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The Black River photo

I uncrossed my legs and adjusted my knob a bit, which was by now straining against my jeans. I was sprawled on the floor of my tent like an overfed dog, my head propped up by the pillow of my rucksack. I had a book in one hand and beer in the other. I had been pretending to read the same page for the last fifteen minutes because there were two girls on the plot across from ours fumbling with the poles and pegs for their own tent. Their teenage incompetence was every bit as irresistible as you might expect.

The tent flaps were zipped open and tied back to let as much of the day in as would fit. The breeze smelled of summer’s green growing things, and it made me want to fuck. And the sound of the girlish giggling and carrying on from across the way made me want to fuck. But then, I was eighteen years old, and the sight of a wheely bin kicked over on the pavement was just as likely to make me want to fuck. At that age, you have no say in it; a freak grounding of positively charged sex hormones can strike at any time..

It was those same teenage hormones that had brought me and my friend Ger to Newquay in the first place. We had come over from Ireland with the knowledge that all English girls were easy and that all English girls loved the Irish accent. Furthermore, we had it on good authority that it was ‘impossible not to score over there.’ So off we went to fuck as many English girls as we could and maybe learn to surf on the side. Such are the ambitions of teenage boys.

Newquay was this small coastal town in Cornwall. It was down the sunny end of England if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. It was more wind than sun, jutting out as it did into the Atlantic. The incessant gale howled about you as you tried to get back on your surfboard, as you tried to get laid, as you tried to get drunk, as you tried to get high. Its sovereign scream a hungry howl in caves of your ears, drafting through your skull like the wail of a demented banshee.

Newquay was one of these spring break/party central types of places where students went to paw at each other when the exams were over. It was the sort of place that attracted stags and hens, headshops and herpes. At night the streets were littered with crying girls and bleeding boys who had pushed their souls out of their bodies with vodka. Fingerfucking and cock pulling down every alley and every shadowed corner of the nightclubs. Young wans sucking the faces and gouging the holes off one another.

It was a place too for dying hepatitis-ridden hippies to sell handmade jewellery and counterfeit crystals. A place for the unwanted, the addicts, the drunks, the homeless and the mad; they all came here to squat and die.

It was really only a hop, skip and a jump from Ireland to England, but for us, it may as well have been the fucking moon we’d landed on.

I remember walking around those first few days slack-jawed, just staring at the women. The clothes they wore at the beach and in the clubs, everything was so short, and there was so much bare skin.

I’d look at these shameless protestant women and think savage thoughts about their bodies. The outsized measure of my want was a fright even to me.

I would pass them on the street, and they would smile at me. I was handsome enough, if a little short, and a little skinny. I had nice eyes and a good face, and of course, that golden ticket, the Irish accent. This should have been enough, and it very nearly was.

When I think back on that summer, I remember a few things very clearly. The hangovers, with legs on them like spiders. And loneliness, like a wet Sunday morning, like being picked up late from school. And the horniness, horny like only teenagers are, like a starving man is horny for a piece of bread, or a drowning man is horny for a gasp of air.

Sometimes the loneliness would be so poisoned by the horniness and the hangovers that it was difficult to separate the three. Often, they would mesh and amalgamate into one single dull aching throb.

With that throb in mind, let me tell you about Charlotte. The memory of her is as fresh in my mind as the smell of the sweet Newquay weed. She was seventeen, slim, blonde, and ball-achingly beautiful. And it was her who had distracted me from my book that day with her ditzy tent pole wrangling.

The campsite we were staying at was just outside the town. It was cheap and close to the beach, and nobody complained about us smoking weed. We hadn’t been there a wet week when Charlotte and her less hot friend, Sandy, arrived one morning and proceeded to set up camp on the plot across from us. 

Ger was out falling off his surfboard, I think, and I had the tent to myself. Of course, I was playing it cool, aloof-like, because it was the only way I knew how to play it, because the most awful thing, the most terrible and sad thing about me, was that I was unable to speak to girls without alcohol. I had no game. I was shy. I was a cripple. A horny, horny cripple.

So, I couldn’t speak, but I did know how to sit there and look all sexy. Smouldering— I had smouldering eyes. Nobody had told me this. It was just something I’d decided about myself. Like most teenagers, I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror, deciding these types of things.

I watched them over the rim of my book. I was probably listening to Pink Floyd or something very predictable like that, but I would have felt cool, like the way listening to cool music makes you feel cool sometimes. 

