Two friends. One confession. Early morning mist writhing into a cloudless sky.
I could have a man here just like that, I said and clicked my fingers. Not that I would. I’m just telling you how easy it is to find someone on the internet.
I stared out towards the horizon. It was so defined and the morning air was fresh and buoyant around us. Anyone, I whispered.
For once, Christine didn’t joke. She poked at her half-eaten bacon-and-egg roll. We usually ordered one each, but today, as I told her all that had happened, I didn’t feel like eating. She already knew about Jack; she had seen me rise up with his love, and then watched me come crashing down.
It’s just a girlhood crush, she’d said when Jack first came back into my life. You’re chasing the past.
Maybe I was. But I had become lost in that past.
What now then? she asked as she twirled a knot into the end of the serviette.
I shook my head. Years ago it wouldn’t have been so easy to hook up to the internet and bury myself in a world of sex. And it wouldn’t have been so cruel. I didn’t know how to tell Christine this.
Do you ever wish it had never happened? she said.
You mean Jack?
The clearness of the horizon pulled me close. Never, I said. Despite everything.
She sipped her cold coffee. I didn’t realise what you were going through. I mean, I never thought you were . . .
A slut? I said.
She laughed and the table wobbled.
Who would have thought? I said.
The sex was a blur. The faces of the men I’d fucked were gone; I wouldn’t recognise most of them if they sat down at the next table. Truth was, at the time I hadn’t cared if it was a quick fuck in a cheap motel room or a rushed blow job to an overweight businessman. I’d deserved it. It was my punishment. For losing Jack. Twice.
Do you still have the photo? Christine pushed her plate to one side. She touched my forearm and went to say something. Then she stopped.
I couldn’t tell you, I said and paused. About all those men.
I couldn’t tell anyone. I was ashamed.
I took the photo from my bag. It was the first time I’d shown Christine a picture of Jack, and she studied it as if she would be tested on it later.
The man in the photo stood tall and lean, his head bent slightly as if he was curious about something just out of the shot. He wore a blue shirt – not a sky-blue or the blue of the sea but a dull, business-type blue. A matching pen with a silver lid was clipped to his shirt pocket. It was always there, that pen – except it wasn’t a pen, it was a propelling pencil with a sharp lead tip that he used to write speeches. His wife, much smaller than him, stood by his side. Her hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail and she wrapped her arm around her son’s shoulders as he pushed his hands into his jean pockets. The girl, the teenage daughter, was lanky like her father and stood a small distance away from the rest of the family. Her mother’s grey eyes were pierced with pride. This is my family, she seemed to be saying to the parked cars, the front gardens and the people who passed by. This is my family.
Right now, I was in a different picture, hundreds of kilometres away, sitting at a beachside cafe talking to my best friend about my past mistakes. When I’d received the card, all those months ago, with the family photo slipped inside, I was caught unaware. Straightaway I opened the envelope, right there at the Repentence Creek Post Office counter, and for a moment I forgot how to hold up the wall I’d put around my heart. I lurched against the counter, and the card with its colourful picture of birds and trees slid across the polished floor like a frisbee at the beach. The photo of the family at the end of the curved driveway stayed clenched in my hand. The woman behind the counter picked up the card and steadied my arm.
You right, love?
Love . . . I’d pushed the card and photo back into the envelope and stumbled out to the car.
Christine had lifted me up that day when I called and cried into the phone. She joked about the store owners reading my mail. Repentence Creek village was small enough for everyone to know your business whether you liked it or not. One shop, one petrol pump, a crumbling old church and only twenty minutes away from the bright lights and activity of the bay.
You were right, though, I said as tears bit into my eyes.
I took the photo from her hands and waved it between us. You said nothing could come of all this.
What now? Will you contact him again? Christine asked.
I studied the wood strips running across the table. A dog barked in the distance. The beach was coming alive with dog walkers, joggers and keen swimmers. The bay arched northwards, scooping along the curve of the mountains.
No, I finally said.
Christine reached across the table for the rest of her roll. She took a small bite and chewed. Write about it – that’s what you do, isn’t it?
Wanna swim? she asked.
It was the last day of a hot, oppressive month. February had been relentlessly humid and every day, as soon as the sun passed ten o’clock, the air thickened and clung to our skin. The relief of the cool ocean water would last until halfway home and then, if we wanted to, when we were back in the village, we could jump into Christine’s pool to cool off again.
A quiet breeze spilled across the deck of the cafe.
No swim today, I said. It’s time to go home and write.
Excerpted from Losing February by Susanna Fremark. Copyright © 2013 by Susanna Freymark.
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