Caitlin vomited again onto the road. The contents of the previous four hours drinking slapped onto the tarmac beneath her feet.
She sat, squatting on the shallow kerbstone, her legs spread apart in a ‘V’ shape as if about to give birth. Something needed to come out of her but it was not magical and pure, it was bright blue and still bubbling away like a cauldron inside her stomach. Her drunkenness had forced her to give up any pretence of femininity. The cheap black cocktail dress had snagged and hitched up to her waste, her knickers on display to everyone that walked past. But she didn’t care, in fact no-one cared, everyone in Blackpool was ‘out on the lash’. It was party time.
This time it was just a wretch and a burp and everything stayed put. Her body position was doubled up, so extra force was required to project the chemicals swilling around inside her.
Tiny specs of rainwater and vomit were sprinkled on the insides of her legs. The spots were densest around her ankles and calves from where the splash-back could reach. Her left foot was upright and still wearing one new black strapless high-heeled shoe; her right foot was bear and on its side as her ankle had rolled over when she sat down. The small black heart-shaped tattoos on her heels looked up at her as a reminder of the last wild holiday with her friends.
She had stumbled to take a seat on the damp cold kerbstone and almost collapsed with the drunken dead weight of her body as she sat down with a thump. Her head was spinning.
Her friends were still inside partying away as the dull noise of the music and cheering was pierced with clarity every time the door to the pub opened and shut. This time the louder, clearer music and spring loaded entrance door slamming shut was her friend coming to check up on her. Kayley half scraped and half dragged her high-heeled shoes across the pavement over to where her friend sat. They had both looked like newborn foals earlier in the evening, wobbly and uncertain on their feet. But now the drink had taken over.
Caitlin had left the pub a few minutes before and recognised her need to puke. She had perfected this skill and if she listened to her body, it meant she could carry on drinking.
Her head drooped down to the ground as if she had fallen asleep. A small amount of phlegm clung perilously to her lip in a gloopy mess. A shallow puddle of rainwater next to her in the dip of the pavement reflected the neon lights from the noisy pubs on the seafront. A few seagulls squawked and argued over unwanted chips and fast food that was overflowing from a bin a few feet away. They had their eyes on the fresh warm contents added to the pavement near Caitlin’s feet and were hovering, waiting for them to move on.
Her small matching clutch bag with chain had fallen by her side; her lipstick and cigarettes poking out, on display to passers-by.
Kayley took two cigarettes from her friend’s bag and lit one with her plastic lighter and the other from the first fag. She pulled back her friends shoulder length hair and sat down on the kerb beside her.
‘Caits…….ere you go……….come on fish face wake up’ she drawled loudly to her best friend and put the fag in her mouth. Insulting each other was a sign of endearment; the more vicious, the more ironic and tender its’ meaning.
It was fast approaching twelve o’clock on a wet and windy September night as they sat on the wide open roadside that faced the sea.
Blackpool had worked hard to improve its image and five million pounds for its re-development had bought new paving on the wide promenade, new tram routes, new theatre and a one-way road where taxis could pass through all the delights of the traditional English sea-side town. The curved lampposts were modern and edgy, bowing in the direction of the wind and designed to look like blades of grass. But the hotels and bars needed the trade so were priced to attract the crowds. It was all about quantity and filling their rooms, turnover taking priority. The clientele that followed these prices was inevitable and so the town’s reputation prevailed.
It was not possible to see the sea as it was often at least a mile away in the distance. The money could do nothing to change the local climate and the cold continued to limit the town.
Tonight, the blustery coastal wind caused them to speak more loudly than normal, even allowing for the drink. The conversation did not flow; it was a series of outbursts rather than their usual garrulous chatter.
Kayley drew on her cigarette and said ’Steve’ssss assssssking where you isss ahttt…’ She exhaled the smoke forcefully to punctuate her finished sentence.
The Tower glowed a dull red in the distance with a spotlight that shone across the town. In an effort to look like a Hollywood film set and something more glamorous from the movies, it was wasted on the visiting masses.
