One evening, in one man’s life when everything will change.
Sean’s disabled leg has affected his entire life, causing a downward spiral he neither likes nor can live with. It is not just that his life is on hold, it is now falling backwards. On holiday in Scarborough (A northern English seaside resort), he finally faces the realities of his life and decides to take matters into his own hands. A walk along the town’s promenade to clear his thoughts and to help him make up his mind, if only the town’s numerous seagulls would stop following him.
This novella is written in six different scenes, which are of differing lengths.
This was written for adult readers, with adult themes and emotions, some of which may be uncomfortable. It also contains descriptions of violence and scenes of a sexual nature.
Shaun sat down on the wooden bench with a sigh of relief and stretched out his left leg against the pain, it was still another hour before he could have his next pain killer. It was the same dull, throbbing pain that he always got in his leg, but this evening it seemed to have arrived extra early. It was barely seven o’clock and already his leg was throbbing so much that he had to sit and rest. His planned walk along the promenade was now out of the question.
He’d taken the cliff railway down here from his hotel a little over an hour and a half ago. He’d found himself attracted to the cliff railway out of more than just a practical need. Yes, it did provide him with an easy and quick way down to the promenade and the beach beyond it from his hotel, perched up there at the very top of the cliffs, but it also brought out a childhood excite within him, and that did not happen often.
The cliff railway was a Victorian thing of wonder. The two railway tacks ran down the cliff face at forty-five degrees, while the two railway cars perched on either track. The cars themselves were designed to run at this angle, car’s front wheels were much longer than the rear wheels, so enabling the car’s green body to remain level as it slid down the cliff. The two cars were linked by a cable, pulled by an electric motor under the top station building, Shaun could hear its labouring noises as he started his decent, so as one car moved slowly down the cliff the other car rose up the cliff on the adjacent track. It was a simple and basic thing and yet it had brought out a moment of childhood wonder in Shaun, every time he used it. It also saved him a difficult walk down to the promenade and an impossible walk back up again.
He’d sat on this bench because it was the first one he’d found when the pain in his leg became too much to bare and he had to stop walking. It was the same as all the other benches spaced out along the promenade, it was made from wooden planks forming the seat and back, while cast iron ends held it in shape, the cast iron ends actually forming the shape of a seat. The benches were placed along the edge of the pavement but all faced out towards the sea, with their backs to busy road of traffic that ran alongside the promenade. Shaun sat there now and looked out at the view of the sea filling up the natural bay the town of Scarborough was built around, though most of the town was perched on the cliff side that rose sharply up from the bay, as a natural protection to the bay.
The tide was now pushing the sea up the beach, wave after wave, covering up the white sand that had offered an open playground for children only a few hours before. At first Shaun had watched the tide creeping up the beach, the next wave stretching further up the beach than the last one, he’d always been told that staring at the sea could hypnotise you, and he so wanted a distraction from the pain in his leg. But that wasn’t true, he hadn’t been hypnotised, just the sight of the sea water making him think about how awkward his walk to the cliff railway was going to be.
He’d come down to the promenade for his evening meal, his hotel only supplied breakfast, any other meal was extra, so he’d had to find a restaurant each night for his evening meal. Tonight, he had fancied a fish and chip supper, he was at the seaside, and yesterday he’d seen a fish and chip restaurant along the promenade, so he returned there tonight. The food had been good, crisp chips and an even crisper batter on his fish, and all of it poling hot. His waitress had been Polish, though her English had been perfect under her thick accent. Most of the staff at his hotel seemed East European, and wherever he ate the waiting staff were East European too, the only people who seemed to speak with the local Yorkshire accents were the other tourists there. He’d wanted to ask his waitress if she was home-sick, did she miss Poland and hearing Polish being spoken, but those questions had seemed too personal for him, so he’d left her a large tip instead.
His plan for after eating had been to have a walk along the promenade, that line along the top of beach, separating it from the town, a stone and iron line drawn to show were the beach ended and the town began. It was such a Victorian thing, a promenade, something to just walk along, to be seen on and to be there to see who you could see. Now it just seemed a thing people walked along to get from one place to another. The opposite side of the promenade to the beach was lined with cheap and gaudy shops, amusement arcades, fast food take-aways, gift shops full of cheap and tacky plastic beach items. It seemed so coarse and commercial, but hadn’t the Victorians been coarse and commercial, under their veneer of respectability. His grandfather had prided himself on having “Victorian Values” and every time in reply his mother had called the old man a hypocrite. But his grandfather had been dead for over twenty years. He’d died when Shaun was eleven and he barely remembered the old man now.
His walk had been cut short by the sudden increase in the pain in his leg. It had quickly risen to such a degree that he couldn’t walk, he had to sit and wait for it to ease. Most times the pain was there but it was a dull ache in the background and he could almost ignore it, certainly with the aid of pain killers that he still needed to take. But from time to time the pain would flare up to such a high degree that all he could do was sit and wait for it to pass, or for the time to creep around until he could have his next dose of pain killers. That was what had happened tonight, suddenly the pain was too much and he’d had to stop. The pain had been dulled for most of that day and he’d been able to have a decent walk in the upper town, exploring the shops and buildings there, so tonight he’d hoped to take advantage of that and go for a walk along the curving promenade, but he had been proved wrong. His leg was now too painful and all he could do was sit there and wait for the pain to pass.
When he told his mother he was coming to Scarborough for a holiday, and in early June, she had scoffed at him, saying:
“Only coach parties and adulterers go there for a holiday. What the bloody hell do you want to go to that hole for?”
“Because I’ve never been,” he’d replied. Though the truth was he had chosen the place because there was no chance of him running into anyone he knew there, he would be a stranger there and no one would bother him.
He was staying in The Grand Hotel Scarborough, and the building matched its grand name. It was a huge Victorian hotel that didn’t just cling to the cliff top but actually rose above it, dominating the Scarborough skyline. Its exterior was impressive, row upon row of wide windows staring down at the town and beach, majestic lines and curves dominating the building, it was even crowned off with four Middle Eastern looking domes, it was so out of character with the rest of the town, which consisted of low two- and three-story buildings that clung to the cliffsides. Inside though all the opulence had long since been stripped away, even the entrance hall had been reduced and sectioned off into different rooms and functions, being replaced with a simple reception area. The hotel’s corridors were now narrow and functional and the big rooms had been cut up into a handful of smaller rooms. Shaun’s own room had been obviously been created by cutting the corner off a much larger room. The room’s single window was only half of a much larger window, tucked away in the corner of the external wall. Shaun did not mind any of this. His room was comfort and functional, and no one in the hotel bothered him. No one asked him why he was there and what his plans were. He was left alone.
He looked up from the sea and saw a large, white seagull, perched on the iron railings that edged the beach side of the promenade. Almost the moment he’d arrived, he’d been struck by the large number of seagulls there was in Scarborough. They were everywhere and they always seemed permanently hungry, ready to swoop down on any unwary person who chose to eat in public. They seemed completely unafraid of people and would literally snatch food straight out of people’s hands. The day before, Shaun had seen a woman, stood under an open purple umbrella, as if hiding from the afternoon sun. She had been eating a bagel, slowly and meekly biting around the edge of it. In the next moment, a seagull had swept down, snatched the bagel out of the woman’s hand, and had flown off, all in the matter of a few seconds and the seagull hadn’t even knocked the umbrella out of her hand. The woman had screamed in anger but it had been too late.
This seagull was just staring at him, its black, beady eye staring straight at him, as if it was watching him, waiting on him. It was as if the seagull knew what he was planning to do. Shaun felt an uncomfortable shudder run through him. That stupid, white bird couldn’t read his mind, it was just a stupid bird and it was probably just looking for food, but it was staring at him so intensely. Then, with a load and angry squawk, the seagull spread its large wings wide, jumped into the air and flow off.
At thirty-two he had finally decided he should come out, before then he had cruised along in his life with no fixed objectives or ideals, he’d just done what was exacted of him. After he’d left sixth form college, with poor A Level results, he’d gone to work for his mother’s company, who provided home carers around the region, and stayed living at home with his mother. His mother carried on being one of the main people in his life. He hadn’t questioned it then, he worked for his mother and he lived with his mother, it was just the way things were. Even though he was physically close to his mother, she was the person he spent most time with each day, both living and working with her, but he knew he wasn’t the top of her affections. That place belonged to his brother Nathan.
