Fiction

The Cold Light of Day (extended version)

I was unsure what time it was when I woke, but as it was still dark outside. I knew it was early. I tried to pretend it was not happening, but all the signs were there.

First, it was my feet. I tensed and released them. Then my legs started the inevitable twitching. My eyes and nose were streaming. The bed felt gritty.

Pulling my legs up to my chest I lay there praying that I could get back to sleep. The creeping coldness felt like it came from inside my bones.

If only I could just sleep until it got light. I surrendered and looked at the clock. Three thirty-eight. Fuck! not even four. Too fucking early to do anything. There was no point in lying there any longer. Flicking on the naked bulb, I stood and looked round the room. It was bare; a mattress on the floor, a chest of drawers with the bottom drawer missing, well, not missing exactly, it was doing duty as a table. There was a clean square on the chest where the TV used to be. Should never have sold that. At least it would have been a distraction.  A plastic food container on the ‘table’ contained syringes, a couple of stained spoons, and a small brown plastic pill bottle.

Cursing myself for not having saved a bit of gear for the morning I went into the kitchen, knowing full well there was nothing there; no tea, no nothing. I rinsed a glass over the stained sink and filled it with water. Taking it back into the other room, I sat on the mattress and reached for the pill bottle. There were four little balls of stained cotton wool in there; filters from other hits, which I tipped into one of the spoons, added some water from the glass with one of the syringes, and heated it with a clipper lighter until it bubbled. There were some needles in the box, I tested them for barbs by stroking them on the back of my hand. Selecting the least offensive, I gave it a quick swipe on a match box to sharpen it. Then I drew the water from the spoon into the barrel of the syringe.

My throat was dry, this ritual always had this effect, despite my knowing there was virtually nothing in this hit. I could almost hear the  crunch as the wall of my vein ruptured under the onslaught of the blunt needle.  Pulling on the plunger a thin red stream joined the almost clear water. The scarf that I had used as a tie slipped to the floor easily as I released my bite on it before pushing the still-warm solution into my bloodstream. I sat waiting for the warmth of heroin to engulf me, but there was so little of it in that hit that all I felt was a vague lessening of discomfort. My mind was now on how I could raise some money to score.

It was still dark outside. Somehow it was always worse when it was dark. Grabbing a book from the floor I hunched up shivering on the mattress and tried to read until it got light.

It was impossible to focus on the book. I found myself reading without remembering a word. After the third attempt at a page, I threw the book at the wall and started to pace around. Opening a drawer at random I rummaged about, looking for anything I could sell, but I knew there was nothing. This place was stripped bare. I had searched every corner, every pocket for a forgotten stash. Addiction leaves nothing out; it’s all-consuming.

Despair hit me like a truck. I felt a cold dark hand close on my gut. Perching on the window ledge I looked down at the street below bathed in the unforgiving orange glow of the streetlamp. I recalled the car that I used to see parked there, my car, the one that I used to drive to work before all this shit stole my life.

When the first glimmer of grey light showed itself, I put on my large black overcoat, drank the rest of the water, grabbed the lighter and some cigarette papers then headed out.

Hoping the movement would alleviate the coldness in my bones and the dull ache in my legs I set off at a good pace. The street was empty and the streetlights went off as I started to look for fag ends on the ground. It took about ten minutes to get enough for a fag. The hot, acrid smoke was some comfort.

I set off on a tour, checking for lights in the windows of anyone who may have some gear. I saw none. Any junkie who was awake at this time was probably clucking like me anyway.

Why I chose to torture myself by walking down Stafford Street confused me. It’s where Janie lives. Beautiful Janie. Janie and I had lived together for two years before she’d discovered my heroin use. For six months I’d made promise after promise to stop and I meant it, really meant it, but somehow I just couldn’t. The lies became a way of life as I tried to hold on to the shreds of our life together. Her flat was in darkness as I walked past. I imagined her asleep in her bed, all curled up the way she did. Then a wave of sadness hit me as I realised there may well be someone else in her bed.

It was just about six o’clock now. I asked a passer-by if she could give me any change. She looked petrified and hurried on. After a few more tries, I managed to get a pound from an earnest-looking teenager.

My options were limited: I could keep begging, probably raise a tenner by about nine. If I could do it by eight, I may be able to score some methadone by hanging out near the chemist. I considered using the pound I had to make phone calls, but all the dealers would still be asleep. Waking them was a bad idea. A hot drink would be welcome, but I didn’t want to waste any money, not until I had a tenner anyway. Anything above that was spendable.

I found a whiskey bottle in a doorway. It had about a half inch of liquid in it, I sniffed it suspiciously. It could be piss though it smelled ok. Wetting my thumb I risked a taste. It was whiskey, so I drank it.

A young couple walked toward me, arm-in-arm. She was very pretty. She had long brown hair like Janie, it was being whipped around by the breeze.

I approached them saying, “Excuse me, I wonder if you could help me? My wallet was stolen at a party and I need to get home and report it. Is there any way you could lend me some money? Say a tenner? As soon as I get home, I’ll post it right back to you.”

“Fuck off,” said the guy, “Get a fucking job.”

He steered the girl around me and hurried away. The girl’s eyes caught mine as he whisked her past me; the briefest moment of human contact. In that millisecond, I saw innocence, beauty, and a kind of sad shock.

I walked on. Hearing the hurried clicking of heels on the pavement behind me. I turned. It was the girl “Here,” she said, holding out her hand. Offering her my open palm, she dropped some change into it, and smiled at me as she held her hair away from her pretty warm eyes.

“Tessa, for fucks sake, he’s a fucking junkie tosser. What are you doing?”

“Thanks,” I muttered and she was gone. There was two pounds seventy and some coppers in my hand. I decided to invest forty pence in a hot cup of tea in the cafe down the road, that way I could sit for about an hour in the warm.

The owner of the steamy cafe eyed me suspiciously.

“Tea please. Can I use your loo?” I asked

With a grunt, he jerked his head toward a door at the side. On my way in, I caught my reflection in the mirror above the hand basin. A gaunt, ashen face with red-rimmed eyes stared back at me, framed in sticky-looking, longish, greasy dark hair. I splashed some water on my face and tried to tidy my hair, it didn’t work.

The cafe guy grudgingly put another half-teaspoon of sugar in the cup when I asked for more. Taking it to the window I sat thinking about that girl, wondering what she had thought about me.

“Thanks, Tessa,” I muttered as I sipped the hot, weak tea.

With three pounds, thirty-six pence in my pocket, things were looking up. A bus driver at the next table was rolling himself a fag.

“Any chance of a smoke, mate?” I asked him.

He nodded and passed me his tobacco. I rolled myself one.

I finished the tea while it was hot, but nursed the cup for about another forty minutes. My thoughts turned to Janie and my former life. I’d had a good job doing the thing I loved, restoring antiques. I was good at it and I was beginning to get the respect of my boss. Then that fateful day came when he called me into his office and produced a syringe, he had found it in the toilet. I had tried to deny it was anything to do with me, but he had gone in there just after I came out and we were the only people in the building at the time. He fired me then and there, handed me a months wages in cash and asked me to leave.

I had gone straight to my dealers and scored. By the time Janie had got home that evening I was pretty fucked up. For her, it had been the last straw. We’d had a big row and I’d stormed out. When I got back I discovered she’d packed and left.

The cafe guy was giving me looks, he came over and took the now empty cup and asked, “Anything else?”

Shaking my head I stood and headed out. The foyer of the tube station was a good place to look for opportunities, so I hung out there for a bit. Maybe someone would put a case or a bag down and turn their back. Nothing. One of the staff had clocked me anyway, so I left.

The lights of the all-night supermarket beckoned. I went in to try and nick a bottle of spirits or something, but it was way too early and the shutters on the booze shelves were down.

I headed off down the street smoking the roll-up. It was coming up to seven o’clock. I was getting cold again and my nose was beginning to run. The cottons were wearing off. Fuck! I was beginning to feel desperate. I can’t go on like this, I thought, as soon as I’m sorted I’ll make a plan, cut down, taper off. If only I could get enough money together to get a decent amount of gear and go away for a bit.

Just then, a van pulled up outside a tool shop across the road. The neon lights inside the shop started flashing as they came on. Ducking into a doorway I watched as the driver open the side door which was facing the road. He had parked on the wrong side. He grabbed a sack truck and loaded it with boxes. I prayed he would leave the door open. He did. As soon as he headed around the van toward the shop, I swooped, grabbing a random box which I shoved under the copious folds of my coat. Walking briskly away expecting a shout, I was ready to run. Swiftly, I turned a corner and risked a look at the box, a cordless drill. Result!

All I needed to do now was sell it. With the box still tucked under my coat, I went looking for a potential buyer.

There was a house with scaffolding and some vans parked outside. I hung around till someone came out.

“Wanna buy a cheap drill mate?” I held it up. “Twenty quid.”

“Is it nicked?” he asked.

I shrugged and said, “It’s about a hundred and twenty quid’s worth of drill, mate. I’m asking for a score.”

“Go on, then.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a wallet, handed me a twenty, took the box, tossed it into his van, and slammed the door shut.

“Got any fags?” I asked as he turned. He pulled out a packet and gave me two.

“Cheers mate. Thanks.”

I lit one and set off. It was about seven-thirty. Going into into a newsagent I got a Snickers bar and paid with some of the change. I asked the woman if she would give me two tens for a twenty. It was better to have tens, that way I could claim it was all I had. I put them into separate pockets.

I got to the chemist just before eight; there were two people waiting outside. I managed to get one of them to agree to sell me some of his methadone script for a tenner, this would hold me until I could score some smack. It was about eleven before I got a proper hit.

Later that day, I stole two bottles of vodka and some steaks from a supermarket. This earned me another twenty quid. So I headed back to Jerry’s place. As usual, it took about a half hour to get an to his answer to his doorbell. “Oh, Jake it’s you, yeah, come up man” A gruff voice announced. The door buzzed and I yanked it open and headed in. The lift had the default stench of piss and tobacco. Jerry lived on the third floor, but I never took a lift to a dealer’s floor, not since I was yanked out of one by a cop one day.  I pressed the button for four and went down the steps.

Jerry’s place was, as always, a mess. There were about six people lounging about in various states of consciousness. A young girl who I had met earlier, was struggling to get a hit in the kitchen. “Can you help?” she asked holding up a works, as I walked past.

“Give me a minute,” I said,  “just need to see…..” she interrupted me.

“Please; it will clot in a sec, an’ I’ll lose it.”

I groaned and went in. She proffered her bruised and bloodied arm, there were about six fresh marks where she had tried and failed.

“Let’s look at the other one,” I suggested. She held it out. I tied it off around her bicep, bent it at the elbow and found a vein that ran along the back and managed to get her hit into it before the blood in the syringe clotted. I looked at her, her eyelids fluttered and drooped. “Thanks.” She murmured. She could be no more than eighteen years old, maybe twenty, short ginger hair topped a freckled face, her eyes were large and grey. If it weren’t for the junk she would be quite pretty.

“I’m not very good at it.” She informed me.

I just nodded, thinking, Sadly, you’re probably going to get plenty of practice.

Jerry held court in the back bedroom. He rarely left the place. He sat crosslegged in the middle of his raised bed with everything he needed close to hand. He was making up little paper folds of smack on the surface of a mirror.

“What you after Jake?”

“Twenty Gezz, please”

He tossed two of the little packs toward me. I put two tenners on the bed, he tucked them into the little leather pouch he wore round his waist.

As usual, Alex was slumped in the corner, he was Gerry’s joey, basically a servant who was paid in drugs. He was the one who had answered the door.

“Who’s that girl in your kitchen Jezz?”

“Little Elsie, she’s been coming here for a week now, why?”

“Dunno, just seems very young is all.”

“Mattie brought her round. She seems ok, student or something”

“Ok if I do a hit?”

“Sure.”

I went into the kitchen, little Elsie was still there gouching out. Sitting opposite her at the Formica table I pulled out the little wallet I carried, it contained a works and so on.

Elsie stirred and looked at me, noticing that I was preparing a hit she said, “I’ve got some new works, want one?”

“Sure, yeah, great”

She bent to retrieve her bag, as she did so her top drooped open to reveal her small breasts, for a moment I was aroused. She tore off a works from a strip and handed it to me.