A large group of young lads in fancy dress walked past but didn’t stop to chat as this was business as usual for Blackpool. Neither of them were attractive enough to warrant a second look as the lads judged them and walked on. Everyone was here to party and stopping to help those that had fallen was not anyone’s idea of fun.
Caitlin leant over on her left side, her bare thigh raw on the pavement. She pulled up her head, smiled at her friend and took a long drag from the cigarette. The exposed skin on her legs was mottled and covered in goosebumps. But neither of them could feel the cold as they sat together, happy, like the pair of drunk losers they were.
They stood and walked, no not walked, hobbled their way back to their B&B, two streets back from the seafront. They had had enough for one night and now wanted the warmth and comfort of their beds, with it’s flannelette sheets, nylon counterpane and curtains that didn’t match. They had been partying hard for the last four days and now the money had run out.
The other girls and boys they had met had evaporated into the night as if they never existed. Photos on Facebook and hazy memories of sambuca shots would be the only record of their four night holiday in Blackpool. Such was the routine of partying in this town – easy come, easy drink, easy go. The following night everyone would simply start all over again. It was acceptable practice to drink, dance, flirt, repeat; with clear consciences their short summer holiday came to an end, a tiny cross-section of time on the seaside partying landscape. Fun but shallow; default behaviour for their generation.
Now in September, the holiday season was coming to an end, the weather reminding people to go home and back to work or study. The town would clean up and revert to a more typical British seaside town. The elderly would invade and remark on how they didn’t like what had happened to the place, hating progress, the curvy lampposts and the new one-way traffic system, yet enjoying the comforts of the newly refurbished carpet and foam-filled seats in the theatre. They too had their own brand of hypocrisy and although it was quieter and often involved tea and cake, they could at times be equally as nefarious as the young.
Caitlin and Kayley were heading home the next day, they both had dead-end jobs with fixed holiday dates to get back for. They slept on the Coach for the six hour journey home and resolved that things would be different from now on. They would do less drinking and not go into town so often, wasting the little money they had. They would try not to be so easy and desperate to seek attention with the local lads and promised to each other to try and improve themselves, meet better people and make bigger plans. They would book an adult learning class at night school; Caitlin had always wanted to learn to dance but had been afraid to ask her best friend for fear of being ridiculed. Above all they would look out for each other.
They were both from broken homes, and it was that invisible bond, the weight and intensity of which could only be known if experienced first hand, that had brought them together almost one year ago. They worked together, drank and partied together, cried together and now in the taxi back from the Coach Station, they arrived at Caitlin’s home together.
Caitlin stood on the pavement and waved goodbye to her friend and turned to look up to the first floor window, where her Mum, Sue, would be sat alone watching TV.
She opened the shared frontdoor to the block of flats and clambered up the stairs, clonking her feet and suitcase on the plastic stair guards that echoed loudly in the quiet communal hallway. Home at last, and she felt herself relax at the sight of the front door to the flat that she shared with her Mum. She put her key in the door and went inside.
‘Oh……….Hi sweedart. I weren’t expectin you back ’til tomorruh’ her Mum said jumping off the sofa to her feet. She was surprised by her daughter’s early return and barefoot wearing only her dressing gown. They stood, uncertain of each other.
The toilet down the hallway flushed.
‘Someone else was in the flat’, Caitlin thought, as no-one else lived with them.
Their bodies faced each other but their heads turned towards the source of the noise then back. Caitlin’s blank expression was now looking at her Mum for answers. Her Mum returned the look with a blank face, eyes wide and alert. A split second later, Caitlin realised what was happening and her heart sank.
’Alright luv!’ said the strange man appearing from the shadows. He was re-arranging his denim jeans and belt as he spoke. The hallway seemed darker with the light of the TV casting long shadows behind the sofa. The darkness seemed more sinister with the entrance of this foreigner into the room. His plain Tee-shirt revealed tattoos in the centre of each muscly forearm. His perfect upright posture made his average height and build appear taller and stronger; here was a man who worked with his hands. His shaved head, large frame and presence was masculine and felt wrong in their small feminine flat.
‘I’m John’, said John. ‘You must be Karen? Are you the daughter?’