Charlotte finished hammering in the last peg and stood up. She wiped her brow with the back of her hand and took a sconce about. Our eyes met. I averted my eyes back to the blurred words on the page. The girls started to walk over.

I can’t remember exactly what she said, but the gist of it was something like this.

‘Heeeey, we like your music. You mind if we hang out?’ Something natural and honest like summer rain.

‘Yeah, sure, no bother.’ I would have said, probably trying my best to keep from shaking, trying to keep from falling into the sky or blowing away on the wind. I remember becoming very alert, taut, like a drawn bow.

It’s funny to think about it now, with the joyless insight of the aged, because the reality was that I was sat there posing, like a big fat poseur, which, had the girls only been a little older, they would have recognised immediately.

But they were teenagers like me; the bitterness that blooms with age was but a pit in their stomachs, so instead, they said, ‘Oh my god, I love your accent. Are you Scottish?’


‘Irish, oh my god, I love Irish accents. Seriously like, the Irish accent is soooo sexy.’

They must have talked at me in this friendly seventeen-year-old girl kind of a way for a while—a sort of mindless prattling but as light and as warm as whispered poetry. 

‘Do you drink Guinness? I went to Cork with my dad once, and we had Guinness, but I couldn’t drink it. But I loooove Cork. I go with my dad every year for the Cork Jazz Festival; he’s big into Jazz, so that’s why I love the accent.’

Did they want some rum? They did. Did they want to smoke some weed? They did.

‘Oh my God, my brother is such a stoner like. He got so stoned one time he made up a song, except it was all just duck quacks.’  This was hilarious to them, and I pushed out the laughter as loudly as I could to keep pace.

They puffed tentatively, not really inhaling, but who cares? They could inhale or not inhale or blow it up my hole for all I cared. We were all in the tent now, a cosy little threesome. The girls were well along with rum. I relaxed and even managed a few questions of my own.

The girls weighing absolutely nothing, happy in their chittering youth, helped me along, helped me to speak. They coaxed gently, milking the words out, teasing the sentences out of me like some kind of therapeutic nurses teaching a stroke victim how to walk again— that’s it, you can do it, that’s it, you’ve got it. Woo, look at you go, you’re doing it, you’re really doing it, you’re speaking, you’re speaking to us, you’re speaking to actual girls! And look, your hands are barely trembling at all!

Charlotte was sat next to me, and I asked them what they wanted to do after school. They had plans, dreams, aspirations, but I can’t remember them now. What I remember is Charlotte resting her head on my shoulder and rubbing my hand with her finger. Her friend Sandy, who was less hot, said she had to go check something in their tent, leaving us politely to our business.

Then we were kissing, me and Charlotte. I was on top of her, and I had my hand down her pants. I wasn’t a virgin; I’d managed a few drunken fumbles back home, but nothing like this, nothing like the softness I had underneath me now.

Her face was red flushed, and she was beautiful as I felt her up. I started to undo my pants, but then I stopped, and looking her in the face, I said, ‘Are you sure you want to?’

A pause. The longest pause. Then, ‘No, no, I don’t think we should.’

My heart, my poor horny heart, it sank down below my knees and into the earth, down below the crust and into the dark hollows of the underworld.

After that, she went cold. I dunno. She just wasn’t into it anymore. I had pressed the wrong button. I had said the wrong thing. I would get no more from her that night or any other night.

If my story had ended there, it mightn’t have been so bad. But it didn’t.

Listen, listen, how bad it gets. So she went cold. She would not kiss or talk to me anymore. I could say nothing, so I left her to it. 

I began the slow process of mourning the loss of her.

Anyway, a few days later, the girls are still there, and they have been chatting in their girlish way with the other lads on the campsite-- Oh god, this fucking memory.

They met two Essex lads, and I could hear them talking and laughing in their tent. I was sad in my bones because she was lost to me now. She had fallen for one of the Essex boys, I was sure, and Sandy would probably have the other one, and that would be that. But what happened was worse.

Sandy came over to visit us. She explained that she had to get out of the tent, that Charlotte was hooking up with some Essex lads.

I swallowed. Lads? Plural? Yes, she was hooking up with them in the tent. Their tent was quite near. I could hear the voices if I strained for them in fleeting gaps in our conversation. I could hear the whispering even. Two distinct Essex voices, one soft southern English belle acquiescing to everything. Sandy did her best to talk over the sounds, but I heard enough. We all did. We all heard Charlotte and the two Essex lads have a threesome. I looked over at Ger and caught him watching me. I swallowed. A tight ball of sadness had risen you from my guts and lodged itself in my throat. I didn’t trust myself to speak.  