“Thanks.”  I looked at her and wondered if I should try to get to know her. It had been a long time since I’d even considered such a thing, but she was kinda cute.

As I pressed the plunger home I felt the wave of narcosis suffuse my mind and body. All thoughts of sex and cute little tits were rinsed from my thoughts as I slipped into semi-consciousness like a ship drifting into the mist.

“See ya.”

The words broke through, I opened my eyes to see Elsie walk out of the kitchen.

Oh well, I thought, maybe next time.

Standing I unbuttoned my jeans and slipped my packet of gear into the little slit I’d cut in the waistband, gave my new works a rinse and headed off.

So, I thought as I walked along, I need a few hundred quid, one fifty for gear and with the rest I could rent a caravan on that site Janie and I went to once when we thought about moving to Brighton.

I treated myself to a small packet of tobacco with my remaining money.

Sitting back in my bare room on the mattress, I used the last of the gear I had scored, carefully saving the cotton filter in the little brown pill bottle along with the two others from earlier.

Hoping that I would not wake up sick like I had this morning, I nodded off and dreamt about a pretty girl with long brown hair and warm eyes.

Chapter 2 The next day

Thankfully I was not awoken by the onset of withdrawals but by the sunlight streaming in. I jumped up angrily to draw the curtain, but oddly, I changed my mind. It was a bright day and for some unknown reason I felt quite upbeat.

I recalled my idea about getting clean, going to that caravan. Fuck it, I thought, couldn’t be worse than this shit. Thinking about ways to get enough money together to out of this trap, I set about getting a hit together from my cottons. I had deliberately left them a bit sodden yesterday, so they should hold me until I score.

Books, today is a books day. It had been at least a month since I had gone up west nicking books. You had to be careful about stealing books, it was very lucrative but rather tricky. For a start books worth nicking were usually heavy and large so you could only get about three from any one shop. I needed to get about a dozen or more.

I had a stash in the toilet of a Mc Donald’s near Tottenham Court Road where I kept a works. A panel in the suspended ceiling could be moved. I would get a few, stash them there, and then go back out for more.  The beauty of using Mc D’s was you could come and go as you pleased, no need to buy a drink or anything.

I needed to smarten up a bit so I washed my hair with the last of my washing up liquid and dug out the cleanest clothes I could find. I had to wear my big coat as it had the big pockets I had sewn into the lining for this very purpose and in this chilly weather it would not look out of place.

On my way past I ducked into Kentish town tube and looked around until I found a discarded ticket.

Mc Donald’s was heaving as usual, I stashed my rucksack in the toilet, the works was untouched.  Heading back out on to the busy street I sought out the first shop. Art books were best. Most who did this tried to slip in and out unseen, my M.O. was rather different. I went to the art department of the first shop and had a quick browse round, checking that there were no staff there that might remember me, as far as I could tell there were none. I went up to the counter.

“I am looking for stuff on surrealist painters, can you help?” I asked the rather nerdy looking girl, I guessed she was an art student from the blue paint under her fingernail.

“Sure,” she said, “any title in particular ?”

“No, it’s a present for my sister she’s at art school.”

“Oh me too, I’m at St Martins, wish my brother was so thoughtful.” Bullseye, I thought. “Over here,” she said, walking across the room. “Where’s your sister studying?”

“She lives in Canada, not sure.”

I stayed right behind her as she let her fingers walk along some shelves and by the time she had selected a book for me to consider, I had already placed two into my coat pockets.

“Or this,” she said slipping another one out of the shelf. “There are a few here why don’t you help yourself.” She suggested.

“Thanks, I will” I replied, stifling a smile.

I managed to hide another two in my coat before heading back to the counter.

“Wow, I just can’t decide,” I told her, “there are so many to choose from. Look, I’m going to get a coffee and have a think, I’ll come back in a bit, is that ok?”

“Sure, of course it is, you’re welcome.” She said smiling.

Having stashed those four I headed into another shop. I was buzzing and my tail was in the air. I really enjoyed the play acting bit. I worked on the premise that if you charmed the staff first, then they would not pay you the kind of attention that you did not want.

In a couple of hours I had fourteen nice books that should net me about seventy quid. All I needed to do now was get them up to the little shop in Hampstead, where I always sold my books.

The tube station was bustling. I got the cheapest ticket I could and that got me past the barrier.  At Hampstead station, I went up to the station guy and said, “I got a ticket to Kentish town but changed my mind and decided to come straight here instead, can I pay the excess?” I handed him my found ticket

He looked at it, turning it over in his hand. Of course the automatic barrier would have rejected it as it had been used, but other than that, I prayed, it appeared fine.

“Over there,” he said, nodding to the ticket office on the far side of the barrier, “Eighty pence to pay.”

I walked past him and handed over the last of my change.

The little book shop was open, usually was, but hey, you never know.  I breathed a sigh of relief and went in.

“Hi, good to see you, been a while,” said the woman at the back of the shop.

“Yeah it has. Hi Sarah, got some nice books for you.” I smiled the most charming smile I could muster. I had been bringing this woman books for a while now. The story that I made up was that my partner worked for a publisher and every now and then they let the staff pick from the pile of books that accumulated around the office. I was pretty sure that she knew it was a line, but then she did well out of me so she went along with it.

Half an hour later I was heading down to Jerry’s with seventy five quid in my pocket. Just as well as I was beginning to feel a bit shaky and needed a hit.

Jerry’s was a kind of groundhog day experience. Alex, it appeared, had not moved since the day before and the usual suspects were draped around his flat like slugs, hardly moving, their bodies just moulding to whatever shape they were on or against.

“Alright Jake?” Jerry enquired with an upward jerk of his head. “What you after mate?”

“Forty please Jez.”

“Fuck me Jake, you in money, been grafting?”

The buzzer went. “Alex” Gerry barked, “Get the fucking door man.”

“Had a good morning Jez, here have these.”  I handed him a couple of pens. I had swiped a handful of them from a shop earlier.

“Thanks,” he said, as he tossed me four little envelopes. I handed him two twenties in return that, with an almost reflexive swipe, disappeared into his pouch .

The buzzer went again, “Fuck me, I’m giving that cunt too much fucking gear, useless twat. Do us a favour Jake get the fucking door will you?”

“Sure.” I headed down the hall and pressed the button to speak. “Yeah”

The speaker squawked “Elsie.” I pressed the release. Ah ha, I thought.  I squinted through the spy hole in the door and saw a distorted version of Elsie emerge from the lift. I slid the two massive bolts and let her in.

“Hi Elsie.”

“Oh hi, yeah. Sorry, what’s your name?” she squinted at me apologetically.

“I’m Jake, Elsie, pleased to meet you.” I held out my hand in a parody of politeness. She took it and played along with a dip of her head.

“Has he got?” she asked nodding toward Jerry’s throne room.

“Yeah, hey, got any more of those clean works?”

“No, well yeah, but not with me, in the car though. Come down and I’ll give you a couple. Just get sorted first yeah?”

“Ok, I’ll wait in the kitchen.”

I heard Jerry’s voice shouting, “Alex you lazy fucker, if you want another hit today get the fuck up and take care of the fucking door you piece of shit.”

Elsie appeared followed by Alex, who was scratching his head, he looked at me and grinned inanely.

Elsie and I left. We could hear Alex sliding the bolts home behind us as she pressed the button for the lift.

“Let’s use the stairs.” I suggested, “It’s safer.”

“Why?”

“Old bill just has to plot up by the lift door and wait.”

She thought about that for a second, then nodded “Ok”

Jerking my head in an invitation for her to follow, I did my normal routine, up one floor along a balcony and out by a different door.

Elsie’s car was a fairly new Toyota hatch back. She pressed the remote and it beeped and winked at us.

“Know anywhere we can go to do a hit?” she asked

“We could go to my place, about ten minutes by car.” I said, suddenly aware of her again as a woman. That glimpse of her breast’s flashed across my mind’s eye.

“Cool, lets go.” She opened the door and climbed in.

I asked her to stop at the corner shop. I dashed in and got some tea and milk and a packet of chocolate biscuits.

“Breakfast.” I announced, as I remembered what a shit-hole ‘my place’ was.

I hurriedly covered the stained mattress and swept some dirty clothes off the floor and stuffed them into a corner as soon as we walked in.

“Cup of tea?”

Elsie was preoccupied though, already getting out some works.

“Got some water and a spoon?” she asked.

“Yeah hang on.” I scooped up the glass from the table and went into the little kitchen and washed it, having a quick tidy as I did. There were some cleanish spoons in the drawer, I washed one and took it back.

We sat next to each other on my mattress cooking up our hits. I gave her a little ball of cotton for a filter and showed her my little pill bottle.

“Put the cotton in there when you’re done.”

I did my hit fairly fast and then watched Elsie as she looked for a vein.

“Let me look.” Her arm was thin and soft to the touch. I stroked it looking for a vein. Looking up I caught her eye for a moment, she smiled.

“Here…. try here.”  With two fingers I gently tapped a spot just below her elbow.

The blood gushed into the brownish water and she pressed the plunger home.

“Uh fuck, yeah.” She pulled the spike out, dropped it on the table and lay back, my scarf still loosely draped round her arm.

I stood and looked down at her slim form, those cute tits, narrow waist. Her blouse had risen to reveal her midriff a bit. I went and made some tea.

She had not moved by the time I brought the tea in. I sat and looked at her.  I put the cottons from the spoons into the bottle and capped her works. I looked again, she was cute as hell in those tight jeans. What the hell I thought reaching over and placing my hand on her flat belly, she did not move, I moved it toward her breasts under her blouse, she sighed almost imperceptibly. I continued and felt her move, pushing toward my hand as I discovered her breast fitted it just right. I undid the buttons slowly she looked up at me with her big grey eyes and grinned.

The tea got cold, abandoned in favour of sex. Lithe little Elsie proved to be an enthusiastic lover. She sat up almost as soon as we stopped and started to fumble in her bag, pulling out some more works.

“Wait, pace yourself a bit Elsie.”

“I always do that. I just do it, one hit after another till it’s gone.” She plonked her bag down. “Yeah you’re right. How about that tea?”

I made a fresh cup and we sat cross-legged on the bed, chatted and munched chocolate biscuits.

I learned that she was in fact twenty-two and had been a student nurse, but that had ended when she had been caught stealing drugs. She lived in her parents house in Gospel Oak. They refused to give her any money since she had left nursing under a cloud and her drug habit had been revealed. She worked as a waitress now and just about got enough money to score. She’d had some savings but they had run out now, all spent on smack.

I told her about my plan to clean up, relating the previous day’s events and how fucked off I was with it all.

“Days like that are the norm really, once or twice a month I manage to get enough money to get a decent amount but mostly it’s a fucking grind.”

“So this caravan, where is it?”

“Near Brighton in an old chalk quarry.”

She looked thoughtful. “I tried once, you know, to get off it, did ok for about a week but then I thought I would have one more hit just to prove I didn’t need it anymore you know. I thought I’d got away with it but I just wanted it so bad.”

“Yeah, me to, tried a few times, but I just get bored and drift back.

“Can I come? Could we clean up together, help each other stay clean?”

And so we hatched a plan. I would show her the ropes, we would work as a team, stealing books until we had enough money to score a couple of grams and pay a months rent on the caravan.

We had another hit and intermittently had sex and nodded off ’til about midnight.

In the early hours of the morning we drove up to her parents house and she snuck in and grabbed some of her stuff and came to stay with me. On the way back she suggested we pay Gerry another visit, holding up a fistful of cash she’d nicked from her dad’s wallet.

Gerry raised a knowing eyebrow when we turned up together but said nothing. We spent another forty quid and headed back to my place.

Chapter 3 Grafting

  The library was where we started our campaign to raise the money to get ourselves off the gear. Using one of their computers to get on the internet we pinpointed a number of target shops. They were mostly in big shopping malls in or just around London.  You could only hit each shop about once a month, any more was asking for trouble.

Elsie had some reasonably clean smart-ish clothes, but all mine were stinking dirty, so a trip to the launderette round the corner was in order. We had a laugh there, drinking beer and getting into a mad conversation with an old guy who came in to keep warm. I think us supplying him with Special Brew helped.

Elsie and I made a pretty good team. Working as a pair proved really effective and having her car was an added bonus, it provided a great place to stash stuff as we worked, as well as getting us easily to good spots.

Books were the favourite target, but we found that art supply shops were a doddle and occasionally some gift shops yielded nice little earners.