Nathan was six years older than him and Nathan had done everything right in his life. Nathan had left six form college and gone straight onto university, were he’d studied electronical engineering. From university Nathan had got a job with a big aeroplane manufacturer, causing him to move to Sheffield, miles away from their home. Shortly after this he’d married Jessica, his girlfriend from university. Over the following years they had two children, Eric and Poppy, who quickly became the apple of their mother’s eye. His mother doted over her grandchildren, and she would take weekend visits to Nathan’s home, in a large, private housing estate on the outskirts of Sheffield.
He’d never been close to Nathan, the six years age difference had seemed like an impassable gap, but growing up he’d quickly learnt that he was second-rate compared to Nathan. If he did something wrong, if he failed at something, if he didn’t achieve what was expected of him, his mother would complain, “Nathan would never have done that!” Soon he learnt that no matter how hard he tried he would never be as good as Nathan was. Soon he grew to hate Nathan and what Nathan stood for, the perfect son that Shaun felt he could never be.
Even as an adult there was no escape from Nathan’s shadow. Repeatedly his mother would compare him negatively to Nathan. Whenever she was annoyed with him, she complained that he was never as good as Nathan. It was worse at work, whenever she lost her temper with him she would attack him for not being as good as Nathan. The worst had been when he’d just turned thirty, the company had received its third complaint about a carer Shaun had employed, the third complaint coming with a threat to remove a lucrative contract. In front of the whole office, she’d screamed at him, “Nathan holds down an important job for an airplane builder without screwing up! You could only get this job because I run the company and you still screw-up! You are just a waste of space!”
Shaun had been sat there at his desk, staring down at his keyboard, as his mother shouted at him and then stormed out of the office. Behind her the office had fallen into an unusual silence. Shaun hadn’t looked up from his desk, the humiliation was nothing new, but he didn’t want to see the expression on their faces, expressions only telling him his mother was right.
It was Marni, her mother’s long-standing office manager, who had placed her hand on Shaun’s shoulder and quietly said:
“Ignore your mother’s bullshit, you keep this company going.”
He’d looked up to see her gently smiling at him.
“She’s hired dozens of carers we’ve since had to sack. You hire one of them and she rips you out in front of everyone. This company wouldn’t be doing as well without you,” Marni added, as she gently squeezed his shoulder.
“Thank you,” he’d quietly replied.
Marni’s words had given him a burst of self-confidence. More and more he saw the mistakes his mother made at work and how it was him that picked up on them and stopped them causing any further harm. It was him who would defuse his mother’s anger before she could let it rip on one of her employees in their big open-plan office. It was him that was the barrier between the company’s army of carers and his mother.
When six months later his mother said that she said she was buying a luxury mansion house on a new out-of-town estate, Shaun had told her he wouldn’t be moving with her. He knew he had been living with her for far too long, now that he had finally finished his part-time degree he knew he needed to live on his own and find a life for himself.
“What am I supposed to do in a house that size on my own?” His mother had barked back at him
“You’ll cope,” he’d replied, though he’d wanted to tell her to get a dog or a boyfriend.
He’d found a flat not far from the company’s office, a five-minute car drive away. The flat was small, an open-plan kitchen and lounge, and bedroom with the bathroom off it, but it was all his. He didn’t have to worry about his mother barging in on him unexpectedly. If she turned up unexpectedly, she would have to negotiate the flat’s intercom system.
The first thing he’d done, once he’d settled into his new home, was to start to watch gay porn. No one would disturb him, once he was home on his own, so he could finally enjoy it. At first, he’d bought himself a handful of DVDs, off a website. He’d strip down to his underwear, put a porn DVD into his DVD player, sit back and enjoy it, and himself. But soon he knew those DVDs backwards, knew every stroke and gasp of them. It was then that he discovered there was a whole world of gay porn out there on the internet, and most of it was free to watch, and Shaun watched it. He explored the gamut of gay porn, watched all the different things naked men could do sexually together. Some of it he’d enjoyed, some of it excited him beyond anything he could image, and some of it had left him cold or even repulsed.
At first watching all this different porn had been exciting and thrilling, but soon it had a repetitive feel to it. Visually it was still stimulating but physically it was only his own hand, and there were just so many different ways his hand could bring him to sexual relief, in reality there were only a few different ways.
Shortly after his thirty-second birthday he decided that he had to do something about his sexuality. It could no longer be just be a spectator activity for him.
Shaun stretched out his left leg again, only to be greeted by a sharp pain rushing up his leg and almost punching him the groin. He gasped through his teeth, swearing under his breath. He wished this pain would just ease, would just ease up enough so he could walk back to his hotel. He bit down on the pain, and slowly pulled his left leg up until it bent at ninety degrees again.
He glanced out at the beach again, the strip of white sand that the incoming tide had not reached. Two large, white seagulls were down there on the sand, fighting over a battered piece of fish. Both seagulls were viciously pecking at the battered fish and squawking and pecking at each other. None of the seagulls he’d seen in Scarborough appeared under feed, all of them seemed well nourished, yet they would seem to readily fight over any piece of food they could find. Was this why they all seemed well nourished?
He lived in a small South Yorkshire market town, called Long March, and the place had no discernible gay life, if you ignored a notorious gent’s public toilet by the train station and Shaun certainly did. If he wanted any kind of gay life he’d have to travel to Leeds or even Manchester, and how would he explain that to his mother? Though he now lived on his own she still insisted that he came to her house every weekend for Sunday dinner, and he didn’t know how he would explain weekends spend in Leeds or Manchester to her.
The answer had come with the use of his phone. He’d had a Smartphone for a long time, and he had a lot of different apps on it. Then he realised he could download gay dating apps onto it (He’d heard some of the women at work discussing dating apps, and wondered if there any gay ones. A simple Google search proved there were). Another simple bit of online searching and he’d a selection of free apps to download and he did, making sure he didn’t copy any of their icons onto the home screen of his phone. He didn’t want his mother seeing any of them and asking awkward questions.
It had taken him awhile to understand how to connect with other men on those apps. He quickly picked-up how to navigate his way around the apps, computers were his thing, but how to talk to men on the apps was something new to him, and there was no one there to help him. He’d had to learn it himself, he’d had to learn through trial and error, and several Google searches for advice. Eventually he learnt the language of those apps and began to meet men.
The first man he had sex with was called Paul. Shaun had messaged him through one of his apps for a week before they met. They’d had a drink together in one of the town’s several pubs, just a quiet drink, and over their pints they had clicked. Paul was handsome, with neatly styled dark black hair and bright blue eyes, and friendly, and Shaun was very quickly taken by him.
After a couple of pints together, they had returned to Shaun’s flat. There, on Shaun’s sofa, he’d lost his virginity, well part of it. They had kissed, Shaun had been surprised and pleased to find the contrast between Paul’s smooth lips and the sandpaper rough stubble of his checks, they had removed each other’s clothes, Shaun had been too excited to savour this, he was in such a hurry to experience Paul’s naked body, and then Paul’s mouth had closed over Shaun’s erect cock. Shaun had thrown his head back, the pleasure had been sudden, unexpected and deeply exciting. This was far more excitement and pleasure than his own hand could ever generate, and Shaun had loved it, even though he had orgasmed quickly, his semen spraying over Paul’s chest. In his turn, after a moment of catching his own breath, Shaun had placed Paul’s cock into his own mouth. He’d felt no repulsion as he did so, only an excitement that he was actually having sex now. Paul’s cock had tasted tart on his tongue, soon to be replaced by a sweet and salty taste, as pre-cum covered Paul’s cockhead. He’d not been able to deep throat Paul’s cock, barely getting it to the middle of his mouth before he gagged but he was able to push Paul’s cock inside of his check, causing Paul to groan out loud. He’d felt so excited, with a deep ripple of pride, that the first time he had sucked a cock he had given the man such pleasure. He could do it, could enjoy sex and give pleasure to another man.
