(A little short story I’ve written during my brief time in Brighton. Semi-autobiographical and containing strong language, violence, defecation and vomiting. Enjoy.)
He was pissed when he kicked the seagull. It wasn’t his fault. Not the argument at least. Sarah was as drunk as he was, shouting at him over three glasses of white wine and an ashtray filled with lipstick stained Marlboro lights. It hadn’t been going well, his drinking was the problem, his self-obsessed nature, his lack of attention. After the first few minutes of her tirade he’d tuned out, nodding along like a child’s toy. She left him there with the bill for the drinks, walking out shaking her head, back to her flatmate for a consolatory bottle of wine and then a one-night stand later he imagined. He stayed, ordered a pint and then another before lurching from pub to pub along the seafront.
Her insults stung like the acrid salt air as he passed the rusted hulk of the old pier, veering into the cycle lane as a late night twat on a racer overtook him as if Brighton was the last stage of the Tour De France. The kebab he gnawed at was dirty. Straight from the elephant trunk, all the salad, chilli sauce and mayo served with a Mediterranean accent and a sense of ‘why don’t you fuck off.’
He hardly had a chance to touch the pitta bread, his hand – still covered with the sticky slug trail of Jaegermeiester – as he put the new mobile phone to his ear and stabbed her number.
Ring. Ring. Ring. Answer phone. Always the semi-friendly yet inviting tone of her middle-england accent. Hard to decipher. Hard to read. A message that was less of a greeting than was a truncated Oxbridge exam paper.
The spray from the sea drew his eyes closer than they should be at 12:00am in the morning, eyelids drawn tight as he walked this path along the beach in the night rain. He wondered whether Shackleton had felt this way then he trod the solid whiteness, Then again Shackleton probably hadn’t had seven pints, two pills, three lines and a ‘You’ve had enough mate, time to home’ from the guardian of the door.
David Benson had just passed the beach volley courts, dripping kebab in hand as his fate hovered overhead, gently cresting on the Atlantic breeze. He zig-zagged the pavement, marking out a crazed pathway as the repetitive loops of a not-quite-there-and-never-will-be electro band finished their set to less than a few hands applause.
He didn’t see the piece of mortar jutting from the wall which came up way too fast for someone who had used his Visa card to pay for shots only an hour ago. The jutting piece of mortar which sent him falling forward – in slow motion – like in a badly edited film, the pavement coming up at him, kebab falling from his one hand as he broke his fall with the other. If it wasn’t for the beer jacket he’d been wearing David guessed it would have hurt, he looked to his right hand to see it grazed with gravel, his jeans now torn more than the designer anticipated. ‘Fuck.’
It was seeing the kebab that sent him over the edge, his dinner strewn across the pathway and onto the shingle of the beach. Seeing The Gull, standing there in the mix of salad, mechanically recovered meat and sauce. The Gull, a large one, treading upon his junk food feast, looking up at him, his low squawking a late night mockery. The final ‘fuck you’ of the night. The bird spread its wings, feathers coated in orange paint and filth, shaking its body from side to side in some form of territorial dance. So Dave did what came naturally, all the booze and anger and despair welling up in his right foot as he strode forward and booted the seagull as if he was Ronaldo taking a penalty kick, the bird taking his foot breast on, arcing high into the air, dirty feathers flying and landing in a heap ten feet ahead.
He felt a cocktail of pride, anger and a little remorse before he vomited a cocktail of lager, kebabs and spirits down his shirt.
Saturday was passed in a haze. He woke up at 2pm on the sofa, his sick-stained shirt on the floor; a spilt can of Stella upon the table. It was the tapping that woke him. The tap tap tap of an object against glass. He wiped the sleep from his bloodshot eyes and focused on the patio door that led to the balcony. Tap tap tap.
There was a Gull there; sitting on the arm of the cheap plastic patio furniture he’d bought from Asda. Not the same one he’d kicked, couldn’t have been – he’d checked its body after he finished being sick. Tap tap tap.
The Gull stood there, pecking at the glass with its stout, longish bill. David saw the tattered remains of a plastic bag around its neck, like a cravat made from a Tesco’s bag. Tap tap tap.
David floundered, his hand thrashing on the floor to find an object to throw – finding shoe to sling. The Gull jumped back one of Clark’s finest patent leather soles impacted the glass. It stood there for a moment, shook its head and flew up and away from the balcony, swooping away from the apartment and over the moored boats of the marina.
David hauled himself upright and peered closer. The Gull had shat all over the patio, the foul acidic slurry covering the chairs, table and floor. He sprinted to the bathroom but didn’t make it in time.
By Wednesday he‘d become paranoid. He understood this was Brighton, a coastal town with plenty of seabirds but this was becoming more than coincidence. On Monday he’d taken the number seven bus to work usual and had a gull follow him, flying just outside the window of his normal seat on the upper deck. He battered at the window with a rolled-up copy of The Mirror before some crusty animal rights bird in tie-dye began screaming at him and calling him a fascist. He swore that on the way back home as he glanced back he could see at least half a dozen gulls following the bus, squawking in unison as he got off near the McDonalds, the birds getting under his feet as they picked through the bins overflowing with happy meals and McFlurrys.
