At three Ed was on Llantwit beach squatting in the shelter of a large rock enjoying his afternoon cigarette with the winter sun in his face and one eye on the car park so he didn’t miss Harris.
The world went dark. Ed turned and Harris was standing there. Ed hardly recognised him: he had the look of a man who had arrived from a foreign land on a home-made raft.
Harris coughed and from deep in his chest, somewhere near his waist, hawked up some tobacco and spat it onto the rock behind Ed’s head. It looked like a bird’s nest that had been flushed down the toilet.
“Lighter’s fucked, papers are soaked so I’ve been chewin’ it, tastes like shit, it doesn’t kill ewe though.”
Ed held out a hand with a freshly rolled cigarette and the lighter. Harris took the cigarette, and the lighter, lit the cigarette and put the lighter back in Ed’s still outstretched hand.
If Harris was small, he would probably be shivering and this whole scene would be pitiful.
But Harris was six-foot-four and eighteen stone. His dark mop of hair – long enough to curl, no longer – was plastered around his head and encrusted with sand and wisps of Spirogyra.
He was Neptune without a trident.
He’d started out in Barry. Ed looked back in that direction. There was no beach left. The waves were already breaking on Stout Point – known for the steepest, highest cliffs and the strongest currents. How the hell did he get round there? Ed shut his mouth. But it opened again. Jaysus.
Ed fished a can of coke out of a small pack of provisions. Harris downed it in two and belched. A that which reverberated off the cliff despite the strong wind.
There was a flash of amusement in Harris’ eyes. No, wait, that was madness.
If you’re nineteen years old and the only girl you will ever love breaks up with you, even though she never really loved you back anyway, well, that’s Armageddon of the soul. That’s a H-bomb in the heart. That’s as shit as shit can be.
Teresa was not his girlfriend. No, she was. Or had been. But he had never really been her boyfriend. Teresa already had a boyfriend. Her real boyfriend was outside-half for Wales. Harris’ position was somewhere in the middle, some of the time.
Harris loved rugby as much as he loved Wales. Which was a lot. And he knew it was a serious infringement to break an International player’s nose in the run-up to the Five Nations Championship, of course he did, but he did it anyway. In front of Teresa, who was not so secretly delighted that two men were breaking bones over her.
Now Teresa had decided she wanted to spend her life with a national hero rather than an apprentice mechanic. Her exact words were: “‘Is nose will mend, ewer permanently fucked!”
“Well, ewer fucking loss!” Harris had shouted back. She looked askance for a few moments then laughed a good laugh, the kind that turns you to stone.
He’d acted out of anger, and so there would be consequences. He’d hit out. It was like smashing a mirror. Now he was faced with a thousand images of what he did not like.
He couldn’t help it. Something came over him. That’s women for you. Now he was being penalised for ill discipline. Red carded. Cited. End of his career. Using rugby analogies helped him understand the seriousness of his situation. The nicotine and sugar was not easing the situation. It was feeding it.
Harris took off again with Ed in pursuit.
If you drive fast enough on a rough road you ride over the bumps and skim over the pot-holes. It’s a smooth ride. If you charge without fear over boulders and beach debris it’s same as running on flat hard sand. The only problem is slowing down or stopping.
When Harris couldn’t run any more he collapsed onto the wet sand. It was November, he was dressed in a T-shirt. In his head, in between the turmoil and vitriolic thoughts, occasionally, there was space, nothing, peace. Then he found second wind, leapt to his feet and ran on. As if his hair was on fire.
Harris leaned forward from his ankles – his head and upper body were travelling faster than his feet – his knees and elbows pumping like pistons. He crossed great swathes of the shoreline until he tripped or collapsed. Ed would catch up while he heaved around on the ground.
“Roll me another cigarette before I kill us both.”
Harris was an aggregate of the five stages of grief, he was being held together by the same emotions that were tearing him apart. They were close to Monknash and Harris was banging his head on the sand. He got to his feet, picked up a huge boulder and hurled it at the cliff, then narrowed his eyes to prepare for another charge, which is when he spotted the plastic bag in the shallows. Harris picked it up and looked inside.
At first they thought it was a rat. The drowned baby dog did not move. Maybe the mouth moved. Maybe. There was a cough, more like a whimper.
Harris recognised a victim, a better victim than he would ever be. In an instant he transformed to compassionate protector. He placed the puppy inside his T-shirt.
It was easier to keep up with Harris now. It was a mile to Cwm Bach where they ran up the beach crossed the stream, skipped the style and jogged up the wibbley-wobbley path to The Seven Stars.
Harris walked casually into the pub and was greeted by men wearing T-shirts who had spent the day standing in fields and climbing telegraph poles and roofing houses.
And there were some blonde, wispy looking characters dressed in pastel-coloured hoodies sitting in the dart-board corner sipping from bottles.
Harris roared over the heads of the workmen at the bar.
“Bardsley! I need a word and a pint and steak-and-ale pie and chips.”
“In what order?
There were only two people in the world who could talk to Bardsley like that: Scott Gibbs and Harris. Bardsley held the overview at The Seven Stars. It was a formidable task and Bardsley was formidable. He worked on the premise that if you want to control a bull, give it a big grazing field. All manner of shite could go down as long as it was within the field of play, which depended on Bardsley’s mood. God help you if you crossed that line.
Bardsley barked orders at the kitchen, elbowed the bar boy into action, and directed Harris to the table by the fire.
“Is it true you broke Rory Quinnel’s nose?”
“Look Bards, it wasn’t my fault, it’s a long story, I only . . .”
“‘ey, all’s fair in love and war, my friend, anyway. I like the look of Darren Evans. ‘opefully they’ll give him a run out, reckon that’ll make a better ‘alf-back partnership anyway. So my friend, what’s the drama?”
Harris told him he had a poorly puppy in his shirt.
Bardsley’s best friend was a dog and he didn’t hesitate, “I know what we needs to do.”
Cat’s Story (part 1) is an excerpt from RUNNING CONTRA DICTION and the flight of a soul athlete – available on Amazon and all good bookshops