Caitlin looked at her mum in disgust and her Mum looked at John in disgust and the man seeing both, realised his night was over. He picked up his coat that was placed over the arm of the sofa.
‘Ok, I think I’ll be off luv’, he said manoeuvring his legs through the small gap between the armchair and the sofa. The word ‘luv’ jarred and hung in the air, sounding more patronising than it had earlier in the evening, when Sue had invited him in.
‘Bella’ the man called behind him in a soft high-pitched voice; a golden labrador appeared from the shadows of the hallway. ‘Come on girl’.
The dog had been lying there quietly. Caitlin, initially confused, now realised the full horror of the deceit of the man stood in front of her and that her Mum had had sex with this evening. John was supposed to be out taking his dog for a walk and instead he had popped round to see her Mum; quite literally to see all of her.
At the early conclusion of her evening, Sue was now angry. ‘You’re jokin right? Oh that’s just brilliant. Go on then, piss off …..back you go to that stupid woman of yours!!’
Her evening had been turned upside down in the space of one minute and now she regretted the whole sorry episode.
John and Bella walked out of the flat both with their tales between their legs and without so much as another word. But this was no inconvenience at all to him, in fact the perfect conclusion to the evening. He would be home soon and no-one would be any the wiser.
Now there was no trace of the either the dog or the man; it was if they had not been there and Caitlin struggled to process what she had just seen. She did not know where to begin. Her heart started to race and her confusion was turning to anger.
Sue’s first thought was to be angry with her daughter for coming home early and disturbing her evening. With one look at her face though, she could see that this was not a position she could not sustain. So instead she directed this anger at herself for being torn between her own physical needs and self disgust at settling for men like John.
She chose not to see the connection between her own lifestyle choice and the impact this had on her daughter, but even in her simple way, she knew the two things were somehow related. The truth was that she was too selfish to do anything about it. With her husband gone, she felt entitled to some fun; she felt she deserved it.
‘Who’s he?’ Caitlin asked.
Sue had met John several times over the last few months. He would often text her when he was out ‘walking the dog’. She had not expected Caitlin home until later that evening so decided that what her daughter didn’t know would not hurt her. They could ‘walk the dog’ and clear up any mess without her knowing.
‘I’ve never seen him before? Where did you find him?’ her daughter continued, becoming annoyed and judgemental. She was not letting this go. Their roles of parent and child had now reversed, as was becoming more frequently the case; her mum stood there, silent and childlike in her guilt.
‘Mum, what were you thinking bringing him ere!!!??’ Caitlin felt emboldened by the moral high ground. Her Mum remained silent.
She had let her down again by bringing a man into their flat and worst of all, the trust between themselves that they were working hard to rebuild, had been destroyed.
The small fridge magnet in Caitlin’s luggage that she had bought as a present in Blackpool for her Mum would have to remain there until tomorrow. She had missed her while she was away on holiday, but was now too angry, tired and hungry.
‘Ow woz it?’ her Mum said trying to change the subject.
‘Mum, it is not fair to bring men back ‘ere. This is my flat as well. I live ‘ere!’ Her daughter was not going to let her off that easily.
‘I know, I know. Ee is a nice man and I am lonely Caits’ said Sue. She struggled with the former but Caitlin agreed with the latter.
‘You ‘ad gone away and I was left on me own.’ She had started to feel sorry for her mother until she tried to play the guilt card and now she was annoyed again.
‘Promise you won’t see him again Mum…’ Caitlin said, knowing she could not make or hold her to such a promise. She also knew her Mum’s temper and her contrition could soon turn to rage if she pushed her too far.
Caitlin hugged her Mum and they both shared a tear, companions in their lonely and unstable lives. All they had in the world it seemed was each other.
‘Wot ‘appened?’ her Mum asked releasing the embrace. ‘D’you meet anyone?’ Her Mum had defaulted back to her parental role and this now felt cold and distant to Caitlin.
The next act on Britain’s Got Talent was about to start on TV and a death defying gymnast was about to swallow a sword. This looked particularly exciting to her Mum who sat down engrossed and lit a cigarette.
She hadn’t noticed her daughter walk through the living area to take her things to her room to unpack.