Stories from a Lost Summer (2), or, Where do fictional characters come from?

Leaning on the piano, scotch in hand, sharp suit, crooning One For My Baby, Dave, round face with a bent nose, thick shouldered medium height, thought he sang like Sinatra when he entertained in the bar at the holiday camp where I worked in the time between leaving high school and getting a real job. He was a former army boxing champion whose boisterous ebullience disguised the mystery of why he forsook a prospering business in London – selling shirts – for a succession of jobs, the latest of which included his role of entertainer.

Until I discovered him late one night in the bar, slightly drunk, singing done. Arm around my shoulders, leaning in confidentially, he indicated a girl sitting near who, he said, was the image of his former fiancée, whose faithlessness had come as a shock to him (returning to London sooner than he anticipated after a trip away he used the key she’d given him to her flat to pay a surprise call, and found her sleeping – “with another” (“wiv anuvver”, in his tough guy London accent). Couldn’t stand London after that, he said. Had to get away, didn’t matter where, didn’t matter what he did. She still wrote to him, he confided, pleading forgiveness for that one infidelity, promising new faithfulness, but he could never accept her back.

He became a merchant seaman when he moved on from the camp and I never saw him again. Sometimes wonder if he still sings, maybe sea shanties in a Sinatra croon.

Stories from a Lost Summer (1) Or, ‘Where do fictional characters come from?’

Glen was a waitress and a drifter, maybe in her thirties. Gawky build and red hair. She looked like Ginger in West Side Story. I met her at a holiday camp where I was working while I marked time between leaving high school and getting a real job. She was friends – maybe more than a friend, I wasn’t sure – with Al, a cook at the camp who befriended me, and through him she became another of my casual, passing friends. The three of us spent time together between shifts, talking, walking on the beach, helping one another fend off the strangeness and insecurity and ever lurking loneliness of a temporary environment. She’d taken to working a never ending succession of casual jobs as a reaction against the dominating over-possessiveness of her parents, who would now have nothing to do with her because of her way of life. She’d been a prostitute in London, an unsuccessful hairdresser in Nottingham before that, now plied the former trade at the holiday camp in between waitressing, which seemed to be common knowledge among the staff although Al refused to believe it. She often complained of being cold and he gallantly loaned her his sweaters, which she usually didn’t return. One night in the beach café we talked, amongst other things, about our homes, and I asked her whether she wouldn’t prefer a home and family to makeshift homes and passing friends. She looked out of the window at the sea and started to cry. She was fired soon after for stealing from her fellow workers in the restaurant. Never said goodbye to Al. He said he was glad she’d returned at least one of his sweaters, said he could smell her on it, slept with it on his pillow. She left him a note, Please don’t think too badly of me, honey.