Commandos in the Dunes
Lit Up Summer Prompt
I was shocked to learn girls grow up faster than boys. While I worried about buying the bone-handled penknife in the souvenir shop on Main St my sister and cousin linked hands and giggled. It was like they were sharing something to which I was excluded. It wasn’t as though I paid them much attention. They were girls, after all, and I had more important things on my mind.
I loved to play in the old fort, a remnant of the British occupation and one of those handed back to the Free State before The Emergency. I was never sure what that meant but I loved the sound of the words so I never tired of hearing them.
On those long walks when the grownups would pause for a flask of tea and a scone, I’d stand on the crumbling ramparts and scan the horizon for enemy invaders.
As the evening drew close we had our dip and a go on the swing boats, we wound our way home with a stroll on the upper end of Main St ogling the huckster shops and the souvenir treasures like that bone-handled penknife that became my holy grail that summer holiday by the beach.
When it rained I liked to stay indoors in the front room of my aunt’s house, playing the gramophone, the lacquered oak case with the turntable and the bakelite knobs and the lit-up coloured display of radio broadcast stations like Hilversum and Athlone.
I played my cousins’ record collection until I knew all the songs of the Beatles off by heart and Elvis Presley and Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Skeeter Davis singing about silver threads and golden needles and how they couldn’t mend that heart of hers. I wasn’t entirely sure what they were singing about but I could feel their pain and shared their hurt and confusion.
We never sat in the back row of the cinema because that was where the older boys sat with their girls and they didn’t watch the film either.
One day my cousin and I took a stroll to the beach where we weren’t allowed to swim, the beach where, every summer, people drowned. But the older boys and girls went there and spent their sunny days in the sand dunes. They looked like fun to play in so we went there because there was nothing else to do we hadn’t done and we didn’t bring our towels or our swimming trunks because that way we weren’t breaking the rules.
We played ‘commandos’ and hid in the dunes and tossed grenades at the enemy we imagined lurking over the next hill. Then the enemy really did appear from over the sand dune and it was the dune we were attacking.
He was angry and waved his fist about while he held his towel with his other hand. So we ran and ran and laughed and ran some more until we collapsed, exhausted and scared and then we laughed and laughed, again.
The next day we played on the putting green and before we went home to our uncle’s house I went to the toilet beside the fairground. It smelled of sour pee and the wooden door, painted white and green, was cracked and rotting. There was a drawing of a girl with no clothes and a boy who was bare too and his willy was pointing where she didn’t have a willy. So I finished my business fast, walked home, quiet, and didn’t tell my cousin what I saw because I didn’t understand it.
But I couldn’t get the image of the girl on the wall of the toilet out of my mind because she was all spiky there, between her legs, like she had hair or something.
So the next day we went back down to the beach with the sand dunes only this time we played a different kind of commandos. We were on a secret mission and sneaked to the top of the dunes instead of storming them with a frontal assault and all guns blazing.
We peeked over the top into their sheltered golden valleys rimmed with spiky sea grass and we watched the couples grappling together on their towels and wondered why the boys lay on top of their girlfriends.
A sort of ennui set in during the last few days of the holiday as we felt by turns homesick and regret for going home. On our last day that summer it rained. My sister and cousin took off up the town, their arms linked giggling and whispering together again as they had for the entire holiday.
I guessed it had something to with the loose elastic in my cousin’s knickers they joked about before they went out. They asked me to go with them but I wanted to stay to listen to the music for the last time that summer. And as they walked out the door I saw my cousin’s knickers slip to her knees and the pair of them, my sister and my cousin, creasing up with laughter as though there was nothing funnier in the whole world.
And later when they came home and Skeeter Davis was singing ‘Your Cheating Game’ they sat in the front room where I was listening to the music and chattered so loudly they annoyed me. They chattered and they giggled. And they giggled so much my cousin said she was likely to wet herself and I didn’t know where to look except as she splayed herself on the settee my sister hiked her skirt up and pulled my cousin’s loose knickers aside and I was transfixed because she was all hairy there and there was nothing else I could do but look and stare.
That was the last holiday I had there. The next summer I was too grown up to play commandos in the dunes anymore.
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