High tide and little toy soldiers, bottle tops, condoms, ring pulls, Styrofoam, buttons and coat hangers stroke against the shore. They claw and they crawl and creep up it insidiously and Murdoc sits up a little more in his deck chair to follow the course of a particular shamrock-shaped button, bobbing up and down on the greasy surface of the water. He takes his eyes off it only so long as it takes to take a swig of rum but when he looks back there's a shopping bag in its place, ballooning there like an uninspired jellyfish, meandering back and forth.
Sprog twitches and sparks. He smiles.
Overhead the seagulls are chattering but in a lazy, well-fed way that says the day is coming to a close. He gives them a curious, almost impressed look. He can never figure out what exactly it is that they're scavenging out here but they return, day after day so there must be something worth having a peck at.
Sprog hisses and steams and at that he feels the need to speak up.
"No man is an island, but every man is a plastic beach," the bassist says, chewing on each word then spitting it out decisively. They sort of hang in the stiff, putrid air and Murdoc studies them with tired, reddened eyes. Sprog watching him.
"What I mean by that Noodle," he says, always saying the name ironically, full well knowing the poor girl is gone for good, perhaps even a part of his new home, tucked away somewhere between an old fighter plane and the crumbling statue of some ill-fated Soviet leader, "Is that a lot of men look perfectly sound on the surface," his gaze slides down to study his blackened, cracked, pointed and dried out nails, "but underneath that gloss, underneath that acceptable sort of veneer is all this shit. A whirlpool of it, just growing, slowly and surely, gathering and collecting and stealing bits of crap from all around to add to itself and make a rather smelly, rather foul base on which to build a shiny, respectable man."
Perhaps it's just the light at this time of day, a sort of purple-green hazy evening, the seagulls beginning to quieten down, ready for a kip and the sea as quiet as ever since there's nothing living in it. Perhaps it's just all that but it almost seems like Sprog is alive. Considering, breathing, being. About to steal the bloody show like she used to, or to offer up some sage comment that will go right over his head.
She doesn't. There's a helicopter over both their heads, though. It watches, its little windscreen wiper sliding back and forth as the big creature blinks.
"I feel like I'm sinking a lot these days," he murmurs and pats the child on the shoulder to confirm that this thing is definitely not Sprog Mark 1. The shoulder is fleshy but subtly wrong. Subtly not Noodle and worst of all her chassis pops open and her right cheek starts twitching with a tic that needs troubleshooting.
Murdoc sighs, stands and throws the empty rum bottle into the sea where, in a moment's time, it comes back to roll up upon the shore beside the jelly-fished plastic bag from before.
"Fix you tomorrow love," he promises the robot and it continues to twitch in reply.
"Try your luck?"
Headed for the mansion entrance Murdoc stops in his tracks and swerves around with an expansive smirk on his face, far more like the sort of he used to reserve for the press and for pretty girls with ugly, cocky attitudes too close to his own.
"Wish you'd tell me why you're here. Or how you got here," he tells the creature on the stall. It shrugs.
"Try your luck?"
"Mate, you're trying yours, the way you're going on," but still, he approaches the gaudy fun fair like he does every night, with its flashing lights and cheap prizes and stripe-y hoardings. He picks up the gun from the wooden counter and lines up the sight, "Mate, you're really pushing it y'know. Want to be more careful. I'm famous. I could probably, I dunno, "off you". Call in a favour, I mean. I know powerful people."
"You a winner?"
He shoots and hits the second to innermost ring on the bullseye, just scraping the circle itself but not good enough. Rarely is good enough. He sets down the gun and rubs where a real gun might have kicked back against his shoulder idly through the fabric of his bandana.
"How did you get here?" he says with a more genuine concern, eyes roving over the prizes on offer. They all smile stupidly back at him with beady black eyes that are little oil spills in their faces and nothing at all like Stuart's. He can smell candyfloss but knows there isn't any. He can almost hear the sound of other people, throwing balls at plastic coconuts, can almost smell the heat from people riding gas-powered merry-go-rounds. They're all alone though.
"You a winner?"
"Do you know about the book?" he asks and as ever he doesn't quite keep the desperation out of his voice as he leans his weight on the counter. He tilts his head from side to side to try and catch a glimpse of what lies behind the thing's mask but again, like some well acted sea-side show they tilt and they pivot together so he's left none the wiser, "There's a book called "Plastic Beach" and it washed up here, like me, and it has my whole existence in its pages. It knows me," he says and he tries to find something resembling humanity in the thing's mask to connect with, to draw hope from.
"Madmen," the thing says calmly, "and me."
"So I assume that must make me the madman," Murdoc nods, the same as every night and heaves himself off the counter, "Right. Fair enough. You don't even know, I bet."
He walks back down the pier and his shoes clack in what ought to be a satisfying, resounding manner on the planks. Under the wood the waters lap sluggishly and choked against the shore. With jagged, reluctant jerks of his body he looks back over his shoulder and says with a quaver in his voice.
"I just know though, that this is the end isn't? My swan song on a pissing pile of garbage. I know the end is nigh, isn't it?"
"Sun, moon, stars. You a winner?"
