She wants to go back up to the room, like the other families hours ago, but her father’s holding court at the poolside bar and beckoning a group of men in yellow oilskins, dragging their boat ashore, humping their catch onto the sand. Now is when the locals working night shifts stop by the beachside hotels, as the tourists sleep on sheets stained with sun oil, alarm clocks set early to bring towels down to claim loungers.
“I’ll get you guys a round!” her father shouts. He can fraternize with anyone – that’s his forte: banter with the working classes comes as easy as greasing top brass. It’s a people-person prowess you’ve either got or you haven’t.
The fishermen don’t know what he’s saying, this rubberneck in tennis whites, burnt salmon-pink from the forehead down, drinking with his daughter – how old, twelve, thirteen? – in her tiny shorts, legs white as squid. But they understand the tray with shot glasses and join him.
She wanders to the far side of the swimming pool beside the beach, next to the crates of dead fish, gutted as they’d flopped and gasped in those men’s gloved hands minutes earlier. Her father calls her, and she shivers in the warm night air. She can’t see where the sea ends and the sky begins and how bottomless the world seems right now. She doesn’t want to be talking to old men at four in the morning. She wants to go to bed.
“He’ll take us out on the boat,” her father says, his arm round the shoulders of one of the men. “If you give him a kiss.”
“What?” she asks. She laughs because she’s scared. And he laughs because: Don’t Spoil This.
He repeats it, this time an edge to his voice. Like when they’ll be driving back from the airport to her mother’s house, and the car veers, bumping over road studs as she screams she’ll never go away with him again. That kind of edge, the kind that says: stay in line.
She looks to the bar for help. Maybe the lifeguard who helped that first day when her father drifted out to sea on an inflatable donut? Or the cleaner who’d knocked at midday, found him sleeping, still in fancy dress on the bathroom floor, and stroked her hair, “Habibi,” she’d said.
But there is no one.
Her father’s new friend leans in, white eyebrows thick and wild. He smells of snapper. His lips, thin as fish wire, open. Her body flops as his beard nets her mouth and he works his tongue like a knife prising open a clam. Tomorrow they’ll go on the boat, and her father will wear yellow oilskins and hook a tuna and pronounce it the best day yet.
KATHRYN ALDRIDGE-MORRIS — Kathryn is a Bristol-based flash fiction writer with work in Bending Genres, Emerge, Janus Literary, Red Fez, Ellipsis Zine, The Phare, Lunate and others. She has stories in several anthologies, including And if that Mockingbird Don’t Sing (Alt Current Press, 2022) and her story “Riptide” was recently Highly Commended in the Bath Flash Fiction Award. She tweets @kazbarwrites.
Art by LAURIE MARSHALL — Laurie is a writer and artist working in Northwest Arkansas. Recent stories have been awarded the 2021 Lascaux Flash Fiction Prize, included in the 2022 Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology, and nominated for Best Small Fictions 2022. She reads for Fractured Lit and Longleaf Review. Words and art have been published in Cloves Literary, Twin Pies Literary, New World Writing, and Flash Frog among others. Connect on Twitter @LaurieMMarshall. Buy her a chai latte on Venmo @LaurieMarshallCreative.