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Vanilla — Short Story

This story was originally published by Reflex Press, 05/06/2020

I’ve always hated sand. How can something be so coarse, but so soft? The thing I hate the most about sand, even more than when it gets in your mouth, is when it gets between your fingers. The grains rubbing against the webbing between fingers and thumbs itches and scratches no matter how many times I wash my hands afterwards. The only thing worse than dry sand is wet sand. It’s one step above mud.

Eddy stormed off into the sea in a huff because I refused to go in with him. I didn’t want to feel wet sand between my toes. He said he was taking Jac and Rhys to the water. Eddy was far enough away he couldn’t hear me giggle like hell when he slipped over a rope of seaweed hidden under the ocean foam. He fell arse over heels and got a mouthful of seawater as the wave pulled in before he could pull himself back. I laughed harder still when he got up spluttering, cursing between spitting. Faintly on the breeze I heard him shout — Oh, for fuck’s sake!

And that’s when I spotted you. I heard you first, laughter coming from the rocks behind me. You were walking down the steps that separate Tenby town from the beach. I heard you giggling and looked behind me, saw you were also watching my husband making a twat of himself. How lovely you looked! Radiant, in your strappy sandals and yellow summer dress, floating just above your knees. You noticed I was looking at you and you waved. I gave a half wave in response and mouthed, hiya. And you walked over to me, actually walked over! As you neared, I couldn’t help but admire the flowery print on your dress. It was the sort of thing that would make me look frumpy. You asked if you could join me. It took me a moment to reply, taking in how well the sun complimented you; the thick hair that hung tightly coiled, just above your shoulders. I felt out of place, like this was your beach, and I was trespassing. I tried to answer coolly, of course you can, why not? Your voice was soft but reassured, your accent gentle. You must have been from around here, or Pembrokeshire at least. People from home, from Llanelli, don’t speak as gently as that. I moved across the towel to make room for you. You smoothed down the back of your dress as you sat down. Addy, you said your name was. Out of your bag you pulled a bottle of rosé, apologising for the lack of glasses. We talked for a while, about the book you were reading, and which pubs were the best for drinking in Tenby and which ones were the best for watching the rugby in. We agreed that Tenby House was the best for a pre-match curry, and Feccie’s did the best fish and chips in town. — Maybe, it’s the best chip shop in all of Pembrokeshire, you said between sips. And I agreed, my cheeks flushed and tingling.

You said you’d been bored shitless for the last few hours, reading your book on your own while your husband and kids were splashing around or playing Frisbee on the sand. You pointed to them with a flick of your chin while you offered me the wine and said you couldn’t last another hour on your own, or sober. My heart sank a little — I don’t know why; I had a husband and kids of my own. I took a big gulp and handed it back to you. You raised an eyebrow slightly, perfectly threaded, looking tenderly amused as I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, but you didn’t say anything. It wasn’t until I was walking back to the caravan park later on that I realised I had spilled wine on my white t-shirt. Across the beach the queue for ice cream was dwindling, the sun setting behind St Catherine’s Island. Seagulls circled above, cawing as if they were calling dibs on discarded paper wrappers of chips. A gang of them pushed each other out of the way with their heads over an ice cream cone, dropped by a crying child before he had taken his third lick. I wondered if his parents would buy him another one. You didn’t seem to mind all the noise. You offered me the last gulp of wine, which I declined. I admired how the light glimmered on your arm as you raised the bottle to your mouth. The wine had softened me. I wanted to rest my head between your cheekbone and jaw; it was an inviting space. As if the thought had just gripped you, you turned to me and asked, — What flavour ice cream do you want? I opened my mouth, ready to protest, before I spotted Eddy and the boys walking up the beach to us from the water. Jac and Rhys would probably be hungry and tired, and wanting to leave soon. This was my last chance to have something with you, from you, show my intentions, whatever they were, whatever. I wanted this moment to exist without their interference. I answered your question, as smoothly as I could; — Strawberry. I considered winking but didn’t. You laughed, gently, and said; — I think I’ll have vanilla.

When you got up to catch the ice cream van before it drove off for the night, you kicked sand onto my towel with the heel of your sandal. You apologised, and I said I didn’t mind. As Eddy and our two sons approached where I sat on a towel I felt too small to fill, I plucked grains of sand from between my toes and flicked them away to be lost in landscape of a million, billion grains, remembering how much I hated sand.

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