THE PIER by DF Lewis
Arthur knew about seaside piers, but he had never seen one, not even in books or TV. He had read Rayner Heppenstall’s novel entitled ‘The Pier’ – but it had lost its dustwrapper before Arthur obtained it and the actual text, although it pictured a pier’s description, was not really sufficient for him to know a pier as Heppenstall had evidently known a pier, a real pier, a pier-in-itself.
Arthur dreamed of a pier – and it was unlike any pier he had earlier imagined in waking life. On huge oaken pedestals, stretching like a length of God’s jewellery dropped in the sea, with a small train that went up and down its length like a zip-fastener – and under the metal runners was a carpet of wooden planks meshed into each other by the under-weather from the sea, so there were no gaps to fear for those suffering vertigo.
From the end of the pier, he saw a deceptively circular area of waves – alternate confluxes and influxes of sea-drift that formed a shape and sound that seemed to express to him a ring of tides. But back to the pier itself, this was Arthur’s version of ‘Pier’, a Platonic Form of Pier, a Pier that appeared nightly, with the noise of colliding dodgems and screeching ghost-houses and various Ferris Wheels that turned and criss-crossed through the lit darkness like windmill clouds in the sky themselves or merely viewed through such clouds, Arthur was uncertain. On board the Wheels’ dollies were holiday-makers who masqueraded as shouting shadows of themselves, almost as if the hard-nosed workaday world was really where they still were and not there in the diverting dollies.
One day – Arthur was determined to travel to the Seaside and see a real pier in the flesh: to compare it to his dream pier: check out the currency of the curdled tides that its oaken pedestals engendered through the weft and woof of solidifying maelstrom. But those words, that very ambition, disappeared with waking workaday life, and he soon forgot the dreams like all dreams forget themselves soon after the dreamer forgets them first.
In old age, Arthur did manage to visit the seaside, despite living as far inland as it was possible to live in England. It was a pensioners’ outing. He neatly pushed his tie into its proud wing collar, donned his best suit and waited for the coach. “Bobbing up and down like this,” the pensioners sang, and Arthur, before he boarded, could see their shapes rhythmically lifting up and down in their seats as if they were already on the sea in a pleasure craft. They were all very excited, Arthur included. Never seen the sea before, none of them. They only watched crime on their TVs. This was a trip of a lifetime, the trip at the end of a lifetime.
When Arthur eventually saw the pier appear from the sea mist, the coach climbing down towards the town nestling in its bay – and finally to the sea’s edge itself. He loosened his tie as he walked alone down the pier’s boardwalk, admiring the glimpses of grey fire between the gaps. This was not the pier of his dreams, but of his greater, more wonderful reality than he could ever have imagined or involuntarily dreamed about. He finally took off his tie – as he reached the end of the pier. A pleasure pier that took its pleasure seriously. He threw his tie into the waves, as a last gesture, and watched it join what he had dreamed many years before: his tie completing the ring of ties bobbing in their soft bed of nothingness, before the real tides stalled only to swallow themselves. Rain fed them hardly at all.