THREE ON A PIER.
It was a warm morning in a small seaside town. Three people were sitting in deckchairs on a pier. They were looking out at the sea and the horizon.
One of them called Paul said, There’s that ship again. I thought it had gone.
It’s the way the sun hits it, said Peter who was sitting next to Paul. It only seems to have gone.
The woman called Mary sighed. There’s still a chill in the air. I thought it would have warmed up by now.
You can never tell with ships. They’re a mysterious phenomenon, Paul said. Take the Marie Celeste. The ship there, but the crew all gone. Strange things ships.
Peter looked at Paul. I remember you telling me you were almost drowned in a sinking ship once, Paul.
Mary pulled at her cardigan. I’m glad I wore this cardigan. I hate the cold.
Yes, I was almost, Paul said. I had to swim for it. If I didn’t know how to swim I’d have drowned, that’s for sure. Three times that happened to me. Three times, I managed to swim for it. I think someone up there wants me dead.
Peter frowned. Someone up there? How quaint that sounds in this day and age. Fate. That’s what it is. If your time’s up, then it’s up, whether you can swim or not. Fate is fate. One’s destiny; one’s providence; one’s doom.
Mary stared at her shoes. I almost froze once on Victoria Station. Late December it was. Christmas just around the corner. Lights everywhere. Decorations in shop windows and in houses I passed by. Froze to the bone.
I’m a bit wary now about ships, said Paul. I’d not fancy setting sail in one without a good lifeboat or lifebelt.
Peter sniffed the air and then looked at Mary. Love your fate. That’s what that philosopher said. What was his name?
Paul shrugged his shoulders. I’ve not looked at a philosophy book since Cambridge.
Mary turned and looked at Paul. Cambridge? I thought you went to Oxford?
Paul shook his head. No. Cambridge. Peter and I were there together.
Mary scrutinized Paul for a few moments and then looked back at the sea. Piccadilly Circus. Now there I have memories. I drank and drank and fell down and sat by Eros as the world spun round and round.
Peter studied Mary carefully. The world spins around and around all the time. Ever watched the sky go by while sitting on the grass on a summer’s day?
Paul smiled. I sat with this young girlie in some shaded spot in Cambridge.
Peter closed his eyes and said, and the clouds drift by like ghosts.
Mary said, I hated the cold and damp. If I hadn’t met you, Peter, I’d still be there spinning round drunk and sinful.
Paul seemed lost in thought. Can’t recall her name. Had lovely eyes, I remember.
Peter smiled, lost for a few moments in thought. Lay once in a field looking up at the sky with Judy Jought. Remember Judy Jought, Paul? Brilliant young thing. Face like an angel.
I had a visit once from an angel, Mary said.
We sat and looked. The sky a pale blue. She wanted to kiss me. Wanted to get too serious. Oh, no, my dear, not this fellow, I said. Paul murmured.
Peter opened his eyes and said, That’s it isn’t it. They get too serious these young girls. One kiss and they have you down the aisle before you can say the Lord’s Prayer. But not this man. This man’s for higher things, I told her. She didn’t like it much. But what can one do? They have to be told. Have to be informed of what it is you want to do with your life. More to life than bread and marriage.
Mary sat forward and watched the incoming tide. Late at night. All the others had gone to bed and sleep. I rubbed my eyes. I thought I was having once of my strange visions. But no. There it was as big and large as…Well an angel.
Peter gazed at Mary. Angel? A real angel? He laughed. Mary, Mary quite contrary. You’re having me on. I know you and your wild tales. You’ll be saying you saw pink elephants next and they were flying over Westminster Bridge.
Paul sighed. Not this fellow. This fellow’s going places. I mean, why would I want to settle and marry with her? Yes, I think her name was Judy Jought. She’d have married the whole damned campus given the chance.
Mary said, It’s no laughing matter, Peter. An angel’s an angel. They have a purpose.
Peter let his eyes move over Mary’s face. So do elephants, but I’ve not seen a pink one. At least not since that night Paul, I, and Andrew Abbit smoked that weed Squires brought along. Whatever happened to Squires?
