Cosmo but not such a good looking boy thanks to the bitter look in his eyes and the disappointed curl of his upper lip, tugged at Cosmo's legs, but did not really seem interested whether he had Cosmo's attention or not. Cosmo cowered under the heavy blankets as the apparition began to talk.


I hated him when he arrived he made my mother ill she was in hospital for a week Then there was all the crying and smelling all the time It was so bad and he hogged my mother His stupid toothless grin under a stupid knitted cap Grandmother cooing over him and my aunts but he's welcome to them all they ever do is give me wet red lipstick kisses and lick washes when I come in from playing It got worse he even hogged my father he was allowed in father's study I'm not allowed in there Then it got worse again he learnt to walk faster then me he learnt to talk faster then me Blue eyed boy and I hated him Mother always praised and even father shook off his usual indifference.


One year at our cottage on the beach it got even worse, he was a swine smug and conceited singing songs in the car and reciting the Jumblies well bits of it he's such a cretin he couldn't remember the lot I hated him but father and mother were so proud So one afternoon when mother and father were dozing on the picnic blanket I got the wine that was left over from lunch and gave him a glass He slugged it down it was rose and quite sweet so he loved it I gave him another and another until the bottle was empty He fell over and couldn't get up I said nothing just laughed to myself he started to cry he couldn't control his body and he was frightened Father awoke and saw the empty body and him crying on the sand He guessed at once and with him in his arms he rushed to the house Father threw him into the shower and stuck his fingers down his throat He was sick everywhere Father held him under the shower making him sick and slapping him to make him stay awake I was happy then but it didn't last long he got all the attention and the soft soap Mother kept checking on him Next year I would have to come up with something better I bided my time for a full year Put up with his smug and smarmy ways I was even nice to him from time to time Then on our holidays I got ready We were picnicking again and I played the waiter making sure Mother and father had plenty of wine They finished the bottle and were soon snoring in the afternoon sun So I got him by the hand and led him down the beach We paddled for a bit and then I led him into the deeper water We jumped through the surf and he was smiling and I smiled along because I knew that we were approaching the shelf The beach fell away very abruptly and I pushed him into the deeper water I ran back through the waves and curled up on the picnic rug next to mother and pretended to be asleep When father awoke an hour later he was gone.


The boy faded away and Cosmo awoke in a scorching sweat just in time to hear a jet engine fade into the distance. He struggled from beneath the heavy covers and went to the window. He tried to open it, to get some air into the room but he could not reach the catch at the top of the sash. Cosmo pressed his face against the cool grimy glass. As he did so he noticed his sister Daphne and her boyfriend Ricardo sitting beside the tennis court kicking their feet through the damp brown leaves. At her feet Daphne had a white plastic supermarket carrier bag.
Cosmo decided to frighten Daphne and Ricardo like he'd been frightened. He pulled a white sheet from the bed and putting it over his head he went back to the window. He began to wave his arms around under the sheet and make ghoulish noises even though he knew they could not hear him. Daphne and Ricardo did not even notice him. They left the tennis court and went to the old rope swing in Mr Whitehouse's garden. Ricardo put the carrier bag on the ground and began to slowly push Daphne on the swing.


Cosmo pulled off the bed sheet and watched. Mrs Whitehouse did not let him use the swing, she said it was old and he was too heavy for it but Daphne was older and heavier that he was. He waited for the rope to break.


Thinking of Mister and Mrs Whitehouse made Cosmo remember where he was. He was in their house, this was their son's room but he was a man, older even than Cosmo's father. He must have taken the furniture with him when he left home. Cosmo like the idea of taking the furniture with him when he left home but he would take the bed as well, Selma's half too then he would be able to sleep on the top bunk.


Cosmo watched Daphne and Ricardo, he and Daphne had pushed Selma on the swing that morning until their mother had come out and told Selma it was time for her music lesson. Their mother had told Selma to hurry and Cosmo could remember her running through the wet grass as fast as her legs would carry her, her white dress blurring against the first autumn leaves. Daphne had wandered off so Cosmo checked that Mrs Whitehouse was not looking and got onto the swing but swings are no good on your own especially if you are frightened of it breaking under your weight, so Cosmo had meandered back to the garden shed hoping to find something interesting to do.


He found his grandfather there talking to Mr Patterson from the other side. They were deep in conversation but his grandfather noticed Cosmo and picked him up in still strong arms and sat him on the top of the fence. His grandfather told him to be quiet and listen as he might learn something about gardening but Cosmo was too busy concentrating on keeping his balance.


Cosmo liked it on top of the fence he was almost as tall as his grandfather and much taller than Mr Patterson who looked small and round in his old cardigan.


Mr Patterson unbuttoned his cardigan and revealed six or seven or even more bungee ropes tied around his fat stomach. The bright colours ran into one another and Cosmo could not count them all.


"I'm about to tie back my trees before the autumn winds start." Explained Mr Patterson. "I'm a very light sleeper and I can't stand anything banging in the wind. I've got some for you Andre so you can tie up that cherry tree that overhangs near my back door." He passed two bungee ropes to Cosmo's grandfather. "You have the green ones Andre, I'll have them back off you in the spring."


Cosmo's grandfather took the ropes from Mr Patterson and thanked him. Cosmo was fascinated by the springy ropes but bored with conversation, so when he grandfather refused to let him play with them, he started to struggle down from his perch. He grandfather supported him by the collar of his airtex shirt and plonked him down on the lawn. Hastily rearranging his clothing Cosmo ran into the house leaving his grandfather and Mr Patterson to carry on with their discussion on re-potting geraniums.


As soon as he got inside his mother told him to go back out again and tell his grandfather that it was time for lunch. Cosmo turned on his heel and did as he was told. He strode importantly up to his grandfather and made his announcement but his grandfather did not move, he just said that he would be along in a minute and carried on talking to Mr Patterson. Cosmo dawdled towards the back door, looking back all the time to see if his grandfather was following. He was not. Cosmo got to the back door and turned again. His grandfather was no longer talking to Mr Patterson but he was not following either. Reluctantly he went inside and told his mother. She told him not to worry as grandfather was only washing his hands in the potting shed. She then told Cosmo to wash his own hands, which he did and then they all sat down and waited for grandfather to come in and say grace.


When her father had not come in, almost ten minutes later, Cosmo's mother said she would go and see what was keeping him. Cosmo watched his mother hurry over the damp lawn towards the potting she calling her father's name as she went. He watched her push open the door of the shed and then he heard her scream and carry on screaming. Daphne would not him go to see what was wrong, so he had been left with Ricardo and the now cold lunch for a very long time.


Cosmo found out later that his grandfather had hanged himself with one of Mr Patterson's green bungee ropes.

 

Been writing for years but only now seeking a publisher,