Paul had shouted: “I’m coming,” and the next moment his cock had erupted with semen, white after white shots of semen shooting out of the end of his cock and landing across Shaun’s check, his neck, his shoulder. It was hot against his skin and surprisingly runny, tiny rivers of it quickly running down Shaun’s skin.
After they had both cum, they cleaned themselves with one Shaun’s hand towels, and then awkwardly dressed again. Once their passion was over Shaun realised, he knew so little about Paul and now he found it difficult to make small-talk. Was it always like this awkward after sex? He silently asked himself. Then Paul had lightly and drily kissed him on the lips and said:
“Call me, this was fun.”
And then Paul was gone, letting himself out of the flat’s front door and gone into the night.
Shaun had sat himself back down on his sofa, his feet bare and his shirt untucked. The room smelt strongly of the sex they just had, he could see clear drops of their semen casually cast onto the carpet, and yet it felt suddenly very quiet. Did everyone feel this disappointed after sex, was it always a let-down like this? He asked himself.
Paul never contacted him again. Shaun sent him several text messages, two or three a day over the next week but none of them were answered. He called Paul several times over that week but always his calls went straight to voicemail, and none of them were returned. At the end of the week he tried to contact Paul via the dating app, none of his texts and calls having been returned, only to find he couldn’t message Paul. Paul had blocked him on the app. It was then that he finally realised what he was being told, Paul didn’t want to see him again. Paul’s parting comment had been a lie.
(Over a month later he saw Paul, out in the town centre, as Shaun was rushing to buy his lunch of sandwich and fruit. Paul and another man, a man just was attractive as Paul but with thick, brown loose hair, and they were looking into an estate agent’s window together. Their bodies were close, their shoulders almost touching, their heads leaning towards each other’s. Shaun had rushed past them and purposefully not looked back at them.)
Even though his experience with Paul had ended poorly it still didn’t kill his hope he could met a man via his dating apps, and regularly he’d search through them, contacting men who lived anywhere he considered local. Over and over he’d search for a man on those apps, always a spark of hope somewhere at the back of his mind.
He did met men through those apps, many less than he tried to contact, many of those men he would have sex with. If he liked the man then they wouldn’t contact he again, or else he’d receive the reply that the man had a lover/wife and won’t be contacting Shaun. If the man contacted Shaun again then Shaun didn’t want to see that man again, their meeting having left him feeling disappointed. Some weeks he met two different men, other times he’d go weeks without meeting any man or having any sex.
None of this had left him feeling happy or positive about being gay. His flat, which had been an escape from his mother and a chance for him to be gay, soon became his lonely retreat. It would be empty and quiet when he returned to it each evening after work, at the weekend it would feel too big for him to fill on his own. Being in it or returning to it from whatever he had been doing, it always reminded him that he was on his own. He felt such a failure but he couldn’t stop himself looking. If he stopped looking the chance might be that the ideal boyfriend would just pass him by, and he couldn’t take that risk. Many times at night, he would lay awake and worry that he would never be able to find a man to have a relationship with, all he seemed to find were men to have sex with, and nothing more.
He’d been searching those dating apps for nearly eighteen months when he’d met Arron. He’s seen Arron’s profile one Friday evening. He’d eaten his evening meal, slumped down on his sofa, the television playing unnoticed in front of him, and had picked up his phone. He had been idly scowling through a dating app, not so such looking for Mr Right but just looking, the hope always there, when he’d seen Arron’s profile. The profile picture had just been of a naked torso, no face attached to it, the picture ending just above the shoulders and stretching down his torso to end with the top of a thick bush of black pubic hair. The torso was hairless but rippled with muscles, prominent pecs and a six-pack so well defined that Shaun felt he could trace his fingers along those grooves between the muscles.
Shaun had only messaged him in a vain hope, he was attracted to that picture but men like this usually didn’t message him back, but having a message ignored was the easiest form of rejection to endure. He’s been surprised when Arron had messaged him, only a handful of minutes later. The message had simply read:
“What’s your number?”
Shaun had messaged back with his mobile’s number and a few minutes later his mobile had rung. Shaun had quickly answered it to find Arron on the other end. The man’s accent was local and his conversation had been short. Arron said he wanted them to meet and he wanted to have sex with Shaun, no one had been this forward with him before and he found it very exciting. Arron asked him did he know where the Green Man pub was? Shaun did, it was on the opposite side of town from him, on Copeland Road. Arron wanted to know how long it would take Shaun reach there, and Shaun replied forty-five minutes (doing a rough calculation in his mind on how long it would take him to get ready and drive there). Arron said he’d met Shaun outside the Green Man because he only lived around the corner.
In a rush he’d showered and pulled on clean clothes, clean and snug-fitting underwear, jeans, a cotton shirt and black boots. Finally pulling on his leather jacket, Shaun had left his flat. He’d never been approached so openly and with such a direct display of sexual desire. Arron had been so forward, he wanted sex with Shaun that evening and he wanted it now. Shaun was a buzz with excitement as he drove across the town, to the Green Man pub. This had never happened before, previously he would spend days and even weeks messaging men via the dating apps before he would eventually meet them, no one had seemed in a hurry to meet him before that night.
He'd parked his car on the opposite side of the street from the Green Man pub, the pub had double yellow lines in front of it. There had been one man stood outside the pub, pacing back and forth across a small patch of pavement. He was short, much shorter than Shaun himself, with dark black hair cut into an uninteresting short-back-and-sides style. His body was stocky under his thick parker jacket, maybe it was the packer jacket that made him look so stocky, Shaun wondered as he crossed the road to the pub, maybe the parker jacket was hiding his muscular physique?
“You Shaun?” The man said, in the same voice Shaun had heard come out of his phone when Arron called him.
“Yes, are you Arron?” Shaun asked him.
“Yeah,” Arron replied, not taking his hands out of the pockets of his anorak jacket. “My place is around the corner,” he’d added.
Arron had led him around the side of the pub and down a poorly lite ally way there. They had gone about halfway down the alley way, in silence, when Arron had turned and faced him, stopping in his tracks.
“Give me your money, phone and car keys or I’ll fucking kill you,” Arron had said.
“Fuck off,” Shaun had hissed back, he was a head taller than this man, and turned to walk back out of the ally way. But Shaun found his path was now blocked by two other men, solidly built men, as tall as him and both of them carrying rounded wooden bats.
“Get the fucking queer!” Arron called out from behind him.
Shaun had never been a fighter, not even while at his rough comprehensive school, he’d always avoided fights by running away. That’s what he tried to do then. He went to run out of the ally way, to push those men out of the way in the process but he barely got a few paces. As he ran towards them, one of the men swung his bat low and fast, striking Shaun in the left knee. The force of the blow had knocked his leg out from under him, a sudden pain rushing up Shaun’s leg and throwing him off balance. The next moment his body crushed down onto the cold and wet ground. As he lay there, the pain burning at his knee and rushing up his leg in terrible waves, the two men had struck at him repeatedly with their bats. The first blows had landed on his left shin and left thigh, again and again their bats striking his leg. But quickly the blows moved to his chest. He’d fallen onto his right side and those blows struck him on the left side of his chest, auditable cracks echoing in his ears for a few seconds but the burning pain that followed did not vanish as quickly. There was a sharp and deep pain stabbing into his left side of his chest, stabbing deeply into his chest with each breath, stopping his lungs from taking a deep or gasping breath. It felt as if those blows had burst his very heart.
Then the blows, as suddenly as they had started, stopped. There was silence for a moment. In the distance he could a car accelerate away, a woman shouting obscenities at someone else, a door being slammed shut, but the noises sounded so far away, the pain racking his body seemed to be dulling his hearing. Had they hit his head? Then he heard the one called Arron speak, saying:
“Get the wallet and phone… And his car keys, he drove here in a decent car.”
Hands roughly pulled at him, pushing him onto his back, causing him to scream out with the pain. Hands pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket, his car keys and wallet out of his jeans’ pocket. The pain was too great for him to resist, to put up any fight as they stole his possessions. All he could do was lie there, on the dirty and cold ground, and scream with the pain. Once the hands taken his possessions, he heard the one calling himself Arron speak again:
“Finish the fucker off.”