Tuesday he’d gone for a fag or two on the smoking balcony same as any other break time, lighting up to find The Gull with the Tesco cravat peering down on him from a nearby rooftop. With nothing heavy to throw he engaged the bird in a staring contest as it paced the concrete ten metres away. He was hypnotized for almost five minutes gazing at the dirty white bird, its phlegm yellow eyes seemingly unblinking until Karl nudged him and reminded him break was over.
Wednesday they surrounded him on Churchill Square as he ate his M&S sandwiches on the stone steps, more than dozen winding around his feet like a feathered snake, pecking at his legs until he ran, hurling the prawn mayo on granary onto the ground behind him as a desperate sacrificial offering and fleeing into the shopping centre.
By Thursday they were affecting his sleep. He’d always been a heavy sleeper, especially after a few beaters and a pizza but now as he lay on his mattress the shrill tones of gulls pierced the night air. They didn’t make the usual beautiful tones recorded by ornithologists, no. This was the tribal sounds of fighting, feeding and fucking – jagged, brutal sounds like kittens being drowned or babies screaming. All. Night. Long.
He wished he could climb onto the eaves of the apartment block, weapon in hand, sweeping and slicing at the tortuous birds in a massacre of dirty blood and salt encrusted feathers. Instead he lay in sweat soaked sheets, seeing the silhouettes of the gulls scraping their disease ridden feet across his window sill.
Friday they followed him to work, five or six walking the pavement behind him as if he was the Pied Piper playing a tune he hated and only they could hear. Yet more hovered in air above, dancing and cavorting around him, swooping low as he huddled deep into his jacket. He could see the curiosity in the eyes of passersby, at least one tourist stopped to take pictures and he approached the bus stop with the coterie of gulls surrounding him like an aura.
At work they lingered outside his window as he made his calls, casting shadows against his tiny desk, an aerial puppet theatre projected against his PC screen. Despite the heavy double glazing he could still hear them, every telesales call he made to a customers had the bleak squawking noise in the background, even to those who lived inland. He couldn’t drink his coffee, couldn’t face the left over pasta he had for lunch.
At eight o’clock he hit the pub, dashing from the office entrance and across to the safety of a bird free interior. He had a five course liquid dinner, watching the window with one eye as dusk came and went, black winged creatures perched on lampposts and awnings waiting for him. He clung to the bar for support as the tide of chavs, office workers, stag night idiots in printed T-shirts and other drinkers ebbed and flowed against him. Downing pint after pint, clutching at handfuls of chilli peanuts as a vague nod towards nutrition.
By half Eleven he’d been chucked out onto the street, he was almost tempted to beg the Spanish barman to let him stay, hoping to bribe him with the handful of coins left in his pockets. No dice, he was pushed into the street to face his nemeses. He bowed his head as he took his first pensive step into the street, lifting his head to see – nothing. No gulls. Just the crowds of late night drinkers meandering towards the clubs and fast food joints. Just a solitary pigeon pecking at the remains of a KFC who paid him no attention.
No money for a cab, his mind addled by ten pints of Stella and shots. He dialled Kate’s number on his phone, his fingers slipping on the smooth screen, the phone tumbling to the pavement and smashing into fragments amidst a pool of lager and cigarette butts. Swearing he kicked the remains of his new gadget and stumbled onto West Street and towards the sea.
He passed the Palace Pier, coat undone and the haze of garish illuminations blurring his vision nearly as much as the alcohol. He kept his head down, staring at the asphalt, bumping into revellers and fellow drunks, murmuring vague apologies, frightened to look to the beach or the sky for the inevitable sight of his winged foe. David lurched along Madeira Drive as the rain began to fall, past the Volks Railway, past the Concorde 2 where the noise of a bad rock tribute band assaulting his ears. Onward, one foot after the other, each step an act of will, his legs tiring with each yard. He was tempted to close his eyes as he approached the spot but something forced him to look. To stare at the patch of dried chilli sauce and rotting, dried salad stuck to the gravel encrusted path. And the body of The Gull laying there, its decomposing corpse lying in the remains of last week’s fast food.
David staggered back, legs heavy and giving way, dropping to his knees as the broken and bloodied body of The Gull began to twitch and convulse, breath returning to its punctured lungs, the creatures broken neck twisting around, turning to stare at him with its yellow eyes. He heard the cracking and twisting of bone as The Gull rose slowly from the floor, a hideous marionette of maggot ridden flesh and feathers pulled by unseen strings.
He wiped his eyes with his beer-soaked sleeve, hoping that this hallucination would fade – but it approached him, spray painted wings extending, bloodied broken skeletal structure poking through its flesh. It waited a few feet before him, wings outstretched before The Gull tipped back its neck, opening its beak far wider than could be natural, swaying its head from side to side calling forth his brethren with a piercing, strident call to arms.
David saw them then, a dirty white cloud of gulls approaching from the marina, a colony of hundreds, swirling in battle formation over the David Lloyd gym, descending towards him faster than could be possible, a chorus of wailing squawks emanating from their lungs, the birds swooping at him like Spitfires vastly outnumbering a bullet-ridden Stukka. He tried to cover his eyes as the dirty white cloud of gulls hit him like a tidal wave. It didn’t help him. Perhaps being blinded, eyeballs torn from their sockets by grimy beaks, was a mercy as the colony dragged him into the air, tearing at his flesh like winged razors, carrying him aloft, his now bare feet dragging on the wet stones and up over the swelling surf to the inky blackness of the English Channel …
© Joel Morgan 2009