By Gaynor Jones
Erin Sanders is sixteen when she goes into the water, and sixteen when she comes out, and never mind that thirty years has passed in the meantime. She stays with me, of course. BestFriendsForever.
We source old Smash Hits magazines off eBay, tape long forgotten song lyrics to the walls and belt out Skunk Anansie in wails and snarls until the neighbour bangs. We chew thick gum and blow sugary pink bubbles at each other’s mouths, puffs of our insides that pop then shrivel. We gulp cheap cider – close enough to the type we always took to the beach – that I vomit into the sink once Erin is safely asleep. I lie next to her then. Examine her skin, smooth, unpimpled as it ever was. Not like mine, lined and neglected.
But with Erin, I become visible again. We turn heads as we walk, me pointing out buildings that have survived, and people who haven’t. I lift my arm to wave at our old youth club, and the beaded friendship bracelet rolls towards my elbow. I kept it, I tell her. Erin turns away from me, but I know she’s smiling.
We’re like that all summer – walking, smiling. The way we used to be. But when autumn comes, cool and dim, Erin shifts. She starts taking long baths, her face right under the water, and I find her in the mornings, lingering at the window that faces the beach.
Feet pressed into damp sand, I tell Erin, I don’t want to be alone. She doesn’t answer, just flickers against the horizon. I twirl the bracelet and look to the shore, but there’s nothing there. I light a candle. Leave it for the waves. Say a prayer for the next thirty years.
Gaynor Jones is the recipient of a 2020 Northern Writer’s Award from New Writing North for her short story collection, Girls Who Get Taken. She loves stories that feature wayward teens, middle-aged women who’ve had enough, and the darker sides of suburban life. She is working on her first novel and is represented by Laura Williams at Greene & Heaton.