Something struck him in the left-hand side of the head, a fraction of a second later it was followed by a pain that felt like an iron peg being driven into his head, the pain so sharp that it seemed to take away all thoughts from his mind, all he could think about was the pain. His version blurred, his hearing seemed to be filling up with water, it was becoming more and more difficult to hear with each passing second. He felt more than saw someone step over him. Then something else struck him hard in the stomach, a foot, a bat? He wasn’t sure. His instinct would have been to curl up around his stomach, to somehow protect it even after it had been struck, but the pain was too great in the rest of his body to allow himself any movement. He just lay there, praying under his breath for the pain to stop, for those men to go away.
He closed his eyes against it, and then his mind stopped thinking, a blackness filling his head.
“Excuse me son, can you help me?”
The old man’s deep, baritone voice, heavy with its Southern American accent, had dragged Shaun out of his thoughts. He pulled his eyes away from staring at the sea and looked at the source of the voice. The man was stood at the opposite end of the bench from him. The man was in his sixties, late sixties. His domed head was covered by short, white-grey hair, cut into a uniform buzz-cut style, while his chin was covered in a thick and long beard, the same white-grey as the short hair on his head. Between these his face was round and puffy, red checks and a red forehead both pressing against his eyes. His body was just as round as his face, a round belly in front of a round thick waist. All supported by long and thick legs. The man wore clean, pressed jeans, a dark red sweatshirt writing across the front of it that Shaun couldn’t read because it was obscured by a bright orange cagoul worn over the top of it. The man looked like any one of the hundreds of elderly tourists who filled the town, all except for his Southern American accent.
“Sure, what can I do for you?” He replied to the man.
“Can you tell me where the nearest a garbage can is? I just cannot seem to find one,” the man said, in the accent that reminded Shaun of so many American television programs he’d watched.
“There’s one over there,” Shaun replied, pointing to one of the rectangular, black iron rubbish bins, a few feet along the curb side from were Shaun’s bench was placed.
“Thank you, son, everything is so different here,” the old man replied before turning and walking quickly towards the rubbish bin, he walked much quicker than Shaun could, even with his walking stick.
Why did Americans call rubbish bins garbage cans? Shaun wondered. To him a can was what tinned food came in, whereas a bin was what you put rubbish in. Why did the English and Americans speak such different versions of the same language? He was sure there were language professors or whatever who had written long papers on why, and he could probably find them on line, but did he even have the time to bother.
“Get away from me you damn vermin!” The old man’s voice shouted, suddenly filled with anger.
Shaun glanced towards the noise and saw the old man stood next to the bin. One hand held an empty fast food wrapper, which he was obviously trying to put into the bin, the other hand was waving frantically at a seagull that had swept down and tried at snatch the wrapper out of his hand.
“Goddamn vermin!” The old man shouted as the seagull gave up and flow away.
What was an American doing in Scarborough in June? Shaun asked himself. Scarborough wasn’t exactly on the American tourist trail, it didn’t have the connection to Dracula that Whitby, a short way up the coast, had.
The thought fell from his mind as he stretched out his left leg again. The pain was finally easing. It was still stiff but at least the pain was easing. In a few minutes he could try and walk back to his hotel, or at least to the bottom of the cliff railway.
He’d woken up from the beating a day later, at least that was when he remembered waking. It was over twenty-four hours later and he found himself lying in a hospital bed, wearing only one of those hospital gowns, the ones that open at the back, underneath the bed’s sheets. Into his right arm were running two IV drips, and on his left leg was a cage-work of metal, encasing his leg, with thin metal bars actually running into his leg. His whole body still seemed to hurt, an aching pain from so many different parts of his body. He took a deep breath, in an attempt to help himself wake-up and was greeted by a sharp pain in his left side. A pain that felt like a dozen long, white-hot needles were pressed quickly into his side until they reached the bottom of his lung. He cried out against the pain, as if a sudden shout would in any way ease his pain.
“Can I help you?” A young, female voice asked him.
He turned his head in the direction of the voice and found a young woman standing over him. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail that seemed to sprout out of the back of her head. She was wearing a neatly ironed white, nurse’s tunic and her face wore a concerned expression.
“I’m in pain,” Shaun gasped, his voice strangely week and quiet.
“Press the red button in your right hand, it’ll give you some analgesia, I mean pain relief,” she said.
He did so, the small plastic button strapped around the palm of his hand, no bigger than a front door bell. A moment later he felt something calming rushing through him, as the pain in his side eased away. Later he’d find out it was called a Patient Controlled Analgesia pump, a machine that would deliver a small amount of pain relief straight into his vein whenever he pressed that button. Over the next few days that machine gave him relief and a lifeline.
The young woman was a student nurse and she’s gone and got a Staff Nurse to talk to him. The Staff Nurse turned out to be a young man, in his mid-twenties, called Kenny. His short, muscular body was enclosed in a nurse’s uniform of pale blue tunic and dark blue trousers. His head was covered in thick, black, shaggy hair that he worn in a style were it was cut short at the back and yet still left it long at the front, the sides of his hair were falling past his ears and touching his collar, while his fringe was swept across his forehead, though thick strands of it would escape and fall across his face, often obscuring his rich, brown eyes.
Kenny, in a clear and short speech, told Shaun what had happened to him. He’d been found, lying unconscious on the ally way’s ground in the early hours of the morning, after the Green Man had closed and one of the bar men was throwing away the rubbish. He’d been taken to hospital, still unconscious, were his injuries had been diagnosed. Three of his ribs were broken, two black eyes, a wound to the back of his head, which needed stitching, and cuts and bruises across his chest. Knocking him unconscious had left him was a severe concussion, the effects of which he would feel for far longer than he had expected (People on television seemed to shake off being knocked unconscious with no ill effects, but for Shaun the concussion left him feeling ill for days after). But his left leg had received the worst damage from those men’s aggression. Their beating had left him with a smashed and broken leg. Both his thigh bone and the bones in his shin were smashed and his knee had been shattered into numerous pieces. As an emergency, to save his leg and enable it to be repaired later, Shaun had had an external-fixature, as Kenny called it, fitted to his left leg. The external-fixature consisted for a circular metal frame, which encased his whole leg, and this held his leg ridged with metal bars that ran right through his leg, through the skin and bone of his leg. Strangely enough his left leg only really hurt when it was moved, just lying there in bed his leg ached but the metal robs did not cause him much pain, eventual they ran right through leg and its bones.
Kenny told him that his medical team, the surgeons who would be repairing his leg, would see him on Monday morning, the next day, and explain the treatment they had planned for him.
That first day he woke in hospital Shaun had spent dozing in his hospital bed. His head felt thick and heavy, and sleep seemed to be the only thing that eased it. It also stopped his mind dwelling on what had happened to him. His mind felt so tired and dulled, as if he was trying to think through a thick, cotton wool fog, and trying to sort out his thoughts was so difficult. His body also seemed to ache with pain, a dull and constant ache throughout his body, or a sharp pain in left leg, as if the very bone of his leg was on fire, every time his leg was moved.
The following day, a Monday, had seemed to be a blur of activity. First, he was visited by his team of surgeons, shortly after he’d finished his lack-lustre breakfast. Though his surgeon was a man, Mr Melnyk was an Eastern European doctor, not the stereotype of the upper-middle class surgeon with a plum in his voice, and half of the team of four doctors with him were women.
Mr Melnyk explained the different breaks Shaun’s leg had suffered, but the man might have been speaking in his native tongue for all Shaun could understand what he was being told. All he could understand was that his leg was badly broken and it was going to take several operations to fix it. Shaun had simply nodded his agreement to what was being said to him, he felt he had no other choice.
At mid-day his mother had visited him. She had swept onto the ward with her full forceful personality, dressed as elegantly as always, demanding to know were Shaun was and what was happening to him. He heard her voice before he saw her approach his bed.
She had sat herself down next to his bed and announced:
“What the hell were you doing at the Green Man? You should know what type of pub that place is and to keep well away from it. People like us do not go to places like that!”
“I was meeting a girl,” Shaun almost blurted out. It was the first answer that jumped into his mind. He’d not thought about it or made any plans about it, it was just the first lie that had come into his mind to tell her.