We would scope out the places first, agreeing escape routes, meeting points and times.

Soon we were netting about two hundred quid a day between us.  We would spend forty with Gerry and stash the rest. It was our plan to take off when we got to a grand.

We did get spotted once and had to run. But we split up at the agreed point, I disappeared into the multi-story car park and Elsie ran through a Marks and Sparks that had about six exits. Ducking in behind a rack of coats, she tugged her hat off and slipped on a red kagool she kept stuffed in her bag. I’d waited at the agreed spot about three hundred yards outside the car park and Elsie, as agreed, walked right past me at a distance, so I could tell if she was being followed or not. She wasn’t, so I went to the meet.    

Elsie’s eyes were sparkling, she was hyped up.

“That was fucking close,” she breathed,  looking excited.

“Yeah, just a bit, let’s get out of here.” We walked the mile or so to where we had parked.

When we were at Jerry’s place later, I told him about my plan and arranged to score an eighth of an ounce from him, three and a half grams. He had agreed reluctantly as this amount opened the door to my going into competition with him, but I had been a solid customer for a long time and he kind of trusted me.

“How much have we got saved then?” Elsie asked as I cooked up our hits that night.

” ‘Bout eight hundred and odd, another two days max, and we can head off.”

“Maybe we should keep at it? We’re doing well.” Her eyes still had a glint in them, it was as if the chase today had really turned her on.

“Elsie, we’ll get caught eventually, I’ve known a lot of shop-lifters. They always get caught in the end. We started this ‘cos we wanted out. I know it’s a buzz but trust me, cold turkey in a police cell is no fucking joke. Besides our habits are getting bigger. Any bigger and it will take too long to come off.” I placed the two syringes I had prepared for us on the table and said,

“Lets put all this nervous energy of yours to good use.” I reached over and began to undo her jeans, she giggled and helped.

We fell back afterwards breathing heavily. I looked down at her skinny, lithe little body, slick with sweat and ran my forefinger down between her breasts across her belly and down between her legs, she shivered.

“Lets have this hit then,” I said sitting up fully.

We headed out early the next morning to a shopping precinct just north of the city and did our usual walk around. We always carried appropriate carrier bags so we looked like we were on a shopping trip. We had a spot of breakfast and made our plans. We took our time. I wanted to make today count. It took about three hours to get enough stashed. We headed back for one more pass at a fancy stationery shop we had spotted. Some of the leather organisers fetched good money.

I suggested we take a shortcut through a department store.

“Look at that prat.” I nodded toward a guy who was parading a suite he was trying on, to rather glamorous looking woman.

“Try the grey one darling,” She drawled.

I grabbed two pairs of trousers from the rack behind me and whispered to Elsie, “Stay here, I’ve an idea.”

I headed to the changing rooms behind the guy. I held up the trousers and picked up my token as I went.

“Number four.” Said the girl with a bored expression.

Bingo he went into number three right next to it. I waited until I heard him leave, nipped into number three and lifted his wallet from the jacket he had left hanging on the door. I spotted a small carrier bag on the seat, which I stuffed under my coat. I headed out of the changing rooms saying, “Too big,” to the bored looking girl, as I handed her the two pairs of trousers.

I heard the glamorous woman say, “That’s much better darling, much better.” As we walked slowly out of the shop.

“Let’s cut, split, I’ll see you in ten.” Elsie wheeled to her left and I skirted through McDonalds to the exit.

There was three hundred quid in the wallet and two credit cards that were worth maybe fifty each. Better yet, in the little carrier bag was a brand new iPad in it’s box.

“You’re a fucking genius Jake. What made you do that?”

“That woman, I dunno. Money. They just looked like money.”

Elsie had a wide grin on face as she drove us to Gerry’s to score.

“Bet Jerry will want this iPad, may even give us our eighth for it.”

” Eh, eighth, what are you on about?” Elsie demanded.

“Eighth of an ounce, babe. Three and a half grammes.”

“Will that be enough?”

“Fuck yeah, anyway, we can get a bit more now, probably got about fifteen hundred quid in all. I will try to get some sleepers as well, and maybe a bag of grass, fancy that?”

“Brilliant, love spliff, been ages since I had a smoke, can’t wait.” Elsie parked a street away from Gerry’s, she was learning.

After some haggling Gerry agreed to give me four grammes for the iPad and a hundred quid. I would have settled for three, but he was very into the gizmo so I pushed it.

“Where can I get some sleepers or Valium or something like that Gez, any idea?”

“Rose” he stated.

“Rose? Who the fuck is Rose?”

“Lives in the next block. Big valium script. She’ll swap for gear. I used to do it but Alex kept nicking them and falling over.”

“So how do I get to Rose then?”

Gerry picked up his mobile phone and peered at it for a bit muttering, “Rose, where are you Rosie? Ah” he exclaimed and he stabbed a button. “Rosie, babes, Gez, yeah. Got any V?….. Wanna trade?… OK see you in a bit.”

“She’s on her way.”

I nodded “Cool, how much will this cost me?”

“Ten, maybe twenty, depends how many she has.

“How many do you usually get?” asked Elsie

“Fifty-six tens, mostly, unless she’s necked a few”

The buzzer went and Alex shuffled off toward the door, he returned with a short blonde women of about fifty wearing a pink track suit. She was heavily made up and her haggard face looked like she had borrowed it from someone with a bigger head.  She produced a little bottle of pills and shook it like a Maraca, speaking with a strong geordie accent she said, “There’s forty-eight left Jez, twenty ok?”

Gerry looked at me, I nodded, and he handed her two little packs. She put the bottle on the bed next to him.

“Nice one Jez, always a pleasure.” She turned to leave.

“Hey Rosie.” Gerry called her back. “Do you still do cards an’ that ?”

“Aye man, now and again like, why?”

“Show those credit cards to Rosie Jake.” Gerry suggested.

I pulled them out and handed them to her, she gave them a cursory glance focusing on the signature, “How old like?”

“Four hours tops.”

“Sixty for the two, four hours is pushing it, may have another hour or so before they’re dead”

She had a point.

“Ok. Cash now?”

She grinned. “Is there another way?” she said producing a wad of notes from her cleavage, she off peeled three twenties and handed them over. I passed two of them to Gerry for the Valium.

“Looks like our Allen’s working tonight.”

“Who’s Allen?” Elsie asked Gerry, after she’d left.

“Her son, he’ll be in a cab now, on his way to work them. Hey Alex, go and get us some Pizzas will you? Fancy a Pizza you two?” Gerry asked us, adding, “My treat?”  He told Alex to ask around, see who wanted what and handed him some cash.

This was typical of Gerry, he was generous, but a tough dealer. He only ever gave credit once, if you paid on time, in full, then you got it again. If you failed he’d say nothing, but you never asked again. Seemed fair to me. Sadly I’d blown it, so I never asked now.

We ate pizza while Gerry messed about with his new toy. “How do I get on the internet then?”

Elsie piped up. “Here,” she held out her hand and Gerry handed the tablet to her. “Have you got wireless?” she asked.

“Nah.”

Elsie fiddled with it for a bit and held it up for him to look at saying, “Any of these make any sense to you?”

She was showing him all the wireless networks within range.

“That one, ‘7GunnersAndy7’ that’s that wanker upstairs. Arsenal supporter., must be.”

“Any idea what his password might be?” She asked.

“Fuck me, give it here.” He tapped away, “Yess! Fucking idiot, it’s only the number seven shirt. Does this mean I can use his internet connection?”

“It does Gerry, that’s exactly what it means.” Elsie assured him.

“Excellent, you’re a smart girl. Leave that wanker.” He said nodding toward me, “and hop up here.” He patted the bed next to him. He grinned at us and the turned the screen toward us, he’d found his way to a hard porn site.

On our way back to my flat we made a stop where I scored some grass and a half gram of coke. We shot up most of the coke as soon as we got back and spent the night making plans, smoking grass and fucking.

Chapter 4  Exodus

It was another bright cold morning, the sun streamed in and woke me at about eight o’clock, but today I was not angry at it.

Elsie lay next to me snoring softly. I was beginning to get used to her being here.  She lay on her back, her pale thin body looked fragile, like a bird. Her face, framed in a boyish crop of ginger hair, was rather childlike with a rounded jaw and a pretty mouth, her top lip shaped like cupids bow.  I had to climb over her to get out of the bed, she stirred, I covered her and placed a kiss on her freckled forehead.  She released her startling grey eyes from captivity, grinned up at me mischievously and pulled me back into bed.

We shot up the last of the coke with our morning hit and set off in her little Toyota at about ten.  The caravan site was in a place called Roehaven, just about ten miles along the coast from Brighton. We drove through the heart of London crossing the Thames at Vauxhall and headed south on the A23.

“What will happen to your flat while we’re gone?” Elsie asked.

“It’s covered by housing benefit,” I told her. “I get a sick note from my  GP. He’s very understanding. Not so understanding that he gives me a script though, but he does cover the sick note. I sent one in last week.”

“Cool. How do you know about this caravan site then?”

“I stayed there once.

“What a holiday?”

“I was with someone, a girl, we were thinking about moving to Brighton.”

“What happened?”

“It was connected to a job she was considering, but she decided against it so we stayed in London.”

“No, to the girl, who was she?”

“You’re fucking nosey all of a sudden!” I snapped. “We broke up ages ago, we were together for about two years, just didn’t work out”

I stared out of the window as the miles rushed past in a green blur. Why did she have to ask that for fuck sake. Suddenly we were slowing down I looked up. Elsie was pulling into a services.

“I’m hungry and I could use a hit,” She said looking at me, her eyes seemed to search mine.

“Look. I’m sorry,  I’ll tell you all about her if you want.”

“Are you still in love with her.”

” No, not any more. I was, for ages, but now it’s a bit like a bad back, it hurts every now and then if it gets strained.”

I was lying, it hurt like fuck, but this answer seemed to satisfy Elsie, I saw her eyes soften. “Yeah let’s get some breakfast, you go and order while I go and cook us up a couple of hits,” I suggested. “I’ll have a breakfast” I said, pointing to a faded picture above the counter.

Awkwardly there was someone washing their hands when I went into the gents. I needed to get some water for the hits.  Standing at the urinal, I pretended to piss ’til he left. As soon as he did I filled a syringe with water from the tap, grabbed a paper towel and headed into a cubicle. Shutting the lid on the bowl and laying the towel on the cistern top, I proceeded to make up two hits. I unbuttoned my shirt cuff pushed it up my arm and twisted it to form a tie, clamped it to my side and shot one of the hits up. As I started to put away the gear I separated a couple of hits just in case, and stashed them in my waistband.

Elsie had ordered my fry up, and was eating some sort of chicken burger thing.

“In there,” I said, slipping a folded napkin, that concealed the loaded works, across the table to her.

We pulled into the site at about four that afternoon. The site office was a large sagging green painted shed, large planters made from lorry tires stood guard either side of the door. All that grew in them were weeds.

The owner was sitting in an old reclining armchair watching a talent show on a tv set that was mounted high on the wall. The place smelt of sweat and tobacco.  A rack of leaflets on the counter looked like a plant that needed watering.

“Yes mate?” he asked without looking away from the tv.

“I want to rent a caravan for a couple weeks.”

“Don’t rent vans no more mate, they’re all owned nowadays” he took a pull from a can of beer.

His attention remained firmly on the tv, he chuckled as a contestant was humiliated in front of a live audience. My heart sank, this had not even occurred to me. Fuck! I thought. I was just about to ask if he knew anywhere I could rent something when he stood up and came over to the counter saying, “Some of the owners do though, how long for mate?” He opened a notebook he’d retrieved from below the counter.

“A month, I can pay cash up front.” This got his attention. He shut the book and looked at a map of the site on the wall. I could almost hear his thoughts. He was trying to figure out who’s van he could rent to me and pocket the cash.

“Number twenty-eight” he declared. Nice clean van, tv, everything. Five hundred, for the month mate. He grinned at me with nicotine stained teeth.

I smiled, pulled out a wad of cash. “Four, and I want a bottle of gas.”

“Can’t do it mate, should be six really.” He was shaking his head.

“Shame, oh well never mind.” I turned to leave. This guy was not going to say no to money for nothing.

“Tell you what then, four for the van, but you have to pay for the gas on top. Twenty six quid it is. Not mine the gas, I make nothing on it.”