I could hear the Essex lads cooing and whispering to her, telling her that it would be okay, and Charlotte whispering something back and forth, they prodded and persuaded and shushed her away her concerns until they had her, probably face down on the tent floor. One at each end? I don’t know. The mechanics are not important. Maybe they just took turns, each boy taking a go in each position, turning her this way and that, manipulating her soft body like a supple mannequin. Maybe they all knelt in a circle while she jerked them both off, slowly kissing one first and then the other until hot ejaculate came squirting out across her small pert tits, sprayed like silly string from a can, like a phlegmy gob of stretched spit bungeed from neck to belly button. 

I drank rum and listened to the moans and grunts. The sadness and the horniness swirled and mixed inside me.

That’s it. That’s enough. Take that recollection away from me. Beat it to death with the edge of a hurley. Dismember it with a steak knife and bury it in the back garden.

Sandy, the not-unlovely Sandy, went on to bang Ger in the days that followed. She took his virginity. He took hers. I was happy for them both but sad for myself. We stayed friends with Sandy for a good while afterwards, but I never saw Charlotte again. She was there one minute. I was on top of her. Then she was gone, vanished in a gasp of smoke, turned to leaves and dust and ghosted away on that bastarding wind. Fucked into sand by a scrum of thick English yobs.

The whole thing had affected me terribly. I became ill. Nausea sat within me like fouled knowledge. Fever took hold. Dreams. Nightmares. Terrors. Visions of Essex boys holding me down, laughing and whispering, coaxing and cajoling. I dreamt of a river. A black river that ran through the heart of the world, a diseased vein through which nothing good coursed, and she was carried away by it, doused in its oily poisons, changed, gone.

I’d been out of it for a full day and night. When I woke, the girls' tent was gone, and I was alone. I lay in the stink of the tent and drank bottled water and thought about going home. Ger came back eventually, bearing cans of tenants larger. ‘Christ, I was getting worried. I nearly called your mam. Are you alright?’

‘Yeah, I’m grand, like, some flu or something. What did I miss.’

Ger handed me a can, and a smile spread across his face. ‘I got the ride,’



I squinted at him, wondering what new world I had awoken to. ‘Well, go on, man, for god's sake, tell me everything. Spare no detail, no matter how trifling.’  Actually, I felt relieved. There was good in the world, after all.

This is what he told me: They had been in the pub drinking, and he had fingered her asshole under the table.

I held up a hand to halt him, ‘Woah, Woah, Woah. Her asshole? Why were you fingering her asshole? I mean, how?’

‘It was all I could get my hands on at that angle. She was sitting down, like. On a bench like, so from behind kind of and--’

‘—actually, never mind. Go on,’ I said.

‘Then we went out to the field and found a spot. I started to put it in, and she was like, it’s too big, and I was like, tough shit bitch ‘cause that’s just the tip.’

‘You didn’t say that.’

He was speaking a million miles an hour. High on the rush of having shed himself of his virginity. The fat-fisted relief that an eighteen-year-old boy feels when the deed is finally done was fish-market-fresh.

‘No, I didn’t say that. Of course, I didn’t say that. But she was definitely a virgin.’


‘Well, she didn’t look like she was enjoying it.’

‘Did you last long?’

‘Not really, a few minutes. I was just trying to get it done, to be honest, and we were both pretty hammered.’



I had only lost my own virginity a few months before, and it was an equally ugly affair. It was a relief to have cast it off, so I was happy for him, but I was also sad, in the same way that he was sad now. There’s something about it, at least about the way we went about it, that felt wrong. Something that felt sad. Like when you were a kid and Santa brought you the wrong thing. That kind of mystified feeling of unfairness. It was like a bad taste in your mouth or like someone left a window open, and it was making you cold.

‘Well, that’s it, Ger. There goes your innocence,’ I said.

‘Yeah,’ he agreed. ‘There it goes.’

I became troubled. There it was again, the black vein—the river of poisons. And I knew, even then, I knew that it wasn’t supposed to be like that. That we were doing it wrong somehow, and I was scared, terrified that I would never figure out the right way, or that maybe there was no right way, and all there was, was the black vein—the pulse and throb of want and take.