“And who was this girl? What’s her name?” his mother replied.
“I can’t remember.”
“That’s convenient. You haven’t mentioned her before,” his mother added.
“I was meeting her for the first time,” he told her. One simple lie and he could tell the truth, well a very edited version of the truth.
“Was this some blind date?” His mother asked.
“I met her through a dating app on my phone. She wanted to meet at the Green Man. I can’t remember her name but her number and everything are on my phone,” he said, barely having to think about his story, even though his mind still felt fuzzy and full of cotton wool.
“Well that’s gone,” his mother shot back.
“What has?” Shaun asked her.
“Your phone. They took everything off you. They stole your car, which no one will see again. They cleared out your bank account yesterday, and again you won’t see any of that again. I spent this morning getting your bank card and phone cancelled, though it’s all a bit late, and the police weren’t hopeful about your car,” his mother bluntly told him, but all Shaun heard was that all the money had gone from his bank account. What was he going to do?
“All my money has gone?” Shaun mumbled.
“Every penny,” his mother said.
“But my rent is due in a week,” he said. The thought occupied all his mind now, he had to save his home, but he didn’t know how, not from a hospital bed.
“I have already sorted that out,” his mother replied. For a moment he thought she would actually pay his rent, but her next words killed that thought. “You’ll just have to come and live with me, you can have the back ensuite double bedroom. I’ll organise moving all your things from your flat, later this week.”
“You’ll pack up all my stuff?” The thought of her packing away all his personal possessions caught in his throat. He had to stop her.
“God, no. I’m far too busy. The removal firm will pack up all your things before they move them,” his mother said, in her flat and business-like tone. At least it would be complete strangers sorting through his dirty underwear and packing away his porn DVDs, at least it won’t be his mother or one of her employees reporting back to his mother.
His mother had left shortly after making her announcement, leaving Shaun to worry about what she had said. All his money was gone and with it was his independence. He was back where he started, facing again living with his mother, and he’d achieved nothing.
His last visitors that day had arrived in the late afternoon. It was a man and a woman, both dressed in business suits. The man was Shaun’s age or a little younger. His brown hair was cut into a style that seemed to be a quiff dominating his forehead and the rest of his hair cut short on his head. His thick, rugby player-like body was squeezed into a cheap, high street store suit. The woman was in her late forties, her pale blonde hair was cut into a neat and short style, while her petite body was covered by an obviously expensive matching jacket and skirt. Just from her demeanour, Shaun could tell she was the one in charge. She did all the talking.
“Mr Shaun Wiseman, I’m Detective Sargent Smith and this is Detective Constable MacIvor,” the woman said.
“Oh, right. Good to see you,” Shaun replied, as he pressed the button for his pain control machine.
Detective Sargent Smith had questioned him about the attack and he had told her the same story has he had told his mother, it was a lie but one he had to stick to now. If the truth came out the first one to find out would be his mother and he couldn’t risk that now he was being forced back into living in her house. He didn’t know who that Arron was, even if that had been his real name, and his memory of what that men looked like was foggy.
In the face of Detective Sargent Smith’s questions, he’d told her that he’d gone to The Green Man to meet a woman that he’d met through a dating app, it would have been their first date. He had the woman’s details on his phone, but that had been stolen. He said he’d gone to The Green Man to meet her, a man had spoken to him as he had been entering the pub, and after that he couldn’t remember anything.
As he had told her his story, Shaun had watched Detective Sargent Smith’s face. Her expression had been strange but he had seen that expression before. He had seen that expression on the faces of nurses and doctors when they were listening to explanations of why a client’s care had not been delivered, listening to explanations of his mother’s company not having enough carers or carers with the right skills, when his mother had been delivering one of her explanations on why her company had failed. It was an expression were someone was trying to hide their disbelieve, trying to hide the fact that they did not believe what they were being told. Detective Sargent Smith’s face had that same expression. She didn’t believe him.
At the end of his answers, Detective Sargent Smith had said:
“Unfortunately, the CCTV cameras outside The Green Man are false, it’s that sort of establishment. The CCTV cameras on the opposite side of the street, where you say you parked, were also broken. The Council repairs them and straight away they get broken, such is The Green Man. So, we don’t have any CCTV video of your attack.”
“Oh…” Shaun replied. He didn’t know what to feel, his lie was safe but Arron and his friends would go free.
“Now Mr Wiseman, I have to ask you this,” Detective Sargent Smith said, leaning towards him.
Shaun felt something catch in his throat. What was she after now?
“What?” Shaun quietly replied.
“There have been several incidences of gay men being lured to places without CCTV, by a man they have meet on a dating app, only to be attacked and robbed,” she said.
“That’s terrible,” Shaun said, he could see where she was going.
“I think that is what happened to you, Mr Wiseman,” she added.
“No, it didn’t,” Shaun told her.
“We can keep this all confidential, people do not have to know why you were at The Green Man. I have met your mother in the past, socially that is, and I know she is a forcible woman. She does not need to know why you were there,” she said, her voice gentle and almost reassuring.
“I told you I was there to meet a woman, and I cannot remember her name but I was beaten on the head,” Shaun replied.
“If you say so Mr Wiseman,” Detective Sargent Smith said as she sat up right, her voice holding a cold and professional tone.
He spent four weeks in hospital and had to have four different operations to his leg. After each operation he’d wake up in further pain and with further operation wounds along his leg, running under that metal cage on his leg. After his last operation he’d woken up to find a large and heavy plaster on his leg, the metal cage was finally gone. The cast stretched from his toes to just below his groin, his knee resting in a slightly bent angle. Yet all of that hadn’t been the worst part of it all.
The he hated how powerless and lonely he felt. For most of his days he’d just lie in bed watching television or reading things off his new phone. The staff on the ward always looked busy but for him his days were long and empty. His only visitor was his mother, each day on her way home from work. She would bring him an evening meal, something she had bought on her way there, maintaining that no one should have to eat hospital food all day, collect any washing he had and drop off clean clothes, all his laundry done by her housekeeper, Mrs Roach. If his mother had no plans that evening, she would sit by his bed and complain about her day. He liked it when that happened, his mother’s voice would drone on about something that wasn’t related to hospitals and illness, her tales of running her company were a breath of fresh air to him, a glimpse of the world out there. Most days she was rushing off somewhere, a business dinner, an evening meal with friends, attending one of the many local societies she felt were so important to her job. When he was living with her, he’d been glad of her busy social life, it meant he would often have the house to himself and not have her bothering him. Now, lying in his hospital bed, he resented her social life, that would whisk her away from him so quickly, he longed to hear her complaining news. He longed to hear anything that wasn’t about his injuries.
The worst part of being a hospital patient was the loneliness. He’d never had any real friends, he found friendships awkward and difficult to maintain, but it now meant no one, bar his mother, came to visit him. During the day he’d lay in his bed and watch the ward around him. A few of the other patients were men around his own age, with injuries as severe his own, but most of the other patients were old men, usually with a broken leg or hip, being slowly rehabilitated by the nurses and others.
He had so little to occupy his mind and he’d find it returning again and again to that Friday night. Over and over his mind went back to what happened, how he should have known what was going to happen, how he should have avoided it, he should never have followed that Arron down that alley way, he should have seen those men and their bats, he should have avoided it. It was his fault that he ended up in this mess, he should have avoided those men, avoided that attack.
At night it was worse. The ward was never really in darkness, at best the lights were dimmed but not fully turned off, and the place was never quiet, there was always a nurse walking around or another patient making noise or the low hum of some machinery. He found it difficult to get to sleep, just lying awake in the dim light and desperately waiting for sleep. When this happened, his mind would go back to the attack, again and again going over the events and lambasting himself for not avoiding it. When he did finally fall asleep his sleep was never restful. It would always be interrupted by nightmares, were he’d re-live the attack moment-by-moment, blow-by-blow. Often he’d wake-up suddenly in the middle of one of these dreams, cold sweat running into his eyes and his heart racing in his chest. Then he’d be left back in his original situation, lying awake, his body aching and sleep miles away again.