"Oh for god's sake," he sighs angrily but he knows even that much is pointless and, at the sound of his own despair he lets out a cackle of laugh, the dried, salt-stung skin at the corners of his eyes twinging with a soreness as he grins, "Fuck off, Sun, Moon and Bloody Stars. I'll sack you like the pissing prima donna rock star I am."
He ends every night the same way. A knock on the door; it never opens. He always contemplates knocking a second time but also always opts just to open it, not at all surprised at the sight that meets him.
Tonight the little metal adjusters on his braces are tapping, rat-a-tat, on the wooden bed post. It sounds almost like a frantic, drunken morse code. It's impossible to make eye contact with him like this so, after lingering momentarily to take an indulgent moment to study the man with him unable to do anything to prevent it or shy away, perfectly paralysed with glassy eyes. He's getting thinner and he needs a shave. He smells of sweat but then that's the heat and the waste and the time of day, every (living) thing on the island smells that way by this hour.
His time up, Murdoc crosses to the window and pulls the curtain to and the singer spreads himself out on the bed like a second duvet. His breath is dragged out with the drag of the curtain on its pole and finally Stuart's eyes snap to his own. He's told him before that the whale is dead. Everything's dead, that's the damn point. It's all the waste, all the crap coming to accumulate together, joining forces, swallowing them up. Some brave or stupid whale swam the wrong way and wound up wedged between part of the Titanic and some scaffolding. It won't ever wink, blink or whatever Stuart thinks it's doing again. Still, Murdoc can't help but consider, it's not rotting. Maybe the chemicals in the water have chosen to preserve the damn thing. Maybe the sea's developing a sense of humour.
He clambers over Stuart and lays down in the narrow slither of space beside him, arms bent at the elbow and forearm crossing over his chest so he can cup his elbows with his hands like he's in a coffin, perhaps, or in a hospital bed, putting on a brave face while waiting for horrible news.
The bed creaks as the singer turns over to face him and then he's so close than Murdoc can hardly get his face in focus. He manages to make out the overall dazed look and offers a hearty sort of smile in return.
He's given up explaining so he just gives one wearied nod.
"Yep. It's gone," while he speaks he lets one hand slide off his chest, trail down off the side of the bed and stroke underneath the frame. No boogie-man underneath. Fine. He turns his full attention on the singer and lets his other hand reach out tentatively touch him, very, very lightly on his absurdedly stripey-shirted shoulder.
"Why're we here?"
It's the usual question since they've, against Murdoc's will, developed something of a routine. He considers it all the same since that's also part of their little farce, same as with Sun, Moon and Stars. He tilts back his head and looks at the slightly bowed ceiling, heavy with water seeping through from the Engine Room. It's a very valid question that he has no answer to so he counts the wrong ones on one hand. Why not? Why bloody not? Because. Because you don't question a man who also thinks a zombie infested graveyard is a conducive environment in which to write pop albums. Because of the book. That's the craziest answer of the lot since he found it on the shores of Plastic Beach itself.
"No idea," he admits softly and he feels Stuart press with a little reluctance back into his equally tentative touch, "But here we are. Paradise."
"Yeah well you don't get that coming through when you look at the paintings all those Italian blokes did of Paradise, do you? But it does stinks."
"Hm," the singer says, unconvinced. He turns over fully and flops against Murdoc and the older man feels how tired he is, all the result of that ridiculous fear he's built up inside him. The bassist lets his arm slip around the man to hold him loosely. He gives the singer's scrawny arm a half hearted thump with a loosely fisted hand to air his grievance.
The words find their way back into his mouth just like the book. Like how when he threw it in the sea the next day a seagull dropped it onto the pier. How he threw it in the furnace in the Engine room he won it as a prize at the fun fair the same evening.
"No man is an island 'D," he says, as though he's doing a bad imitation of a mother soothing a child, "But every man is a plastic beach."
The singer too balls his hand into a fist, raises it above Murdoc's arm momentarily only for the fingers to each trip away from the palm, splay open instead and gently come to shape themselves to the man's bones.
"Not sure," he says and Murdoc gives a genuine frown at the less-than-usual response. He cranes his neck in an attempt to catch the look on the man's face. It's suitably blank. Dosed, as usual.
" "Not sure"? Not sure about what?"
"Not sure about that," he murmurs in feeble elaboration in a sleepy voice that suggests he's less than willing to hammer the point home, "More like stars."
"Stars? Pop stars? Rock stars?"
"Balls of gas and dying things?"
"Just lonely little stars, burning and wishing someone was there to see," he says, then adds even softer, "Or cold, dead things that don't give a shit about broken down piles of rubbish that other people made, growing by the day. Cold things that just don't give a shit about a pile of selfish decay in the middle of a planet that is far away."
Murdoc bows his head and rests it against Stuart's tiredly. To his touch the man is anything but cold.
"Shut up you. I don't pay you to think. Or talk."
"You don't pay me. You falsely imprisonment," the man mumbles on the cusp of sleep and Murdoc wonders yet again whether he might actually have that law degree after all.
"I don't pay you," he mumbles when he knows Stuart's out. Not out like a light because anything resembling light is slowly being snuffed out of the singer day by day. He's just further under the ether than usual.
"I don't pay you," he says and gently he kisses the top of the man's head whilst his still balled fist threatens to smack home again on the singer's arm, "I love you."