I admit that I was jealous of the absence of the wild slim alien’s memory. I wanted that blank slate – the chance to start all over again. Without the disappointment, the hurt, the trauma and the grief. Without the people who brought and left me here. For a sense of the experience to remain, but the actuality to have been wiped clean away. What a gift it would be, to be allowed to live again, free of my mistakes and those of others, but with knowledge enough never to repeat them. That wasn’t quite his situation, I knew, but in a way which balanced anticipation andshame and found the latter wanting, I was keen to help Bill scratch marks into the wax of his new existence. His new life was my new life – his resurrection would be mine too.
We went down to the beach together and tried to find the exact spot at which Bill woke up to his new life on earth, as if there would still be clues there about his past, alien or otherwise, after a fortnight of tides washing the slate of the sand clean. On the sand we tried to triangulate his prone position, using the crests of the dunes and the paths through them as our markers. After a while we thought we had it. Bill stood upon the spot and looked out to sea. Nothing but a far-out fishing boat nosing its way back into Porthleven. The tide was just on the turn and the sun was dropping beyond the headland to the west, casting long shadows and turning the tubes of the first rollers a translucent green. Bill lifted his gaze from the horizon, and cast his eyes to the skies above, craning back his neck so that the shaggy mane of hair fell away from his face.
He spent longer looking up than out. He genuinely believed he came from the sky and not from the sea. If his was a case of selective amnesia, perhaps we needed something that would loosen his mind. And his tongue.
‘Come on, let’s go for a drink.’ I took his arm, and looked up into his face, now curtained again by his hair. A flicker of assent in his aquamarine eyes. A flash of pity, or knowledge. Something that as far as I was concerned was unknowable, ungovernable. I shivered, and pulled him tighter to me as we began to walk.
A succession of concrete blocks resolved themselves into a café, a bar, the office-shop of a surf school, surf wear spilling out the door, and a store selling beach gear and toys. ‘The tat shop, I call it.’
Above the glass façade of the bar, a name was scrawled in as yet unlit green neon: ‘Sandy’s’. ‘Owned by a surf-mad Scot name of Alexander.’ We were the first customers of the evening, or the last drinkers of the afternoon.
‘Alright Cissy. The usual? Hello sir, I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Sandy.’
Sandy reached a hand across the bar to Bill, who looked at it as if he were being offered a glassy-eyed John Dory landed at Padstow that morning. Then, suddenly realising approximately how he was supposed to respond, he stretched out the wrong hand, seizing the back of Sandy’s. Sandy batted neither of the lids beneath his heathery eyebrows. Instead he asked my wild slim alien what he would like to drink, with just a hint of the extra solicitude he reserved for non-English speakers, the plain stupid, and English speakers having trouble with his accent.
‘I’ll have what Chan’s having.’
‘Give him a beer, Sandy.’ Now the Scot looked at me, puzzled. ‘Bill had an accident recently. Out on the surf. Probably best if we don’t start him back on the hard stuff just yet.’
Sandy turned to Bill, moving the recently released hand between bar and the glasses behind him in a gesture midway between inviting the drinker to make his own choice and finalising the transaction with me.
‘The same as Chan.’ Sandy nodded his assent, reached for another tumbler, squirted a shot into it and added the mixer.
‘How’s business, Cissy?’ He meant had I sold many pots and plates of late. I shrugged a so-so, and said that we were going to sit down and that I’d chat later.
We picked one of the window tables and watched the after-work surfers paddling out.
‘It’s my initials. Chanel Charlenny – CC – Cissy. It helps that I do something arty-farty for a living. Sandy is one of those people who hates calling anyone by their given name. He mints a nickname for all his regulars. Maybe he’ll sort you out with one before long.’
‘Perhaps I’ll remember my own name one of these days.’
We talked, and under the influence of the alcohol, I gently probed his memory, or his mind; or at least the part of his mind that wasn’t shut off from himself, or the world. He could not remember ever having surfed, though once he used terminology that would be second nature only to surfers. After the second drink, he said that he was Badezon. I thought this must be some obscure piece of antipodean surfing slang, but no, he meant that if I were human, then he was Badezon.
‘Hey Chan.’ A trio of Sandy’s regulars had taken the chairs behind me. I turned round to talk to them for a moment. When I turned back to introduce Bill, he was gone. So were our glasses. He was at the bar, with my purse, fetching us another drink, and talking to Sandy. That was okay. Regulars shared their secrets with Sandy. Oiled with medicinal fluid, the locks to those privae compartments yielded to the key which Sandy put in their minds merely by being a willing and patient listener. It helped that he had the discretion of a physician. So nothing Bill could say would be repeated other than perhaps to me, and nothing he might say would surprise Sandy or disturb his equilibrium, or his view of the world.