The kids run around the pool playing a game, the rules of which seem undecipherable even to those participating, and the noise they make...

Wasted Firsts

   The kids run around the pool playing a game, the rules of which seem undecipherable even to those participating, and the noise they make is that of savages and wild animals and the dying and the dead. Some of the parents are embarrassed, this being a communal pool open to the entire resort, but most just lie on their sunbeds in a blissful dream. The ones that are embarrassed add to the noise, stopping their screaming children in their tracks and telling them stop it, Harry, and telling them now you calm down, right now. The kids receive these tellings-off like beautiful women receive compliments, forgetting them instantly, and run straight off screaming at the top of their lungs. For many of these kids, it's the first trip abroad they've ever enjoyed. For all of them, it's the first trip in such a large group.
   They’re all wasted firsts, of course. None of the kids will remember the details of the holiday or mark it specially in their minds; they’ll remember the sunburnt shoulders or the popped pool ring or the first and last time they ever tried tuna on a pizza. Never the important details.
   Gathered around the big blue kidney bean of a pool are four families, their members related in some cases by cousinhood and sometimes just by lifetimes spent together, and each of those families have brought their own favourite combinations of generations. One couple have their children and their new grandchild; one have only their five children; one of the men, fresh from a divorce, has brought his two daughters and his new girlfriend and her stepson, the controversy of which has been the elephant in the room for the rest of the families for the whole holiday; and the last have brought their son and their very elderly parents, who sit under a parasol frowning eternally.
   Of this elderly couple, the old woman sits in a wheelchair saying nothing, hasn't said a word to anyone but her husband in years; and the old man speaks only when he wants to say something cantankerous or upsetting to one of the young holidaymakers or to complain to a helpful member of staff about something they would be powerless to fix. He seems to have been spending the week so far venting frustrations he's been storing up his whole life, as if aware that it’ll be his last holiday and desperate to get them off his chest at least once before his clogs pop for him. The negativity has hung around the old couple like a cloud, making their parasol a place to avoid for anyone who values the fun they’re having.
   But it is under this parasol that one of the kids chooses to sit, in an unoccupied garden chair, and sulk his way out of the game.
   His sigh is like a whoopee cushion’s, under the weight of a heaving clown car.
   Then nothing happens for a while. The kid just stares at the floor.
   ‘What’s wrong wi you?’ The old man says.
   ‘Huh?’ The kid says, still focusing on the floor, kicking it with the ball of his bare foot.
   ‘You eard.’
   ‘Lewis kicked the ball into one of the palm trees,’ the kid says, after a pause.
   ‘An you can’t get it out?’
   ‘There somethin wrong wi your ears? I said is that why you’re upset, cause you can’t get it back?’
   ‘Oh. No. That was what we were trying to do.’
   The old man stops looking at the kid, stares back out at the pool, the kids, the palm trees, the blue. Some time passes. ‘I don’t understand you fuckin kids,’ he says.
   The kid looks up at the old man, recognising a keyword his parents have been keeping from him.
   After studying the old man’s face for a few seconds, he elaborates. ‘I’m annoyed because I wanted to be the first to do it.’
   ‘The first,’ the old man repeats. ‘Good luck wi that.’ He chuckles, a raspy chuckle laced with malice.
   ‘You’ll never be the first to do anythin, boy. Everythin’s bin done. Every record’s bin broken, everywhere’s bin explored. All the years you’ve got ahead, an you’re still just as likely to break new ground in your lifetime as I am, an that ain’t fuckin appenin. You’ll do well to kiss goodbye to opin to be the first at anythin. Firsts are wasted on the worst o the world.’
   There’s a pause, as the kid tries to compute what the old man has said. He thinks for a while, then says, ‘Huh?’
   ‘I’ll give you an example. One day you’ll meet a nice woman. Or man, whatever, I don’t give a fuck what you kids get up to. Point is, you’ll fall in love. She could be everythin you’ve ever dreamed of. Funny, smart, pretty, sexy, best o the best. But you can bet your arse she won’t be a virgin. Not even close. Some arsehole will ave come along before you an taken that away, years before you got there. Which’d be fine, on its own. It ain’t really about virginity, you can lose that ridin a bike; the real trouble is the stolen innocence, all the fings you could’ve ad a first go at together, an now you can’t. Believe me, e’ll ave shown er everythin you wanted to. Er first theatre show, er first romantic oliday, probly er first place to stay an all, somewhere she can take er clothes off for im whenever e tells er. She’ll love those memories, even if she never says it. Everythin you wish you could be the first one to give er, she’ll ave been there, done that, an the arsehole what done it will ave packed up and fucked off years before you even showed up. She won’t even wish you were the first. You won’t stand out, by any measure.
   ‘An that’s just your love life. You’ll never invent anythin new, create anythin original, discover anythin ain’t already bin discovered. Too many people ave come before ye. Sooner you learn you ain’t special, better you’ll cope wi life. Wish someone ad told me earlier.’
   By now, the kid’s father has noticed that the old man is ranting at his son, and has approached to make sure the kid isn’t being upset. He reaches the edge of the parasol as the old man finishes his monologue, and stands smiling with faux carefreeness.
   ‘Everything alright, Stu?’ He asks the kid.
   The kid looks up at his dad, then back at his granddad, then back at his dad.
   ‘Granddad said the F word,’ he replies.
   The kid’s dad takes his son’s hand and begins to lead him away. ‘For God’s sake, dad,’ he says to the old man, ‘I’ve told you before, try to keep the language clean in front of Stuart.’ He leads his child away, shaking his head.
   The old man just continues staring out at the pool, his hands in his lap, the noise of the kids fuelling that dull ache at the back of his head. He and his wife sit there like statues, passing the time by passing the time, and nothing else.
   After a few minutes, the old wife speaks softly. ‘You’re completely wrong, you know.’
   ‘Eh?’ The old man replies.
   ‘Is that what you’ve thought, all these years? That I don’t wish you were the first? I wish for nothing more. I wish you’d been all I ever had. You’re the love of my life, Trevor. Special is all you’ve ever been to me. Life just went the way it went. Always does. First or second or a hundred and fifty-seventh, nothing could take away that you’re the most and the best. Nothing at all.’
   The old man sighs. He says, ‘I know, love, that weren’t about us.’
   He can’t even remember if he’s lying. Probably it was the case that he just wishes she was his first. That he hadn’t wasted so many opportunities to have a first shot. Something like that. He’s not sure what his point was. All he seems to feel these days is angry. But not when he looks at her.
   The old couple join hands, and stare together at the pool and the kids and the palm trees and the blue and the whole world full of wasted firsts.

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