Castlegate. The word silently rolls around the interior of my mouth. I practice its formation in my mind before I let the sound slip from the angular contortion made by my lips. The vowel is pronounced flat, Castlegate: suggesting something simple and improper about this inconspicuous dot, small and black, that sits in isolation between the grid lines imposed by geography. The mere pronunciation of the vowel serves as the stratification of identity to those familiar to this territory. To say the vowel, naked of received pronunciation, is the key to an acceptance not afforded travelling salesmen, visiting relatives from insignificant places and plain but obvious strangers.

The street sign, Castlegate, in crumbling black and white paint, is not a wondrous and new source of information, rather it is a gateway into the familiarity of contempt. The road is narrow with thick, sticky tarmac and the heel of my short stiletto leaves impressions as I walk. Dusty traffic rages past my ankles and billows warm drafts of old air, disconcerting me with its filth. Familiar and unchanged, the street still lined with Victorian houses in red and orange brick. Grimy windows and dirty net curtains that rest on white painted windowsills, strewn with cheap tacky ornaments; rescued from some god-forsaken souvenir shop, that edges the bitter sands of Skegness and Cleethorpes. Places that hide the quiet desperation of fastly constructed windbreaks and the violent screams of children lulled by donkey rides and dummies dipped in brandy.

A fearless place of gypsies and dogs that live their whole lives tied by rope to concrete posts. The same place that houses the slow decaying body of my father, in a strangely quiet hospital ward punctuated by the sounds of shuffling feet and long out takes of breath. 

Castlegate, the road that takes me from him to a place where water makes its escape from the claustrophobic confines of murky and still canal straits. I stand upon the bridge, catenary arched and finished with ornate iron railings. Still waters run deep: so they say. It is matter of gravity and luck as to which molecules of water would run free down to the weir that cuts along the right side of the canal. A long, shallow flagstone bridge straddles the surface, casting a shadow upon the place where water slips from still to rapid. Each childhood summer, for six whole weeks, the local children of a class that could  fearlessly take to the rapids of the river Trent, would come to swim. The hot and dry heat of the Nottinghamshire sun would evaporate and cease the flow of water across the middleof the weir. Revealing , instead, a solid expanse of stepped concrete. This annual quirk of nature would generously provide two minor weirs, of varying strengths. Men with tattooed declarations of love for Mum, Dad or Sandra, ascertained one rather than ‘tother to be safer for the purpose of play.

A tier of teenagers holding hands, gingerly at first attempts, shuffled their bare feet across the flat concrete strip. As soft water slid around their ankles, in fits of laughter they slipped in acute and vertical fashion down the watery slide of nature’s own making. A disparate gaggle of bodies would bob about in the foaming eddy below. Amid shrieks of excitement, water flowed down throats and arms flailed as the current quickly swept them to the safety of the shallows.In a bid of bravery and machismo, adolescent boys and unemployed men would take their town tanned torsos, steady their working class feet on the railings of the white bridge and dive into the stillness of the canal.

Long conversations were had in short and brash sentences, with raised arms and shaking heads regarding the depth and how such a featwas possible. A lad with white skin and thin ribs, said to ride a scooter to Scarborough at weekends, took the dive from the bridge head first. He never came up for air. They say he cracked his skull on the muddy canal floor. Crowds with wet hair and dark blue denim shorts wept beside the water’s edge. Ambulances, police and even a reporter from the local paper came by.Momentarily, I see dark wet hair and shorts cut by a 14 year old hand with a blunted, gold pair of scissors. The edge that crowns her upper thighs jagged with white foamy stringy cotton, worn by the ebb and flow of the river Trent, and a father’s words, ‘You haven’t been down that weir have you ?’

Words. Sounds. Echoes of inadequate and unfinished conversations rushed during the peeling of potatoes, occasionally, immersed into an icy bowl of water. Small hands that clumsily ripped the rough flesh with a peeler intended for fruit. The wrong implement for the job. Small pieces of earth covered peel spat from a thin metal crack, perfect for the fine green skin of apples. A simple task of meal preparation turned into some arduous, dreary journey punctuated by the voice of a weary man.

As the dialogue fled from his mouth, a metamorphosis from sound to shape occurred, irregular and ill fitting the surrounding air. Between the distance of his mouth and her ear, and dark summer nights where she would laugh loudly on short common grass; a messiah for sanity planted the kernel in an indiscriminate place between her small heart and lung: aother self emerged – Beth.

Like a country impossible to pronounce or locate by map reading and compass alone; Beth occupied a permanent state of dislocation. She inhabited spaces that existed between breath warmed by larger and nicotine stained fingers that tugged at the brass zip of her jeans. Nameless caresses that enabled the parting of her upper thighs and small sighs breaking dark midnight air. As jeans slipped down cold concrete walls heavy bodies lodged themselves inside her.

Synchronicity that shuffled her thin bones and shook her tiny skull, shifting the gravity of her consciousness: a simple oblivion. Stasis that deafens the cacophony of male voices. Chords that had once formed harmonies. The accumulation of notes sung in the time and rhythm of complicity. Eachnote a question unanswered, instead the silence of her disinclination.

The region of surrender formed through harmony, song, notes, voices, words: hands. An anatomy constructed through fragments, debris of consciousness, magazines, lipstick, cigarettes, undone leather belts and the clearing of throats. An incongruent symphony whose composition, incomplete, unrecognisable in perspective and sound. Rather, voice motion and time amalgamated into a discordant howl that obliterated her ability to hear,

‘She’s a dirty fucker Beth. Four fingers. Loads of men ‘ave been through ‘er. Fuckin slag, you wonna watch what you catch from ‘er. Your cory ull drop of mate, missus ull know all about it.’Beth did not hear the raucous laughter of men who took long gulps of lager shifting their Adam’s apple. Neither did she see as a man slipped his hand into his pocket, pushed through the bar door and placed his heavy foot onto the icy pavement in search of her.

Published by Stella McHugh

Survivor of so many things that happens to women and girls.

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