We sleep with most of our clothes on: tired, drunk, unsure of undressing in front of each other again, but it’s too hot. I’m too hot.
“You said you’d go through with this,” he says.
I did say it. I agreed, because I’m convinced if he said jump, I’d land on my feet. But the wood fires and storage heaters spew out heat like hand-dryers, taking all the moisture out of the air and replacing it with close tension.
“I did,” I say.
“Well help me out then, would you.”
I want to grab his hair and pull it. Instead I roll over to end this conversation. I’ll pretend to be with him for a little bit longer, to save face, to maintain some balance or whatever it was he wanted this for – I wasn’t listening that hard to the explanation. But I squirm so much in the night he takes a blanket and sleeps on the floor.
We’re on the edge of something. There are a few ways this could go.
We’re up late. One of the couples has already made breakfast so we offer to do the washing up, easing ourselves back into a domestic routine. Others drift in and out of the kitchen where we small talk, catch up.
The holiday house has been paid for months in advance, books up quickly because it’s right on the beach. He didn’t want to lose his deposit or the opportunity. So today, in twos, we stream out of the front gate and onto the sand. These twos get muddled as we walk towards the cliffs. It gives him a chance to break away, to really talk to these friends of his instead of exchanging safe trivialities with me. I walk with another woman who I let ramble on about her job, her baby, her house, her garden.
“Foxgloves are poisonous, you know…” I do know this, I’ve seen enough episodes of Poirot, “…and Jacob Junior always has a flower in his mouth – he’s so curious – I’m breastfeeding Janet who’s always hungry and Nick hasn’t got time to dig up the yew tree…”
Her monologue shifts from bud to breast to banking in the city. I raise my eyebrows in response; she leaves no spaces for another’s words.
As the day gets on it gets cold. The wind picks up and clouds roll in so we turn to go back. My hat blows away, turning on its rim like a wheel. He chases it into rock pools, chivalrous to the end, this end at least. He brings it back to me sopping, salted.
Back at the house some of the others have started a puzzle, have started drinking again. He opens a bottle of wine and pours me a glass. I offer to help, sidling onto the shag carpet. Poised on all fours, arching my back, I look at endless pieces of sky, make jokes, try to catch his eye, hope that he’s looking at my arse. I drink red wine, strawberry beer, pear cider, vodka-cranberry, till my tongue, teeth, lips and cheeks are flushed.
The sky never gets finished; it’s too blue, too bare. We lose interest, create a ring of drinking games with a pack of cards, and stick the kings to our foreheads. Conversations start that no one is absolved from. Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever…what was the worst time ever… have you ever walked in on… Drink makes them all so curious. And randy.
“We once did it on a bough of a tree,” I say.
His face is curious, so I lay it on thick. Nothing to lose, something to gain, so I borrow the bluest story I know.
“Yeah,” I say, “It. Was. Incredible. We were younger, braver. People walked right past below us. I had to bite my own fingers to keep quiet. I caught my tights on a branch and left them up there, ripped in two by twigs and… other things.”
The woman with the foxgloves empties the last of the gin in to her glass and says, “That’s bullshit.”
He looks relieved, laughs to himself, re-drawing the picture in his head of the ecstasy he created in me. I can appreciate this; we all need to imagine the past to cope with it.
The night continues; the music gets loud, then quieter again. Couples move to their rooms like a lowering tide. In bed I inch my way towards him, toes creeping across the sheets until our feet are kissing, but he’s oblivious.
The next day people pack and leave, slowly but surely. We volunteer to be the last to go so that I can get a train in the opposite direction to where he’s driving without anyone realising. We tidy the house, sweep the sand and beer-bottle caps from the floor, lock the doors and return the keys to the owner who lives in the village. He drops me off in a corner shop, leaves me staring at magazines and crisps and sweets. Too many decisions.
“I’ll call you when I get home,” he says.
“Thanks for… this.”
Manners above all else, I think.
“Is it even possible to have sex up a tree?” he asks.
Then I make a decision.
He leaves and I buy Doctor Pepper and paracetamol.
Sitting on the damp concrete floor of the station toilet, waiting for the 15:07 with green paper towels stuck to my face with sweat, I throw it back up. The red of it all splatters on the metal bowl, makes the other women in here with me wince and walk away.
When I finally get on a train it sways out of the station past fields of felled trees. The fresh stumps and wan sawdust cover any trace of the grass that lies beneath. My tights will have to snag on different splinters, on somebody else’s finger nails.
Laura Tansley is a recent PhD graduate in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. Her research involves exploring short-short forms and feminine expressions. Her creative and critical writing has been published in anthologies and journals, both online and in print. Most recently she appeared in issue seven of Gutter, a journal which showcases new Scottish writing.