He didn’t tell anyone about the nightmares or the self-doubt that plagued his mind. Just to think about them made him feel week and embarrassed, he couldn’t admit it to anyone else. Most of the nurses on the ward were middle aged women, all of them seemed to have a motherly quality to them, but he couldn’t even tell his own mother how he felt, let alone one of those nurses.
There was Kenny, who was the only male nurse on the ward, if you didn’t count the odd male agency nurse, and Shaun was always happy when Kenny was looking after him. Kenny was very kind and always attentive, he could never fault Kenny’s care. Kenny didn’t take half an hour to get him pain killers or tell him to hang-on when he asked for a bedpan. But Shaun had felt a deep and quiet attraction towards Kenny from the moment he’d been able to fully focus on him. He especially enjoyed it when Kenny changed his dressing. He never enjoyed his dressing changes but when Kenny did it he’d ask Shaun how he was doing and afterwards, after Kenny had taken off his latex gloves, he’d would rest his hand lightly on Shaun’s shoulder or upper arm, as they spoke.
It felt like one of those silly, teenage crushes, his emotions running high because a handsome man was showing him a little attention and kindness, but in this lonely environment Shaun was clutching at anything. At least Kenny would talk to him, not deep or long conversations, they were usually only a few minutes long, and usually about television programs they had both watched, but at least they were conversations about more than just his physical health.
He only left that hospital bed the second day after his fourth operation. The doctors had finally told him that the last operation had “stabilised” his leg, and now with the cast on his leg, he could now finally get up on crutches. He’d felt a rush of excitement at the news, but the reality had proved much harder. Mid-morning two physiotherapists had turned up at his bedside with a pair of crutches. They were two women, a younger one with obviously bleached white hair, and an older one with her chestnut brown hair tied back in a loose ponytail. They’d helped him sit on the edge of his bed and lower his left leg over the side of it. As his left leg had tipped over the edge of the mattress, he’d felt a surge of pain rush up his leg. He’d tried to bite down on the pain but when they had stood him upright, using those crutches, the pain had become unbearable, once again it felt as if his leg was on fire, and he’d screamed out against it, as his head spun around wildly with dizziness. The next moment he was sat in the armchair next to bed, with his head still spinning, as the older woman was telling him off for not tiring hard enough.
He spent the rest of the morning sat in that armchair, with his left leg resting on a stool. He was out of the bed but it felt like climbing a mountain to do so.
Before he helped Shaun back into bed, at mid-day, Kenny had patted Shaun on the shoulder and said:
“Well done mate.”
Shaun had wanted to say how hard it was but he didn’t, he basked in that moment of attention.
For the rest of the week he had been primarily under the care of those two physiotherapists, Dee the younger and blonde-haired one and Liz the older one who was the one obviously in charge. She was the one who dictated what exercises and movements he did, always ready to tell him off when he wasn’t working as hard as she thought he should be doing. At first, he’d tried to protest about the pain in his leg and how easily he became tired, but Liz would have nothing of it, she would relentlessly push at him. She wanted him walking on crutches, be able to stand up un-aided, to be able to walk up and down stairs, and so many things just using those aluminium crutches.
He found walking with those crutches, with his leg in a full-length cast, difficult and tiring. They told him that he mustn’t weight bare through his left leg, so the whole time up on those crutches he had to keep his left leg raised, lifting it up against the weight of that cast. Even just taking a few steps was tiring and difficult, his balance was constantly being pulled to the left by the heavy cast weighing down his leg. It affected his whole sense of balance and actually made standing upright, perched on his right foot and leaning on the crutches, a strong act of will. The weight of the cast also seemed to take all the energy he could sum up. Just walking across the ward, to the toilet was tiring enough.
All the while he was struggling on those crutches there was Liz the physiotherapist at his side, nagging away at him that if he couldn’t walk/stand/climb the stairs he wouldn’t be fit enough to go home. Shaun would feel relieved when five o’clock rolled around he knew those two physiotherapists would not be coming back onto the ward, he was safe and quiet in the care of the nurses.
Mid Friday morning the doctors had come back to see him, a gaggle of three doctors, without Mr Melnyk his surgeon, but with Katie the ward’s manager. The leading doctor had told Shaun that he was now ready to go home. Shaun hadn’t felt ready but the desire to be finally away from the ward was too great, he’d quickly agreed.
“I’ll make all the arranges,” Katie quickly told him, “I told your mother I’d call her when you would be coming home.”
Shaun had smiled his reply.
That night, as the day shift of nurses changed over to the night nurses, Kenny had come to his bed. Shaun was surprised to see that Kenny was no longer wearing his nurse’s uniform, instead he was dressed in a large, loosely knitted grey jumper that actually seemed to hang off his body and skinny blue jeans.
“I heard you are going home tomorrow,” Kenny said, smiling at him.
“Yes,” Shaun replied, unable to hide the relief from his voice.
“I’m off tomorrow, I’ve got the weekend off, so I wanted to say goodbye now. I’ll miss you,” Kenny said.
“Thank you. You’ve been really helpful, you’ve got me so far,” Shaun replied. Kenny said he’d miss him, Shaun had felt a rush of delight when he’d hear Kenny say that, and with the rush of delight he’d wanted to tell Kenny how he felt about him. Well, at least some of the things he felt about Kenny, the gratitude he felt for Kenny’s care. He couldn’t actually tell Kenny how he really felt about him, he couldn’t admit his attraction to Kenny.
“Thanks, I’m glad I helped,” Kenny said, as his right hand absent-mindedly turned a polished ring on his left ring finger. Shaun didn’t remember seeing that ring before, and he’d studied so much of Kenny over the previous four weeks. It was a silver ring, fashioned to look like two fine cords of rope wrapped around each other in a turning spiral.
“Is that ring new?” Shaun asked, the words out of his mouth before he had really thought about them. “I’ve not seen it before.”
Kenny’s right hand touched his ring again.
“We’re not allowed to wear rings at work, they get in the way of hand hygiene, but I wear it all the time I’m not at work,” Kenny explained. “I’ll never worn a ring before, but… Well, it’s my engagement ring.”
“She must be a really lucky girl,” Shaun said, the platitude jumping to his lips.
Kenny’s checks had flushed a pale pink, embarrassment rising across his face. He leaned his face closer to Shaun’s and quietly said:
“I got engaged to my boyfriend Eddy, two weeks ago.”
“Then he’s a very lucky guy,” Shaun said, and meant it.
“Thanks, I’ve got to go now. I’m meeting him for dinner.”
“Thank you for all your help,” he told Kenny.
After Kenny had left, Shaun had felt a deep stab of regret. For once he’d actually fallen for a nice, caring gay man but he’d been too late, another guy had already got there long before him. Kenny already had his Eddy before Shaun had met him. Shaun couldn’t even find himself a nice and caring single gay man to have a deep crush on. He couldn’t even get that right.
The next morning his mother had collected him from the hospital in a large, disabled-access taxi, and during the drive to her home she had almost kept up a constant monolog about all the problems he had caused her. How she’d had to get her home adapted especially for him, putting in a stair-lift and making his ensuite disabled-accessible (all of which he was sure she had organised discounts on), and how much stress he had caused her.
“Nathan has never caused me this much stress and hassle,” his mother announced as they bounced along in the taxi.
Shaun bit down on snapping his reply that she had complained enough about Nathan, two months previous, when he’d left his wife Jessica for April, the twenty-three year old, very thin and very blonde Beautician. His mother had been screaming down the telephone at Nathan about how much he’d disappointed her. But Shaun knew that he couldn’t antagonise her or argue with her anymore, because once again he was dependant on her. He wouldn’t just be living in her home again but he was now completely dependent on her. He wouldn’t be able to return to work for months, if ever at all, and so he had to look to her to look after him. Therefore, he had to keep her happy and not unset her. He was back to being a dependant teenager again, and that hurt as much as the pain in his leg.
When they reached his mother’s home Shaun found that she had installed a stairlift, but it was on the kitchen stairs, the narrow staircase at the back of house, not on the main staircase that formed part of the house’s large entrance hallway. He’d had to take a slow and awkward walk, barely balanced on his crutches, right through the house to reach the stairlift, his mother was so proud of, tucked away on the stairs that lead off the kitchen up to the house’s first floor.
