I spent the pre-Christmas temporal ditch in Center Parcs with my family. A rowdy bunch, I immediately vacated their collective presence and made for the swimming facilities, where I would stay for most of the week, returning to base only for food and verruca socks. On my penultimate day in the Parcs, I plucked up the courage to try one of the big slides. After climbing to the top, and settling into a rubber ring, I found myself face-to-face with some I can only describe as a very attractive human female. I went to speak, but the lifeguard lashed out with a trainered foot and booted us into action.
We descended through the tunnel-slide, each twist and turn a fibreglass reflection of destiny’s intricate scheme. The water of a future unknown slapped me hard in the face as we crashed down into the pool, laughing and shy.
Chlorine stung my eyes, perhaps even to the point of ghastly redness, but I strained my vision through the haze, taking into register all the features of the face before me. I noticed that it was framed ‘twixt drapes of deep red hair, and set upon a neck so slender, so long, I might otherwise have guessed it to be that of a shaven baby giraffe. Her neck opened out, like a porcelain oak trunk, onto the plane of shoulders, and from these hung a pair of delicate arms, each hinged efficiently at the elbow. Her hands gripped the sides of our shared vehicle, and she lifted upwards like a six foot flesh rocket. Her chest was that of a woman, though obscured by the feminine cupping of a bikini top, and her abdomen, smooth, was an untouched yoghurt surface. O, how I longed to be her corner fruit. Suspended from her midsection were two elegant legs, slim like fighter jets, curving out into a pair of beautiful, wet feet. I struggled to introduce myself.
'I'm Shelagh,' she replied, climbing out of the ring. 'Shelagh Danube.' She shot me a smile so divine, so bright, it could have been a crescent moon cut out of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. I felt as though tendrils of paradise extended from each of her gleaming teeth, wrapping around my head and mind and brain. I followed her to the edge of the pool; or, rather, I was dragged there, trapped blissfully in the tangle of her metaphysical tentacles, like a dolphin in a trawler’s net. We got to know each other over poolside fried chicken and bendy fries, but her physical presence was too powerful for me to listen to much of what she was saying.
We made love that night - proper, actual sex, like Roger Moore and Grace Jones in A View to a Kill - and fell asleep on the forest floor. We couldn’t stay in our allocated cabins, two houses alike in dignity, because of family members, and so spent the night beneath the stars and chemtrails. I think she really had an orgasm.
In the morning we made for the beating heart of Center Parcs, that core hub of activity, and signed in for falconry. We, with ten other holidaymakers, filed onto a tennis court, where a gentleman waited with a hawk on his arm. On the adjacent court, a middle-class rabble dabbled in archery.
'That's a buzzard,' I identified smugly as we approached the handler, showing off for Shelagh. He corrected me but I pretended he was lying. We twelve amateur falconers lined up against the back wall and prepared for avian interaction. First came small birds, goldcrests and tits, followed by pigeons and a goose, before the handler introduced us to an enormous golden eagle. I readied my camera as the bird was balanced on Shelagh's begloved forearm. She smiled nervously and, on my photographer's command, held the beast out in front of her.
There came suddenly a whooshing sound, tailed by a cry of horror from next-door’s archery lesson. My camera’s flash illuminated the moment of incident.
The arrow pierced the feathered bulk on Shelagh’s arm, pinning the bird to her chest and her to the back wall. Cupid had misfired, and badly. Shelagh and the bird succumbed quickly to their predicament, a huge kebab of tragedy. Her last words came to me through feathers, an audio-illegible bleat of agony. As I cradled her as best I could - she remained in a standing position against the wall, the eagle stuck at her breast like a poppy - I pondered the nature of fate: it doth giveth, it doth taketh away, and it doth shooteth badly in Center Parcs archery lessons. The culprit, a mere child, was whisked away on its father’s hulking shoulders, and I, too, fled the scene; Shelagh’s strictly religious, and religiously strict, parents, who would no doubt swiftly be telegrammed, could not find out about our relationship. I watched from behind a plastic chair as her body was slid, like a shelf from a wall bracket, out of place and carried away. The eagle was kicked into a creek.
I treasure now my only photograph of Shelagh, for it is all the tangible evidence I have of our time together. Her face is masked by a frantic eagle wing, but, thanks to my registering of her features in the pool, and free online photofit software, I’ve managed to assemble a crude likeness that’ll see me through many dark nights of the soul.