I lay the silk dress aside, soft and slippy and pink. A plainer dress today, perhaps. I’ll choose the blue cotton. And flat shoes, and a yellow scarf and my coat.
Just a drink after work. That’s what he said. Threw it out there like it was nothing. “If you like,” he said. “If you’re not doing anything. If you’ve the time.”
“I’d like that,” I said, before he took it back.
I remember a long-ago day up at the lake, with a different boy—a boy called Mark. I stripped off, and Mark stripped off, too, a little shy and a little bold. Mark threw himself into the water, shrieking like it hurt; I was more uncertain. I dipped a toe in, felt the biting chill, sharp as broken glass or knives, and I laughed and dressed again.
Mark, sleek as seal or otter, swam out into the centre of the lake, the water black as ink, broken only where he was. A bird cried out, a shrill warning cry both near and far off. I lay down on the shore, my coat collar turned up, and I slept, the sun on me, and I was smiling.
“A drink, yes, I’d like that.”
There’s been no one since Mark—the wet mermaid-Mark, hair matted like wool when they pulled him dripping from the water, his skin white as graveyard stone and as cold, and his eyes closed as though he only slept. No one since then and it’s been almost five years and maybe that’s time enough for being alone.
And now a lad at work called Col has offered to take me for a drink, if I like, if I’m not doing anything, if I’ve the time. It’s only a drink and maybe that’s all it is, so I will wear the blue cotton today, not the silk, and flat shoes, and a yellow scarf, my coat fastened chin to knee. But I shall pin a trinket on the coat lapel, something shiny just in case he does not notice.