At the top of the stairlift he’d found an old wheelchair waiting for him. With a sigh of relief, he’d dropped down into it. From there his mother had shown him to his new bedroom, the double bedroom at the back of the house. There he’d been greeted by a pile of brown cardboard boxes, all firmly sealed up. This was all his possessions from his old flat, his old life boxed up in front of him. He’d wanted to cry at the sight of this, again evidence of how his life had been taken away from him, but he couldn’t. His mother had been bustling around him, telling him how she’d “improved” the room for him, pride so loud in her voice.
For the ten weeks Shaun barely left that double bedroom, leaving the house’s first floor even less. He’d get up each morning, after Mrs Roach brought him some breakfast to his room, she brought him all his meals up to that room, unless his mother insisted he ate his evening meal with her in the house’s dinning room. He’d have a strip-wash at the skin in the bedroom’s ensuite bathroom, perched on the edge of his wheelchair. Then he’d dress in sweatpants and tee-shirt, they were the only clothes he could easily put on himself and there was no point in dressing in anything more smart or stylish, he hardly left that bedroom. He would spend his days watching television, his television and computer had been the first things he’d unpacked, or else he’d slowly unpack his belongings from those cardboard boxes.
Over a week after he’d moved in there, he’d found his six porn DVDs, he’d almost forgotten about them. They were at the bottom of box contenting the rest of his DVDs, the Hollywood films and TV series he had enjoyed re-watching. The porn DVDs had been placed face downwards, as if someone was trying to hide them. He’d turned them over in his hands, for a few moments remembering the initial excitement he’d felt at buying them, before hiding them away at the back of his underwear draw, he didn’t want them causing any uncomfortable or worse conversations with his mother.
When his replacement phone had finally arrived in hospital, he’d left all the gay dating apps on it unopened. There seemed no point in reactivating them at that time.
After ten weeks he returned to the hospital, dressed in the loosest fitting skirt and trousers he had, accompanied by his mother. She told him she was accompanying him, in such a sharp tone that he knew not to argue with her. There, after several x-rays and a consultation with one of Mr Melnyk’s Junior Doctors, his mother had expressed her annoyance that Mr Melnyk himself wasn’t available in person, his cast had been finally removed.
The nurse in the Plaster Room, another middle-aged woman, had chattered along brightly as she’s removed the cast, with a strangely vibrating saw, and removed the dressings and remaining stitches from his left leg. Shaun had barely heard her words, the sight of his withered, scared and deformed left leg had almost taken his breath away. He’d read online that limbs under casts become hairy and scaly with dried skin, but his leg looked a hundred times worse than he’d expected. His leg was thin, almost all the flesh had seemed to disappear from it, uncomfortably deformed, it seemed to twist outward even when he tried to hold it straight, and was criss-crossed with deep and angry looking scares.
His leg looked so horribly unnatural. He’d not expected it to look like this, to look so bad, but it did.
The nurse chattered away brightly as she fitted a “walking brace”, a grey rigid plastic boot that stretched up to his knee, over an articulated brace that held his knee secure, that actually had two metal hinges on either side. Shaun barely heard what she said, things about how to look after himself, he was too much in shock at how deformed and ugly his leg looked.
He had found walking, with the aid of his crutches, easier with the leg and knee braces, even though the brace stopped any side-to-side movements, and turned down the offer of a wheelchair as he left the Outpatients Department. But he’d barely made it to the lifts in the main corridor before a wave of tiredness hit him and he had to sit down on the metal benches there.
“This wouldn’t happen if you’d just ask for some help,” his mother hissed at him before she returned to the Outpatients Department to find him a wheelchair.
When he’d returned back to his mother’s home, when he was finally hidden away in his new bedroom by himself, he’d taken out his new phone and deleted all the gay dating apps off it. Who would want him now? Now he had such a deformed and ugly leg. That brief window in which he’d hoped to find a boyfriend and happiness, or at least a regular sex life, was gone forever. He’d then cried to himself, large silent tears running down his face. He told himself he was crying because of the pain in his leg, but the pain wasn’t just in his leg.
He’d spent weeks more in those braces, weeks of attending physiotherapy appointments, weeks of daily exercises to try and to build-up some strength to the muscles in his left leg, weeks of taking pain killers like sweets because the pain in his leg seemed even worse than when the cast was on it. All that time he’d only felt frustration, he could not see any end to it all, he’d never get his leg back the way it had been, it would never fully heal, he would be left a cripple, the question was just how big a cripple, but still a cripple who no one else would touch. There had been no let up during the night either. When he eventually fell asleep each night, some nights sleep wouldn’t come to him until gone three o’clock in the morning, his sleep would be plagued with nightmarish dreams, dreams that re-lived the attack on him blow by blow, broken bone by broken bone.
At seven months after his injury his mother had given him an ultimatum. Over dinner that Friday evening, she’d insisted that they eat together that evening, she’d told him:
“I need you back at work. I can’t afford for you to be sitting around here all day anymore. I need you back at work, it’s that simple.”
“Yes, right,” he replied. He’d not thought about returning to work, he’d still been so focused on his walking, which he still could only manage to do using both his crutches.
“So you’re back in work with me on Monday morning. There’s a mountain of work there for you,” she told him.
“Right,” he replied. There seemed nothing else he could say.
“I’ll drive you there, of course,” she added.
“Thank you,” he said. He was sure it was what she expected him to say.
On Monday morning, dressed in his old work clothes, clothes he hadn’t thought about in months, he’d sat himself down into the front passenger of his mother’s car. He’d bitten down on the pain as she spread along the roads to work, there was no point in complaining.
He stretched out his leg again and felt no resistance, the pain had finally eased and disappeared. A respite from it always felt so good, a moment of feeling nearly normal again. He looked along the promenade, which seemed busy with people strolling in both directions. A seaside promenade had always struck him as a strange, Victorian invention, a walkway pavement built at the high tide mark of a beach just so people could just parade along it, to be seen and to see. It said so much about that pretentious, middle-class attitude that one was so important that other people just wanted to see you and be seen in your presence. An attitude that his mother possessed in large amounts. She liked people to know who she was and when she was present at some function or another. Shaun just wanted to disappear into the background of any room, he was much happier if people didn’t pay him any attention, especially now with his crippled leg.
Slowly and awkwardly he pushed himself up from the bench, using his walking stick as a lever, until he was finally stood upright again. There was a stiff twinge of pain in his left knee, as his damaged joint made a momentarily protest against movement. Leaning heavily on his walking stick, Shaun began to walk back along the promenade, heading back towards the cliff railway and then his hotel.
He had walked twenty meters or so, in his slow and wobbling gate, when a strange thought had struck him, someone was following him. He paused and glanced back over his shoulder. There was just the usual gaggle of holidaymakers, mostly elderly couples, wandering along the promenade behind him, there was no one obviously following him, no one obviously stood there and waiting for him to move. Neither was there anyone else in front of him who was obviously following him by keeping ahead of him. Then, to his left-hand side he saw them. Three, large, dirty white seagulls were perched on the promenade’s rail, all three of them staring at him with one of their black, sharp eyes. For a moment it was as if those three gulls knew what he was intending to do. It was a strange and uncomfortable thought, and completely irrational, those birds could not read minds, they would barely respond to human commands.
Then the right-hand seagull issued a loud squawk, stretched out its wings wide and jumped back into the air, and with a few beats of those wings it was flying away, causing the other seagulls to squawk in protest, flapping their own wings against each other.
Shaun shook his head to himself, and started walking again. He was just being stupid, he told himself.
He sat down on the wooden bench, outside the closed gates onto the cliff railway. The gloss painted bench was hard and uncomfortable against his buttocks but that wasn’t his concern. His left leg was throbbing with a sharp and hot pain. The pain had begun again before he’d got halfway back to the cliff railway but he hadn’t stopped to rest, he kept telling himself that he had to get back to the cliff railway, he couldn’t rest until at least he was back at the cliff railway. The determination had kept him going, pushing him forward with each step. But the moment he’d reached the cliff railway all that resolve had evaporated and he’d almost dropped down onto that bright green wooden bench there, just outside the entry gates.
