Sass (Part 1)
Sass sat on the lip of the sea wall and kicked her shoes off onto the sand. She still had her smock on from the café, but the pockets were handy. Her phone and purse were in one, her keys and tobacco in the other. The important things, just where she wanted them.
She popped the tab on the beer she'd bought and took a couple of swallows. It wasn’t as cold as she’d have liked, but it didn’t matter. It did the trick. The sun was still hot, and the sea looked inviting. Her favourite colour today, too – like peppermint tea. She half-wished she’d brought her cozzie. That would wash the day away. She knew she smelled like a fried breakfast. Todd would have liked that. He said it always made him want to lick her all over. She was never sure if that was the right reason - but she'd liked him doing it anyway. It was one of the things she missed.
She took out her pouch and began to roll herself a cigarette. Around her, a dozen or so gulls nestled on the sand, like they were hatching eggs. They watched every move closely, tilting their heads sideways, expectantly - like she was preparing something for them to eat. She grinned as the thought popped into her head.
‘Here, Mr Gull… have one of these…’
That would be a sight! Todd would have laughed at that. It’s probably the sort of thing he’d have done, too, knowing him. Just for a laugh. Roll a fag and give it to a seagull. Shared the beer as well, probably. Just for the craic.
She lit up and blew a long stream of smoke into the air. She was starting to feel pleasantly relaxed – the smoke and juice doing their thing. There was no hurry to get home, and it was nice to just sit here like this, and let her thoughts drift through her head. She gazed out at the toy ships passing on the horizon, and the matchstick figures of the wind turbines – static in the slow, late summer air.
She liked doing the early shift because the days went so quickly. First, the early workers for their breakfasts, then the builders from the new flats by the supermarket. The park maintenance guys. Then, after the first lull around 10, the shoppers would start coming in, the retired folk, a few people from some of the homes. And then it was into lunchtime, and before you knew it, it was almost 2, and the afternoon crew were taking over, and the rest of the day was yours.
The afternoons, by contrast, always dragged. She liked to be busy - too busy to think. And then she liked to be free. At the beginning of the summer, when things were still good, Todd used to meet her from work and they'd both come to the beach. Have a can and a smoke, and a paddle. Maybe a swim, too. Maybe an unintended swim, knowing Todd - pushing her over in the water, then ripping his shirt off to dive in and rescue her. Such a fantastic laugh. She'd admire his body - toned in the gym that morning, where he usually spent his mornings.
Her phone beeped suddenly and she fished it out of her pocket. A text from Angeline:
Hey girl u comin l8r? Pardeee!
She grinned, poking at the screen
B there hun xx
She checked her Inbox, in case, but there was nothing else. What did she expect? She took another mouthful of beer. She took a selfie - can and cigarette in hand, big grin. Then she went on Facebook and updated her status
Finished work and chillin
She looked at that. Then she checked through everyone else’s. The usual stuff. Angeline’s showed a photo of her face, in mock-disbelief, beside a table laden with bottles and picky bits, with the comment
It will be massive!
Sass gave it a 'Like'. She checked the Chat list, but it was empty. She wasn’t sure she felt like it anyway. Save it for later. She drank some more beer. She sat looking at the phone for a moment. Then she typed in his name and did a search. He hadn't blocked her, at least. The photo was different. Not the one she’d taken – the one with the dopey grin. A new one, showing the tatt on his right bicep – the one he’d had done just before they got together. The sight of it made her nose itch slightly. A single red rose, entwined by black swirling stems of buds and thorns. Just how he liked to think of himself, he’d always said: something special, pushing through it all: the ties that bind – the crap of life. She’d thought so, too… for a while. A good while. Really good, for the most part.
She hovered her finger over the screen a moment, looking at the Add Friend button. Was there any harm in it? Hadn’t it been a while now? Couldn’t they just be friends? At least talk – even if only on Facebook? He’d changed the photo, but that could mean anything. Not hers anymore – but one of his tatt, which he knew was her favourite, too. What was that saying? Was it saying anything?
She glanced at the Chat list again and saw Angeline come on. She could almost hear her words coming through.
"What you doing, girl? What you even thinking about?"
