No. 23 The Merchant Seaman

I avoided the Rayleigh pubs and Marni and having forgiven Julie for shagging Alex, the guy who I’d got beaten up over, I started hanging out at her house again. Julie’s older brother was in the merchant navy and on leave with three of his navy friends. They were hanging out at the house smoking joints and listening to Sousix and the Banchees.
I had my eye on Mitch. He was 19 and had a strong Geordie accent.  Mitch had a room at the Stella Maris hotel by Tilbury Docks but found it more comfortable staying on Julie’s brother’s bedroom floor. Mitch and two other of his seaman friends had tickets to Reading Rock Festival. I wanted to go. Julie wasn’t that interested so I asked Marni. My sister and boyfriend plus friends already had tickets so I figured my parents wouldn’t worry about me going as she would be there, if indeed they did worry.
Marni and I arranged to meet the boys at the only pub anyone knew in Reading, The Target. We took small rucksacks, sharing out the one man tent, pegs in my side pocket, ground sheet in Marni’s larger sack and we got the train to Reading. The seamen were already outside the pub and greeted us with pints of snakebite. We were used to these from the Crown, but the barman put blackcurrant in.
“This is a proper snakebite” Mitch glugged the pint down in one go and went to the bar to get more. I found the blackcurrant made the drink too sweet and the extra calories concerned me but downed a few pints anyway.
The weekend was a blur of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, The Kinks headlining. The 5 of us drank, took drugs and laughed non-stop, rolling about in brown dry grass with half drunk or crushed cans of party 4, 6 and 8’s. I felt like we were the famous 5 of Reading Rock. Even queueing up for the portaloos was exciting. We bought tee shirts from the festival merchandise stalls and head bands made from coloured beads. We ignored the STD warnings and stalls of free condoms. I’d only ever used condoms for blowing up and putting on teachers desks. At night Mitch and I shared our single tent while Marni crashed with the other seamen.
Coming back home was a downer. I clocked in at the insurance office I worked on the Monday after the festival but was knackered and crashed out on the sick-bed in the basement. The bed was like a scout camp bed, that brown tent like material that was set up between two rows of filing cabinets surrounded by mice droppings and old bits of files spat out by mice.
Julie’s brother went back on ship that week and Mitch had to return to the Stella hotel but we arranged to meet for dates in Southend. I knew Mitch was falling for me, he bought me Todd Rundgren records, he paid for us to go on the go karts in Peter Pans Playground and he got a tattoo of a dragon on his forearm the Chinese year of the dragon, the year I was born. He took me to see Time Bandits at the Southend Odeon cinema. I recognized David Rappaport from compering the royal wedding day gig. I liked Mitch, he was different, more interesting than Rayleigh boys.
After the cinema we were hugging goodbye at the station.
“I love you Liz”
No one (not even my parents or the nice boy) had ever said this to me and even though I loved him too, I couldn’t say it back, I didn’t know how to.
A few days after Mitch’s declaration of love, we arranged to meet at Southend Central station again. I was there on time as usual and waited, and waited. Mitch didn’t turn up. Worried, I rang the Stella hotel from a payphone at the station. They weren’t able to give me any information. I knew from word of mouth that the Stella was rife with drugs and dealers and I had visions of Mitch holed up in his hotel room, sick or something. No one cared about him like I did, no one would have noticed him missing except me.
I got the train back to Rayleigh and walked up the high street and into the police station. I’d been here once before age 6 when I’d been run over by a car belonging to a friend of my dad’s.  I got a massive lump on my head but didn’t need the hospital.
“I want to report a missing person.” I’d plucked up the courage in the quiet empty police station. I was older now, 17, nearly an adult working full-time.
“Take a seat.” The officer came out from behind the counter and gave me a form with a pen and clipboard. I filled in the bits of the form I could and handed it back.
“When did you see your boyfriend last?”
“Five days ago. He’s never late. He’s always been on time or early and already in the pub.”
“How old are you?”
“17”
“How old is Mitch?”
“19, I think, maybe older?  He’s a merchant seaman, staying at the Stella, but he’s from up North, he’s a Geordie, no one would worry about him apart from me.”
The officer took the semi completed form with clipboard behind the counter. There were two other officers sitting behind at their desks. He showed them the form.
“Stella Maris,” I heard him say and they all laughed. I felt like a 6-year-old child again with the growing bump on my head, this time a psychological bump of embarrassment. The police man came back to the counter.
“We’ll let you know if we find anything out about, Mr Mitchell.”
I never heard back from the station and I never heard from Mitch again. Over the next few days I rang all the hospitals in the area, just in case and began calling the police ‘pigs’, like everyone else did.

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