As he’d been walking up to the cliff railway station, down there on the promenade, the passenger gates had been closing, the next moment the passenger car was slowly moving up the rails, up the cliff side. Shaun hadn’t been able to rush to catch it, even if his leg hadn’t been throbbing with pain, his walking speed was now so pitifully slow at the best of times. But the throbbing pain now meant that he needed to sit down and rest, the pain was too great to even allow him to stand for the short trip the cliff railway took to reach the top of the cliff and for the equally short walk from there to his hotel. He had to rest now.
He’d been attacked two and a half years ago, in a little over three months he would thirty-eight years old, nearly forty, and his life already felt as if it was over. He was a cripple, living back with his mother. He’d never had a boyfriend, and beyond casual sexual encounters that had only left him hungry for more, he’d done virtually nothing about his sexuality. He felt such a failure and such a cliché, the sad old homosexual still living with his mother, even if it was out of necessity.
When he’d returned to work, he’d found a desk full of tasks waiting for him, his mother had pushed so many different things onto his desk for him to sort out, things that she certainly did not want to do. The problem was he found his concentration and energy levels being dictated by his pain levels. If his pain levels were high then his concentration and energy levels were drained. Marni certainly tried to help. If she saw he was struggling she would try and siphon off some of his work or, if his mother was out of the office, send him home. But even with Marni’s support, he was struggling at work. Sitting at a desk, all day long, took its tole on his leg. At the end of day, his ankle and foot would be swollen and pushing against his shoe and sock, while his leg would be throbbing with its sharp pain. Even walking the short distance to his mother’s car would be deeply painful.
All that physiotherapy he’d endured had only seemed to move him off using crutches and onto walking with a metal walking stick. His walking was still painfully slow and he still needed to stop and rest, just to manage the pain in his leg, when he tried to walk anything but a short distance. Running, cycling, merely rushing up a flight of stairs, all seemed things lost to him now. He even walked like a crippled now, like a seventy-year-old man, and he was only thirty-seven. He felt so pathetic. He knew his mother was now frustrated at his slow progress. She didn’t say so, well not often but even her sharp tongue would slip, but mainly he saw it in the frustrated looks she would give him. When he’d be slowly walking to her car at the end of a working day, when he was slowly walking through the house for a meal, whenever she would have to stop and wait for him to catch up with her; it was that same look of frustration that would flash across her face.
Since he was attacked he’d lived like a monk, his life completely celibate. He’d not put any of those gay dating apps back on his phone since he’d deleted them, and if he was tempted to do so again he’d remember how ugly and deformed his leg looked and that would stop him. Who would want to have sex with him when he now looked so ugly, so pathetic? He couldn’t forget how ugly he now looked. Each day, in the shower or in the bath, he was reminded of the ugliness of his leg. As he washed it, he’d stared at its scars, twisted and wasted muscle, and the outlines of the metalwork he could still feel under the skin. It was so disgusting.
He heard the clank and grinding noise of the cliff railway’s car moving down the tracks towards him. For a moment he watched the green, metal car approaching him. In that moment he considered just sitting there and letting the car stop at the station and then return back up the cliff without him, to give his leg more time to let the pain ease, but he quickly rejected that idea. The pain had now hit the point were rest alone would not ease it, he now needed pain killers, and they were back in his hotel room.
He slowly pulled himself back up to standing, again using his walking stick, and slowly hobbled to the cliff railway’s closed gates.
There had been no one in that empty car, so when its door and the gates opened, Shaun had hobbled onto it alone. Taking hold of the hand rail to steady himself for the short ride, there wasn’t any benches inside the car. It was barely a minute’s ride up to the top of the cliff but he needed that hand rail to stop him falling over, he’d lost so much of his ability to balance when his leg had been shattered.
He didn’t know who his father was, the man had left his mother when Shaun was three years old, and his mother had never mentioned him. As a child his mind had fantasied about who his father really was, a spy, a famous actor, a member of the nobility, as many reasons as his little imagination could find for why his father was no longer there in his life. He imagination didn’t venture into the simple answer that his parents no longer loved each other, maybe even hated each other, but even that explanation asked far more questions than he knew any of the answers to.
He’s only asked his mother once about his father. He’d been eleven and again he was being bullied at school about not having a father. An absentee father was seen as a large mark of weakness at his school, even just seeing your father every Saturday afternoon was considered far more “normal” than having no father at all. Nathan had been out that evening, at seventeen Nathan had barely been home, and it had just been him and his mother for dinner. As they ate, he’d asked her:
“What happened to my father? Why don’t we see him?”
“Your father is a useless bastard and we’re all better off without him,” his mother shot back at him. “He has not contributed one penny to this family. He made it clear he didn’t want anything to do with us when he left, and he hasn’t made contact with me once since then. I had to force him to sign those divorce papers, and I’m a bloody sight better off without him, the useless excuse that he was.”
Her tone was so harsh and hard that Shaun instinctively knew not to ask any further questions. He wasn’t close to Nathan so there was no point in asking his brother, who’d been eight when their father left, Nathan would just have ignored him or reported him to their mother, depending on the mood he was in that day.
Over the following years, as he grew older, Shaun began to wander if their father’s leaving was due to another factor. Shaun and Nathan barely looked like brothers. Nathan was solidly built, with a square and open face, and his head covered in thick, black hair. Shaun had always been thin, his lean body had been hard to develop thick muscles on, while his face was thinner than Nathan’s, dominated by his dark brown eyes, and his hair was brown and curly, growing unruly when not cut. Neither did he much resemble his mother in looks. Though her hair had been bleached a pale blonde for as long as he could remember, her figure was always curvingly round and female, breasts and hips dominating her outline, and her face was round and open looking.
Did he and Nathan even share the same father? The thought had repeatedly haunted his mind over the years. Was that the reason why Nathan had always been the apple of his mother’s eye, the perfect son who could do nothing wrong; whereas Shaun was the son who was always a constant disappointment to his mother. Did she even love him or was he just a continual burden from some previous mistake?
With a gentle movement the cliff railway car came to a stop at the top of the cliff. The doors on the far end of car opened, the station’s gates already open, and Shaun found four middle-aged women filling the doorway, all dressed up for a night out on the town, wearing bright colours and sparkling sequins, and all showing their ample cleavages.
As he hobbled towards the doorway, leaning heavily on his walking stick, the women had rushed into the car, until one of them called out:
“Stand back girls! Let the disabled lad off first.”
And with that call the women had all stood to one side to let him pass.
It was only a short walk from the station back to his hotel, but with the pain in his leg he could just walk at a slow, hobbling pace now. He was so feed-up of this now, his crippled nature that was now holding back his whole life. He’d aged, doubled his years with this crippled leg, he now moved liked an old man, and he deeply hated it.
He’d come to Scarborough because he did not know anyone who lived there, that was very true, not because he feared running into someone he knew, but he feared meeting someone he knew and their mere presence breaking his resolve.
Before he came on holiday, he’d collected a month’s supply of his three different pain killers from his pharmacy, and he’d brought all that stock of tablets him with, not just a week’s supply. He’d read many years ago of people booking into hotels just to kill themselves, and at the time he’d not seen the point of that, now it made complete sense to him. As much as his relationship with his mother was failing, he couldn’t force his own dead body onto her, he couldn’t cause her to be the one to find his dead body, his death in her own home.
Committing suicide in a hotel seemed almost clinical and detached. The people who would find his body would be strangers and his death would not have any emotionally impact upon them. He was just a stranger to them, would just be a dead body, just an inconvenience to them. His mother would have a warning of his death before she was faced with the physical reality, she wouldn’t be faced with the sudden shock of his death and the physical reality of dealing with that all in her own home. He could spare her that.
The more he thought about it the more it all made sense to him. Book himself into a hotel, in a town where no one knows him and he can finally end his miserable life, easing the emotional stress it would cause others.
It was the pain he could no longer live with. The physical pain radiating out of his leg and physically eating away at his body, and the emotional pain eating away at his very personality. His life was such an empty failure, and with his crippled leg, he saw no way out of it, no way to change the emptiness inside of himself, he was trapped and he hated it. Taking all those pills, even though it would probably take a long time to actually swallow them all, was his only chance at any sort of peace, it was all he could see to do.
Slowly he hobbled back to his hotel.