from A Squandered Life / Graham '71

Another One Bites The Dust....

Graham also owned a very sporty muscle car - a pristine white convertible Pontiac GTO automatic - which was his absolute pride and joy. Thing was, he couldn't drive. I don't mean he simply didn't have a license. I mean he couldn't drive and refused ever to contemplate taking lessons. So this beautiful car sat outside in the drive alongside the house until Graham was minded to ask someone to act as a chauffeur for some outing or other.

If he chose one of us, we would all crowd into his car and go out for drives in search of places to build camp fires and have picnics. We might go out along the main highway into forested areas looking for bridges over babbling water. We would park up on the side of the road by a likely bridge and scamper up or down stream until we came across some level area out of sight from the road and settle down for an afternoon of light eating drinking and puffing mixed with paddling in the clear water or exploring the immediate forestry. Or we might go along the coast to look for an empty bay to clamber down into for the same purposes.

One time, on a beautiful sunny day, convertible top down, we found ourselves descending through scrub forest on a dirt track which opened up directly on to a wide curving beach. Unable to resist the opportunity, Graham took the wheel and we drove erratically across the firm sand, our hair ruffling in the breeze like a shampoo commercial. Graham parked where it was flat with the ocean gently lapping a few yards away. We picnicked and loafed as the waterline receded with the tide.

When it started to come back, it suddenly occurred to us that we might actually be in the tidal zone and began to pack our stuff up and put it in the boot of the car. Fully loaded we all jumped in, only to find that the firm sand was illusory. Back in the driver's seat, Graham spun the back wheels and the car sank into the sand. We all jumped out again and surveyed the situation. Although the sand still seemed firm and dry underfoot, if you scooped a couple of inches down water would gently emerge and reveal what, in fact, was the dominant element. We spent the next hour pushing and heaving and scooping and still the wheels sank and the tide rolled inexorably closer.

Exhausted, we paused for a strategy meeting. It was resolved that Lenor and I should go back back up the track to the nearest hamlet to see about getting a tow while the others emptied everything movable out of the car to make it as light as possible. At the top of the track and a mile or so back towards the main road, Lenor and I encountered some local people and explained our situation. We were met with unconcealed incredulity and not a few suppressed smiles. These people were having all their preconceptions about “townies” fully reinforced. We were unable to find anybody with a vehicle who was silly enough to want to drive down on to the sands.

As we desperately sought a solution to our problem, a bunch of kids, motivated by curiosity and lack of attention-holding alternatives, had accumulated in our wake. Initially a source of mild irritation as they threw a light on and magnified our towny stupidity, I gradually realised we were being followed around by our solution. In the end, with the help of a local guy called Sean and his rope, we rounded up all those kids and headed back down to the beach.

The others looked up doubtfully from their labours as we trooped across the sand. With the sea lapping gently at the car's wheels and all our goods piled up a little higher on the beach, we attached the rope to the front bumper and lined our tug-of-war team up along its length. Graham got back behind the wheel and started the engine. With surprising ease, the rest of us hauled the car forward far enough to re-establish itself on firm sand. We untied the rope and watched Graham drive off down the beach. While he was doing this we slapped Sean and the kids on the back and thanked them and saw them off back up the wooded track and headed back down to our pile of goods, now also within range of the rising tide's quiet embrace.

As we set about grabbing bundles of blankets and picnic hampers, Graham suddenly reappeared, with a big grin on his face, driving back along the higher, firmer sand towards us. He swept past us, completed a U turn, and, as we were clambering up on to the harder sand, drew up next to us, stopped, and said, “May as well just throw it all in the boot.” Within a minute and a half we'd bundled everything in, slammed the boot closed, and stood back to let him drive off. Graham hit the pedal - and spun his wheels.

To our horror, in an instant, that car was back up to its rear axle in the sand. Aghast, Graham turned to look at us. Equally aghast, we all looked at each other and the rising tide as the perfect recreation of our earlier circumstances dawned upon us. In a flash we all snapped into repeating our actions of a couple of hours earlier. Lenor ran off back to and up the track in pursuit of the kids again as the rest of us re-emptied the car and started pushing and heaving and scooping. All to no avail. By the time Lenor got back with a small contingent of the kids, that immaculate white convertible muscle car had sea water coming up through the floor.

