A Murder of Crows

This is the story of a man who is asexual and falls in love. it is about how we define ourselves in the modern age, and what love means to those who have no physical avenue to explore. It is about the way we interact with our families, and how echoes of past lives filter through to us.


9. Travelling Ghosts

We loved with a love that was more than love[1]


Seaside towns out of season have a muted beauty, a splendour normally reserved for old ladies who ballroom dance. They creak with the ghosts of disused chip paper wrappers, as the sea sighs heavily in your ear.  R_____ had never visited an English holiday resort, and so I thought I would take her. We never used to holiday abroad when I was younger, and it was only when I left for university that I got to see the wider world. Friends were shocked that I had never been on a plane, is it so strange to think one hasn’t flown? No one realises how strange it is to fly.  We could have waited for one of those weekends that the tabloids love. The ones where they send down their topless girls to serve ice cream to blood red burns victims.  But I had always loved the seaside when it was quiet. On those flat grey days, where the sea and sky sublimate into one, and the drizzle and spray are inseparable, that is when I love it most. When the amusements are shut, their garish colours dulled by the lack of life fizzing through them, the streets echoing footsteps. A million miles from fights fuelled by luminous drinks, of screeching hen parties and rutting stags. I dreamed that they would come to these places on the off season, see how strangely integral they are to the entire circus, but they never do.


These towns are populated by solitary old men in flat caps, men who are either on their way to the betting shop, or to the post office. They wear trainers that  disorientate you, they juxtapose themselves against Farah slacks. Their eye line is permanently set at an angle of 35 degrees, 3 paving slabs ahead, they are like Londoners in that respect. They are silent. Their features are the same too, long thin faces, dry and stripped of lustre by living near the sea when it isn’t respite or saviour, but when it is foe and antagonist. After their bets have been placed, they then go to the nearest pub, and settle themselves into  *their* alcoves, and wait. Wait for the evening when they can go home, drunk, and fall asleep in front of the telly, waiting for tomorrow, waiting for the same day.  There is an over-riding feeling of circadian rhythm, and I imagine a low level fog whenever I am there, and I lose myself in it.


The women here all work in small souvenir shops, or bakeries, and you can see them hovering out of reach, behind windows of tats. They remind me of Pharaohs, surrounded by what others thought defined them. I wonder how they feel, in that their customers are truly the most transient. They will never see any of them ever again, and I wonder if this feeling permeates further into their lives, whether they feel all their relationships are fleeting moments. I don’t think I could invest myself into anything if I had lived my life in such a place.  Yet, I think I do live in such a place. The noise of a city is the same as the emptiness that pervades these ghost towns.


Something strange always happens at the beach to me, my field of view changes. Things on the edge of my site blurs more violently, my focus is definite, and the rest becomes soft, indistinct, as if my heart is deciding that none of it matters, only the moment occurring in front of me. When I went with R_____, she was all I saw. She was all I needed.


We left early morning, 4 am, as if we were avoiding imaginary traffic. The sky was bible black, and there was the beautiful momentary hush of a city asleep. The street lights bathed everything in halos of orange, and I swam in the quiet as I shut the boot with almost postnatal care. R_____ had drawn a heart on the passenger side window, little tendrils of water finding the path of least resistance from it.  I traced the same shape with my finger as I opened the door and sat down.


‘I have brought some mix tapes, happy and sad ones,’ I said shutting the door. I loosened hundreds of cold rain drops, which descended like a water fall, all but obliterating the finger engraved heart.


‘Me too.’ She said, starting the engine, ‘To the sea.’ And we set off. The city sped past us like some darkened zoetrope, and we broke onto the motorway in good time. The sun wasn’t to come up for ages, but as we cruised along the road, we saw more and more life.


‘It must be horrid working at this hour.’ R____ said, gently pulling into the fast lane.


‘I don’t think it would be too bad.’ A track from Kind of Blue by Miles Davis began. ‘I mean it is just you and the road. It is a very personal thing, you don’t get that in the city.’


‘I don’t think I could do that. Too much time to reflect.’ We sat in silence, whilst Miles sketched around our ears. My feet were very warm from the heating and so I turned it down. Countryside was now unfolding past the window at a fast rate, and the sky was lightening. As it did, I realised that it was quite cloudless, with long rays stretching over fields, highlighted by the early morning mist.


