Sins of the Father(7)By: Hannah Howe
Gawain smiled at me. He had a charismatic, winning smile. If he ordered his troops to go over the top, they’d obey him; what’s more, he wouldn’t sit back; he’d lead them into action.
“You’re a charmer, Princess, a real charmer; Stan will take one look at you and he’ll talk with you. Any man in his right mind would find time to talk with you.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll do it. But we play by my rules.”
Gawain sat back. He clenched his fists in unobtrusive fashion then exuded a long sigh of relief. “Whatever you say, Princess, whatever you say; you’re the boss.”
Later that afternoon, I travelled ten miles south, to Barry Island. Blessed with golden sands and an elegant promenade, Barry took its name from St Baruc who drowned while travelling from nearby Flat Holm. Indeed, the coast could be treacherous at times because it boasted the world’s second highest tidal range, forty-nine feet, bettered only by the Bay of Fundy in Canada.
The sights, sounds and smells of Barry Island –the naked torsos lying on the sand behind windbreaks, the squawking seagulls, the aroma of fish and chips – reminded me of my childhood. At my mother’s insistence, we’d embark on our annual pilgrimage to Barry Island. And my mother would prepare as though it were a pilgrimage, stuffing her bags with food and sundry supplies. We dragged most of those supplies back home with us, along with sunburn, candyfloss stains and sand in our shoes. The annual trek was an effort for my mother, but she did it for me. On balance, my mother had a negative impact on my childhood. Furthermore, she was aware of that, and it saddened her; it made her consume more alcohol, which exacerbated the problem. If only we could turn back time and apply our accumulated knowledge to the past.
I strolled along the promenade, swaying slightly as a bee buzzed towards one of the many floral baskets. The bee disappeared from sight, just as an ice-cream van came into view. The ice-cream van was decorated with rainbow swirls, with pictures of ice creams and lollypops, and with the legend, Sunshine Stan the Ice-Cream Man. Mr Livingstone, I presumed.
As a harassed mother handed ice creams to her three moaning children, I stepped forward and asked, “Mr Livingstone?”
He raised an inquisitive eyebrow then replied cautiously, “Depends; who wants to know?”
“Sam. I’m a friend of Gawain Morgan.”
“‘Madman’ Morgan?” His eyebrow twitched again while his frown intensified.
“That’s right,” I said.
“A close friend?”
I smiled a secret smile. “You could almost say we’re kin.”
“Okay, dearie,” Stan Livingstone said after lapsing into deep thought. He acknowledged another customer then wiped his hands on a tea towel. “Give me five minutes and I’ll be with you.”
While I waited for Stan, I leaned against a handrail and admired the view. In the foreground, children built sandcastles on the beach, played cricket, splashed and shrieked their way through the gentle waves, while in the background, the sea shimmered as it stretched towards the islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm, and further still to Somerset.
I was still admiring the view when Stan approached, carrying two ice creams, two Ninety-Nines, loaded with thick chocolate flakes.
“Here you are, dearie, compliments of the management.”
Stan gave his ice cream a lick, then handed the other Ninety-Nine to me. As I nibbled my flake, I studied him. In his early sixties, and of medium height, he struck me as an economy sized Friar Tuck. He had a deeply tanned pate circled with a grey corona, playful blue eyes and a rotund face, a face blessed with a cheerful smile. He wore a Hawaiian shirt, open to the navel, and baggy shorts. A heavy gold chain hung around his neck while a chunky gold bracelet adorned his left wrist.
Stan’s nose twitched. He frowned, turned to me and said, “Shit, you smell nice.”
I grimaced, my face hidden behind my ice cream. “Er,” I said, “forgive me, Stan, but I don’t think those words necessarily go well together in the same sentence.”
He gave his ice cream a thoughtful lick then nodded slowly. “True,” he conceded. “Okay,” he smiled, “you smell nice.”