The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Tome On The Range

Short Fiction By: Richard Owain Roberts
Karl Smith , May 24th, 2015 03:05

Short fiction from Richard Owain Roberts' new, Parthian-published book — All The Places We Lived — provides this week's instalment of new writing on tQ

Summer Trip (Annual) (Commemorative)

Steven Gravelle, David Gravelle and Trystan Gravelle go camping for one week every summer, the end of July until the first of August, to commemorate the death of their grandfather. Their grandfather did nothing special, he wasn’t an individual of any particular renown but he wasn’t a bad person either. He made an effort and never gave up in situations where many people may have done. That is the popular opinion. He died of cancer, a slow and complex death. It doesn’t matter. Steven Gravelle, David Gravelle and Trystan Gravelle will all also die eventually. Maybe one of them will die of cancer too. It doesn’t matter.

Fuck it, Trystan picked up his tent pole and threw it into the next sand dune. David laughed. Steven laughed.

Was that worth it? Steven said. Steven is older than Trystan. Steven is also older than David. Steven is married with three kids and feels okay most of the time. Steven does not consider himself to have ever been indulged. He has had to work hard to make money, and now feels financially comfortable. Amongst other recent purchases, Steven has come into possession of an antique motorcycle. The motorcycle is not really an antique in the true sense of the word. It is an old motorcycle. Old and antique are not the same thing. The previous owner decorated it with sprayed-on stencils of a Native American dream catcher and an Apache chief in profile. Steven is popular in his neighbourhood, people view him as funny and kind-hearted and no one says anything derogatory about his motorcycle. When his mother died, Steven lived with his grandfather for several years that would be best summarised as ‘chaotic.’

Trystan kicked into the edge of the dune and let out a cry. He is younger than Steven and younger than David. He is thirty and married to Lleucu, twenty-four, an Attachment Parenting practitioner and Psychology PhD student. Trystan was sacked from his last office job for using company time to write a seven thousand word essay, published via Google Docs, on Coronation Street’s Evil David Platt. When he was eight his mother was involved in a car crash that resulted in her being comatose for two and a half months. Six months later, his father was also involved in a car crash, dying instantly. On hearing the news, Trystan began screaming and throwing books at everyone in the room. His mother said:

let him

His family stood still, sad and sympathetic looks fixed on their faces, allowing the Rupert Bear annuals to hit them on their heads, midriffs, and groins.

*

They began drinking. Trystan unpacked thirty-six 250ml cans of Little Hobo Czech craft lager and wanted to talk about whether Steven and David had any opinion of him marrying someone significantly younger. He was keen to know their opinions, though was also aware he would almost certainly disregard anything that was not what he wanted to hear.

Steven removed his glasses and cleaned them on his shorts, I don’t think it matters what I think because it wasn’t a real wedding, it wasn’t legally binding.

Trystan didn’t look up, Do you two ever text each other? You never text me.

No, both replied, simultaneously.

David finished his can and held his hand out for another, You get married if you want, or don’t, do what makes you happy, mate, he said.

Trystan gritted his teeth, I am married. It was a proper wedding. We made a commitment.

Okay, you are married. It was a real wedding, David opened his can and drank maybe a third of it. He drank another third. Gwenno and Dad were happy, I think, so I suppose it can work. He was private, so—. David picked up his can, finished it, and looked over its design (minimalist, aspirational) and laughed.

Steven finished a beer and held the can in front of his face, Stop tweeting about beer, it’s fucking embarrassing. Please pass me another beer.

Trystan passed Steven another beer, I didn’t know you look at my Twitter.

*

Trystan closed his eyes and fell asleep on the deckchair, the last word he heard was Jesus. He woke up an hour later and made crisp sandwiches for everyone.

Steven, David, and Trystan decided that the next morning they would swim in the ocean.

*

David woke first and made enough scrambled eggs for the three of them. He felt happiest early in the morning. He shook the eggs from the frying pan and onto each plate. David looked at the plates and used a fork to move the eggs around so that they were distributed evenly. He shouted, Eggs, and sat down on one of the chairs they left out last night. It must have rained at some point between two and six, he felt his bum getting damp. He sighed, continued eating, continued shouting, Eggs, every couple of minutes.

Trystan opened his eyes and immediately felt conscious of how dry his mouth was. He stared up at the orange ceiling of his tent and imagined that outside of the tent was a never-ending landscape, populated only by identical unoccupied orange tents, each with its own supply of Brecon Carreg, Welch’s Purple Grape juice, and bags of zip-locked mixed nuts. Trystan thought again of the barren landscape and added in a tropical greenery and two large moons in the sky. He said Predators out loud and thought of Adrien Brody (the actor) and Adrien Brody (the Marie Calloway short story). Trystan heard David shout, Eggs, and opened his eyes. He looked at the orange ceiling for a moment before shutting his eyes again.

*

Steven, David, and Trystan stood in a row, barefoot, and looked out onto the sea. It looked okay; grey and irritable, but okay. Three years ago David had a waterproof cover (not waterproof) over his broken right arm. Four years ago Trystan was only two days back from running a marathon with an ex- girlfriend. One, two, three, four, five years ago Steven did not want to swim. It was cold and drizzling.

Trystan ran his fingers through his hair and then his beard, My beard smells metallic, I think.

The drizzle was relentless. David gave the command, a ten to one countdown, and they ran into the sea; David diving first, followed by Steven, followed by Trystan.

Trystan did not enjoy diving, he had learnt the orthodox procedure for breathing underwater only six weeks ago in the swimming pool of the Grecian villa Lleucu and he had stayed in. He splashed into the sea awkwardly and despite David and Steven already swimming ahead, he grimaced and he felt his face flush red with embarrassment.