‘I don’t think reflecting is such a bad thing.’ I said, staring out of the window, the heart had long disappeared, but the grease from our fingers left a hint of it. ‘I think you need to know boundaries, of what you are reflecting on.’




‘I think you invariably end up turning in on yourself.’ Her hand moved to turn the music down, and her voice seemed to lower in tandem, ‘I don’t think I ever want to dwell on who I am. What made me.’ The foam of stillness fills the car once more.  I am saddened by this, and I wonder how I can get her to love herself as much as I do her. Then I realise that isn’t my job, and it isn’t my business.


We drive on, and when we arrive at the beach, the day is clouding over. We park up at our B&B, set our bags down and go for a walk.  We are wrapped up warm, my brown scarf occasionally is flicked up round my face from the chill sweeping off the sea.


And it is, the sea, it merely is. It is an all encompassing mass of gun metal grey, undulating, with breakers crashing against the groynes and gabions. I look out, and wish I could be in it, but it is probably freezing.  We reach the crest of a dune, with its scratchy grass leaning in land. And some way below us, we see a bench. Gingerly we pick our way down,  laughing, and occasionally stalling to get a firmer footing, and when we get to the bottom, we are chilled as beads of sweat fight with the winter sea breeze.  Mopping my brow with my hat, I lead R____ to the bench.


And then we sit.


The clouds are now rolling in, tumbling over themselves like rugby players, and we just sit. It is early, but it feels like forever has passed since the morning.


‘It feels a bit like purgatory’ R____ says, getting up and facing me. ‘I, I mean its not unpleasant. In fact I understand why you find it so beautiful, but again, it is too personal here now. There is no anonymity here, just you...’ her voice trails off as she looks up and down the coast. ‘Just…’ And then she kneels, digging into the soft white sand. The thought flashes across my mind that it quite clean here, but it is gone very quickly. She takes my face in hands, and the fingers a cold.  ‘Just you, and me, and…and the ghost of what will never be.’


A shudder ran through me, like she was going to break my heart. Maybe the window heart was an omen. Some clumsy sign of what was to come.


‘If you are going to break up with me, you could have done it in London.’ I say, I can’t tell how it comes across.


She laughed.


‘Was it the will never be bit?’ She laughed again. ‘I meant sex A____. Couples go on holiday to be intimate.’


‘R____, you don’t need sex to be intimate. Did you think that was why I suggested this?’ I am annoyed but I think I manage to hide that well.


‘Yeah, maybe. Men aren’t very good at the whole, well you know, it is natural to want it.’ She seems to be skirting round what she really wants to say, and that just increases my annoyance.


‘Thanks, now I am a conniving, sinister man.’ I laugh and the tension that seemed to be growing evaporates.


‘You know what I mean. I know you masturbate.’  That came out of no where.


‘Y-you know that I masturbate?’ I worry that is too shocked, I am not shocked, or upset, to me it is very rational.


‘Yeah, and if that is not sexual, I don’t know what is.’ I am sure she thinks her logic is water tight, but it isn’t.


‘That is a physical imperative. I do it because the testosterone builds up in my body and I need a release. I don’t fantasise about anyone, or anything. I just do it, till the sensation is enough for me to ejaculate.’ This has to rank quite highly in my most awkward conversations list.


‘Do you have to…’ I butt in, I have to end this.


‘My balls could explode. There has been no scientific proof that can happen, but I am not taking that risk.’ We laugh together as she gets up and sits back down next to me. Our gloved hands meet, and we sit in silence for and age. She dusts off the sand on her trousers.


‘Why did you choose here, we could have gone anywhere?’ I think about it, chewing it over in my mind. We could have gone anywhere.


‘I think it is beautiful. I, I, I wanted somewhere which kind of, Oh I don’t know.’ This hangs in the air for a mere second before the hiss and crash of the sea takes it away.  The temperature has dropped again, she sidles closer to me, and I put my arm around her. She washed her hair this morning, and I can still smell the conditioner, it smells like apples taste. I kiss her head as my hand traces her cheek to chin, and she softens and melts into me.  Some gulls caw overhead, but they are invisible in the grey and white of the clouds.