“Ok, can I see it?” I nodded.

“Sure.” He grabbed a set of keys from a rack.

I followed him into the site. Elsie jumped out of the car and joined us. Most of the vans had drawn curtains; a few had cars parked outside.

We got to number twenty eight and he unlocked the door. It was a festival of nylon lace curtains and scatter cushions. Gilt framed pictures of wide-eyed kittens adorned the walls and the gas fire was surrounded by fake horse brasses. I hated it.

“Great” I announced, “we’ll take it, can we park next to it?”

“Sure, come to the office and I’ll sort the gas out and give you a card for the barrier.”  He noticed Elsie and threw me a knowing grin. I winked, hoping that this would somehow fool him into thinking we had some sort of camaraderie. It appeared to work.

“Call me George mate,” he said offering his hand.

“Jake, this is Elsie.”

She smiled at him, he leered back.

Having settled in we went to the local supermarket and stocked up. That evening we divided up our stash of smack into smaller and smaller doses. We agreed that we would be strict about only two hits a day, one mid-morning and one late evening. For the last few days we would go down to one hit a day and just leave it as late in the day as we could tolerate.

The first two weeks were fun, with no real adverse effects from cutting down We were a bit like a young couple on holiday and spent time exploring the local beaches and countryside in Elsie’s little car.

In week three we begun to feel it a bit. We would wake really early and it was a struggle not to have a hit right away.

Then we began to have trouble getting to sleep. A combination of valium and lots of sex helped.

By the end of that week we rarely left the van. We had started to drink a fair bit to knock ourselves out. It was getting very uncomfortable by the time we took our last fix. All we had left was about half the valium.

“Jake can you go and get some more booze this is all we have.” Elsie held up a vodka bottle with about a third left.

“Sure,” I said not wanting to move, but the booze helped. There was a little shop about ten minutes walk away.

As I walked slowly along I began to think about what we would do when our month ran out. We had enough cash to stay another week or so. Elsie and I had talked about trying to move down here. I feared going back to London and my flat.

Elsie was crashed out on the couch when I got back.  I’d got some Snickers bars and some a couple of bottles of chocolate milk which I was putting in the fridge when I spotted the works on the floor next to her.

FUCK! I realised what had happened in one horrible cascade of thoughts. I lurched toward her, her lips were blue.  Blood had trickled down her arm. I dragged her onto the floor and listened for breathing, nothing. Desperately trying to remember what to do I tried to revive her without success. I stood and looked down at her still form. How the fuck?

I noticed the spoon on the table, she must have hidden a hit at some point. Of course she did, she was a junkie. I’d done the same.

My head was spinning, I reached for the vodka bottle, she’d drained it. I was unsure how many valium should be left but it looked like she had taken a few of those as well. FUCK! we were so close; another week and we would have been the other side of it.

Addiction is like that. It is a bit like trying to drive a dual control car with addiction in the passenger seat, one minute you’re in control, but if your direction threatens your passenger they wrench the controls away from you.

I went to see if she had found my secret stash but no. She’d done the same as me – stashed a bit ‘just in case,’ only she had used hers in combination with valium and vodka and now she was dead.  I’d decided to get rid of that secret stash several times, but somehow just kept putting it off.

I grabbed her car keys and went to the car. There were a few clean works left. I was on auto-pilot. I cooked up a hit and twisted my cuff, the vein bulged and my mouth went dry. I hesitated and looked down at Elsie’s still form on the floor, her top had ridden up to reveal her belly and tears just started to pour from my eyes,  Fuck this shit. I dug the needle into my vein and as I pulled back on it blood gushed into the barrel and swirled. But something held my hand. Looking again at Elsie lying there something inside me snapped. I jerked the needle out and fired a jet of my blood and heroin into the lit gas fire. It hissed and spat in fury at having been denied.

In that moment I knew I was done. I knew that if I had taken that hit I was dead, maybe not right then but dead nevertheless. I knew that with a certainty I had never experienced before.

I tidied up a few things, gathered all the old works together, the bag the grass had been in, the few remaining valium and put them in a carrier bag and, adding a house brick from under the step of the caravan, I threw it into the little fishing pond around the back of the site.

I went to the site office and used the pay phone. I called the police and told them what had happened.  George, who had overheard, was staring his mouth open.

“What the fuck, you are fucking kidding me, what am I going to tell the owners, for fucks sake?”

“Fuck should I know. She’s dead George, dead. Fuck the owners. Right now, I’ve other things on my mind.”

The rest of that day passed in a blur, I was questioned at the police station but released without charge. I even managed to get the sympathy of one of the old bill who dropped me back at the site.

George made me sign a backdated rental agreement to cover his arse.

I grabbed a couple of things, threw them into the back of Elsie’s little car and drove off. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew one thing for certain, I was done with using. There was no one in the passenger seat.   

 The End

Fair Winds

Fair Winds

A rather long short story, by Francis de Aguilar

Chapter 1

At half past two on a Thursday afternoon Jo Fernwright, a noted expert on ceramics and porcelain, stood quietly while the assistant curator of the West Sussex Museum examined a letter from the head of the ceramics department of the V & A Museum London, no less. It introduced the bearer, asking that she be offered every assistance in her research. Mr Stanswell had received notification of the young ladies arrival some days before, he looked up handing the letter back saying ” Our pleasure Miss Fernwright, and where would you like to start?”
“I think your archived records would be best, as far as we can tell the pieces we’re interested in were donated to you, but never displayed here, they were then sold on. I just need to verify that bit of the provenance.”
“No problemo Miss, no problemo at all, that’s up on the first floor, I will take you up.”

Jo is a consultant to many auction houses, museums and collectors, she is also a photographer and writer of articles for various publications. Jo had achieved this lofty status by the age of twenty eight because of what can be best described as an obsessional approach to her work since her mid teens, an approach she has carried with her on into her career.

On this day, while searching through the archive records, she happened on an entry from a previous curator that alluded to a potter who made the finest pots he had ever seen. There was a photograph, but it was so faded and damaged she could hardly make out the image, save for one exquisite curve, there was something about that partial image that resonated deep within her, it was as if it rang out with a faint but distinct musical note. She shook her head and looked again, just a damaged image, but that note continued to haunt her, as did the damaged image.

Her obsessional fervor was aroused, forgetting her original task for the moment, she searched and searched finding only one more reference to this potter, the words “The orient.” the rest of the entry was obscured, however, she did learn the name of the curator who had made the entry, one Aaron T Garenstall. Jo realized that she would have to chase this down she just had to know more about this. Jo made some quick notes and photocopies.

Finishing up her original search she thanked Mr Stanswell asking him if she could use a phone to call a taxi to the station “Allow me miss, allow me, no problemo, no problemo at all” and he dialed and ordered a taxi.
“About twenty or so minutes miss, would you care to wait in our Café, have some tea? maybe a bite before your journey?”
“Yes, actually I would.” rising and swinging around his desk “No problemo miss, no problemo at all, let me show you, get you sorted.” he led the way as if the large sign pointing to the Seagull Café did not exist, Jo smiled and followed meekly
“Alice, please take care of our distinguished visitor, as our guest, there’s a good girl.” turning to Jo he said “I will say goodbye then Miss, Alice will look after you, on us, have a safe journey, come on Alice chop chop.” Looking at Jo and glancing skyward he marched off purposefully, Jo was sure with the intention of rooting out ‘problemo’s where-so-ever they lurked. Jo looked up at Alice who had a tray of tea prepared and with a mischievous grin Alice held it up and said “No problemo.” and they both laughed.

One week later, after some detective work, she arrived by train at Worthing station on the south coast and went to visit Mr Garenstall. The retired curator, who, in his late sixties, was delighted to have a visitor and had readily agreed to Jo’s request.

She rang the bell and waited. The door was opened by a tall elderly man with a thin kindly, bearded face. She stuck out her hand saying “Jo Fernwright, we spoke …, on Tuesday about the museum.” there was a pause
“Oh right, yes of course — remember now– super, welcome aboard.” he stepped aside and, with a somewhat elegant flourish, ushered Jo into his modest bungalow. It was like walking into the 1940’s.

Mr Garenstall had been in the merchant navy and there was evidence of this all around the rather dark living room, mementoes of his seafaring days, many from the Far East.

Tea was served with fig rolls and after some polite enquiries and reminiscences, Jo managed to focus Mr Garenstall on the matter of his entry in the museum records.

Mr Garenstall became quiet, his rheumy eyes seemed to focus on something distant, it was as if he were remembering a long lost love “What, err huh hem, yes, sorry Miss Fernwright, mind wanders dyu’see, ahh well.” he sputtered.

He went on to describe a day in 1982 when he, along with some shipmates, had taken shore leave on a small island in the East China Sea one of the small Japanese volcanic islands. “I decided to take a hike into the hills on my own. Life on board ship meant one rarely had any time alone so this was a great opportunity.” he explained.

“There was a path that led up the hill, should not have been there really, the place was supposed to be uninhabited. Anyway I followed it until I got to a small low building. There was a small kiln smoking, a lean too area that housed a kitchen. I approached and looked in through a slatted blind and there was the most wonderful pot I had ever seen sitting on a stand. It had a quality that was somehow angelic, like a perfect child, I was mesmerised by it. I pulled out my camera and took a snap and was about to approach the door when I heard the ships siren calling all hands back on board. I had to run to get back.”

“As I ran down the hill I promised myself that I would return, one day. and acquire that wonderful pot.”

Two days later his ship ran aground in the treacherous waters of the South China Sea and Aaron T Garenstall was injured and retired from the merchant navy to eventually become the curator of the Ceramics department of the West Sussex Museum.

Jo was spellbound by this story, the description of this angelic pot that was somehow like a perfect child had struck a chord, though Jo was unsure how or why. She showed Mr Garenstall the pictures she had copied of his record entry in the museum.

“Yes that’s the picture I took, camera got a bit wet I’m afraid,” said Aaron “there’s the original, no better I’m afraid.” he pointed to a photo in a frame on the wall. He stared at it for a good few minutes “Hmmm always gets to me that, tried putting it away, but had to put it back, not sure why.”

“Do you know the location of that island?” asked Jo.

“Well um lets see err, tell you what, see that big box, over there, on the floor? Open it up.” he suggested.

Jo did as he asked. It was full of maps and charts, all thick with dust.

“See if you can find one labelled Sea Lanes: Japanese island groups.” he urged

She rummaged, coughed a little as dust flew up, and found two rolls with that label, she took both over to the dining table were Mr Garenstall was now sitting busily pushing every thing out of the way.

He studied them, muttering, he looked at one then the other then back again and suddenly exclaimed “YES!” with surprising force and pointed to a chair and commanded “SIT.” as if he were back in the merchant navy. There was a glint in his eye. “It was Kogajajima, supposed to uninhabited you know, that’s what’s so odd about it.” he exclaimed

With the chart unrolled he began to describe the voyage he had taken, his bony finger tracing the route “Which one, which one?” he muttered, “pass me that jar of pencils.” he barked, pointing to a jar on the sideboard, Jo obeyed without hesitation and almost uttered aye aye sir as she did so.

Mr Garenstall selected a china-graph pencil and began to circle some of the smaller islands, 5 in total “DAMN!” he exclaimed, “not enough detail, its one of those, but not sure which.”
“Hang on a moment Mr Garenstall.” said Jo, producing a laptop from her bag and after a few moments they were looking at the island group on Google Earth. Mr Garenstall was amazed.
“How the hell do they do that?” he asked “and by the way, please call me Aaron, Miss Fernwright and may I make so bold as to call you Jo?”
“Yes of course Aaron.” Jo was happy to agree, a warm smile passed between them.

After about an hour of zooming in and out on the selected islands Aaron declared. “Pretty damn certain this is the one,” he stabbed a finger at the screen “that’s the cove we rowed to and I headed off north-west-ish for about an hour. More tea?”

Aaron headed for the kitchen, suggesting that Jo make herself comfortable, she settled into the green armchair that rather resembled a world war one tank and found it a bit unforgiving. Looking round at the photos on the wall, many were of Aaron and others in a variety of far eastern settings, but one was a rather older picture of a couple holding a baby.

Aaron stuck his head round the door “Hungry at all?” he asked coming into the room with a tray laden with tea and sandwiches and a bottle of sherry, placing the tray on the table he held up the sherry and exclaimed “Dessert” and beamed, Jo smiled back realising that she was indeed hungry.