She went back to her profile page – to her status update. She was about to delete it – but then a 'Love' appeared. It was Angeline. And then a comment, following it
Way to go, girl! Lookin cookin! x
Sass thought about sending her a message. But then she logged out and put the phone away. It could wait until later. Catch up then. She thought about it. Getting home, showering, putting her new jeans and top on and her heels. Get in with the girls, let her hair down, do some shots, have a fine time. Drive it out – where it belonged.
But something else was in there, too. Even the beer wasn’t loosening it up, as it often did. The part that wanted another thing entirely tonight. A bath, a bottle of cold rosé, a take-away pizza, her jammies, some weepy DVDs. Eternal Sunshine again. Her favourite. Their favourite. She remembered when they'd first watched it at his place - that weekend they'd spent together there when his parents were away. She'd said
"If anything happened to us, I wouldn't want to forget you."
And he'd just hugged her tighter, kissed her head, and said "Don't have to worry about that, girl. What could happen?"
What could happen? Well... the same as had happened with Nick and Josh and Georgie. But they were just teenage flings. She was older now. Twenty-one in November. And this felt serious for the first time. Real.
But those words stayed in her head - What could happen? - as if just the speaking of them had started something off. Sown a seed. She used to tell herself she was silly even thinking it. But when it did happen, it was almost like part of her wasn't surprised. It had been expected. And now, sometimes, she did wish she could wipe him from her memory. But that was just stuff for films. Real life didn't work that way. It was finished and it was for the best – she knew that. The bad had outweighed the good. But the good had been really good, hadn’t it? Didn’t that make up for it? And it was fun, at least. Mostly, anyway.
She took another mouthful from the can, then slipped down off the wall and stepped to the water’s edge, pulling up the legs of her jeans as she went. The tide was on the turn, and the water gently lapped around her ankles. It didn't feel cold at all. It just felt good. Soothing. She looked further along the beach, where a couple sat on a groyne. Old, she could see - probably in their fifties or older. She could never tell after a certain age. Grey-haired, anyway, and looking like they carried a few extra pounds each. Too many fry-ups at cafés like hers, maybe! They looked happy, though - huddled together like birds on a perch, their heads nodding close, the woman laughing, showing white teeth and the creases down her cheeks.
The man shifted his head then and looked directly at Sass. She turned away, but she'd had time to catch something in his expression. Surprise, was it? Was it the sight of a young woman holding a can of beer and a cigarette like that as she paddled in the sea? Was it a bit of mild lechery? She was used to having men giving her the eye at the café, the occasional chirpy compliment - half banter, half flirt. She didn't mind it. She quite liked it, in fact - as long as that's all it was. A few guys had made passes, and it was alright - she knew how to handle them. She could live up to her name. She wasn't a stunner - she had enough self-awareness to know that - but she also knew it wasn't all about that. Something else drew them. Whatever it was had drawn Todd, too. And it wasn't just the taste of her skin. He said she just knew how to look, which she never quite understood - until he explained it in his characteristic way: a compliment wrapped inside something less than that.
"J-Lo could have a face like a Staffie - but she'd still be in the movies 'cos of the way she holds herself. It's the attitude, right?"
Right. Thanks for that! But she knew what he meant.
She glanced back at the man, who was still looking. But then the woman pointed at something out to sea, and he turned away. And maybe she saw what it was then, in that split second before he turned. Something else - not just being a lech. A longing, maybe. Perhaps not for her exactly... but for something. Or maybe, again, she did just look right - her jeans up, her can and cigarette, the bright red smock, her hair looking glossy in the sunlight, the waves lapping around her legs. A snapshot from the day. Something for the magazines, maybe. Yeah... some hopes.
She looked down into the water and saw a peeler crab skitter away near her feet. It always amazed her - these tiny things, living their lives, mostly unseen. The part they played in it all. Food for the fish and birds. Nothing else. Just living one day to the next, trying to stay alive. Which was all everything else was doing, really.
"Survival of the fittest," Todd had always said to her. "Find what you're good at, exploit it."
And what had he been good at - that rose growing up out of the strangling thorns? Well... he could make her laugh. He was good at that. That was another thing she missed. He made her laugh in a way that showed he really understood what made her laugh - right down deep. He could make her cry, too. He was good at that, as well. He did that enough. But the laughs! They were worth it, weren't they.
(to be continued)