There was nothing we could do but retreat with our chattels to yet further up the beach to where the tide had previously left its high mark and watch that dream car relax into its fate. For the next couple of hours we watched it slowly disappear. By the time the tide reached its high mark all we could see was the shining chrome top edge of the windscreen, complete with cocky sun visors. In due course, as the tide, having made its point, slowly turned and began to draw back we had the added anxiety of wondering if the undertow would actually take the car away completely.

After a time, it's joke spent, the sea gradually gave us back the GTO. It was now even deeper in the sand and listing harshly towards the receding sea. We opened the doors and let the accumulated water rush out. As we contemplated the sodden interior and our even more deeply mired predicament, we suddenly heard a puttering irregular engine noise coming down through the trees. We watched the end of the track at the edge of the beach and suddenly saw good old Sean heave into view aboard a small grey battered and smoking Massey Ferguson tractor.

Clearly having a whale of a day, Sean was smiling broadly as he drove up and turned around in front of the car. “Didn't think we could ever get this started,” he said, throwing his rope out. We lashed it up and in a trice Sean had pulled the GTO free and kept going till he got to the hard core of the track. Graham stayed behind the wheel as we threw everything into the back seat and followed on foot . Sean led the way up and through the hamlet in a short parade of the ignominious to a small garage at the other end of town. There we waited further as Sean and a lanky mechanic set about draining all the fluids and pulling the spark plugs and filters. They slooshed all the reservoirs and then topped up with everything again and, as we all held our breath, turned the engine over. After about three spins the engine caught and purred smoothly. We were all smiling again now. The GTO sounded as if it had spent the day in a heated garage on a block heater. Graham paid off Sean and the mechanic and some of the kids who were still hanging around and we headed back, waving but chastened, to the big city.

While Roger was living there, Graham's flat became a bit of a cross road with people coming and going more or less all the time. Graham worked shifts but whatever time of day or night he came back he could be reasonably assured that there would be people there talking and listening to music and smoking dope. This became a bit of a problem for him and Roger eventually moved out and into the basement flat at Jill's house just across the street. Through traffic at his flat lessened considerably but we began to see less and less of Graham as the appeal of popping in to see him was also lessened.

One day, towards the end of that year, Lenor and I pulled up on our bicycles outside Jill's place and saw a gaggle of police at the top of Graham's external staircase. I kept out of the way but Lenor went up to see what was happening. She came back down, ashen faced. “He's dead,” she said. “They think he's killed himself.”

A week or so later Lenor got a phone call at the flat. It was from Graham's parents. They were in town and wondered if they could meet with her later that day. Lenor, slightly dubiously, agreed, got smartened up, got on her bike, and went off to see them at some address in the suburbs. Jonathan and I were left in the flat having a puff and discussing this weird development when, at precisely the same moment, we stopped and stared at each other. We both jumped up and began scrambling about the flat looking for the scrap of paper with the suburban address on it, bumping into each other more than once as we each pursued our own tangential lines of investigation. No luck. We looked at each other again and remembered vaguely what part of town it was and dashed down stairs to clamber on our motorcycles. We tore across town and began desperately zooming up and down streets in the neighbourhood looking for her bike.

After some futile time, we stopped to discuss whether or not we should call the police. It seemed inevitable and we dashed some more to find a phone booth. Just before I started dialing, Jonathan said, “Just call the flat first.” I did, and felt a flood of relief as Lenor calmly answered the phone. “Please don't move from there,” I said, “We're coming back right now.” We clattered back and up the stairs and were met by a slightly bemused Lenor who was wondering what all the fuss was about.

It transpired that Graham had been writing to his parents saying that Lenor was his “best friend” in St John's and they'd simply wanted to meet with her. They were having a tough time trying to get to grips with what had happened to their son and Lenor had been the only lead. She did her best to comfort them, telling them he was a good friend and well loved by our circle, but could not, of course, throw any light on to why he might have topped himself. To this day, none of us are any the wiser.


© 2013 Deacon Martin

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