Pippa and I continue one further block, to the miniature golf course. Its narrow lanes, bridges and archways, stretching perhaps ten metres, haven’t seen a golf-ball in years, but are now weeded-over, here and there crumbling and returning to a state of mud and scratchy grass. We step across the low fence and find a tiny roundabout to lay our picnic gear on, with a hillock on either side of it where we each sit comfortably. No one is around us on the wide, dusty streets, though I suppose some people can see us from the handful of residential windows we can see. Litter is strewn picturesquely about. Some time earlier this morning a car was smashed and torched across Ocean Avenue, outside the hulk of the old Albion Hotel, and although its interior is no longer hot, its four burst misshapen tyres are all still smouldering on their blackened hubcaps. Smoke coils out from the cracks around the door of the boot, suggesting that a spare tyre inside it is smouldering too. The reassuring scents of gasoline and burning rubber fill the air.
I’ve brought a fine smooth Chopin vodka and some good picnic apples, plus a carton of Lucky Strikes for Pippa, and she has brought white Wonderbread, plastic cups, paper napkins, a couple of knives and a packet of fat mini-wheels of Laughing Cow cheese. “A discerning choice of cheese,” I remark. “I’d say the money-cheese, in fact.” She nods gravely, then beams wide. I pour a couple of generous shots of vodka into the plastic cups and hand one to her, and we bump our cups together, before downing them and gazing out to sea. We meet each other’s eyes and there is genuine fondness there, in both directions. I suspect she feels secure in the knowledge that I shall never judge her or demand anything but just accept her as she is. As for me, I have to say I find her depression as relaxing as it is profound. For without being callous, I feel no pressure to achieve anything in relation to her, at least as yet: I’ve seen what it’s like inside her, but can do nothing to help, except just to be kind to her and enjoy her company for the duration of our friendship, however short or nebulous this may prove to be.
One of the mini-wheels on her plate has a tiny smear of something red and sticky on it, I notice; she must have nicked her hand with one of the knives.
When we’ve downed our shots, she pulls the short red plastic tab protruding from the oblate spheroid of wax enclosing the first cheese wheel she grabbed, opens it, and takes a bite of cheese and a bite of bread and we laugh at the funny name of the cheese and the sweet little picture of the laughing red cow on its label. “Moo!” we say to each other several times, and laugh. A gentle warm swimminess spreads within me. I like her, I really do.
I pour us a third vodka, she opens more Laughing Cows and we settle back more comfortably among the paraphernalia of the golf-course. I peer at the various miniature castles and mounds, roundabouts and gateways around us: “Gateway 3” one of the structures is marked, I can’t imagine why. “What a cosy niche we have ourselves here!” I enthuse. “And how comforting that wrecked car is: it distracts us from ourselves, suggests there’s something really happening in our world here this morning, some activity beside ourselves … d’you know what I mean?”
She just nods and smiles, but I can see she’s not just nodding and smiling: she really does know. I look again for that sticky red smear on the cheese, but it’s gone.
I pour us another generous pair of shots, which we knock together again before downing them. “Would you prefer a walk?” I ask her.
“No, no—let’s stay here, please,” she murmurs. After a pause she grins, becoming drunk, and asks, “D’you have a special person in your life?”
“Not at the moment,” I say. “Do you?”
“Oh, yes!” she nods and giggles, then falls silent.
“I’m glad to hear it,” I say, and announce within myself that the most graceful and fitting course of action now will be to accord her the simple dignity—here I hiccup loudly—of telling me as much or as little as she wishes, and not a jot more than this, nor indeed a tittle less.
And so we chat inconsequentially, with the greatest of mutual pleasure, and then lapse, by and by, into the warmest and most coppery of brown studies—two figures reclining nobly in a bucolic afternoon landscape. To stretch my legs I stand up, sway a moment, and squint towards the sea: upon the sand is a flourish of surf, and windswept is the shore…
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