They sipped tea and munched sandwiches, Jo noted that she felt very relaxed and at ease with Aaron, Aaron in turn was having a very similar thought.

With the sandwiches finished and the tray placed aside, Aaron produced two glasses and poured sherry for them both he handed one to Jo saying “Fair winds.” with his glass raised
“Fair winds Aaron.” replied Jo, they touched glasses with a chink.

For the next two hours Aaron told Jo stories about his seafaring days and the places he had visited, how he had read book after book on ceramics, ancient and modern. Visiting every museum he could as he travelled. How he had become something of an expert and how on his return to the UK, after his ship having run aground, he was confined to a wheelchair for nearly three years. How he had used this time to study for a degree in art history doing his thesis on ceramics. In turn Jo told Aaron something of her career and studies.

“So, young Jo,” he exclaimed, “now you know where the island is what’s next?”
“I have a great interest in the pottery of this whole region and from what I can see this is very unusual for the area, I would like to go there, the pottery may be gone but there may be some abandoned pots or some clues as to where I may find one.” replied Jo

“Hah! slip of a girl like you in that part of the world, s’not the bloody Med you know.” He snorted

Jo stood up and glared at Aaron “How dare you?” and with that she launched into a tirade, regaling Aaron with her various exploits. Aaron felt like he was being pushed back into his chair as if by a strong wind, such was the force of her speech; he was taken aback by this outburst and just stared at her and listened.

She told him of the time when she had driven deep into the Sahara to recover ancient Sahrawi water vessels discovered in a remote oasis. Of the time when she had been part of an expedition looking for early examples of Catholic art, deep in the Congo. Of how she had dived in some of the most dangerous oceans on the planet, including the Indian Ocean, to recover artefacts from great depths. Jo heaved in a new breath and went on to point out that she had a pilots license and was an RYA yacht master “I hold a PHD in ceramics and art history, I am a black belt in both Judo and Karate, so do not call me a slip of a girl thank you very much.” upon which she sat back down on the tank with a thud.

“More sherry?” enquired Aaron there was a long pause Aaron broke it by saying “Look I am sorry, sorry and impressed. Truth is I am jealous…, you off on an adventure…, another adventure should I say…, damn there’s nothing I would like more. Not a day goes by when I don’t wish I were on a ship steaming out of port on a new voyage.”

“Yes please Aaron.” said Jo. Aaron looked up quizzically
“Eh”
“Sherry, more sherry” she nodded toward the bottle
“Ah yes, of course, silly me” and he poured a glass for them both. Jo took a sip and began to chuckle
“Sorry I ranted at you, but men are always saying things like that to me, my dad did it, I just get so angry.” she said
“Nothing to apologise for,” Aaron responded, “the world needs strong women like you, god knows, fathers eh.” and again with easy eye contact that warm smile passed between them, neither quite understanding how or why this connection had come into being so quickly.

Jo finished up her sherry and looked up “I had better get going, my train leaves in half an hour. “If or when it ever comes to planning this trip can I call on you for advice?” she asked
“Absolutely you can, please do in fact, I will help in any way I can.” he offered. They shook hands, both wishing it were a hug, again there was a warm moment of eye contact and they held each others hand for just a moment longer than is normal “Yes, well, ahem, you had better cut along or you will miss your train.” Aaron coughed. Jo smiled, nodded, turned and set off for the station.

Chapter 2

Jo settled into her seat and opened her book, but after two pages was fast asleep. She dreamt about her father a dream she had had many times before, but not for ages now.

Jo’s father was a plumber, her mother had worked in the local school as an administrator, they lived in a council block in Kentish town called The Forties. Jo adored her father, to her he was a loving giant and she always felt totally safe with him, he in turn doted on her and called her his “Perfect little angel.” Her mother was less demonstrative but had a quiet wit and seemingly endless patience. Her mother had never got over the loss of their second child, a son who died of sudden infant death syndrome at only 3 months. Her father while deeply affected at time had banished this from his reality, it only encroached through the eyes and tears of his wife and continued to keep them at a distance. Jo had no memory of this, as she was only fourteen months old at the time, though she did often sense that there was something big that sat between her parents, and that this big secret was taboo.

Jo’s dream is a recollection of real events. She is about fourteen years old, at home and in her pyjama’s, mums gone out with some work mates and dad has popped over to the pub for a quick pint. He comes in and she snuggles up to him on the sofa and they watch ‘Casualty’ together. She rather likes the faint smell of tobacco and beer. After a while she becomes aware that his hand is resting on her breast, she stretches and moves a bit and thinks no more about it, when the program is over she gives him a peck on the cheek saying “Night dad” and heads off to bed.
“Night angel” he calls. She climbs into bed and soon starts to feel sleepy. Suddenly she becomes aware that he is in the room, he is sitting on the bed. “Dad what are you doing?” she asked
“Shss” he urges and strokes her hair, she is confused but smiles up at him then, she feels his hand move under the cover, it is touching her, he is touching her, she tries to speak but cannot she is frozen, his hand roams over her body, she shakes with fear, she wants to cry out for help but the only protector she has, is the one who she needs protection from! Then bang the front door slams.

“Hi-ee I’m ho-ome” calls her mum, her father stands and leaves in one swift and silent motion. Jo is alone in her bedroom shaking and sobbing “How’s Jo?” she hears he mum enquire
“She’s fine dear, fast asleep, just stuck my head round the door.” he lied.

Jo awoke with a start as the announcement proclaimed that the train would be arriving at Victoria Station shortly. As always when waking from that dream she is cold and clammy and on the verge of tears. As she always does, she pulls herself together, stuffs it back down, determined that it will never emerge again, because she is a strong grown up woman, but a little fourteen year old lets out the faintest of sobs as she is once more alone.

Jo hailed a cab “Kentish town please, Leverton street” she sank into the familiar black box and closed her eyes, memories invaded again. The days following the incident with her father had been a bit of a blur she had acted as normally as she could, still unable to fully understand or accept what had happened. She new that she desperately needed the very people who were no longer available to her. She dare not tell her mother, and her father, well she could not even imagine any kind of closeness with him ever again.

The morning after the incident she had spent ages in the shower, when she caught sight of herself in the mirror she saw not only the child she was, but the woman she was becoming and had a fleeting thought that maybe she was at fault, had she been inappropriate? Had she led him on in some way? She was very affectionate, maybe that’s it. This thought became a lingering doubt that would continue haunt her.

“Leverton Street miss, called the cabbie, whereabouts?”
“Just up here on the right thanks.” she leant forward as he pulled up
“That will be fourteen pounds miss ta.” she handed him a twenty saying keep the change
“Ta very much miss.”

Jo let herself into her flat to be greeted by Scats her black cat whom she scooped up and held close to her face. Scats purred and nuzzled. Jo shut and locked the door. Feeling safe and relieved to be home she finally managed to oust the intrusive thoughts. Thinking of a new adventure, the East China Sea island groups and that one exquisite curve, Jo drifted into a blessedly dreamless sleep to the sound of Scats purring away at her side.

Chapter 3

Aaron watched Jo walk off toward the station, noticing how small she was as the wind at her back blew against her loose fitting clothes, recalling her bright grey eyes, elfin smile framed by almost black hair in an unruly boyish haircut, there was a moment of regret, regret that he had spent so long at sea, without a home, that he had never settled down, never had the chance to meet someone settle down. By now he may have had a daughter like Jo.

Now he lived here in Worthing in the bungalow his Aunt Rachel had left him. An old man, on his own, with his sometimes painful, memories and thoughts. Jo turned the corner a disappeared from sight, Aaron sighed, glanced up at the now empty street and went back inside.

looking around at the charts on the table the tray and the plates, it was all so unusual; ship shape, everything stowed away, that was his way, but he left things as they were. The evidence of another person in his solitary world was odd, but somehow stimulating. He had plucked the photo of the pot from the wall as he headed for his chair, sitting he poured a glass of sherry and stared at the picture and as always he could swear that he could hear a faint but distinct musical note.

Aaron snoozed for a bit then his instinct for order got the better of him and he tidied away, putting the sherry back in the cupboard, recalling as he did so that the last time he taken it out was over seven months ago at Christmas.

That night Aaron too dreamt about his father and, like Jo’s dream, it too was a recurring recall of events that had occurred many years ago that Aaron had not dreamt for years.

Aaron’s father hailed originally from the north of England were he had become an apprentice at one of the larger potteries where he soon discovered he was rather talented on the wheel. He was a quiet young man who enjoyed reading and walking in the countryside where he would often sketch ideas for pots or paint water colours.
He had two older brothers who were beer drinking, rugby playing lads who worked in the mines, they teased young Tommy, calling him a bit of a nancy boy.
Things were much the same at work were Tommy was often bullied by his fellows.

He had met Rosalind, who worked in the office and they became engaged and moved south to be nearer to Rosalind’s sister Rachel. Tommy set up The Garenstall Pottery, just out side of Newhaven near Brighton. They produced mainly holiday souvenirs. Aaron was their only child.
Tommy became increasingly frustrated with producing what he described “Tourist clutter,” but the items he felt proud of just did not sell.

One day young Aaron heard the sound of stock being smashed, his mother held him tight but he remembered how she shook. Aaron’s father’s drunken rages were to become a regular feature of the boys life, he learned to stay out of the way, but noticed the bruises and black eyes that would appear the next day on his mother.

When he was twelve he offered to confront his father “If he refuses to stop I will beat him.” he declared his mother ran to him and hugged him
“You’re a good boy, I love you so much, please promise you won’t say anything please, do you promise?” she said as she cupped his face with both hands and looked at him with tears in her eyes, he nodded and buried his face in her embrace.

Aaron’s anger rose, as did his confusion. He loved his father, the patient man with an eye for detail, who taught him how to throw pots, how to draw and paint, who had ignited a passion for art and ceramics in his young mind, but he feared the raging monster his father became when he drank.

The dream started as always with his father shouting “Rosa Rosa” and the sound of him moving from room to room then CRASH and a scream from his mother
“Now look what you’ve done you clumsy bitch,” his father shouts, more screams from his mother, another crash, then the sound of running upstairs, his door bursts open, he sees his mother, there is blood coming from her lip, she looks terrified leaning down she gives him a kiss and whispers
“I’m sorry Aaron, so sorry, I love you.” and she ran from the room.

Aaron awakes to the sound of screeching seagulls, remembers the dream, that night. That was the last time he ever saw his mother.

He had heard the door slam and then silence, he almost dare not breath. After what seemed like an eternity he ventured downstairs and found his father lying on the kitchen floor with a nasty gash on his head Aaron checked a bit closer his father opened his eyes, starred at Aaron for a few moment then shoved him violently out of the way and ran from the house screaming “Rosa, Rosa” Aaron was OK , more shocked than anything else, his father had never raised a hand to him before.

Thomas Garenstall continued to drink heavily, Aaron now nearly thirteen would come home from school and do what he could in the pottery and the house. Some days his father would declare his intention to “Sort things out” and for a few days or even weeks there would be some order, but then Aaron would get home and there he would be, drunk, slouched in the chair scowling at Aaron, daring him to comment.

Aaron tried talking to the local shopkeepers asking them to not sell his father drink, but he still got drunk. He called the local vicar but his father threw him out and threatened Aaron “If you do that again you’ll get what your mother got you little shit.” He tried finding his fathers hiding places, he found fourteen in all and emptied them. His father flew into such a rage that he nearly wrecked the house and the workshop checking them all, that was until he found number fifteen. This time Aaron did get a slap, a head ringing slap, that left him with a black eye.

It was the next day when he was at school and realised he was giving his teacher one of the same excuses for the black eye he had heard his mother give to customers that he knew that he must leave as soon as he could, he had to get out. A fleeting flash of anger as he asked the question “Why did you not take me with you?” a question he asked of his absent mother over and over again in his head, this was the thing he could not understand.

That evening as he walked home he watched a ship leaving Newhaven Port and made a decision. As soon as he was able he would join a ship in whatever capacity he could.

Aaron made his father a cup of tea and took it to him in his room. He entered taking care not to step on any empty bottles, his father was spread on the bed, stinking of urine and whiskey, unshaven and gaunt. A thin line of saliva running from his mouth creating a clean spot on the filthy pillow. Aaron had tried to keep this room clean but his father would accuse him of meddling and threaten him with his fists. An empty gesture now as Aaron was more than his physical match but had no desire to demonstrate this, no wish to further humiliate this broken man whom he loved but could not tolerate.

