Bemused and all at sea, I sat and half attentively listened. A few words here and there seemed to be enough to settle Robert’s sickness – he had at this point stopped shaking so violently, and was now lulled into a gentle sway from side to side. He retained the jaded flush in his cheeks, and, with both hands plunged into his coat pockets like dead weights, swayed rhythmically. I watched him for a while, rocking gently and anticipating the unpredictable tide of his jerks and shudders, as he gazed out across the waves and into the soft lunar light. This had been his first journey out at sea, he had told me. At only nine he had not taken to it so well. The waves had calmed momentarily. I felt sorry for him. The piercing blare of drinks and synthetic music split out from inside. The rough seas had caused several dissipated stumbles already, and everyone was inside was full of chirp and cheer. They toppled about like marbles on an uneven surface, the bride reeling around in her dress still, a flamboyant trifle, whirling and tumbling into folks happily. Robert seemed truly frightened by the horror of the shouts and wails from the drunken flock indoors. I couldn’t blame him. Most of them were aged or ghastly, or both, and all of them trundling about the place in a drunken stupor. Groups of older women were perched in corners, hurriedly devouring tidbits of nuts and fish and more alcohol, some managing to miss their own mouths with great handfuls of crisps that had been so thoughtfully laid on by the Father of the Bride.
My failings to console the boy had been well and truly exposed by the uneasiness of the water that night. He had been my second cousin, supposedly. I was unsure whether we were related at all. But I suppose if he must be my cousin, he was one of the more bearable faceless family faces that would have to be endured at such events for the remainder of my existence.
Either way, I felt sorry for him. I noticed him first on the balcony alone, lurching dangerously over the side of the boat to rid himself of his troubled guts. He arched over the side on the tips of his toes. I stayed with him through it, despite my slightly drunken state – and then another violent bout, and another, before fetching him some water. I didn’t know his parents, or anything – he didn’t seem to want to either. Only one other had bothered to check on the boy. Another obligatory, tenuous relation of mine. He had a towering frame, dwarfing every other at a striking 6”6. He always spoke with a tone of genuine curiosity in the fruitless, commonplace details of a by-yearly compatriot such as myself. I didn’t want him around. He was a fascinating dullard. A look of child-like intrigue beamed through his thick-rimmed circular spectacles whenever we engaged in forced conversation, a look which dug unnecessarily deep into the unfamiliar intricacies of others nothings. But despite his concerns, the man soon left. He burbled an excuse about fondue and scuttled back inside to the rest of the parasites.
“I don’t want to go inside.” Robert murmured wearily. The waves were rumbling beneath us, more violently than ever, and tossing the boat to and fro. His face was still green. He had the greenish look of an apple that would never run ripe. The pallor rose up from his neck and took a hold of his whole face. His heart raced, chasing his blood to the ends of its vessels, right to his blue fingertips. He was itching too. Scratching his skin endlessly. I had to draw my eyes away from him momentarily, as watching him made me want to scrape and scruff at my skin too.
There was something close, and heavy, and restless about the whole thing. Something that clung in the air, and stuck on to you, quietly in the din. The sort of evening you’d just like to peel away, to get it from you. I turned my head and attentions back to Robert. His eyelids had eclipsed his bloodshot blue eyes, by now, and I couldn’t check to hear for his breath for the clamour inside. I was worried. His chin nestled neatly in the top of his chest, as we leant up against the wall on the floor, just outside the propped door. He hadn’t looked well moments prior to his sleep. His incessant scratching had left him with raised, reddened skin all across his arms and face.
Only moments before I was to scoop the cousin up and find someone else to lumber him on, a buxom middle aged lady with a trout like face, caked in thick bright make-up emerged from the ever lively hall. Her red dress revealed two scaly looking legs which fell roughly from her hips.
“There you are! What’s up with you? Thank you, Will, for taking care of him.”
The words dropped from her puckered mouth. Her gratitude, much like her painted face, was laid on with the all the subtlety and intricacy of a shovel. By now the turbulence of the waters had reached its crest. The swells flooded in over the rotten handrail. A few of the tables rattled along the floor inside. More people clung to the bar and to each other. The water rose and fell with a hostility, almost an intent. The lady’s maggot coloured clutch bag wormed its way out from beside her heavy hips, as she brusquely tried to tug and haul Robert up from his sodden bed. Hands still plummeted in his pockets, he was a dead weight. Stiff and at peace, she shook him vigorously. He remained still. She tottered about on her high heeled shoes wailing for help and screeching for anything. Her shrill tones were drowned in the clatter and thrum of the room, sinking amongst the idle, shouts and chitter-chatter.
Some way off, far away, in the distance, a tugboat whistled… It was drunken and sobering. My confidences bottled, shattered and failing – and in the morning the tides, they came in, creeping, still, still and still.