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A Shout From The Attic: The Esmé Years - 13

Ronnie Bray tells of a sub-bright day of terror.

Although Bournemouth is not exactly the Sahara Desert, on that day it might as well have been. It was one of those rare occasions when I got to visit Bournemouth and have my daughter, Andy, and my son, Curt, entrusted to my care for a few hours. It was a high summer day and Bournemouth did what it is most famous for: it let the sun shine from early morning until late at night and should have been a free and easy day of joy with those jewels of my heart whose presence brought me joy unspeakable. Yet, there was to be a terror in the day that no one understands unless he has stood where I have stood, felt what I have felt, and feared what I have feared.

The bus ride from Kinson to the centre of Bournemouth was uneventful except that I was elated with being with these great children for whom my arms and my heart so often ached. They were good company and full of the unrestrained enjoyment of life that belongs to those whose hearts are pure and innocent. The sun shone with good heat and chased away the blues, filling my heart with new hope and dreams that I hardly dared utter even in the privacy of my mind.

Central Gardens in Bournemouth are probably the most beautiful and satisfying walk in the British Isles. Exotic flowers grow side by side with common varieties, whose size set them off from their poor relations in other parts of the country. Giant Scottish Heraldic thistles in the shelter of fronded palms from the South Seas stand sentinel at the entrance to the asphalted walk towards the bandstand that stands square across a singing brook of clear water that refreshes the ear with its sounds. On the best days, there is a bright uniformed brass band positioned and playing to the throng sleeping through the sounds that will be heard in heaven.

The children walked in the stream, insouciantly wetting their shoes, listened to the music, dismissed it as too grown up to understand, and asked for ice cream. We wandered, me reluctantly, they eagerly, towards Marine Drive, a wide thoroughfare that ran along the top of the railinged promenade that overlooked the narrow strip of golden sand that bordered the cerulean sea.

At intervals, the promenade jutted out in a half circle towards the ocean. In one of these, close to the pier, stood a mobile ice cream kiosk, outside of which a queue of over-warm and irritable parents fumbled in small purses with sandy fingers to buy five minutes peace from their squawking children. Naturally, my children did not squawk, having been brought up with better standards, but I bought them a pre-emptive ice cream cone - just in case.

So heavenly was that never-to-be-forgotten day that the crowds had gathered on Bournemouth seafront in treble numbers. The yellow sands were almost covered with over-exposed bodies of various hues striving to attain the golden tawny tan of the rich and famous. We walked and talked and spoke nonsense, making ourselves laugh at our own silliness, enjoying the novelty of just being together in carefree time, whose passing we hardly noticed.

We sat and played together. Three children inhabiting a world of make-believe and fun for fun’s sake, within sight and sound of white foam-topped azure breakers noisily lapping the edge of the beach in time to a music only they could hear, and feeling in our heads the feral forever-and-ever of spell-bound eternal moments, removed from mundane time and earthly considerations. Briefly, the place became the Elysian Fields.

At some nonsense, I threw my head back in uncontrollable laughter. When I returned to what passed for normal that day, I was short of one diminutive son. Curtis had disappeared. Urgently taking Andy by the hand, we began to scurry through the crowds of bright clad people who were unaware of my pain and unconscious of the thoughts now racing through my mind at the possibilities of the sudden and unpleasant end of my first-born son. Unspeakable images filled my mind with their horrific images, but most pressing was the thought of what I was going to tell his mother.

An alarming disquiet gripped my heart and brain in its iron vice, squeezing sense and reason from me like juice is squeezed from an orange and just as easily. Frantically running here and there in ever increasing circles to look for a three-foot high infant in a five to six foot sea of swirling thoughtless humanity is soul destroying, especially when the search seems fruitless. On such an errand, exhaustion soon sets in as one’s mind races through all the permutations of the possibilities of abduction, slaughter, accident, and all the other terrible and unspeakable ways in which an infant can die.

After having gone, so it seemed, everywhere it was possible to look for my vanished scion, and not knowing what to do next, I led Andy to the railings and perched myself on the middle one, as if it were a misericord, to rest and think. A movement to my right side caught my attention, I looked, and beheld Curt hanging over the railings, rocking over the top rail in gentle easy rhythm as if he was on holiday. He was behind the ice cream kiosk, the only place I had not actually searched.

I fell on his neck and welcomed the prodigal home. My display of affection was equivalent to killing the fatted calf, placing my ring on his finger, and draping my best robe on him. The eldest son, whose persona Andy adopted, found the splendour of the welcome appealing. Although we did not confer, it seemed that Andy also wanted to receive the blessings that were lavished on the returning prodigal. To secure these, she slipped my hand and ran into the crowd ahead, appearing briefly twenty feet ahead of me as she turned, smiled, and waved a cheery farewell at me. The Prodigal Daughter was on the loose! I moved unquietly out of the character of a pacific dad, and hollered at her to the effect that she should return immediately. Instead of the fatted calf, etc., she got a sombre lecture about the wisdom of absenting herself from the safe keeping of her trembling father.

However, I killed the fatted calf, for both of them, in the shape of a post-emptive ice cream cone complete with a rich Cadbury’s Dairy Flake stuck into it. Everyone was happy, the Prodigal Lambs were safe, I was relieved, and didn’t have to break any bad news to their mother about lost lambs wandering off into the desert to stray from the shepherd who loved them more than life itself.


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