Paul looked around at the other two. I think I met an angel once. She was very tall and was dressed in white and…Put that down to Squires again. Squires. I think I read he went to the States. Some big job. Think he lives there still.
Mary said, My parents said not to mention it to outsiders.
Paul focused on Peter and said, He had a brain on him, despite the weed he smoked.
Peter looked away from Mary and stared at Paul. Abbit. Now there was a chap who could burn a candle at both ends.
Mary lowered her eyes to her hands. Candles? I remember candles. Thousands of them in Westminster Cathedral. I stood at the side, watching them. I cried for the beauty of it. And the incense. That really got to me.
Paul looked at Peter intensely. Abbit? He burnt himself out. Jumped in front of the London to Brighton train a few years back. Awful mess, I heard.
Peter paused and looked at the sea. I’ve just started a new painting. Have I told you?
Mary opened her handbag and searched for something. I want to sing again, she said. She took out a lipstick and rubbed it over her lips.
Paul threw Peter a quick glance. I think you told me. Is this the large canvas?
Peter shook his head. No. I finished that one. This is a new one.
Mary stopped applying the lipstick for a few moments. I want to sing. Sing like I used to. She applied lipstick once more.
Paul said, I don’t know why they do that.
Do what, Paul? said Peter.
Mary held the lipstick in her right hand and stared at it. Is that better? Do I have lips now? She put the lipstick away in her handbag. My father disapproved of me using lipstick. Said it made me look a tart. Tart? I said to him. What’s a tart? She paused. The she stared at the horizon.
Do what? Peter asked again.
Jump in front of trains, Paul said. I mean there must be better ways of leaving this world other than by an express train.
Peter pulled a face. States of mind are inexplicable to us. Ezra Pound said that somewhere. People do odd things when their minds aren’t functioning as they ought.
I stood on Charing Cross underground platform a few years back and considered it, Mary said.
Peter said, People do odd things even if their minds are functioning as they ought. Strange creatures are human beings.
I’d consider a few pills and a half bottle of vodka. Better than being hit by a train, Paul said.
Mary turned and looked at Paul. I thought about it, Paul. What would I do if I died like that?
Paul looked at Mary. The Church would say Hell, probably. You’d go to Hell they’d say.
Mary ignored Paul and looked at Peter. Peter can I see your painting?
Peter said, See it anytime you like, Mary. I might even let you pose for my next one. A canvas the size of my door.
Paul sighed. Hell must be one hell of a place.
Mary said, May I? She got up from her deckchair and wandered along the edge of the pier. What’s a tart? I asked him. Do you know what he said?
Peter said, I want to paint ergo I paint.
Paul gazed at Mary’s back. What did your father say, Mary? What did the old codger say?
Mary looked at Paul and smiled. He just pointed at my mother.
My mother wanted me to go into the Church, Peter said. Or failing that to follow my Uncle Ralph into the army. She hasn’t forgiven me for doing neither.
Paul smiled and said, Perhaps she saw the clergyman in you?
Mary leaned over the edge of the pier railings. The sun’s gone in. I’m getting cold again.
Peter said, The ship’s gone. Funny how they go when you’re not looking.
Mothers see these things, said Paul. Funny what they see in their crystal balls.
Mary moaned. I hate the cold and damp. Hate the way your clothes cling to you.
Peter said, Like the Titanic. Unsinkable until it sunk. Then it had gone.
I remember when you spent an hour in front of that painting in the National Gallery. People passed by looking at you as if you were the work of art, Paul said.
Mary looked back at Paul. I saw Van Gogh’s paintings up close. Saw them with my own eyes.
Peter said, Ships that pass in the night like strangers in a dark street.
Then you went back to your studio and painted it from memory, Paul said.
Mary turned and stared at the horizon. I cried because I thought them so beautiful. They made me cry and I was so sad and so happy at the same time.
Peter said, You’re an odd one, Mary Terrey.
Paint her, Peter, paint her in her glory, Paul exclaimed excitedly.
Mary said, Keep me warm, Peter, keep me warm.
Dab your brush and capture her like a butterfly in a net. Peter and Paul got up from the deckchairs and walked to where Mary stood. Peter embraced her. Paul rubbed her hands. Then after a few moments, they all wandered off the Pier back to their hotel.