With a lion’s roar, the engine wakes. Exhaust fumes pour forth from the rusty tail-pipe like a smoke-machine from a bad dance-party. I just sit there, in the driver’s seat, tapping my fingers against the rubbery lips which the window emerges from, growing slightly impatient, but still enjoying the moment. Nirvana, a ’90s rock band, pumps from the speakers with a conflicted, soothing-melancholy. Looking like warped ironing-boards with the legs removed, three surfboards in their striped covers lie in the rear of the station-wagon, on top of one of the rear seats, which has been folded down in order to accommodate them. Many things in life have many uses, but surfboards, in the absence of water and propulsion, whether in the form of a boat pulling them, or a wave spurring them forward, are quite useless. Unless perhaps as art. Most surfers would agree they are pleasing to the eye, depending on their age, condition and the level in which they have been rendered yellow by water invading minute cracks in their fibre-glass. I’m not sure if I can speak for my comrades but I, as a surfer, have always felt just as useless as a surfboard would when not being propelled across the surface of some liquid glass. My name, in case you were curious, is Steve. I’m also known as Steven, Steve-o, or bucket-arse; the latter being a reference to the fact that, when riding a wave, I stick my arse out slightly, like there’s a bucket stuck on it. Don’t bother asking for a surname, because I don’t have one. I’m an orphan. I’m not sure if it’s common-practice for orphanages to neglect providing their charges with the family names they are denied at birth, but I don’t care. If, by chance, I one day wait beside a holy-man, at the end of a row of pews, separated by a velvet strip, for the woman in white whose star I’ll hitch my wagon to, I may decide on a family-name; perhaps something Scottish. Perhaps I’ll just take hers. In the meantime I neither want nor require a name to suggest that I have ever had a father. The same goes for my comrades. There’s two, of three, in the back-seat of the car with me. In no particular order, the first’s name is Jim, Jimbo, Jimmy, or Stutter, in reference to the way in which he speaks when talking to even the least-attractive female. Regardless of his red-hair and freckles which spread like potato crops across his pale skin, and due in large part to the surfer’s physique that we all share, he’s an attractive guy, although none of us would ever tell him so. The second’s name is Marion. We generally call him Mazza, but have neglected to apply a nick-name representing one of his inherent weaknesses. I mean, his name is Marion. What greater weakness could we find in a 6-foot-1, blonde, well muscled, strong featured, talented surfer, who gets all the girls? It’s almost as if the director of the orphanage could see into the future of the wailing baby which had been delivered to him, and promptly decided that a name highly inappropriate for a male would be apt in order to limit his powers to take over the world.
In any event, both of them are the most mild-mannered blokes I’ve ever met and, surprisingly, they also happen to be brothers. There is almost nothing to suggest that they are in fact brothers, except for, well . . . did I mention they’re mild mannered? Not entirely true. They’re mild-mannered to everyone except each other; a small exception which helps flabbergasted people decide that there’s a small-chance of blood-ties between them. As I sit, enjoying some down-beat radio rock ‘n’ roll while keeping an eye on the sibling-shoving-match going on behind me, I first wonder, with a slight shake of the head, why I let them sit next to each other. Secondly, I muse on the fourth occupant of the car or, more accurately, I muse on the person who should be the fourth occupant of the car but has neglected to plonk their arse in the seat at the expected time, in typical fashion. This person is like no other bloke I’d yet met, due in large part to the fact that she is not a bloke. She’s my girlfriend, to my constant surprise and delight. Currently, I’m snapped out of my day-dreaming as the rear hatch of the wagon swiftly opens and a board is thrown, in the same fashion in which you or I would throw an overnight bag into the back of a car, on top of the other three, instantly breaking up the shoving match, much to my relief. From the rear-vision mirror, I witness her fine features pull back like silk sliding over marble, into a breathtaking smile. ‘Sorry,’ she says, with a small bite of her lower-lip, a shrug of the shoulders and promptly following slam of the hatch. Then, with all three of the occupants of the car following her with eyes-wide and mouths agape, she jogs the short distance to the front passenger-door, wrenches it open and alights with a soft thump into the seat next to me. ‘Sorry I’m late. Couldn’t find any sun-screen.’
