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Authors: Gee Williams

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Desire Line

BOOK: Desire Line
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About Gee Williams
Title Page
I – Water
II – Shade
III – Stone
IV – Lantern

Gee Williams was born and brought up in North Wales and now lives in Cheshire with her husband. A widely-published poet and a dramatist as well as writer of fiction, her work has appeared in disparate places: from
The Sunday Times
The Pan Book of Horror
. Many of her scripts have been broadcast by BBC Radio 4. She has won both The Rhys Davies and The Book [email protected] Contemporary Short Story Awards, was Poetry Review's New Poet, Summer ‘97, shortlisted for The Geoffrey Dearmer Award and (with Sol B. River) shortlisted for the Race in the Media Radio Drama Award 2001. Pure Gold Fiction Award 2008. Her first novel
was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Fiction Prize 2008, her short story collections
Blood etc.
A Girl's Arm
were shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year in 2009 and 2013.

Desire Line

Gee Williams

For David

and in memory of my cousin Bel



As I said to Alfred Hitchcock only yesterday, we'd had warnings.

Just down the coast for example, one February, the gulls found they weren't making progress through rain like a bath's overflow. Suddenly the high tidemark's out of date, the seawall's breached and nondescript village Towyn gets famous for a day. Plenty of images are around if you want the miserythrill of people dragging possessions in wheelie bins, parked cars sunk to the doorhandles, havoc by the containerload. Good browsing if you're the one behind the camera and not in front. After this hint, both we and our neighbour Prestatyn caught it in subsequent years and someone had a go at calculating what it would take to put our community in
danger. Answer? Depression over Iceland. Anticyclone beyond the Azores. Then onshore breezes at seventy-five knots should be enough to turn a spring tide hitting the north Wales coast into a surge, a two- to three- metre wave. It doesn't sound much. Except there's a saying around here –
buy a bungalow called Sea View. Which could be a line from one of your films, I tell AH. No answer.

Even so, it was the start of April, meaning a foul winter should be behind us.

I remember the night before it happened, a newish moon hung level with the roof ridges, ignored by most of Rhyl, myself included. With my background, I have to be alert to signs and was wrong about this one. When I did go outside around eight into the small yard my kitchen opens onto (with my recycling because I'd cooked and can't rest till I've cleared away), my only thoughts were

1. that sharp crescent stuck in a neighbour's birch tree is
bright and

2. it could be one of ‘A Hundred Lunar Aspects' by the great Japanese printmaker

I hammered a tofu pouch flat and tried to pin down who. Unsuccessfully. (Yori? Could he be called Yori, like me?). Refused to stop and check. It would be the last time I saw that composition anyway— it was going to be the last time for a lot of things— but the eddies of air trapped between the walls were strong and cold and my other excuse is I was preoccupied talking to Tess. Her work station at Forward Rhyl is near mine so I'm constantly aware of her. After hours? We're into a different language, juicy as Italian. My throat constricts just vocalising her name, followed by the obvious male response. Perfect Tess-ss. A sea sound though she lives ‘backaway' as she calls her patch of inland sprawl where Rhyl peters out. Whenever she smiles I think, who does she most look like just now? Sometimes it's the new Casino Pigalle presenter up on all the lightboards along the front, Cassie of the wannaplay fingers and the wantmynumber smile. But usually I stick to (star of
Unfaithfully Yours
, not one of the Master's) the stunning, tragic Linda Darnell. A brunette, she could never be first choice as a Hitchcock babe but she's a regular on my playlist that includes every classy film noir from the last century. From
The Maltese Falcon
, say, to
with, sandwiched between them, the Big Hitch's Catalogue.

Your loss, I tell him still bashing the tofu pouch and trying to avoid its drip. Should've given Linda a screen test, round about when
was just made and Linda was twenty-five and flawless.
Like Tess. But the wind was turning wicked, not that it registered with Tess of course, who was kidding me now, I wonder what you gonna do next? Because she knew. Work.


From its cramped quarters on the main drag, Forward Rhyl's just the latest under-funded renewal scheme to take a shot at this Victorian gem of a resort.
failures lie in the past, stations along an unstoppable decline that got going c.1970 with the collapse of the Great British Seaside Holiday. Result? Everybody knows the playground song
 from round about then, when the functional and the fancy went the same way as anything ‘period', leaving us a beauty (the smooth arc of coast) with a scalded face. On Rhyl streets you could make a catalogue – everybody's got their own – of architectural atrocities. But I believe in the built environment. Why else return to my birthplace after years down in Oxford, then Bristol, both fine cities? Because of an obsession that can seem like fantasy but othertimes a credible plan, depending on my week, to Put Rhyl Back. It's worth doing. It was a fine location once. That's why I had all the pen-and-inks tacked up throughout the flat, postcards to myself from Rhyl Present snatched during ‘leisure'. Usually drawings only suggest the volumes they hold but these, made using my Japanese father's technique, weren't bad. And grouped together, what most people find dismal become prompts. ‘Frontage Of Lost Building, Sussex Street' or ‘Pepper-pot Lookout, East Parade' aren't relics. They're clues to our potential. Yes, I use the technology. But I'd worshipped it as a student long enough to know it saves time not mistakes – while a sketch from life gives ownership. Of this, for example, a derelict commercial block that looked to be eating the artisan's cottage stuck to one end. With my own drawings set out, right down to the smashed windows and the seahorse doorknocker (stolen next day after somebody saw me getting interested), I called up the pic from the database
Quay Street Area
possibly our top eyesore. And that's up against major-league competition.

