When the halls are empty and the school ground’s cleared I leave the toilet stall, thumbing my lighter in my coat pocket. It is cold out and this means the streets are empty all the way to the cliffs where only a few people walk their dogs, heads down and anorak hoods up. I pass by unnoticed.
There’s a sheltered bench that looks out over the sea. We don’t have much of a sandy beach, just rocks and stones and pebbles. Uglier in the grey of the day, a brown sea pushing lazy waves over a monochrome, spiky wasteland. A teacher told us that a boy she went to school with was struck by lightening on this beach, that when they found his corpse, only the bald, smouldering top of his head was visible amongst the rocks, the force had driven him right in to the ground.
Now even in the shelter the wind blows out the flame so I hunch in to the corner to light my cigarette. It starts to rain. I check my phone, I call Rob but he doesn’t answer. There is no one around so I quickly pull off my shoes and tights and take my rolled up jeans out of my bag and put them on under my skirt. With my back to the sea I unbutton my shirt and put on my t-shirt. I am transformed. Lighting another cigarette I fish out the twenty pound note I stole from Mum’s purse this morning.
The fair is closed for winter, surrounded by a rusting chain-link fence, the games and rides all boarded up, graffiti. On the entrance to the ghost train, in big red letters, “RIP Tom” because this is where he hanged himself two months ago. The body wasn’t found for weeks, until a bunch of boys saw the boards were loose and broke in to find this bloated, stinking thing dangling from the rafters. At first I didn’t understand. It must be creepy at night, shut down and dark. But then I guess wherever a person decides to hang themselves must be scary, regardless of how many plastic skeletons surround you.
These things are generally forgotten by the next summer. Tom isn’t the only ghost in here; a boy had his head torn off when a sign fell loose on the roller coaster, mid ride. When it stopped they couldn’t find the head, it had landed on the roof of a carnival game on the outskirts of the fair. Sometimes around here you can see this man with an asterisk of scars from his nose to his neck and forehead, from where they had to stitch his whole face back on after the accident. At school they jeer at him when he walks past the gates, girls screeching like chimps in a cage. He was behind the headless boy, the ride ran all the way to the end.
The town is as miserable as the sea front out of season. Empty ice cream parlours and chip shops, a Blockbuster; a boy from school once shoved a dead pigeon through their return box and set it on fire. And they call me a freak. I once had what looked like a dead stingray frisbeed at me, while I stood at a bus stop, unwarranted; if there is anything that warrants such a thing. Impossible to walk through out of school hours for calls of “dyke” and “lesbo”, though I’m not half as interesting as they seem to find me.
In WH Smiths I pick up books I’ve ordered, paying with the stolen money, all gone now, and I leave for home with a bag full of Easton Ellis, Camus and Bukowski. There is not much to stay around for without Rob. We would maybe have gone to the pub with the pool tables where people huff nitrous oxide and sell bootleg videos and chunks of soapbar hash. Or he might have had money and we would have taken the bus back to the city and we’d go around all the department stores and pick the furniture we’ll put in our flat when we move out next year.
It was July when my parents took me here the first time. Charmed by the row of multicoloured buildings along the sea front and the pier with its antique stalls, they’d promised it would be better when we moved. I think my mother used the word “vibrant”. They had taken me to the new development of houses where we would be living and we toured a show-home with a ship in a bottle on the bookshelf and a stained-glass nautical window in a downstairs bathroom.
Our own house was at the end of the new estate, next door to a dilapidated Victorian place that junkies used for frequent gatherings. They eventually burned it down, the fire blowing towards our own roof so that at five in the morning my family and I stood outside in our pyjamas and coats to watch the firemen work, the rest of the street peering out their windows, pitying us. The police found a body, a man lying on his back upstairs. They said he was already dead when the fire started, the people he was with probably burned the house when they realised he’d overdosed.
By the end of the first winter here my parents didn’t walk on the pier any more. Their commutes every day are long and the loneliness tiresome. I am often in the house alone until after six every evening, on a bad day of traffic maybe seven. Locked out of the house, my keys strewn somewhere on my bedroom floor, forgotten. I climb the back fence where my dog jumps at my legs. I insert myself in the damp shed, on the floor with the dog’s bedding, and I start reading. I know that if I don’t think about it too much then eventually time will pass.