‘Y’know you can always use some of mine,’ I respond with a sentimental wink. She mockingly pokes her tongue out at me. ‘Have you got everything, now?’ I query.
‘I’m sure I’ve forgotten something,’ she responds while turning and slamming the door shut. ‘Let’s go!’ she exclaims in my direction, before whipping her blonde-pony-tail around and facing the road in the expectation of it beginning to move under the car. I hesitate, watching her, for the shortest of moments. Unlike Jim, Marion and myself, she’s aware of the source of her existence and is named Lucy Pretoria. It wasn’t love at first sight, but still, since meeting her, it seemed as if she’d grabbed hold of a cricket-bat, swung with all her might, and knocked my heart to heaven, albeit in slow-motion. It was surfing that brought us together, and surfing that kept us that way. In the early days we’d sit past the breakers at dawn and. . . . ‘Steve . . . what are you waiting for?’ I hear her interrupt, through the thick clouds of my increasingly sentimental introspection.
‘I love you,’ I simply say, in a dreamy tone, with half-open eye-lids.
‘I love you too, but I love waves a lot more.’
I chuckle softly to myself, ease the gears into first and neglect to indicate, before guiding the car from the side of the road and into the path of a van approaching from behind.
A coma is predictably like sleep, with a few differences. With sleep, it is generally a choice, except after too many drinks. No-one who values the precious minutes of their life would choose to slip into a coma. Also, while sleeping, a dream or collection of dreams may occur in which happiness, sadness, or both, may be felt. In a coma, or at least mine, there was only sadness. The sands of everything precious in my life were washed away repeatedly by cyclone swells of evil. The subsequent, partial-memory-loss I experienced upon finally waking all those years later, remain my only comfort from the dreams of unconsciousness. Dreams or, more accurately, nightmares, in which I’d lose the people close to me. Crossing the road, my mother was leading me from a pace in front before being torn from my hand by a passing semi-trailer. I watched as my father was ripped to shreds by wolves, like a bloody pile of leaves in a strong gust of wind. You may be remembering, at this point, that I am an orphan who has never met his parents, let alone felt the need to. I guess the stubborn aloofness of my adult brain was overruled by the lonely child of my subconscious. I’ve never been aware of the existence of a brother, but had always carried a strange suspicion and longing. As if I were a bird, floating on cold ocean waters, I watched in forlorn resignation as he drowned and slowly sank into the depths. His eyes never left mine until they disappeared. Over and over again, I bore witness as every single person I feared in even the least to lose, was murdered, raped, dismembered, strangled, drowned, electrocuted, crushed, tortured, dragged, burned or crucified. Lucy was the only exception: in countless, recurring nightmares, she would simply vanish. As an added measure of torture, her loss would exist within my mind during the loss of all the others, whether I witnessed them as a child or a withered old man, until it was time for her to vanish again.
Fifteen years later, I wake screaming in a lonely, white-room with a simple, square-window revealing torrential rains to my left and an equally simple door to my right. The screams quickly turn to coughing as I realise my throat feels like sandpaper. Turning instinctively to my right in search of water, I’m startled to see a woman sitting in a chair in the corner, looking back at me. I guess her to be in her early thirties, only because she smiles at me without showing her teeth; a reservation which suggests maturity. She must be someone important to me, I think, as she wears a yellow, tight-fitting t-shirt and faded, blue-jeans, rather than a nurse’s uniform, and the ceiling light dances in the moistness welling in her eyes. As I notice a single-tear escape from her right-eye, along the gentle curve beside her button-nose, she suddenly leaps from the chair, throws herself over my torso and begins to sob violently, as if a strong electric current is running through her. I watch in stunned silence, realising I can’t feel her on my stomach, but only through my head as her shaking vibrates through the hospital bed, to my pillow.
‘Steve!’ she manages to shriek after recovering a measure of control. ‘I knew you’d wake eventually!’
‘I’m sorry,’ I croak groggily in reply. ‘Who are you?’
She ceases to cry and raises her head from the confines of her arms, to gaze penetratingly at me. ‘I love you too, but I love waves a lot more,’ she quotes herself, and it all comes flooding back.
