You listen to the sound of gulls swooping overhead and push back against your toes, the garden chair tipping, threatening to throw you over. You hate Bon Jovi, choosing instead to listen to your sister’s latest Sting album on a new set of headphones. Trying to drown out the conversation between Mum and Aunt Celia, you turn up the volume. Jersey summers are tense; this one is around seven on the richter scale: Creates enough energy to heat New York City for one year. Like 20 billion kilograms of dynamite. One step away from death.
“I can’t stay with him, C.”
Your mother’s voice sounds weak and worn down. She thinks you can’t hear. Your brother is throwing stones across the road. They hit the stone wall and ricochet back onto the road. An Englishman In New York drowns out the sounds of crying. Sting is singing about being an ‘alien.’ You smile. Nobody notices.
“Mary, you have to tell the kids,” says Aunt Celia, assuming you can’t hear.
“No.” Your mother’s voice is shrill.
You inhale deeply, breathing in the scent of salt air, and swing your green converse-clad feet and stringy legs upwards, almost tipping right back.
Uncle appears from the garage with his bike, then disappears and returns with two more. He looks at you, then at Tom, who is still lobbing stones.
“Come on guys, let’s tour the island.”
You wonder why he thinks you are a guy. He gives you a wink but you don’t know what that means. Tom turns towards you and puts a stone in his pocket. It drags the pocket downwards, tugging at the waistline. You hear crying coming from the kitchen.
“Do us good to get out, don’t you think?” Uncle says, looking towards the kitchen window and back at you. He ignores Tom.
His voice is resolute, as though summoning an army. You nod and Tom follows. Uncle stops at bays you have never seen before. You will notice later that your back is badly burnt, and your thighs; the wind, strong enough to counter the heat of the sun, but not the penetration of its rays through the epidermis. Although you’re working on a project on Global Warming at school — and there does seem to be evidence that Global Warming exists — you’ve also read articles claiming that the statistics are exaggerated.
You have read other conflicting advice: You should eat meat, then you read about it being pumped full of antibiotics; you should eat low fat food, but you discover it’s bad for you and leaves you hungry. You know that you shouldn’t drink too much coffee until they write about it being good for your blood pressure. Do what you bloody well want, is what you want to say, but you don’t.
You return from the bike trip without going into the house, and walk down to the cliffs. You sit down and look over the cliff edge, the gulls circling overhead. It’s a long way down and you notice the waves smashing against the rocks, relentlessly pounding the coastline. You watch the waves until a couple with a dog walk past. He looks anxious, asks you if you are all right. She looks at you and turns away, as though she hasn’t seen. You nod and slowly stand up, taking a step back, wait until they are almost out of sight. The dog, a Golden Retriever, bounces past you and back up over the hill until it is gone.
You kick your feet through the grass, the path ahead descending back to the shore to the side of the cliff, much of it you imagine has been flattened by walkers. What do you want? You ask yourself. You want a job and a family — although you don’t want to screw it up — and a hair cut. Yes, you want a hair cut.
F.C. Malby is a contributor to Unthology 8 and Hearing Voices: The Litro Anthology of New Fiction. Her debut short story collection, My Brother Was a Kangaroo includes award-winning stories, and her debut novel, Take Me to the Castle, won The People’s Book Awards. Her short fiction has been longlisted in The New Writer Magazine Annual Prose and Poetry Prizes by David Gaffney, and won the Litro Magazine Environmental Disaster fiction competition. Her stories have also been widely published both online and in print. fcmalby.com | facebook | twitter