I am five years old. Our family day out at the seaside has ended badly. In seething silence my parents march me up the concrete ramps that cross the train tracks at Chalkwell train station. They’re annoyed, very annoyed. It’s all my fault as they make abundantly clear whenever there is no one else around. Sudden bursts of anger followed by punishing silence.
It’s a short walk across the zebra crossing to Kent View Avenue where my dad has parked his car. He unlocks the car door, gets inside, then reaches over and pulls up the passenger side lock. Being young and not having many routines in my life I know how this works, my mum will open her door, lift the little plastic handle on her seat and slide it forward so that I can climb into the back. This is the way it always is, this is the way it always works. Except this time she doesn’t do that. This time she gets into the car without pushing her seat forward for me. I want to say something but I can’t. When they’re this angry, talking only makes things worse.
She rolls down her window and I walk over to it. “You can stay here and think about what you’ve done,” she says.
I watch as the car pulls away. They’ll stop in a minute I think, then she’ll open the door and let me get in too. I watch as the car turns out of view into Cliff Avenue and realise that for the first time ever I am all alone.
I look around, the street is empty. I don’t know what to do. I start to walk up the road in the direction they drove off in, but stop when I realise that I don’t know where that leads. I start crying. Not sobbing, but full on floods-of-tears crying. The sun is burning hot and the pavement feels like it’s melting under my bare feet. I walk back towards the station. My head is spinning. I don’t know what to do. There’s no one here, no adults, no children. I think about knocking on one of the houses, but decide not to. Time has ended, I might have been here for a year, I might have been here for a few minutes. I round the corner to the station and head over the crossing, back to the beach.
That’s when my dad’s white Ford Fiesta roars to a halt beside me. My mum gets out and lifts me up by my arm. “Get in,” she hisses, before forcing me into the back seat of the car.
I got the belt that night. I don’t remember much more of what happened, the punishments from that time all tend to blur into one.
Oh and the thing that had spoiled the day so badly, the awful thing which caused all of this, was me walking out onto the riverbed when the tide was out and returning with mud on my legs.