I shared the on-screen action with Tess as the warehouse is demolished and the cottage roof soars. Then I retile it before gentling the pitch five degrees to a vulture cloaking its prey. Excellent! The temptation was to rotate the whole site through a right angle, turn the Quay Street/West Parade corner and carry on towards the centre, making a new town for her as I went. Andrea Palladio and Christopher Wren would give an eye each for the power I had here on a scarred desk top in a Rhyl backwater.

—Oo, go on then, she conceded. It's bed for me anyhow. Just have a think what you're missing. (I obliged – forget the movie star, forget Cassie Pigalle of the pleaseupyourstake wink, Tess is three-dimensional and made of ivory, slim-shouldered, long-legged, hair the colour of bronze, a totally
Art Deco
) Bye Yori!

She must like my name as well, judging by how much she used it. Yori – another gift from my Japanese father. The closest in English is
or maybe just
? I prefer the first. And try to remember both when you hear the bad news about me.

I said I'd see her tomorrow— and here we go already with my first step over the charcoal line that marks Easy Street from Sinister. (Alfred Hitchcock likes nothing better, can't you see him over there in the corner licking his fat lips and rubbing his hands?)

Because I lied.


I was being reminded of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. Like AH, his art trades on his eye for natural wonders – including attractive women – and an obsession with graphic violence. I'd recommend you start at ‘Twenty-eight Famous Murders with Verse‘.

Come, come to Sunny Rhyl/ The sea's half piss and the food's pigswill./ We got no pier, we got no cheer./ All we got is sand and beer.

Chapter 1

Our event started towards midnight with a north-westerly thieving anything unstructural. Rhyl's flat and mainly lowrise, meaning not much would get in its way. Home being three rooms on the ground floor of a good brick house, all I could do was put my faith in the long-gone designer, an incomer called Thorp. Architect, inventor, engineer, his bizarre death alone (June 1914, from radiation sickness!) is worth a search. But at least he knew how things fitted together when he was alive. So lying on my back, able to trace the roof's flexion through each rafter all the way down to my own ceiling joists was fine by me. My earliest memories – I'd be three or four – were of the same sort of house, Rhyl's knee-deep in them. But this was at the Sorry End of town, the Quay Street end in fact, ROSEMONT
in glazed terracotta above a rotten porch, Perspex taped into punched-out leaded glass. I learnt useful tips about buildings there, how you can put them on like a coat, feel out the seams as the slates get tested over your bedroom and the pendant on the landing sways—

I slid from under the quilt and sprinted upstairs to see if my landlord Libby Jenkinson who occupied the rest of the house was feeling nervy. A widow-more-than-once was how she introduced herself to me when I turned up to view, and Number 8 Gaiman Avenue is her only asset. ‘I'm OK,' I could just about make out. She's an ex-smoker, her voice throaty, nearer a cough than speech. The next sentence didn't carry then she followed up with, ‘I've known worse.' No point in shouting I bet she hadn't, that to me it was already starting to feel
pretty serious
. Either I was right or she was, but down in the hall again, with my palms laid flat against an original front door, I could touch the growl.

Following Libby's brush-off, pride made me go back to bed. Several times I was tempted to shout up to her, Can we upgrade that to
more than
pretty serious
? Actual damage was going on out there in a Force 7 – and rising. What was most vulnerable? The brain starts ticking them off, my Quay Street warehouse or that vandalised snookerhall right on the front? Another prime target would be the scaffolded hotel near multi-occupancy housing. Work stopped months ago and I'd sent alerts to Rhondda Jones at Borough about it but she hadn't even— when she should've at least— a surprise! I must've dozed off because suddenly I'm watching naked Tess cross a bedroom that's fantastically detailed, right from the architectural sketches pinned above her head down to the ‘skull' in the walnut veneer of the wardrobe. Now—
she's indicating a constellation of small moles, my own recent discovery, she's just noticed across her left perfect breast— but dawn broke with Violent Storm Force 11. At first I resent how Tess is threatening to evaporate. Then I'm awake to an unbelievable racket even Libby wouldn't be claiming she'd known worse than.

Still groggy with afterimages, I opened the curtains. My single bed's lined up in a rectangular bay window so no effort. Parking's only allowed on the opposite side which means craning your neck gives nearly the whole avenue before curvature cuts off Number 57— and it's all present, so far, and empty how I like it. Built environment
, people
. Without them the villas were ageless and reassuring, all in grey shades to my sense of vision since they faced north. More downstairs lights were on than usual though nothing much was up save flying bits and pieces— and this dull rolling noise from nowhere, from out of the air, it seemed, one of those non-mechanical dins that rises and falls with a beat you keep thinking you've mastered but haven't, and flatters you is about to run down anyway. Doesn't. And I might say
this is
the moment.
I'm stalled at my window, tired but wired over setbacks out there in the town and then suddenly I get an intuition about deeper trouble, closer to home. I can even convince myself it happened. Yeah, Yori, you knew. Because a fitting to start this story would be right here. Right now.

BOOK: Desire Line
8.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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