This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:
‘free sample’, ‘sear’, ‘clan’, ‘daytripper’ and ‘spray’
We spilled out of the bus straight onto the hottest sand I’d ever known. It was hard to keep my towel up, handle my backpack and struggle into my flip-flops simultaneously, but it was either that or sear off the soles of my feet.
‘Come on, love,’ sighed Dad, watching me struggle. ‘You don’t need that towel. Give it here.’ But my knuckles whitened around my grip, and he gave up. I’ve literally just come out of hospital, Dad, I snarled at him inside my mind. Leave me alone! No matter who told me the scars weren’t visible, or that ‘they weren’t as bad as all that,’ I knew the truth. They curled around my shoulder like a clan of thick, red slugs, their line marching straight down over my breastbone for good measure, and I hated them.
We stumbled to the sunbeds that had been laid out for us, the ones sitting beneath the sign marked ‘Daytripper,’ complete with a badly painted portrait of the Beatles. I allowed myself a grin as I thought about the song, and Dad jumped all over it straight away.
‘Smiling, are we? What’s rare is wonderful,’ he said, his voice like sea spray, light and cool. My smile dried up. I chose my sunbed, I laid out my things, I pulled on a cardigan and struck out for a walk.
‘Don’t go far! Do you hear me?’ cried Dad, but I didn’t even turn around. For a minute, I wondered if he’d follow me, and then I remembered he’d be torn between coming after me and staying with all our stuff, and I knew which one he’d pick.
I let the cool water splash over my legs as I walked in the shallows. People were really starting to arrive now, in their droves; the beach was soon full of accents, parasols, arguments, impatient children being slathered in sun lotion, tattoos and portable radios and noise, noise noise. I walked faster.
Sweat rolled down my back and coated my arms like a second skin. Beneath my cardigan, my skin prickled and flushed, but I just walked, and walked, the sun beating down on me like an interrogation light. Why isn’t your mother here? it asked me, even though it knew the answer. Where did you get all those disgusting, ugly scars, eh? They look like they came from a car accident. Were you driving? Was it your fault?
I woke to find cool water washing up and over me, my arms and neck bare, my hair askew. I tried to sit up, wondering what had happened, but my head felt like it was being split, like a log beneath an axe. With tears in my eyes, I flopped back down.
‘No, no, no,’ said a gentle voice, and I felt a hand on my shoulder. It didn’t hurt, but I swallowed back a yell of pain anyway. I looked and saw fingers lying on my scars, as if they weren’t there; a hand helping me to sit up, as though I deserved it; a kind, gentle face looking at me like I was a normal person, and not me.
The person helping me wore a red swimming costume and a yellow jacket, and then it began to make sense. A lifeguard, I thought. No wonder he was being so kind. It was his job, that was all. He left me sitting, breathing, while he went to fetch what remained of my waterlogged cardigan, and then he began to lecture me, gently. I couldn’t understand his words, but I knew just what he meant. Silly to wear a cardigan in this heat! What are you, crazy? You’re lucky I was here, and that you didn’t drown! And your scars? They’re not so bad, right?
I started to cry and he frowned at me, his brown eyes full of concern and confusion. His words dried up. Then he threw my soggy cardigan to one side and held up a finger as if to say ‘just a minute – don’t go anywhere,’ before shrugging off his jacket and wading into the water. I watched as he bent, scooping up handfuls of tiny, wriggling fish, before turning around and walking back up the sand toward me.
He spread out his catch on the sand and picked up one fresh sardine, holding it out to me like a free sample, and he smiled. Then he nodded at something behind us, and I turned to see a pit full of coals dug in the sand about a hundred yards away, and a small crowd around it laughing and joking and eating the freshly roasted fish, straight from the sea.
I turned back to him and smiled, and I let him help me to my feet.