Aaron sat on the chair saying “I am off to school now dad, I’ve made you some tea.” all he got back was a grunt, his fathers arm flailed trying to grab an out of reach cover then fell still. Aaron stood and with great tenderness retrieved the cover from the floor and pulled it over his father, tears were dripping on to it as he looked down at the face that in sleep was at least close to the man he knew as a father, he bent and kissed him on the forehead and whispered “Bye dad, love you.” he turned and left the room.

Aaron had not been to School for a month now, he had faked any paperwork and signed his fathers name. He had spent his time researching the merchant navy and preparing himself for this day. He took the small, carefully pre-packed case from under the stairs and left the house closing the door quietly behind him. That was the last time he ever saw his father.

Passers by noticed the young man with tears streaming down his face as he marched toward the station.

On the 20 of July 1951, Aaron T Garestall signed on as a Boy Seaman and boarded the SS Makosta bound for New York, he was fifteen years of age, thus did he escape from his alcoholic father and begin his new life.

Chapter 4

Jo looked through the small window and watched Scats inspecting his territory in her tiny back garden as she filled the kettle. She made toast and coffee, let the cat in and reflected on her visit to Worthing the previous day. Mr Garenstall, Aaron was a sweetheart she thought, I really like him. Why on earth am I considering going half way round the world on the basis of a faded photo she asked herself.

She half walked half skated across the tiled floor (as she did when wearing her numfy socks as she called them) grabbed her bag yanked out her little laptop and skated back to the table, she opened up the picture she had scanned, in a photo repair app and as she sipped the coffee, started to play around with the image, there was some improvement but not much and of course being black and white did not help.

The proportions of that curve were somehow just perfect she stared at it and again that faint musical note, she realised that it was coming from within her, something in her resonated with this image. She hit command P and printed off a copy at the highest resolution she could. Playing some more, she reversed the image and then moving to Photoshop she used the two images to make one, so now she had both a left and right, the note increased ever so slightly.

It was 10 AM she grabbed her phone and called Aaron, his old fashion greeting of stating his number threw her a bit. “Aaron good morning how did you sleep?” she piped.
“Very well thank you Jo.” he lied “How was your train journey?”
“Fine” she said. “Slept like a baby– I am just looking at the picture and wondering about the colour”
“The colour” he queried
“Yes, was it glazed, what was the finish on it?” she asked.
“Oh the pot,” replied Aaron “wondered what you were on about there, it was the most wonderful blue Jo, like the clearest sea, it deepened to an emerald green and seemed to glow, never seen a glaze like it.”
“I am playing around with the Image Aaron, on my computer, trying to get an idea of what it must have looked like,” she informed him “I will be showing this to a colleague. Aaron I have an idea, can’t say much just now, but if I asked would you be willing to travel out there?”
“Gosh, Jo, I am sixty eight years old, I’m not sure, what did you have in mind?”
“Well it’s just a vague idea at the moment Aaron, but I have wanted to do a piece on regional variation in Japanese domestic pottery and porcelain for some time.”
Aaron interrupted “Hang on Jo, what do you mean, piece?”
“Oh sorry yes of course, I put together articles for magazines, you know some pictures and some text, that sort of thing.”
“Right, OK, got you, I see, interesting, the regional bit yes, that would make good reading, mind you, a fair amount is known about this already Jo.”
“My angle would be how those regional traditions have survived or changed since WW2, Aaron.”
“Now that is interesting, yes good idea.”
“So would you?”
“Would I what Jo?”
“Be willing to come along, your expertise and experience is perfect for this idea Aaron, and we could check out our mystery pot at the same time.”
“Damn it, d’you know, I would Jo, I absolutely would, so Jo tell me how would we….”
“Aaron I need to sort some things out, at the moment its just an idea, but check your passport, and also make an appointment with your GP and get a medical done, we don’t want to get scuppered by the insurance companies and the last minute.”
“No, ha, will do Jo will do.”
” Look Aaron I will call you as soon as I have some news.”
“Fantastic Jo, oh bye the way,” Aaron faltered and felt a bit embarrassed “erm… well … it’s just, well, I am really pleased to know you Jo, that’s all, really pleased.” he finally blurted
“Me too” said Jo pleased to have been given the opportunity to express, in some measure the warmth she felt between them.
“Speak soon Aaron, speak soon.”
“OK Jo bye for now.”

Aaron walked into the kitchen, looked around wondered why he was there, looked up at the clock 10.25 walked to the living room and sat down, what was I doing … oh about to go to the shops …, no make a list that’s it I was about to make a list when the phone rang. So Aaron busied himself making a shopping list and decided to walk down to the seafront and then come back via the shops. He grabbed his coat tugged on his cap making sure he had a bag neatly folded in his pocket he set off.

Aaron often sat on one of the benches looking out to sea, sometimes making up destinations for the ships he would see heading out from Shoreham, but on this occasion his mind was a whirl. Was it really a possibility that he may be off on a trip to that island after all these years? Something was going on, meeting Jo, the pot, the image of which had never left him. He had not told Jo this, but running down that hill to back to his ship had felt like that day when he had marched to the station leaving his father behind him in a drunken stupor.

Why had Jo picked up on that image? It was not that remarkable from an academic point of view, but then why did I record it in the museum records? Odd, as odd as this connection he felt with Jo. It was as if there were these vague pieces of a puzzle dancing around in his head, like a jigsaw with no edges.

It had been years since his father had entered his thoughts and then that dream and lately he had found himself thinking of his parents more and more, remembering his mother, how gentle she was, how she always did little things that brightened his days, how she would always tell his father how wonderful his work was, especially the more personal pieces he did. When sober his father would hug her and say “Thee has impeccable taste luv.” and they would laugh, when drunk it would be an entirely different response.

He recalled how he had to hold in the tears on that trip to New York, how he was desperate, filled with guilt at having abandoned his Father and not knowing his fate. When he docked he got in touch with his GP from home, who informed him that father was in hospital with severe liver problems.

Aaron waited in New York for news of his father and a week later received a telegram informing him that he had died from liver damage as a result of an excess of alcohol. The guilt and shame Aaron had felt was like a log splitter in his soul, discovering his father was in hospital had driven it further in. The news of his demise sent the split coursing, agonisingly, through him.

The burden of containing these painful emotions was to prove a continuous struggle, Aaron buried himself in his work, both as a seaman and in his studies and books.

Jo sat for a while and reflected on how this was all coming together, on, well, nothing really, evidence is what Jo valued, and this, a damaged image, a vague feeling and this odd connection with Aaron. It all felt natural, but Jo did not do feelings in this way, at some level Jo knew that this was connected to the recurrence of the intrusive thoughts and memories, the dreams about her abuse, but her instinct was to reject that.

Its not as if these have not been triggered many times before but it was normally something negative, a relationship, getting too close, or being let down, or lots of stress, feelings in fact. This whole situation was somehow different in that it ‘felt’ somehow right, yet still brought with it these difficulties but in a somehow more purposeful way.

Jo continued to play with the image for a while adding some colour, and finding that she was somehow being guided by that internal note.

She called Jesse Walters the editor of World Ceramics a glossy magazine that she often did pieces for with lots of pictures “Hi Jesse, how are you, great, the kids? I know, I will soon I promise, I love your house, how’s Maggie, awww send them my best…, Listen Jesse I want to send you an enhanced picture, originally taken in the early sixties, black and white, I have photo-shopped it lots, Japanese, take a squint, there just sent, there’s a love, get back to me yeah? Oh and I have an idea for a piece…, great about an hour then OK bye.” Jo rang off sipped her coffee as her plan to get World Ceramics to pay for her trip to look for this pot blossomed in her razor sharp mind.

Aaron was re-reading Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy. for about the fifth time when the phone rang, “Hi Aaron, great news, the magazine have agreed they will fund a full article with pictures, so basically we can go, I have enrolled a friend called Chris to come along, he is a great sailor and we will be needing another driver apart from myself , do you drive bye the way?”
“I can Jo, but I have not for years, probably best if I don’t.”
“Fine, no problemo, (Jo smiled to her self) so basically, what we will do is fly to Tokyo hire a vehicle and drive up the island making visits and taking pictures when we have a reasonable amount of material we will fly back to Tokyo from Sendai from there to Kumamoto where we will pick up the boat that Chris will have organised for us. We may do a bit more research to the south and then set of in search of Kogajajima and our mystery pot.”

Chris was a friend from her sailing days, they had passed their RYA yacht master certificates together. Jo told him the story so far and asked if he would come along. “Thing is Chris there’s something about this I can’t explain, I just have to do it!”
“Look Jo, if its what you wanna do, an your offering me a paid holiday, I’m all yours babe” Chris had always liked Jo, well a bit more than liked and he had let her know, but she had gently refused his advances, he had accepted this with grace and they had become good friends.

Four days later the three of them were checking in at Heathrow and boarding flight BA 537395 to Tokyo.

Jo watched the patchwork quilt of the UK recede below as they begun what was to be a very long flight. Chris was focusing his attention on a flight attendant called Amie. Jo began to drift, wondering why, since the discovery of the picture had the dream and the intrusive thoughts about her father returned, she had just about convinced herself she was ‘over it’.

She was reminded of the line from The Godfather 3 “Just when I thought I was out, they suck me back in.” damn it. She had tried a counsellor, but whenever she got to talk about it she just started to get panicky and angry and the counsellor had eventually said she needed to forgive her father, it was all she could do not to hit the woman, she never went back, choosing instead to work even harder and stay busy.

She watched Chris and Amie, who was just bringing round some refreshments, how she giggled as he flirted obviously liking the attention (Chris was handsome and funny). A part of her wished she could be like Amie, but such attention made her uncomfortable. She had had a couple of disastrous attempts at romance. Usually initiated after some alcohol, but basically she more or less froze when it came to sex, for her it was just an awful experience. One of the men involved had been really sweet, sensing something was wrong declared that it did not matter, that they could go at whatever pace suited her. She had tried for a bit but just felt so tense that she developed all kinds of physical symptoms so she had ended it.

As Jo drifted off she recalled how three days after her father had abused her, (this was the one thing she had got from the counsellor, a clear term to describe what had happened) he had come home bearing a brand new laptop, handing it Jo he said “To help with your studies.” Jo looked at him with disbelief, got up walked out onto their fifth floor balcony, calmly held it out at arms length and let it fall to ground below. She walked back in, in silence and went to the bathroom where she grabbed a pair of scissors. In her room she proceeded to cut off most of her hair. She sat and looked at her self in the mirror for a while, got up went to her wardrobe and started to select any pretty clothes or well fitted clothes and threw them in a pile, these ended up going down the garbage chute. From that day on Jo dressed as plainly as she could, wearing only loose fitting clothes and very little, if any, make up and then only if a work related engagement called for it.

As the flight droned on Jo lost herself in a book that she had been hoping to read for some time and drifted in and out of sleep and eventually the announcement came that they would be landing at Tokyo International Airport in approximately 20 minutes.

They were all exhausted by the time they emerged from the airport, they tumbled into a taxi and headed straight for their hotel.

For the next six weeks they traveled all over Japan sometimes by road and sometimes by air. Their time was spent visiting museums and private collections, some very small. Often word of mouth would lead them to some interesting family pieces. Jo would photograph and take notes and Aaron would also make notes. Each night they would discuss what they had seen and Jo begun to rough out her article.
The truth was their hearts were not fully in this work, they did it thoroughly and professionally, but both knew they were just getting it done so they could head of to Kogajajima.

Chris was a godsend he drove them, organised everything, he always seemed to find good food and accommodations, when there were hitches he was calm and resolved them with little fuss.

Soon they were back in Tokyo for one night then off to Kumamoto first thing

They booked into their hotel, showered and changed and headed out for a meal. The wandered along looking for some good food, soon they were outlining their plans over the best sushi any of them had ever eaten. Jo taking the lead said “Ok Chris will pick up the boat, it’s nothing fancy, a fifty foot motor yacht, big motor, nice and stable.”
“Ok Jo,” said Chris “when we have that, why don’t you head off and get the provisions and stuff Jo, and Aaron and I will check the boat over and get it ready” Jo looked at Chris with a cold hard stare. Hurriedly Chris changed tack, “Better yet Jo why don’t I get the provisions while you and Aaron check the boat over” he looked at Jo and raised his eyebrows hopefully
“It’s the assumption Chris, that because I am a woman I should do the grocery shopping while the ‘men’ do the important stuff.”
“I know Jo and I am sorry.”
“No you don’t, if you knew you wouldn’t do it.”

