Wandering lost, stumbling drunk, groggy from lack of sleep, reeling from the endless round of pubs and clubs and parties, punchy from the noise, banks of speakers remorselessly thumping, ears ringing, head spinning, staggering out in a drunken haze, vomiting violently against the wall.
Must have been meths in the glass, surely he didn’t drink enough to be this ill, or could have been the tablets, Christ knows what they were.
He drags a pale shaky hand across his mouth, a sour smell in his nostrils and an acid burn in his throat. Even here he can still feel the pulsing sound reverberating in his chest, the building throbbing with the sound of the bass.
Hauling himself over to the railing at the edge of the pier, away from the claustrophobic sound, he leans over and stares at the dark tide rolling in, the crests of the waves incandescent in the moonlight. Gradually the cool damp air drives back the floods of nausea, salt spray welcome against his pimply cheeks.
He runs a hand through his short spiky hair, picks at the red encrustation on the side of the spike through his nose. Drawing his studded leather jacket closer around his gangly frame, he walks on, big-booted feet awkward at the end of his skinny legs, following the string of lights along the promenade, incongruous on the deserted beachfront.
The shops are closed up, tourist season over, the bleak mid-winter of discontent. He pauses to look at the dusty plastic icing in the baker’s window, unlikely colours and a thin coating of fly-specks, passes the rhythmic spirals of the barber’s pole.
Next is a shabby store-front whose sign announces We Buy Junk and Sell Antiques! No shit, they got that right. Three-legged tables lean against under-polished Indian brassware, old travellers’ trunks with faded stickers, reproduction fire-screens in unskilful tapestry.
As he is about to turn away, a small puppet catches his attention – limp cloth body, mitten hands, bright beady eyes in a hard hook-nosed face. A smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. Once such a manikin was a living thing in the arms of his granddad, on the sands of Whitby.
That’s The Way To Do It! Mr Punch has beaten the devil, Mr Punch has vanquished Death Himself!
More than Granddad did.
Got to keep the tension, lad, that’s what makes them laugh – breaking off with a phlegmy cough, hawking brown spit into an empty cup.
And, later, blood.
He leans his head against the glass, cool against his feverish skin.
At some point it must have begun to rain again, because he can taste salt water coursing down his face.