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Colin Spencer

 

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The Downs Venice
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Excerpt from Panic by Colin Spencer


It was the first hot day of this summer. The beaches would be crowded; the youths lying supine over the pebbles, strumming their guitars; their girls curled up beside them. Short, stout women; stalking in their white peep-toed shoes upon the pink pavements, arm-in-arm with identical friends, wearing, with pomp and pride, their fur stoles. Old men in braces, their wives unrolling their lisle stockings, peeling them from celery-white legs. Sailors from Portsmouth sitting outside the beach pubs, drinking pints of innocuous-tasting beer and wiping their mouths on their sleeves. And children … children everywhere, girls of six holding aloft tiny multi-coloured plastic windmills, or licking mounds of ice cream with slow and avid delight; children laughing, skipping, shouting; children crawling, running, swinging; children paddling and splashing; and somewhere, somewhere among them all, a man … a man who watches their games. Who will look different. He must look different.

A motor-boat curled across the blue expanse of sea from Palace Pier. The pebbles were brown and old with filth where the sea never washed them. A boat was being painted white. A wastebin, disguised as a painted man with a yawning mouth, lay on its side. ‘Vandals,’ a woman said as I passed it. ‘it’s them again.’

Vandals? But it wasn’t vandals that murdered my child; it wasn’t they who snatched her away, who kept her for three days, and then left her in a stream below the Downs.