~~Gracie’s bikini was toxic; the greener-than-reality hue had not been what she’d had in mind when she told Judy that fern green was her favourite colour. Marta had laughed at that – of course she had – “Fern green! What is this, some kind of middle class interior design match?” The product acquired as a result could not be mistaken for any sort of middle class interior design match; not even a garish Avante Garde vision could have chosen something so brash. She wished that Judy was not so intent upon “making us look gorgeous” because, if her heart were not so invested in it, Gracie might have been able to slip out of the lobster pot she now found herself in. She regretted ever entertaining the idea of a swimming costume. Not only did the fashion item abrade the vision of all who looked upon it but it made Gracie feel even more disgusting than she normally did. The vicious vivacity of the shade seemed to reduce her fair skin to a new level of pale; one so complete that she appeared almost translucent. At any rate, she did not have the right figure for bikinis, Marta had been bestowed the hourglass gift while the rectangular shape Gracie had received had seemed like further mockery of her lack of physical attractiveness. She’d never been startling in terms of prettiness – or in terms of anything – but the fact that her allotted secondary school growth spurt was so over-due was beginning to make a fool out of her. So close to fourteen, there was something freakish about her obstinate refusal to mature, so people said.
Don’t look at me, she willed all those who passed the rock she sat upon. Of course, it would have been rather difficult for anyone to avoid noticing Gracie given that the garment she longed to hide was far from being in agreement with her wall-flower mentality. It shouted louder than a well-lit Christmas tree in July. Those who saw her couldn’t resist a second glance.
She couldn’t quite work out how sarcastic Marta had intended to be when she’d told her that it really brought out her eyes. She knew that it wasn’t a compliment but she also hoped that it wasn’t an observation either. Her eyes were obscure enough as it was. Too green; like those of a demented Disney creation.
She shook her head and forced herself to arrest the thought. She wished she’d had the foresight to bring a shirt to the beach with her rather than following the others’ lead and heading out in such scant clothing. She didn’t know what she’d been thinking. At the same time, she was not fixated enough to overlook the fact that such hyper-analysis of her appearance would do nothing for the situation. She simply had to face the fact that it would be a long, tedious, and humiliating afternoon and switch herself into shut-down mode. It shouldn’t have been difficult because cutting herself off from the crowd was one of her greatest skills. She was well practiced at it; it was how she coped with life when events careered beyond her control. Breathe deep, look to the horizon, and loosen the mind.
She tucked her knees up to her chin and, wallowing in the luxury of warm skin on warm skin, turned her face to the sea. If she watched it hard enough she could see beyond the mosaic of beach towels and frankfurter-sausage legs to a point in the distance where her head couldn’t be troubled by shrieking and the thought of a beach trying to breathe the innards of a plastic bag.
She was just beginning to settle herself into following the inflated crests of the waves beyond the bay when Sammie tore up the beach towards her. Sammie was so many things to her – a bullet straight from a shotgun, a best friend, a key to being sociable but it was her wildness that Gracie always noted. There was a fierceness to her happiness and a sense of untameability that manifested itself into every inch of her – from the way she spoke to the way she moved and the way she kept her hair – it pervaded her humanity. Sammie was weird about her hair; it was one of those care-kid quirks that had to go unchallenged. Nobody had permission to brush it and she did it herself so rarely that some of the mums on the primary school path shook their heads empathetically at her. She also had a tiny braid that ran from her parting line to the bottom of her shoulder blade. It had been there as long as Gracie had known her and – from the way it was guarded – it would not be hard to believe that it was sacred. This over-spilling of energy and instinct marked Sammie as distinctly animalistic in Gracie’s mind, and she loved her for it.
“Gracie, Gracie, Gracie – there are dolphins out at sea!”
The best piece of work Gracie felt she had ever produced at school had been last year’s art project in which each member of her makeshift family had had their portraits blended with the features of animals until they resembled some sort of twisted mythology which did a better job at explaining their lives than their real faces did. The assignment had been ‘my family’ and so the majority of her classmates had reached the misguided conclusion that Gracie’s ‘hippie stuff’ had attained a hitherto unrealised level of ‘looserishness’ and that she considered the local fauna to be her only family. Although less myopic, her art teacher had made a similarly incorrect assumption in deciding that Gracie intended to dedicate her life to being a cartoonist. Gracie had no such intention – the images she had created were never planned as caricatures but as observations. They were bits and pieces of perceived wisdom that she’d picked up in photographs and in following their daily routines. Sammie had been a puppy; not the kind that’s blind and whimpering but the kind that chews things and hates being scrubbed down after a long walk. At other times she shifted skins and morphed between assorted small mammals; yesterday a squirrel, today a hare.
Her feet pummeled the sand, unable to keep her excitement grounded.
“Gracie, come see, come and look! I spotted them first!” Sammie was pretending to point them out to her but her outstretched finger was so vague in its direction that Gracie had to stand and squint into the glare for several impatient seconds before she located the fins that had driven the girl beside her to such frenetic ecstasy.
“I can see them from here, Sammie,” she said as one breached and distended its back to the sunshine. With no good reason, the sea-scape was suddenly clouded with misgivings. She knew all too well what happened to pods that dared to present themselves to the fervent admiration of the shore line. She half wanted to wade out into the water and chase them back – fighting all the while the clicks of enraptured camera reels that attempted to hook them in.
“They’re coming closer,” Gracie peeled her eyes from the aquatic display to fix her eyes on the child she privately regarded as her little sister. Sammie’s eyebrows were as high as her voice; her eyes made Gracie think of the marbles she’d collected in her first care home. These days she could not have understood the magpie compulsion she’d had back then but marbles had mattered, once upon a time.
“That’s not a good thing, listen to me Sammie, they mustn’t come closer-” and suddenly her throat seemed to be full of sand and her chest felt too small and her limbs too heavy. She spluttered and flopped back onto the rock she’d used as a perch to try to recover some sense of control. Her world had seemed to flicker momentarily around her; shifting and flipping under her buckling legs like a dropped coin. In a burst of surrealist terror, she could almost feel the razor glass in the sand around them reaching up and swaddling her thrashing nerves.
“We’ve got to stop them swimming in – they’ll get stuck, they’ll drown.” If only her head would stop feeling like violent a pendulum between shrunken and overgrown, she might have been amused by the rapid reversal of Sammie’s facial expressions. As it was she felt like the island was made of jewels in a kaleidoscope.
“In the air.”
That was what crowds felt like, Gracie realised; they felt like drowning in something that wasn’t water.
“We’ve got to send them back to sea,” Gracie wondered how they could fail to realise what they were heading for. They were still flaunting themselves; intoxicated by the spray and the streams they ploughed in the waves. Bubbles, clicks, sing-song. Arch. Dive. Corkscrew. Drown.
She realised that her breathing was alarmingly irregular but she realised it in a distant way; as though it was not really her ribcage that was pressing and pulling around the convulsions of her diaphragm. Sammie noticed it too, in an equally vague but simultaneously uncannily discerning manner.
“I think you’re having a panic attack, should I get Judy?” When Gracie failed to venture a response her pragmatism continued “I’ll get Judy, OK, and then I’ll save the dolphins, like you said. But you can’t save them because you’re staying here.”
Don’t come any closer, Gracie begged the popping-candy sound-scape as her vision ruptured between her retinas and her brain.
The rest of chapter 2 will be uploaded once the competition's over :)