Something different this week. A short story I wrote about 5 years ago. I'd be interested in what you make of it.
The sun had been unexpected. As we drove along the estuary that early July evening we talked about how lucky we had been, that this holiday would have been far different if we had not had the sun. Neutral topics to ease this journey, I was hoping we could relax in the warm of the sunset and listen to the music, take the focus of our stuttering relationship.
I had seen in the local paper an advert for this gig and we had nothing better to do. As I said it would stop us picking at the sore that was our marriage. Reluctantly I had come to suspect it had never been right. I was surprised to see it was Unison sponsored gig, my union, here somewhere near Carnarvon. We saw the signs then the tent, and we parked.
The gaggle of people waiting to enter the area looked to me like any audience at any gig in a place where they don’t normally have live music, in other words everyone you could imagine and more besides. Youth and singles, thirty somethings and people like me. The sad music obsessed who would go to any event in the hope it will be good music.
The ticket office was a white portacabin. The front of house were amateur and hassled. The toilets stood next to the ticket office fifty yards or more from the music. To reach the tent you had to cross this field and walk by a small clump of trees, raggedly planted and more an attempt to define a space than to create a copse of trees. I suspected this was more some sympathetic farmers’ gesture than a serious attempt to start a new venue.
We entered the tent flashing our fresh ink stamped flesh. The stage was to the front and the stacks covered with white Unison banners, celebrating something or other. We had been getting on rather better on this holiday; Claire looked at me with that superior smile as if to say this is it? Of course Claire didn’t want a drink; “they appear to only be selling cans of beer”. Oh the scorn in those words.
We stand there in this canvas tent that smells faintly of the earth and wait for the music to start. I notice that Claire is staring at what I assume to be a family, a woman in her forties with a small girl by her side and a man, in his early fifties, well built going to paunch, shiny head and moustache. He has hold of the girls arm and wants her to stand by him. The girl does not look as though she really wants to and the woman continues to stare out over the crowd. The bloke looks our way and seems to hold Claire’s gaze for a second.
A man in a crimpoline suit has walked onto the stage to the desultory applause of the long haired metalers down the front, who says irony is wasted on the young? Synthetic man talks of the importance of diversity how we need to celebrate different cultures that make up modern Wales, this diversity is reflected in the bill, Soca, Combia and local lads Dragon Blitzkrieg. Another cheer from the metal boys at the front. I begin to think that perhaps irony is more widespread than I thought.
“Get on with it” Claire is impatient, bored. Her received pronunciation supercilious. It is obvious that she knows better than the organisers how to run the gig.
The Soca band take to the stage, party hearty music and the reason I wanted to drive across from our cottage and stand in a tent in a field. Carnival music from Trinidad and Tobago, with a beat that would have the dead dancing and if you are lucky a lyric to make you think, consciousness music they call it. We were not lucky it was all lets party and honey I’m a love machine but I danced anyway, as well as a man with two left feet can.
Claire gave it a go, taking small steps that make it look like you are not moving. Claire was not in to this, her body said as much as she avoided contact with me. I attempted to party hearty. The Soca Soul Boys played for an hour and rocked it out. Cheerful party music, not remarkable or heavy with lyrical worthiness, but we could dance. At some point I’d got a beer and Claire a bottle of a supermarket lager.
The place had filled up and most of the tent was making it like Madi Gras was late and in Carnarvon tonight. It had got hotter in the tent and I could see that the sun had set. The Combia band, I can’t remember their name walked on the stage to genuinely warm applause, this surprised me, Combia being the poor cousin to salsa in Europe, but not in this tent tonight. They began to play, if I am honest I couldn’t tell the one style from the other, but the crowd were lapping it up. Claire shouted in my ear she was going to the toilet and would be back in a minute. I nodded and began to follow the beat.
As I said the place was crowded and my eye caught the feet of the two women dancing to my right. Their feet were in time and as they performed a complex routine which seemed to consist of moving in a cross shape and reminded me of the start of the film Viridiana. Just after the titles when we see a girl skipping and singing, her feet describe a cross as she skips. This was just like that, save there were two of them and as I looked at their faces I suspected they were with the band. They were just too cool to be from round here.
I was enjoying their dancing as much as the music when Claire returns looking weird, her mouth a line, she does not look happy-even for Claire. I lock eyes but before I can speak Claire says: “That man over there, don’t look! The one with the little girl, you know we saw them earlier” I nod. “He just exposed himself at me. I was coming back from the toilet and he was standing there in the trees. He said “Look at this” and exposed himself. Don’t look.”
This was not what I had expected. I went to put my arms around her-“Don’t do that!” Claire snapped “These people want you to be excited by their actions, it justifies what they do. Don’t touch me, and don’t look over.”
The music was forgotten now. I thought, Christ, what am I supposed to do? “I’ll go and have a word with him.”
“You will not. I am not having a scene.” Claire had raised her voice and was looking everywhere but in the direction of the man. “They get off on this.”
“Look. I’ll go over and have a word, tell him it’s out of order.” I was thinking he may have the weight but I am younger and taller with a longer reach. Then I think-what am I saying? Do I really think I am going to fight with this bloke?
The Combia band finishes their set. The tent is quiet once the locals stop clapping, there are no encores tonight, too much music to get through.
Claire was speaking again, her words fast, choppy. “That woman looks beaten down. That’s what these bastards do. They strip you of your power. I feel sick, the way he was pawing that little girl. What can I do? You are not going over there making a scene. He will only twist it around and make me look wrong. What can I do?”
I listen to all of this, my heart sinks. You are somewhere else tonight as well as here, but I am not brave enough to ask where. Do I even want to know? We stand there talking, arguing about what to do. Claire waves her social work training in my face once more, that and her years working for the NHS. I feel out of my depth. The night started out as one thing and has turned into something else. What should have been a relaxed evening of music has mutated into some lesson on sexual perversions.
I try to hold Claire. “I told you don’t give that man any signs that I liked it! That’s what he wants”.
My hands fall to my sides, I glance at the stage, and the changeover of equipment seems to be taking an age. “Shall we go home?” I say, though I am not sure I want to. I can see another sleepless night stretching in front of me as I try to keep awake and Claire finds fault with everything, especially me. Some nights she is just like that and this has all the makings of one of those nights.
The metal band crank it out. We leave the tent, the leather boys at the front are going for it. All air guitars and rocker moves. I secretly glance at the man. He is holding the little girl in his arms, she appears to be asleep she is so still.
The night feels cold after the muggy tent though this is July. I try to put my arm around her shoulders she brushes me off. “I told you, no!” Claire looks small and vulnerable and in some other place. I think that I am in for a sleepless night of accusations. I am in no hurry to go back to the rented cottage.
“I should tell the woman, but she looks so beaten down. That’s what these men do, chip away at your core until you are just a husk and too bloody frightened to say anything. Men are disgusting. What should I do?” I move to say something, she cuts me off. “You’re no bloody use. What should I do?” Claire’s voice rises, she becomes even more distressed.
A sickle moon is in the sky, skeletal it seems to hang above the tent. Now the music is so loud I imagine it repelling the moon, the waves of sound pushing the moon from its orbit. Save there are no sound waves in space and they can’t hear you scream. I think I want to scream. I am in a field in Wales, the evening lies in ruins around me, and Claire has made the space between us even greater that it was. There will be no sleep tonight.