It was understood back then everybody needed a pier. Now there’s a perception of a value change. There’s a sensitivity to the scenic impacts of piers.-Don Lane
I’m seated in the gallery. My eyes focused on a painting by Vettriano entitled, The Pier. I’ve often wondered what the stories were for each of the subjects that he painted. The young lovers seated next to the solitary man. The lonely man gazing over the railing. The young girl in blue standing next to her father. The middle aged couple standing under the umbrella.
It’s funny how I can view an image and weave a story. Some folks think it’s a talent. Some think it’s me being arrogant. Like I know that I write well. For me it isn’t either of those things. I see the image and there’s a flash of clarity. A knowing. It’s not always a good story. Nor should it be. There’s a darkness to this talent of mine. A sadness that seeps into my chest. No one can remove it, but me. It escapes when I write.
I withdraw my notebook and pen from my purse. I stare intently at the older couple standing under the umbrella. My mind wanders to the pier. I’m standing at the railing with the lonely man. I take into my nostrils the tang of the salt water. Hear the squawk of the seagulls. See the waves lap the shore. I’m in my element. At home. My pen starts before I realize what I’m writing….
The lady and gentleman stand under the umbrella. Not touching. But there’s an intimacy in the way he shields her from the heat of the day. He looks at her and envisions the young woman he married 15 years before. She turns to him and gives him a knowing smile. That’s the nicety of being with someone for so long. The familiarity. They came to the pier that day to walk and soak up the sun. There was the shared hot dog and cotton candy too. The ride in the rickshaw. Holding hands while walking in and out of shops. They bought nothing. Only talked about what items would look pretty in their seaside home. They’re childless after so many years together, but they have each other. That’s all that matters. He wishes he didn’t have to hold the umbrella. He wishes they were at home. In bed. Sharing wine, chocolate and kisses.
Remember I told you, I’m standing next to the lonely man at the railing. I turn to look at him as he stares out into the wide open. There’s a crashing of waves in his eyes. A storm. There’s no serenity in the seascape for him. He’s thinking of the job he lost. The wife that’s no longer waiting for him at home. He knows his next double shot of whiskey will bring him no solace. He wants to end it all. Walk into the ocean and drown. Like Sylvia Plath. Stones in his pockets. The end.
The young girl in blue stands with her father. She wants to be any place but here. Actually, she wants to be with her sweetheart. They had shared their first kiss a few days before. She’s still preoccupied with the softness of his lips. The way they bumped noses trying to figure out which way to turn their heads. Where to put their hands. The tingling sensation that surged through them as they brushed tongues. Daddy is asking her about school. She answers automatically, “It’s fine. Everything is fine.” She smiles at him. He sees his little girl growing up before his eyes. She’ll be going away to college in two years. He’ll be lost without her. Even though she grows away from him, he loves her more with each passing day. Also, he knows about the first kiss from her sweetheart. It makes him happy, but wistful.
The old man is sitting on the bench next to the young couple. He thinks back to the day when the love of his life died. He lost all hope for living when he put her in the ground. His children are there for him. Take care of his bills. The housework. Bring the grand kids to see him too. They try to make it not seem like an obligation. Like they love him and want to be with him. He knows better though. They have their own lives to live. He wishes they would do just that and leave him alone. His mind wanders back to a pleasant memory of his wife. 40 years before, they’d walked the pier. Hand in hand. Her hair up in a bun with a few tendrils escaping the clasp that she had used to keep her hair in place. He bought her some popcorn. They shared the bag and smiled at each other when their fingers touched. He licked the salt from her fingers, and the blush that rose to her cheeks made a stirring in his loins. How he missed that feeling. How much he missed that beautiful wife of his. And how he longed for his death, so he could be with her again. For eternity.
Ah now it’s time to tell the story of the young couple. Not even a breath of air gets between them. His arm is around her. Her hands, on his chest. It is sweltering, but the lovers pay no mind. They continue to touch each other. Sharing a sip of soda to cool their lips in between sweet kisses. She lays her head on his shoulder. He caresses her side and kisses her forehead. They gaze out at the ocean. Hear the roar of the surf. The crest of the waves surge, like their need for each other. How he wants to take her right where they are. On a bench in the middle of a crowded pier. She would allow him to, for she wants him also. Her dress billows in the wind caused by the surf. The young woman turns her head, and whispers, “take me home, and make love to me.” He answers yes, by lifting her delicate hand to his mouth. He licks the tips of her fingers.
I back away from the railing and once again find myself seated on the bench in front of the painting. My eyes open and notice my notebook bears the scribbles of the story I just penned. It’s funny, I barely remember writing anything. I thought I was standing next to the lonely man at the railing on “The Pier”. I place the items in my hands back in my purse. I get up to leave the gallery. It’s then that I notice hanging on the wall close by is, The Singing Butler by Vettriano. I head to the gift shop to buy the print. I always wanted to have a copy of it for my home.