Seb is asleep on the trolley, his mouth sagging open, his fingers laced across his belly. With that tangled mass of grey hair, and those tattoos of whales and other sea creatures curving round his powerful arms, it could be King Neptune lying there, if Neptune had drunk a litre of cider for breakfast and found himself washed up on the pavement of a suburban British street.
Seb twitches, and his eyes are suddenly open.
‘All right?’ I ask him.
He stares up at the light just above the trolley, then struggles to sit up. I pull the back of the trolley into a sitting position.
Seb rubs his face.
‘I was dreaming,’ he says.
‘What were you dreaming about?’
‘Same thing I always do.’
He takes a deep breath, just exactly like he was breaking surface, then looks at me.
‘Why do you think you always dream of being underwater?’ I ask him.
‘I was a diver,’ he says. ‘All my life. Since I was twenty-one.’
‘Wow. That’s impressive.’
He shrugs, then folds his arms.
‘I went everywhere. Started off in the North sea. Shetlands. Then Syria, Saudi, Yemen. Somalia. Where ever there was danger, I was there.’
‘Sounds like a tough job.’
‘It’s all I knew. And now look.’
He raises his hands up and apart like he was letting something go.
‘An al-co-holic,’ he says. ‘Plain and simple.’
‘Are you getting help with that?’
‘An al-co-holic,’ he says again, like I hadn’t really heard him.
The cider has dried his mouth, and it’s an effort for him to talk. I pass him a little carton of water and he takes a few shaky sips. His face is reddened with the alcohol and the time he spent lying in the street.
I turn the heating up a notch.
‘It must be difficult, keeping your cool underwater,’ I say. ‘Not getting panicked.’
‘S’all right,’ he says. ‘I used to feel more at home down there. I understood it better, d’you know what I mean?’
‘I think so.’
He grunts, then smacks his lips drily and hands me back the empty carton.
‘I never had a moment sick – well, apart from a touch of the skin bends once. But at least I didn’t get it in the spine, which is what happened to Boysie. He never walked again.’
‘That’s pretty tough.’
‘Good money though.’
The ambulance rocks from side to side and suddenly the lights go out.
‘Sorry,’ I tell him, standing up and putting them back on again. ‘Dodgy electrics.’‘Don’t worry about it ’ he says, swatting the air in front of him, then folding his hands on his belly again and closing his eyes. ‘I’ve seen worse.’
Many like him crossed my path when I drove the Big Red Bus in Key West in the late 70s when fishing and shrimping were still big industry there; a lot unto themselves the watermen. Circumspect and self-contained, hard to admit they were ever hurt.
Hi Lynda. Sounds like an interesting time, driving the Big Red Bus in Key West - like a song lyric, actually! I think you're right - that independent & tough character type is probably quite susceptible to alcoholism.
Did he sound genuine about his diving Spence?
I think so. For example, I'd never heard anyone use the expression 'skin bends' before - but it does exist!
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