David, well ahead of Steven, who had now been overtaken by Trystan, shouted, The race is to the buoy and back.

The buoy was barely visible in the rain. The buoy was fighting to survive. The buoy would be fine. The race was to the buoy and back.

The rain was heavy, cold, and painful. From the shore it would have been difficult to see anything other than the outline of their arms pushing past their ears and down onto the water.

David reached the buoy first and slapped both hands down on it. Breathing hard, he turned and strained his eyes to make out Trystan and Steven and then shouted, To the buoy and back, before beginning the return leg.

Having raced Lleucu every morning of their holiday (swam seven, lost four, won three – the last three), Trystan found his strength in the water much improved from previous years. Gradually, certainly, he was catching up with David. As they approached the shore he considered some kind of last minute psychological gamesmanship. He opened his mouth to shout abuse but swallowed a large amount of seawater, instantly killing all momentum.

David stood up in the water and ran to the pile of towels, T-shirts and sweaters.

Trystan stood up in the water and ran to the pile of towels, T-shirts and sweaters.

David turned back towards the sea and strained his eyes. They walked towards the sea.
They kept walking, the water up to tops of their calves.

It’s to the buoy and back, the buoy and back, Trystan shouted. What’s he doing? I don’t know what he’s doing—

David looked on for a moment and then turned around and returned to the shore. The rain, on the beach at least, had returned to a faint drizzle, the kind that is barely perceptible, albeit soaks you nonetheless. Trystan stared as Steven continued to swim, now well beyond the buoy. Instinctively he moved his hand to his side, to locate his iPhone, to call Lleucu.

*

They sat on a large tree trunk surrounded by used foil barbecue trays and watched as Steven’s semi-distant figure appeared to turn around. It was unclear whether this was his intention or something insisted upon by the sea. Gradually, and with sluggish consistency, he appeared closer and closer until it became evident that his appendages were no longer propellants, his head bobbing up and down, his colourful arms like forty-year-old sticks of Blackpool rock.

David stood up and walked, then ran towards, into, the sea. He lifted Steven up and dragged him to the shore before placing him in the recovery position. David watched as Steven stirred momentarily before throwing up, repeatedly.

Trystan put his hands down to his sides. Trystan lifted his hands over his head. Trystan retched, threw up into his hands, and then onto the beach.

*

Pulling a four pack of Tyskie beer from the coolbox and passing one to Steven and throwing the other to David, Trystan opened his bottle and drank maybe half, They’re small bottles. Small bottles, but I like them. Did you turn around, did you choose to turn around? Basically, that’s what I want to know: did you choose to turn around or were you turned around?

Steven smiled and said, What difference does it make? I’m here now.

Trystan felt his bottom lip trembling and he dug the nail of his index finger into his thumb, Dramatic wanker—

Steven was laughing, but only a little. He stopped laughing, Fuck off you little prince. He ran his hands through his hair, pushing it back, exposing his forehead, his receding hairline, small scars from his youth. Dramatic? That’s very funny, that’s very funny. I’m assuming you’re being serious, that you’re earnestly angry at me when you say that.

Trystan looked into the fire, Don’t abuse me.

Steven leaned forward in his chair. He ran his hands through his hair again. He leaned back in his chair, What could I possibly say now that isn’t going to result in hours and hours of you moaning like a dickless six-year-old? I chose to turn around. I wasn’t trying to kill myself, obviously that’s not what I was doing... and, for reference, you never need to email me about this incident, or anything you think might have led to this incident. Stop sending me that kind of email. Stop emailing me at all, actually. ‘Summer Trip’ brackets ‘Annual’ brackets ‘Commemorative’, what kind of, what, what planet are you from? Don’t talk to me about your problems, it’s boring.

Trystan sat up in his chair and looked at David and then looked at Steven. Fuck you, abuser, he said, struggling to retain any kind of composure.

Steven adjusted his glasses, focused, then threw his can at Trystan’s head. The can struck just above his left eyebrow and split the skin on impact. Blood began to trickle down Trystan’s face. He put his hand to the cut, dabbed it, then rose up and lunged wildly towards Steven, who became unbalanced in his chair and fell backwards, kicking his legs out and catching Trystan in the mouth. Trystan grabbed Steven’s right foot and bit his big toe—

*

David was the first to wake. David was always the first to wake. He took his tent down and packed it up quietly and efficiently before making a start on the scrambled eggs. David was too young to remember living with his grandfather in the years following his and Steven’s mother’s death, and by the time their father died he had experienced enough in his life to see death as something that merely happens and doesn’t involve, in practical terms, as much trauma as it is traditionally afforded: for example, a shitty relationship is more traumatic than dying (you or someone you know).

David recalled an email Trystan sent him:

Hi. I didn’t meet granddad (you already know this) so I feel like I’m less related to him than other people who knew him (you, for example). Can you tell me some things about him. I don’t think he’d like me, I can’t imagine what we’d talk about. Does that matter? I still think these trips are a good idea. Steven never replies to my emails. Bye.

David tried to remember his response:

I don’t think it matters. Try and relax, something something something something—

David couldn’t remember the response.

David looked at the eggs, they were cooking perfectly. He turned them over in the pan, said, Eggs, and walked into the woods to collect firewood to take home with him.


All The Places We Lived is out now, published by Parthian


Richard Owain Roberts was born in a field on Ynys Mon and now lives in Cardiff, Wales. He studied English Literature at the University of Manchester before joining the Creative Writing MA programme at LJMU. His fiction and non-fiction has appeared in a variety of places in print, online, and radio. All The Places We Lived is his debut short-story collection. (@RichOwainRobs)

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.