Short Fiction ~ June Hunter
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 17
As she looks at the photograph of herself in her brown bikini on the Durban beach, Marian recalls that holiday. She recalls how the bikini she had knitted fitted perfectly when she had finished its construction, and that photo must have been taken before she ventured into the sea, because there wasn’t much of it covering her when she came back out.
That was the holiday when she, accompanied by the boyfriend, had driven the mother, younger brother, and sister on their first trip to the Indian Ocean. It was the year after the father had left and ‘gone off’ with the other woman. A holiday the mother, who had never been able to drive, had begged and pleaded for.
“Your sister and brother have never been to the sea,” she said. “Your father never took us anywhere. He’s gone off on a trip with her and her kids, though.”
Marian could still see the faces of the brother and sister when she glanced at them in the rear-view mirror as they were nearing the end of their seven hour journey.
“First person to see the sea gets a Tickey!” said the boyfriend, sitting next to her.
“What’s a Tickey?” said the brother.
“It’s an old-fashioned coin,” said the mother.
“What can we do with it, then?” said the sister.
“Just look out for the sea.” said Marian.
And, just as they left the motorway and were heading along Marine Parade to the hotel, the clutch had gone. The mother paid to have it fixed.
Underneath the photo of the knitted brown bikini, there’s a photo of the colonial style hotel. Beachfront, but not quite. On the corner furthest from the safe swimming areas. Dated. Cheap. Marian recalls the sullen waiter – Davison, she thinks his name was. He never smiled, and got worse when she said ‘smile Davison, it’s not that bad.’ She could slap her own face for that remark. Davison certainly looked as if he wanted to.
At the hotel, the boyfriend got into a sulk when he was expected to share a room with the brother. The mother didn’t like it, but relented when Marian insisted she was going to share with the boyfriend, ‘I’ll sleep in the other bed, I promise’; and the brother moved into the mother’s room.
On the next page, there’s a photo of the boyfriend and the brother on the rocks with the sea splashing in the background. The brother’s face is freckled and shiny, his hair standing up in sporadic peaks from the salt and the sand. A small fish dangles from the child’s fishing rod, and Marian notices the smile that never did cover the sadness behind it; and recalls the way he chattered on and on about how the boyfriend had helped him catch the fish.
Next to that photo there’s one of the mother in a deck chair. Her rust-coloured, recently permed hair dishevelled, her sunglasses covering her red-rimmed eyes as she stares out to sea. In those days, the mother was never far from a silent weep. On a towel next to her is the sister. She too wears a bikini, although there was very little to put inside it. Her face is sullen. The way it always seemed to be when she was that age. She is brushing sand from her legs and Marian recalls the heat of that sand and how it burned the soles of the feet.
She turns back to the photo of herself. She is leaning back on her elbows and grinning at the camera. Her skin has not yet been touched by the sun and glares white against the brown of the bikini. Her body is toned and shapely and she notices how flat her tummy is. No one would ever have guessed there was life growing inside her. She hardly knew herself, before it was gone.
June Hunter lives and writes in Sneem, County Kerry, Ireland. Her work has been featured in various publications including Flash Fiction Magazine, Reflex Fiction, Potato Soup Journal, Blue Nib, Strands Publishers and Bloom. She facilitates the Sneem Writers’ Group, and participates in – Clann na Farraige Writers’ Group, Kenmare; as well as taking part in the monthly Deadlines for Writers online writing challenges.