by Mark Kaye

In the centre of the town square stood a fountain in the middle of which was a statue of a giant conch adorned with twisted ivy and grape vine. Water poured from the top of the conch to a basin of coloured tiles that depicted three figures sleeping on a hillside. Food and wine jugs were scattered across a table and over the grass. Under the conch an inscription read: No place on earth compares to this/For sheer delightfulness and bliss.

Roisin Daly passed the fountain without consideration, walking straight to the café situated at the far end of the square facing the beach and beyond that, the ocean. Sitting down in one of the wicker chairs she lit a cigarette and stared across the square, past the fountain and towards the palm trees that lined the shore. She daydreamed of rivers of oil, milk, honey and wine, pouring down from the mountains to the north and polluting the ocean with their luxury.

To her left an elderly man sat, in khaki shorts and a green button-down shirt, drinking a small beer. He turned to face her and smiled. ‘The ocean is beautiful today isn’t it?’ She returned his smile and explaining that she did not speak Portuguese, apologised to him. Turning away, she began to count the palms. ‘The ocean is very calm today, there is almost no wind.’ He said again, this time in English. She looked over the bay; the ocean was rough and turbulent and away from the beaches it beat against the cliffs. Momentarily mesmerised by the swill of the water that appeared to move violently and without direction, she forgot to respond to the old man. ‘Well, how does it look to you?’ ‘We must be looking at different oceans, I’m afraid it looks very rough to me’ Roisin responded. ‘Yes, on this side of the bay the ocean is very rough, but I am looking at the other side of the bay where it is calm and beautiful. That is where I spend most of my time, I don’t like the roughness here, I am only here today as an exception.’

‘But’, she said, ‘this town is so wonderful, the square, the beach, the palm trees; it’s beautiful.’ ‘Yes’ came the response from the old man ‘this place has palm trees, but it is not paradise, be careful not to be deluded by it. You should try the other side. There are no bars or places to drink there, but it is really beautiful and very peaceful.’ At this he finished his beer and stood up and without crossing the square left up a cobbled side street towards the ancient quarter of the town. As he went he sang to himself ‘without worry, work or care, the food is good, the drink flows free… it’s true without a doubt, I swear, no earthly country could compare; under heaven no land but this, has such abundant joy and bliss.’

Watching the old man saunter away, Roisin ordered another beer and a Jameson whisky. She stayed and drank until the sun began to set at which point she moved inside and took a seat at the long chrome bar. Inside the bar the staff themselves were as drunk as their customers, some bounced from the floor to the ceiling as they poured, without spilling their drinks, until their bodies became sore and tired and they retreated into the bathrooms to move powdered goods from their jean pockets to their noses.

Roisin looked around her, observing the staff and other patrons. The café was teeming with people, of all nationalities, in various states of inebriation. She considered their stories and the events that had brought them to that place. She was quickly made anxious by this and so started on the café itself. It was a large space but crowded with old furniture so that there was little standing room other than a corridor between the tables and chairs that led to the toilets. A small stage had been built in the left back corner at the end of the corridor between the tables and a small space was reserved for dancing. Despite the strength of the sun outside, little light penetrated the stained-glass windows. The long chrome bar was populated with draft beer taps and boxes of straws and napkins. The shelves on the back wall were filled with various spirits and snacks.  Hanging on either side of the shelves, framing the bar space, were paintings of seascapes done in the Dutch style. The painting that hung on the left depicted a fishing boat struggling against a violent storm, white foaming waves beat against its sides, while the characters on the boat struggled with their nets. The one on the left showed calm waters and the sun shining through fluffy bubbles of cloud. Ships moved gently through the waters without leaving marks in the water. For a lack of wind the sailors were rowing, struggling against the weight of their ship and the density of the still waters.

Roisin turned her attention again to the people around her. She watched the patrons and the bar staff become twisted and ugly in their drunkenness. Then, looking into the mirror behind the bottles of whisky and gin, saw her own face, which was also now twisted and ugly. She tried to remember why she was there, in the place west of Spain, the place which was apparently not paradise. She thought about the hospital, the clinical white walls that stood proudly void of soul or character. Her last time there had been the third time in that same hospital in two years. She remembered her mother’s voice whispering to her father, ‘how can this keep happening to her again? Why is she not getting better? Something needs to change, something needs to be done. I cannot go through this again.’ She remembered how the blood had dried along her wrists and hands, creating crusty streaks across her fingers. She thought about how it looked like tiger fur.

Looking at herself again in the mirror, then at the faces of pleasure on the patrons around her that poorly masked the anguish in their souls. She became disgusted with them and with herself. She finished her whisky and moved swiftly away from the café, across the square and down onto the beach where she sat and cried.

‘It is as I said before, this place is not paradise. It is actually more like purgatory.’ She looked at the old man who was sitting next to her again. He was not as old as she had first thought. He wore his thick black hair slicked backwards and a large dark beard that appeared singed and yellowed at the tips. He smiled through his teeth ‘If you don’t mind me asking, why are you here?’ She considered the question for a moment. She had not intended discussing the matter with anyone. ‘I have been unwell for a while now. I guess I was fed up of being sick, so I left to get away from it.’ She said eventually. ‘And did you?’ The man asked. ‘I thought so. I don’t know. The place looked so beautiful at first and I was having a lot of fun, but now the ocean seems brutal and the people ugly.’

‘You know what my mother used to tell me?’ The man asked. ‘No matter where you go, the only thing you will always have to take with you, is yourself. That is the one thing you can never get away from’. ‘She sounds like a smart woman your mother’ Roisin responded. ‘I guess its maybe time I started thinking about that.’ ‘You should travel to the other side of the bay.’ He told her. ‘There it is better.’ ‘How do I get there?’ she asked. ‘Well, it isn’t an easy journey, I know from experience. I suppose the first step is being prepared to make the effort to get there. As you saw today, many people here never work up the courage to try. They stay, in the purgatory of this town, and bury their pain in beer and one another’s bodies’. ‘Can you show me how I get to the other side? I am sick of this place.’ He pointed to the end of the beach where the beach met the cliffs, towards a passage in the rock.

Roisin thanked him, got to her feet and walked towards the passage. When she came upon the cliff side she saw a large golden gate, guarded by two angels clad in bronze plated armour. One held a large key and a leather-bound volume, the other a large shield and a spear tipped with fire. Their wings, over which clung silken feathers of glorious white, quivered under a restrained power like that of V8 engines. Around her, people buried their heads in the sand, others chests of photos and objects from their past lives. Roisin, recognised the angels.

She had heard about them twice before, on the last two occasions she had tried to take her life. The first had been from a mental health practitioner, the second from her grandmother, who had suffered her own difficulties in her time. She knew that the angel on the left, holding the key and bound volume would test her knowledge. Did she understand her condition, did she know herself well enough? The second angel, holding the spear, would test her resilience and her determination to apply her understanding practically. She had been, for a considerable period of time no, avoiding both. In her very human way, she had been too afraid to leave the security blanket of depression that she had used to soften the impact of the world’s hard edges. Emptying the contents of her pockets and purse into the sand, she moved forwards towards the angels. She had found it finally, that drive of the convalescent determined to free themselves from the shackles of illness.

About the Author:

Mark Anthony Kaye is twenty-seven, from Birmingham, UK and currently lives in Portugal where he works as a freelance political reporter. His work has appeared in Bellville Park Pages, Peeking Cat Poetry, Transition Magazine, 34th Parallel magazine and Five2One Magazine.