“Lets get this clear, first this is my project, I am in charge. Second; tasks will be allocated on a common sense basis in the service of the project and not pre-conceived roles, clear?”
“Yes Jo clear” the men chorused.
Jo just nodded ” We will need maps.”
“I will take care of that Jo,” said Aaron “bound to be a place around the port, I have a little Japanese ” Aaron looked at Jo with growing admiration.

“Quick nightcap at one of those funny bars we passed?” asked Jo. Chris looked down,
“Well, thing is Jo, actually, I, err….”
Jo tilted her head in enquiry “Amie?”
“yeah Amie,” Chris grinned raising his wristwatch “meeting her in about, oh shit, seven minutes gotta flee.” He leapt up kissed Jo on the forehead with a “mwhaa” gave Aaron a quick salute and strode off.

Jo grinned, but inside felt that oh so familiar emptiness, aloneness, as if there were a part of her missing. A thought flew into her head I have had my love amputated a tear fell onto the tablecloth. Seeing that Aaron had noticed this she blushed. “You like him don’t you Jo”
” Well it not that Aaron its …, ok you got me, I like him” Jo realized that this was the easier explanation for what had caused that tear to fall and well maybe there was a bit of truth in it, she did like Chris.
“Boy must be blind or a fool,” Aaron put his hand on hers “lets get that night cap eh?”

Finally they were underway, Jo took the helm. Aaron was revelling in being at sea, he watch Jo as she skillfully negotiated ‘Puffin’ out of port and set their heading.

Chris meanwhile had gone below and was fast asleep.

With ‘Puffin’ on autopilot making good headway across a calm sea Jo and Aaron had a flask of tea. Aaron looked at Jo and started to shake his head “What?” asked Jo
“Well, I just can’t really believe all this is happening, I mean how come you and I, and Chris of course, are heading off on what may turn out to be a wild goose chase.” Aaron replied.
“There’s something odd going on Aaron that’s for sure, but ever since I first saw your picture, well things changed, memories, memories that I though I had put away resurfaced and I can’t get it out of my head that in some way this, this ‘quest’ for want of a better term, is connected, but it makes no sense, no sense at all.”
“You too? I went through the same thing for a while after getting back to the ship from Kogajajima, for no apparent reason I started to have dreams about, things from my past, things I have tried hard to leave behind. The accident put it all out of my mind, well the morphine did anyway. It went on for a bit in the hospital but I sort of drove it away by immersing my self in studies and my physical recovery.”
“Aaron,” said Jo leaning forward with an earnest expression “I know this may sound odd, but when I first met you, there was something different, I have met lots of people professionally, but with you it was, well like a sort of connection, like I already knew you somehow.” Jo shook her head and looked embarrassed “Sorry Aaron, what must you think, but then you are here, am I talking nonsense?”
“No Jo, not at all, you know the odd thing is that I put that picture back up on my wall only about a week before you got in touch, I had had it put away for years, and when I did, well that night I dreamt about …, well you know ‘the past’ for the first time in ages. I felt it too Jo, a connection, a connection with you, a kind of kinship.” now it was Aarons turn to look embarrassed. Jo reached out and clasped Aarons hand and looked right at him, no words were needed there was just a warm knowing smile between them, an acknowledgement of their mutual experience of hurt. “Whatever happens Aaron, we will be friends won’t we” asked Jo. Aaron place his hand onto Jo’s
” We are Jo, and will remain so”

Chris appeared looking disheveled, gave them a quizzical look, shrugged and said, ” How we doing?” Jo jumped up and took a look at the instruments and reported “Going well Chris going well.” She adjusted their heading by a few degrees eased off the throttle a bit saying “Lets get some food sorted below, getting a bit chilly up here, Chris will you give her the once over and check our running lights? I am just going to radio in our position and heading.”

After a quick meal they settled down for the night Aaron took the first watch, they had decided that these waters were a bit too unpredictable to leave to an autopilot.

As they headed toward Kogajajima, Aaron just immersed himself in the pleasure of being at sea again. Despite the circumstances of his joining the merchant navy, he had discovered that he loved it.

Somewhere in his heart Aaron knew he was meant to be on this journey, this ‘quest’ as Jo had called it.

As the sun went down Aaron watched the Koshiki islands slip by on the port side.

The old 41ft PT trawler was in great shape, usually chartered out to fishing parties she had plenty of room for the three of them. She was a little slow with the old Ford Lehman engines giving a cruising speed of about 8 knots. They had estimated that the two hundred plus mile journey should take about three days at most.

The next morning was a little overcast and muggy but the sea was calm and they made good headway. After indulging in a little fishing they decided to give the engines a rest and drop anchor for a couple of hours and cook up their catch.

By the end of this day they were on schedule and hoped to make Kogajajima by tomorrow mid morning.

Sure enough at eleven thirty the following day the island hove into view on the horizon, Chris was first to spot it and alerted Jo and Aaron. There was an air of anticipation as Kogajajima grew before their eyes.

They dropped anchor and Chris readied the inflatable launch while Aaron and Jo gathered together a few thing to take ashore, soon they were dragging the launch up the beach and taking their first steps on Kogajajima.

It was decided that Jo and Aaron would begin to explore while Chris returned to the boat. To leave it unattended was too great a risk.

“Does any of this look familiar?” asked Jo “Hmmn, well…, yes and no Jo, it all looks familiar , but is this where I landed last time? Not sure note sure at all.”

Aaron looked up and down the shore line a few times “I suggest we walk up to that point” he said pointing to their left and if I do not recognise anything we re-trace and continue along the shore and see what we can see.”
“OK Aaron sounds like a plan, hey it’s a nice day for a walk, lets go.” So leaving some stuff in the small tent they had pitched they set off. Thus began their search for their mystery pot.

Three hours they walked first in one direction then the other Aaron could not be certain, once or twice he thought he recognised where they were “Maybe we are on the wrong beach!” said Aaron
“This must be it Aaron, we worked it out from your position last time.” Aaron peered around
“Damn its all just trees and rocks.”

“I am going to radio Chris, what should I tell him?” asked Jo
“We need more time Jo, I sort of hoped I would just know where to go, but it’s been too long.”
“I will ask him to bring supplies for a camp we can spend the night under canvas and get an early start.”

Chris did them proud he arrived with another tent, flasks of coffee, cold bins with food and beers, some aerial photo’s of the island gleaned from Google “You forgot these.” he said, and to cap it all he brought a hot meal for all of them that he had prepared from some fish he had caught “While you two were taking a stroll along the beach.”

The sun was going down as they watched Chris head back to Puffin. They turned and headed back to their little camp. Jo produced a small flask of brandy that Chris had packed, holding it up she said “Nightcap?” “Sure, great love one, look Jo sorry, you know not finding a point of reference, that path, feel a bit of a dolt really, came all this way and so on.”
“Aaron don’t even go there, its been how long thirty odd years?, if there is something here we will find it, we’re not in a hurry, so lets have a drink see that sun go down and get some sleep eh?” Jo tilted her head in question and beamed at Aaron. Breathing a sigh of relief Aaron said “Ok Jo.” and sat down as Jo handed him a small cup. They sat and watched the sun go down, Jo turned and looked at Aaron gave him a kiss on the cheek and “Night Aaron.”
” Night Jo.” said a slightly flustered Aaron, he reached to touch the site of that little kiss and smiled, warmed by that moment of closeness from this girl, as he watched her trudge barefoot up to her tent he felt very protective of her and also very proud, her father must be proud he thought, as he realised that he felt rather paternal toward her.

Reflecting on this he also realised that Jo had always skirted around talking about her father or indeed of her childhood. Aaron knew a fair amount about Jo’s life, her career and her passion for art and ceramics but there were gaps. Jo had asked him about his childhood but he had glossed over it saying we went to sea because it was his ambition rather than tell her that his mother had abandoned him to his drunkard of a father from whom he had fled.

Aaron rose to turn in and noticed that the moon was coming up to full bathing the shore in silvery light, it was very beautiful and Aaron felt a surge of gratitude that he had had this chance to escape the dullness of Worthing and travel on this adventure with his new found friends. As he headed up toward his tent he was sure he could hear a faint musical note ringing in the distance, must be the breeze in the trees he thought as he drifted off to sleep.

Jo awoke to the sounds of the sea and the bright sound of the little birds that abounded here, it was warming up. Jo crawled out of her tent to find Aaron sitting staring at the tree line sipping from a cup, he glanced round “Morning Jo, made some coffee.” he said as he nodded toward the little camping stove.
“Right, great.” she said and grabbed some tissue and trotted off to the trees for a pee.

Jo sat next to Aaron and said “What?”
“Should be a path Jo, somewhere here, must have grown over since last time, just wondering how we can figure out where it was?”
“Maybe if we do a close inspection, ruling out where it can’t have been, mark those areas with stick and then focus on what’s left we may find it,” said Jo. Aaron looked at Jo and said
“Are you always like this?” Jo looked at Aaron quizzically ” You just seem to be able to zero in on a plan, that’s brilliant Jo lets do that”

After a quick breakfast of grain bars and some apples they set about finding some sticks to mark out areas.

By four o’clock that afternoon they had accomplished this task and investigated about eighty percent of the potential areas “What we need is a helicopter.” said Aaron, Jokingly, as they sat down for a break having made no real progress. They had had a couple of disappointing false starts. The Radio squawked “Hello campers how ya doin?” Chris.
“Nothing so far Chris.”
“Sorry to hear that Jo, look why don’t I come and get you bring you back to the boat feed you, you guys can grab a shower, restock and I will drop you back for sundown so you can have another crack tomorrow?”
“Yes please,” said Aaron “I would also like to go over the co-ordinates again to make sure this is the right beach.”

Half an hour later they were all aboard Puffin eating bacon eggs, sausage’s and beans washed down with a mug of tea
“Say what you like about world cuisine, but that is hard to beat, thanks Chris.” said Jo as she cleared the dishes “Amen to that first rate Chris, first rate.” chimed Aaron.

Aaron busied himself looking at charts. “Has to be that one, the only other contender is this one, but I am sure it lay to our port side, so for it to be this one we would have to have gone round the island and we would be facing in the opposite direction, not beyond the bounds, can’t imagine why we would have done that though. Maybe my memory of this is wrong, but it seems so clear.”

“Lets stick to the plan we still have some places to look at on this beach, so lets get back and have another go tomorrow.”
“Ok Jo” said Aaron rising. Chris was already loading the tender. They jumped on board and Chris deftly wheeled it round and sped them back to the beach. “I will give you a wake up call, happy camping, byee” Chris called over his shoulder as he yanked the throttle and headed back to the boat.

Jo got out the brandy flask and the sat together and watched the sunset before turning in for the night.

Aaron tried to sleep, but found his thoughts would not stop, one moment he was full of doubt about the location, was this even the right island? Could I be that wrong? Then, no dammit of course this is the right island! Where the hell is that path? Aaron got up and went to grab a torch and realised that the moon was full and he could see fine he put on some clothes and taking the torch any way he set off for the tree line.

Aaron had noticed since getting up that odd musical note was there again faint yet distinct, he wondered absently if it was tinnitus. He marched right up to the end and carefully worked his way back hurrying past the bits they had ruled out. As he marched past the third such area he stopped suddenly the note had become clearer for a moment, what was that? he turned and retraced his steps the note increased where before it had had a pulse it seemed to become more stable, as if coming into tune he stopped when it was at it clearest and there just behind some young bamboo, was a clear path right smack in the middle of one of the no-go areas! How in the hell did we miss this he asked himself, go and get Jo, no best check it a bit first, he looked at his watch 2.10am hmmn yes let just make sure its not a dead end.

Aaron headed up the path, soon realising that this was it, in his excitement he just kept going, the note remaining pure and clear, there’s the hut, the lean too, the slatted blind. There was a dim light emanating from behind the blind Aaron approached slowly, a figure appeared in the door “Welcome Aaron san, please come in.”

