cul de sac— a short story

As the sun rose early in the quiet sea sprayed morning, the world awoke sluggishly into its usual lethargic routine. In the quiet coastal town of Saltmond businesses began to awake and the shop street was filled with the clattering of shop gratings rising. James Drake sleepily stared from the bus window and watched the low levelled sun turn the sea into a mirror, which reflected the rows of white washed houses that bordered the ocean. Slight ripples spread out like galleons from their home ports, heading out to traverse the ever extending ocean. The swans in the quay were not yet conscious although the bus flew past along the road nearby.

          Saltmond is a quiet town. Battered and peeling from the wet, windy and wild months (eleven out of twelve) of the year. It is the first thing you would think of when you think coastal town. Tired and damp, the smell of the sea perforating every house and building in the town. Jobs are few and far between if you aspire to be anything other than a shopkeeper or a fisherman. This is why James always dreamt of leaving. He had grand ideas of being something more than a lonely boy, from a lonely town along the loneliest and most forgotten coast.

         The the rumble of trucks shook the ground near the half built remnants of some ill-fated office block as the morning migration began. James watched as the men and women walked their way to work.  The few early morning commuters trudged through the damp, widowed streets on the way to their office jobs in the closest city. Along the promenade staggered lines of huddled crows lined the path to the bus stop. They stood and shook and stepped from side to side. A constant dance in the attempt to return the long lost warmth of their beds to their bodies. They hugged their white cardboard cups close to their bodies with the hope of retaining some extra warmth.

         Watching this routine reminded James of how much he had wanted to leave, at eighteen it was all he thought about. The opportunity to go to university, to make something of himself. He had no hope of that here. Saltmond had always been a dead end, life’s cul de sac. Many shops and companies had come here but most never lasted more than a few months. It was the same few families who owned most of the land and who ensured that the town never really progressed into the modern age. The streets were lined with the gravestones of long dead businesses (Boarded up shop fronts and walls plastered in graffiti).

         When the bus finally pulled up to the rain beaten stop he was filled with anger and self-loathing. How had he allowed himself to come back to this place!? He had finally managed to free himself and here he was again. Back in this town’s web. He had ruined everything.

          As he walked down the familiar streets he thought about how this had happened. The fact that he just couldn’t cope in a city, in the real world. Outside of the bubble the people of this town had built themselves. He could not cope at all in University. He rarely left his room and obviously had no luck making friends. In the end it all just became too much for him. He dropped out and ran for home with his tail between his legs.

         After about ten minutes of trudging along the damp streets he finally saw the familiar outline of his house appear through the misty rain that stung his face like thousands of icy daggers. In truth he had almost missed his home, the terror of the world had really made him crave the comforting familiarity. Still, with every step his despair from returning weighed him down more and more. So many memories flooded back as he came face to face with the low wooden door, smattered with peeling blue paint. The lion’s head knocker, which had always looked surprisingly polished considering the rest of the door, was now dull and tarnished.

         He knocked quickly on the door five times and almost instantly his mother burst through the door in a flurry of curls and gasps. She quickly pulled him into an embrace that smelled strongly of shampoo and nail polish. “You have no idea how much I’ve missed you!” she sobbed into his shoulder “I had better fetch your father”. James then quickly explained that he would prefer to surprise his father this evening. After a lengthy conversation filled with excuses for his exit from University his mother finished questioning him. “I think I’m going to visit Mack” James said “any idea where I’ll find him now”. Shock slowly spread from his mother’s eyes to the rest of her face. “Oh God!” she exclaimed “I thought you knew, Mack died three months ago”.

         Shock surged through every fibre of James’ being and froze him to the spot. Mack had been his best friend for as long as he could remember. They had grown up together.  Mack was the kindest person James had ever known although that never stopped him from having a wicked sense of humour. He had always managed to find the fun and good in any situation. He just couldn’t believe it, Mack had made James promise to come back to see him once he had made it big in the city. But now he was gone, it reminded James of this town’s fact, you either leave here or you die here. Tears began to form in the corners of his eyes but he quickly wiped them away. “You should visit Tom” his mother said her voice wet with sympathy “he works in the supermarket on Sea Road now”.

         James walked slowly along the overgrown streets, despair weighing him down like some Night Hag sitting on his back. The town now felt so much lonelier and overcast now. His last few pieces of solace seemed to be leaving him now. Still there was one small bit of comedy in this situation, James never thought that Tom would ever get a job. He was the rebel and layabout of the group. Last to work but first to claim the rewards, and no good at following orders. But now he was working in the supermarket. It seems the town had finally drained his rebel spirit.

         As James crossed over the hill he saw the supermarket, a new addition to the town. He wouldn’t have exactly called it a supermarket. It was not much bigger than your average grocery shop, still it stuck out like a sore thumb in the sea of old cottages and stone walled buildings. Its bright billboards added a small bit of colour to the town. It did give James a glimmer of hope, maybe the modern day will eventually reach this rural region of the country.

         The automatic doors opened with a quick whoosh as James entered the shop. It was mostly empty apart from the odd mom picking up a few essentials (milk and tea). James spotted Tom at the till at the far end of the store. He looked completely miserable. That devilish flame that had always been in his eyes was now long extinguished. He just stood there and stared into nothingness. Dark bags sat under his eyes and his hair was greasy and matted. He was suddenly animated when he spotted James and gestured to him to come over.

         “Hey, wow, James. Haven’t seen you in ages, I thought you were at Uni”. James quickly handed out the excuses he had used for his parents when he told them he was leaving. After hearing this, all of a sudden, Tom looked furious. ”I can’t believe you! Most people here would kill for the opportunity you were given, and you just dropped out because it was too hard!” Tom was fuming and James really did feel terrible. Most people here couldn’t even go to university and he had ruined his chances just because he couldn’t stick it. ”Look I am really sorry Tom you have a right to be angry but could you please just tell me what happened to Mack”. Tom calmed down after he said that and his face turned sad.

          He explained to James how no one knew how much Mack was drinking. After James left he did seem to begin to lose his flair but no one saw this coming. He had seemed to be perfectly normal until about a month before he died. After a while Tom stopped seeing  Mack outside of his house, but when he did he looked exhausted, pale and sick.  Tom knew something was wrong but whenever he tried to visit Mack he refused to let him in. When Tom finally got Mack’s friends and family to help him break in it was too late.

         James left that supermarket feeling much worse than before. All hope of a better life had left the town and he was filled with guilt for Mack’s death, he should have been there. At home he spoke little to his parents, ate quickly and went to bed early claiming to be exhausted from travelling. Although he slept in a familiar bed he slept uneasily. His dreams where haunted by Mack’s face, sickly pale and dying.

         He saw the first rays of light shine in through the tops of his curtains in the crisp early morning. James rose quietly, put his coat on and left out the back door. He walked down along the road to watch the new day rise from behind the sea.

         As the sun rose early in the quiet sea sprayed morning, the world awoke sluggishly into its usual lethargic routine. In the quiet coastal town of Saltmond businesses began to awake and the shop street was filled with the clattering of rising gratings. James Drake sleepily stared across the road and watched the low levelled sun turn the sea into a mirror, which reflected the rows of white washed houses that bordered the ocean. Slight ripples spread out like galleons from their home ports, heading out to traverse the ever extending ocean. The swans in the quay were not yet conscious although the early morning trucks flew past along the road nearby.  In the dark, cold morning James Drake stood on the edge of the road. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. As the trucks flew along he stepped into the road.