‘Lucy. I missed you so much,’ and it became my turn to sob uncontrollably. ‘I had so many nightmares, so much death and pain. I lost everyone: You, Steve, Marion and even members of family that my sub-conscious invented for the sole purpose of my misery.’ It spills from me like the guts of a filleted fish; that I’d spent the past fifteen years, in which I experienced every second, losing people in gruesome, heartbreaking and repetitive fashions. She listens in her prostrate position on the bed and weeps silently till her eyes dry up like drought-stricken farms. We profess our undying love for each other like school-children until she slides up next to me, we kiss, and both promptly fall asleep.
I wake first the following morning to notice that the storms have vanished and a beam of light in the silhouette of a cross has penetrated the room like a holy presence. As my eyes relish the natural light-show with fascination, I hear a cough by the door which also wakes Lucy. A nurse in a crisp, white uniform is standing just inside the door-way, with her hands folded in front of her in the shape of a V. I immediately ask, ‘Nurse, why can’t I feel below my neck?’
Her face, while grave as she first stood at the door, only darkens like a worsening storm as she un-folds her arms and smooths the sides of her dress compulsively. She looks up to make eye-contact with Lucy, who locks eyes with the nurse momentarily and then breaks the contact, snuggles into my side and becomes as silent and motionless as a stone. The nurse moves to sit at the foot of the bed, and introduces herself as Miss, or nurse, Swansong. Settling herself in at the end of the bed, and engaging my eyes with a soberness that I could not make a comparison with, ‘You’re a quadriplegic, Steven,’ she says with hollow simplicity. I attempt to move my legs first, wondering why I had not before; they wouldn’t budge. Beginning a wretched sob which should have begun as a shaking in my chest, I next attempt my arms, to no avail. My weeping develops an increased fervour in response. Through my sheen of tears, I can see the nurse glancing from me, to Lucy and then back again. ‘I’m terribly sorry, Steven,’ she says in a tone which is all too real. I lament in my mind the fact that I had woken from a fifteen-year nightmare into another that would last me my entire life, such as it looked to be. ‘Nurse,’ I say with a lingering pause. ‘Could you please leave us alone’
She obliges with a ‘Certainly’, and silently closes the door as she leaves; now for the final, grim reality.
She shrinks as much as she can, into a human ball by my side.
Reluctantly, she lowers herself from the bed and moves to its end with the mannerisms of a death-row in-mate, after a last meal. She forces a broad smile while beginning to remove her clothes; my love for her reached its zenith, and stayed there forever, with that glimpse of her teeth. Finally, she stands before me completely unadorned, as perfect as a statue of a Grecian goddess, but nothing; all the movement of an old man reading the weekend-paper. Lucy creeps seductively onto the bed, kisses me and presses herself against me; still nothing. She moves her hand under the sheet and begins to massage; I can’t even feel it. I could however feel her tears splashing on my face.
The familiar sounds of breaking-waves wash through my mind, clearing away the cob-webs of exhaustion-induced sleep; ironically familiar, as I had not actually heard such sounds in almost two-decades. The sound of white-water is like classical music: a soothing background accompaniment to a strong cup-of-tea and an engaging read. Opening my eyes, I’m dazzled by the amber light of the new-born sun, not a half-hour above the horizon. Like a spectral entity seeking peaceful rest, the winter mist rises from the surface of the water and drifts out to sea, towards the resplendent beacon. I assume that both the hand resting on mine and the nose of the board in the upper-left-corner of my vision belong to Lucy. ‘It looks good,’ I begin, referring to the undulating surf approaching the sand. ‘Are you going out?’
‘Jimmy and Marion are dead,’ she says coolly, and so suddenly, as the surf continues to pound the sand in indifferent routine. I see her grip tighten on my hand and I’m grateful for it. In the immediate moments after her shocking revelation, it seems that her hand is my only anchor to this world; my one island, in a sea of pain.
‘They died instantly, and you’ve suffered infinitely more than enough,’ she says while beginning to walk towards the waters edge. She turns back toward me and continues, ‘By all means, mourn, but if you try to blame yourself, you’ll have me to deal with, clear?’
Before I can respond to her rhetorical question, she turns once again and begins to wade out through the shore-break. I watch the early-light play in the ripples around her legs, and think many a joyous thought. My final joyous thoughts, in fact, when I accepted she would never again leave the water.