Jo woke early clambered out of her tent, no sign of Aaron, must be asleep she thought, I’ll make the coffee let him sleep. Jo busied herself with the coffee, opened her tent up to air it when she heard Chris singing ‘Good day Sunshine’ over the radio. She grabbed the handset “Hey Chris”
“Your early morning call miss.” then “How are you guys?”
“Great Chris, Aaron’s still asleep but were fine.” she said as she approached Aaron’s tent, it was then that she noticed the flap was open and Aaron was not in it “Oh he’s not.”
“Not what?” said Chris
“Not asleep, he’s not in his tent.” Jo looked up and down the tree line and beach no sign of Aaron
“Jo what’s going on?”
“Err, nothing it’s just that Aaron is nowhere to be seen must have got up early and gone exploring, look I am going to have a look about I will give you a shout in a bit.”
“Ok Jo, keep me posted.”

Jo put on her shoes clipped the radio to her belt and as she turned to head off there was Aaron. She was startled she had not heard him, “Damn you gave me a start, where have you been?”

“I found it Jo said Aaron all of it, you had better sit down.” Jo looked at Aaron he looked different, she could not put her finger on it but something had changed.

Jo started to bombard Aaron with questions “Did you get a pot? Where is it? Are there more? What happened? Where was it?”
“Hold on Jo slow down and I will explain best I can”

“Ok, last night I could not sleep, thoughts, doubts, churning round over and over so I got up and , well … there was this note, you know a sound, it seemed…. ” I know, I get that, it first happened when I saw your photo in library” Jo interrupted
“Ah, ok so you know then, don’t you see Jo, this is not really about pots its about us.”
“What do you mean?” she demanded
“Look Jo I heard the note the first night after you had gone to bed, thought nothing of it, last night when I went looking because I couldn’t sleep it got louder, well not louder exactly sort of clearer, more present, it guided me Jo, it guided me to my path.”

“Take me to the path then Aaron, lets go, I want to see it”
“That wont work Jo that was my path you must find your path, you need to do it alone Jo”
“I don’t understand is there a path or not?”
“I don’t fully understand it either Jo, you remember how we have thought that something odd was going on, you know, our meeting, this connection we feel, well it is going on, something more fantastic than I could have imagined Jo,… look Jo do you trust me?”
“Yes of course I do Aaron you know that.”
“I mean really trust me Jo.”
“Yes Aaron get on with it.” You must head up there alone Jo, listen for the note it will guide you, you will find your path and your questions will be answered, I know it sounds silly, but trust me Jo, you have to be on your own to find it, its as if it’s within you and that is where you must look.”

Jo sat and stared at Aaron, she opened her mouth to speak but said nothing looked down and back at Aaron she looked into his eyes, she saw a clarity that she could not describe, but the closest she could get was that he appeared more peaceful, somehow a shadow had left him to be replaced with a sparkle.

Jo the scientist returned, “But Aaron surely you can tell me….”
“Jo,” interrupted Aaron “there’s no rational explanation, there’s just not.” Jo blew the air out of her lungs, as if she had been holding her breath all through this exchange, head lolling slightly to the side she looked at Aaron. “Ok…, tell me what to do, what’s the plan?” Aaron realised this was a big concession for Jo, her normal role was ‘The one in charge’ Jo was the one that did the telling.

Jo had became aware of an odd feeling, vulnerable but safe at the same time, vulnerability was a feeling that Jo had banished long since, her father had seen to that. This last thought was a jolt. Jo looked at Aaron again realising that a big part of this connection was because she felt safe with him, safe enough to be vulnerable. This was entirely new to her.

Aaron broke the silence “I suggest that we call Chris and have him pick me up, I will tell him that I want to review the charts again, you say your are going to stay a bit longer to finish up the search and that you will radio when your done. This will not be something that we can readily explain to Chris, we may have to say that we could find no trace. When we have gone you should start following the tree line, but more importantly follow that note, that resonance, I am certain you will find your path Jo.”

Jo had the radio in her hand “He’s back Chris, he went off searching but found nothing. Aaron wants to go over the positions again just in case but it looks like its just not here now, overgrown, inaccessible, I will stay for a bit longer and keep looking, but if Aaron does not get a new location from the charts I think we should call it a day, can you come and get Aaron now?”
“Sure will Jo, sorry this has not worked out for you Jo, I know you had high hopes for this, see you in a bit. Out.”

“This resonance Jo, this note, I’me not sure how I know this, but I am certain it cannot lie Jo, it just does not have the capacity to lie to you.”

Aaron and Jo watched as the tender raised its nose and sped toward them. “I will have one last look and begin pack unless I hear from you Aaron.” said Jo, as he climbed into the tender with Chris and headed back to ‘Puffin’

Jo sat on the beach and stared out to sea, for some reason she felt deflated, a bit sad. It should be the other way round she thought, Aaron has found it and told me how to find it, I should be pleased about this, why do I feel sad and fearful?

A tear escaped and ran down her cheek, she knew the answer lay in the fact that this was out of her control, that it was not rational, a big part of her still doubted what Aaron had told her, but a small part of her knew that this was a defining moment, that in some way that she did not fully understand this was key to her finding an end to the tolerable sham that had become her life. That giving this small part of her permission to follow her heart would change everything and that was scary.

Jo took a deep breath exhaled slowly as she rose, turning she looked up at the tree line and the rising hills of the island. She grabbed a flask of water the radio and her camera and walked toward the tree’s as she did she recalled Aaron’s words “But more importantly follow that note, that resonance, I am certain you will find your path Jo.” And as if on cue she became aware of the note, she stopped and tried to figure out where it was coming from, but try as she might she could not detect a direction, she shut her eyes, slowed her breathing and noticed how this note created the slightest vibration in her chest, almost as if it were part of her voice, on impulse she sang out trying to match the tone when she did so her eyes snapped open and she realized that she was staring at a point on the tree line, she headed straight for it, finding (as had Aaron) that just behind a few bamboo stems lay a path.

The fear had receded in its place was a calm purpose, presently she saw the hut, as she continued forward a figure appeared and beckoned “Welcome Jo san, please, come in.” He was a small figure with a burnished complexion, slightly grey receding hair tied back, he wore faded pale grey Samue workclothes. Bowing slightly he said “My name is Kintsu, Jo san, I have been expecting you.” Jo looked at his face and felt immediately calmed by the gentle smile that came from his eyes as much as his features.

Jo entered the hut, at the back of her mind she was wondering where she had heard this name Kintsu before. They walked through what was the pottery, a wheel, a small kiln, jars of glaze and all the paraphernalia was present, Taking off his sandals Kintsu ushered her through a curtained doorway into a traditional Japanese room. Jo followed suit, removed her shoes and entered.

There was a low table and two cushions, tatami on the floor, a screen door opened up overlooking the surrounding forest. Kintsu gesturing to a cushion said “Please Jo san sit.”

Jo did so, Kintsu fetched a tray saying “Tea” two simple earthenware cups and a pot with a bamboo handle, absently Jo wondered if Kintsu had made them.
“Yes, yes please Kintsu san.” said Jo remembering the importance of courtesy in Japan.

Kintsu sat and poured tea for them both they sipped in silence presently Kintsu rose and pulled aside a curtain on the back wall revealing a niche in which sat a perfectly formed pot, again Jo became aware of the note, but now it was part of her.

Jo gasped, those exquisite curves, the colours, a translucent blue dissolving through a lilac into a deeper purple, Jo started to rise she wanted to hold it to feel the shape of it. “No Jo san, please not yet, not yet, drink your tea, relax. First you must rest, please.” said Kintsu gesturing to a bed, shikibuton.
“Please rest here Jo san, all will become clear to you after a rest Jo san.” Jo did feel tired and followed this suggestion, laying down she fell immediately into a deep sleep.

Kintsu smiled, silently he closed the screen door, shading the room, gathering the tea tray he left Jo to sleep.

Jo awakens to find she is looking at her young self sitting on the sofa with her father all those years ago, despite the oddness of this Jo observes the scene before her, she sees her father place his hand on her breast, she realises that her young self did not notice this at first. She watches as little Jo wriggles a bit to shift her body, soon after this she watches as she gives him a kiss on the cheek saying, “Night dad.” She hears him call “Night angel.”

Now she watches as little Jo gets into bed and snuggles down and falls asleep, she sees the door open her father comes in and stares down at her sleeping self , he sits on the bed and puts a hand under the covers and starting at her knees starts to roam over her body, resting between her thighs. Adult Jo now remembers how he touched her, what awakened her, as little Jo’s eyes opened his hand moves quickly to her tummy then with the sounds of her Mother returning he leaves.

Seeing her young self shaking and stifling her sobs she rushes toward little Jo grabs her in an embrace and starts to whisper to her fourteen year old self. “I am here now, I will protect you, I am here to take care of you, I can never leave you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you. You will never be alone again.”

Little Jo sobbed and sobbed she looked up at adult Jo, her eyes were full of fear and shock. “I will never leave you again, from now on I am going to look after you, keep you safe, whenever you are frightened or lonely I will be there, we are one now.”

For a moment Jo is aware of the unreality of what she is experiencing but for all the world she is there holding her young self feeling her own young body shaking and sobbing, sensing her young self become calmer as she clings to adult Jo.

They stayed like this, in tight embrace for what seemed like hours. Slowly, it seemed they joined, became as one. Adult Jo could now sense that her young self was back where she belonged, as a part of Jo.

Jo opened her eyes to see the room on Kogajajima, she lay there for a few minutes confused, she became aware of the dampness on her face, she had been crying and then it all came back. Was that a dream she asked herself in immediate answer she felt the presence of little Jo, I’m here she inwardly reassured her younger self, its all true in some way all that did happen, whatever it was it was no mere dream. She just lay there breathing aware that somehow she had reclaimed her self that somehow now she was now complete.

It was very clear to her now, she had buried this part of herself long ago and this had been blocking her finding any real happiness or contentment. She saw the way she had used work, study and her career to keep the hurt at bay and it was this little girl who was in pain, alone. Now she was back where she belonged, no longer alone, now they were and would remain one.

She rose and went to the screen door, slipping her feet into her shoes that had been placed neatly to the side, she stepped outside seeing the path she started to walk, before she knew it she was back at the beach, the sight of the tent reminded her of the reason they had come here. Jo laughed out loud as she realised she had completely forgotten about the pot, and then again as she understood what Aaron had meant when he said “Don’t you see Jo, this is not really about pots its about us”

You and me she said out loud to her new found self feeling elated and safe. Suddenly she had an irresistible urge to run, so she ran along the beach skipping, kicking up sand, she fell to her knees grabbed a double handful of sand and shells and tossed them into the air, half fell on her going in her mouth and hair but she did not care she just needed to play. Jo lay there looking up at the sky, tears started to stream down her cheeks, not tears of pain but tears of relief, tears of love and tenderness toward herself.

After a while she rose, walked the shore and went for a swim to get the sand out of her hair, returning to the tent, she called Chris on radio “Hey Chris, all done here can you come and get us?”
“Us?” said Chris
“Yeah me, I mean me, yeah come and get me, all done here time to go home.”
“Did you find it?” asked Chris
“Sometimes you don’t find what you expect Chris”
“Hey Jo” Aaron’s voice “Ok?”
“Yes Aaron, absolutely ok”

Three days later Jo was asleep in the hotel when there was a knock on the door sleepily she answered it and a young woman handed her a box saying “Parcel for Jo Fernwright.” Jo signed the docket wondering what on earth it could be.

Looking at the parcel she could see no sender or stamp, just her name, the address of the hotel all done in rather fine Japanese hand painted script. She began to open the box eventually revealing a tissue wrapped vase inside, as she unwrapped it she gasped it was the pot, her pot, the one Kintsu had shown her on the island, only now it was different, very different.

Holding the pot close she headed out to the corridor there was no sigh of the young woman then she saw Aaron coming out of his room, he to was clutching a pot Jo went to Aaron’s room and they sat and stared at their pots.

Jo turned to Aaron and said “Kintsugi.”
“Yes,” he replied “that name Kintsu, I knew I had heard it before.”
“Me to, Kintsugi is a philosophy as well as a way of fixing pots.”
“Indeed.” replied Aaron. Their gaze returned to the pots.

The pots had been broken, fragmented, then repaired with strands of gold, a filigree of gold traced the lines of the breaks, these unique pots were now far more beautiful than either of them could possibly have imagined.