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Bathing Belle

by
Suzy Hobson

The pier was locked at night, but he knew of a way in.  Jacko had showed him the loose rail. Jacko, who was no longer here and who would never again come with him to the end of the pier. Jacko, who had been sold a bad wrap – the Centre had warned them that it was circulating, but ‘needs must’, he had said and had borne the consequences. Some children, school dodgers, had found him slumped forward on a bench in Esplanade Park, with spittle drooling from his mouth. At that age, they shouldn’t have known what death looked like, but they did, and could tell he was gone. 

                The third rail to the right of the gate – ‘twist it round three times and you can prise it loose’ – there had been just enough room to let him and Jacko through. There wasn’t much meat on either of them - ‘replace the rail and we’re locked in for the night - no one will bother us.’

                Tonight, and every other night from now on, he would be going alone. But of course, he wouldn’t really be alone, because now Belle would be waiting for him. The necklace of coloured bulbs strung along the promenade gave just enough light for him to see as he padded his way down the boards. It was strange, he thought, because when he had been there with Jacko, he hadn’t really noticed Belle.  He had been aware that they had been sitting under a statue, but he hadn’t really taken any notice of it – they had more pressing needs. The night he heard about Jacko, he had gone to score just as he would have done if he’d still been there with him - that was when she had first spoken to him. 

 

                 She couldn’t read his thoughts, but she could sense his turmoil – she knew turmoil. As soon as he felt the prick of the needle – peace, perfect peace – the waves paused halfway to the shore, the sea shone silver in the moonlight and a woman’s voice lulled inside his head as he drifted off to sleep. 

“You plunge a needle in your arm

then all is calm, then all is calm.

You plunge a needle in your arm

then all is calm, then all is calm.”

                   He slept and she watched over him until the sun peeped over the horizon and touched his closed eyelids.

When he opened his eyes and looked up, he saw her face looking down at him. He had never noticed her before. She was beautiful, shining radiant as the first rays of dawn stretched across the waves, turning her from silver into a blaze of gold. 

Again, he heard the voice echoing inside his head.

“I can feel your private hell,

I’m trapped as well, I’m trapped as well.

I can feel your private hell,

I’m trapped as well, I’m trapped as well.”

                  He stumbled up. It was getting light, and he needed to be off the pier and away before the gates were unlocked.  

But that night - and every night after that – he made his way back to see her. She began to long for his visits – the days hung heavy and tedious - she couldn’t wait for the day trippers to trail away and for darkness to fall, so they could be together.   At first, she was shy and spoke only in rhyme – always with a gentle voice that he heard inside his head. But as time passed, she lost her coyness and shared her story with him. She told him that when she was created, she had been mounted on the metal girder to which she was bound -  it symbolised the constraints of Victorian Society – there she was, trapped for all time,  depicted mid-step down from a bathing machine and clad in an elaborate swimming costume, which all Victorian women were forced to wear to cover their bodies. Later, she confessed, that though she was made of galvanised steel, her beating heart was soft and filled with a longing to be loved.

                       He in his turn found that he was also living for the night time and could only find peace when he was in her company, such was the effect that she had on him. Slowly, he found a contentment with her without resorting to the needle and as time passed, he realised he could not envisage a life without her. He promised that he would never leave her.

 

                       No one knew what started the fire on the pier the night it happened. There was so much wood it burnt fiercely, leaving just a metal skeleton. Eventually, the cause was linked to an electrical fault in the funfair. No bodies were found in the sea and no one had been reported missing - it was assumed there had been no casualties.  

 

                        A few days later one of Centre staff mentioned that they hadn't seen Scottish Robbie for a while, but someone else remarked that he'd said he was planning to move on soon.

Suzy Hobson is at her most content walking the shoreline with her dogs, Suzy feels fortunate to have lived all her life near a beach. She grew up in Aberystwyth on the West Coast of Wales, swapping sunsets over the sea to sunrises, when she moved to Scarborough on Yorkshire’s East Coast.

Suzy has always enjoyed disappearing into the world of words. As a child she would entertain a captive audience of family, dolls, and cats, with the productions she wrote for her puppet theatre.

There’s usually a hint of menace in her short stories, a sense of the fragility of life in her poems and her song lyrics are poignant.  Her favourite genre is sci-fi – where endless possibilities are on offer. 

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