By Judy Darley
Summer stirred hot milk, folded in the pink of Hal’s gran’s powdered rouge, and added a smidge of salt for mouth-feel. Sunburn pink with an aftertaste of phlegm—yum. Hal’s gran’s photo looked on from the kitchen wall, eyes pinched to crevices from the effort of remembering never to disappoint.
Hal claimed the trembling blancmange prompted memories of favorite childhood jaunts—of sun and games and laughter. For Summer, his words dredged up thoughts of traffic jams, toe-scraping treks over barnacled rocks, and earache-inducing gales blasting through rainbow-banded windbreaks.
Summer mixed in a pinch of crumbled mortar to accustom him to the texture and offered him a spoonful to taste. She told him she was on a diet so wouldn’t be eating any herself. Hearing that, he pummeled her thighs in approval, and then raised an eyebrow at how easily Summer bruised to the color of the sea.
The gulls had rustled their wings when Summer strode into adulthood. They clacked their beaks together as she mistook Hal’s proposal for a promise of adventures to come.
Their strangled cries lamented the pain waiting in the truth until her body could only respond in kind. Muscles strained and skin calloused; the stilettos he picked out rubbed blisters into her heels. She dreamt of boundaries shrinking inwards and woke floundering for breath.
The more Hal’s storms eroded her confidence, the harder it became to articulate her brilliance for prospective employers. However doggedly she strived, her biggest achievement for weeks was invisibility—coasting under radars, gliding unheard, skirting pavement crowds to avoid being overwhelmed.
At last, she found a job folding white letters to slide into buff envelopes until her fingers stung with paper cuts. Rustling in her corner of the office, she felt she was only visible at certain angles, when the light fell just so.
Only the gulls paid attention, swooping low and flint-eyed as though wondering whether she’d tear, corner to corner, if caught in a brisk breeze.
Hal suggested they rent a place with his cousin’s family, all crushed in together for fun. “Wear those sexy shoes I bought you. And put some makeup on. Cover that mark on your face or they’ll think you walk into doors on purpose.”
Summer’s heart vibrated in her chest. She’d googled the property they’d booked and marveled at the wit who’d marketed a shed as a rustic villa. The wooden walls looked rustic in a way that threatened splinters. Her stomach churned as she pictured them jollying along over board games and sour gin while gulls pecked at the window grouting.
They trawled towards the coast, passing a family saloon with its nose smashed in. Orange glass glittered on the verge. She turned to see her suitcase on the backseat and was glad she’d packed her comfy shoes.
His gran’s blancmange blushed in its dish, suffocating under plastic. Crushed pills provided a hint of textured grit—just enough to deepen sleep.
The villa was two miles from the nearest seaside town. She’d be there in time to hear the gulls call goodnight and watch the moon rise before the last train to anywhere. By dawn she would be far enough away to think herself free.