This beach feels like the end of the world. On the horizon I can see sheets of rain marching in formation as little gaps in the cloud allow the sea to bubble with closed eyelid stars. But they disappear, and I am left with R____ and the lullaby of the water.


‘Shall we go get lunch? One of those pubs on the cliff?’ I get up silently, offer my arm, and we walk to the pub.  The sand shifts under our feet, and it slows us, as we swagger unattractively, labouring each step. We let out the odd laugh in between pants.


We find a pub which is open, a plume of smoke is being buffeted, while the weathered sign swings. You imagine them to creak, but this one doesn’t, its well oiled, if tatty. It is named after a famous ship that was built near the beach, but it is a throw back, a cry for authenticity. We walk in and are transported to a generic town pub. Flat screen TVs play music video channels, as three old men sit and drink ale.


‘Not exactly rustic charm is it?’ R____ says, pulling out a chair and sitting down by the window. She looks out to sea, it seems to be getting more violent, like it is fending off interlopers. I bring over our drinks, and some menus. ‘I didn’t think we’d be able to get garlic bruschetta out here, but seems I am wrong.’ I order a ploughman’s and she gets the beef Wellington.


And then we talk.  She asks me again about my masturbating. I ask her if she is worried one day I will want more. She says yes, and then I spend 40 minutes convincing her that I know who I am. As I repeat myself, using the arguments I have used with anyone who asks, I realise that I don’t know who I am convincing. Each argument seems to hold less weight and a rising sense of panic wells up in my chest. Like a pressure valve, she stops the interrogation. Accepts it, and we then move on to happier topics. But it lingers for the rest of the day. We stay in the pub till 6, by which time it is pitch black.


As we walk back to the B&B, the road winds back towards the sea.


‘Fancy a dip?’ R_____ says, a bit drunk.


‘Are you crazy? It is freezing!’


‘We’ll be fine, there is cloud cover.’ Lights from a far way town glint on the black heaving sea. Like Will-O-Wisps, tempting us.


‘I repeat, are you crazy?’ I don’t want, I don’t do spontaneous things. I don’t do spontaneous things, I repeat it like a broken robot.


‘Just a little, so I have been told.’ And before I can stop her, she is running to the sound of the water. Stripping off layers as she goes, whooping. I look around, and there is no one. I am sure in the summer they are used to this kind of behaviour. But there is no one up. A light fog is hugging the town, and so I run with her.


As I strip, the cold bites at me, but I ignore it, I ignore everything. I can’t see her, but I can hear R____, so I follow her noise. There is a splash followed by a scream.


‘C-c-c-come on innnn, its perfe-fect!’ She is laughing and I throw myself in, under the surface, and it is silent and cold. The air is trapped in my chest, and I feel like I will never breath again. I break the surface and gasp.


‘F-f-fucking hell it is cold. Jesus.’ She whistles and I swim to her, our bodies instinctively clasp each other, tiny islands of warmth. ‘W-why are we doing this?’


‘W-why do we do anything?’


‘N-not the time to b-be philosophical,’ it is too cold for my brain to think, ‘C-c-ome on, we’ve done it now, can we get back-k. Ha-have a hot chocolate’.


‘A bit longer. Just a bit longer.’ We bob up and down in the dark, and I kiss her. Time seems to work in strange ways at this beach, hours pass in blinks, seconds age like mountains.  She pulls away. ‘I love you A____, I-I didn’t think you would join me. I thought something in you would stop you. I thought y-you would stop you.’


I want to tell her, I want to say that I didn’t want to do it. And I should have. But I didn’t, and it was one of the few moments in my life that I remember as clearly as the day it happened. I remember the sea, the way in the cold it crystallized to salt on our bodies, and  how sharp the air felt as we got dressed. I remember the land lady’s face when we came in damp and cold. I remember sitting by the fire, and drinking hot chocolate whilst we were reprimanded. And then I remember that night, when we slept next to each other, naked, warm, and content.


I remember purgatory, and I remember heaven. And they were cold and so beautiful.


Hjartað hamast[2]









[1] Edgar Allen Poe

[2] The heart hammers Sigur Ros

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