• Vol. 03
  • Chapter 10
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Sails and smiles

We were all so happy and smiley. That's what the photos said, what the mouths said. What postcards and letters said. Olga and Essie and Felix did plenty of little kisses and hearts and flowers and, most importantly, smiles. Every name had a face, smiling - thank goodness Olga had her O and the other two an i, or I don't know what they'd have done. Improvised, I guess. They knew to do that, knew not to whine as that was the last thing we needed.

They'd watch the dolphins, quiet, jolly. They'd coo softly as the spray drenched their hair. They flung fat little arms over their heads as seagulls dropped around them, cawing. They watched fish swimming just under the surface, all orange and bright below the sheet of translucent turquoise. They made fortune tellers from paper and the few colours of pencils we had. They mixed red and blue to make an attempt at purple.

They were fine.

We tried to be fine, too, tried to find something to do with ourselves. You would sit in the cabin with a magazine and I would play at watching the kids, though the captain was there and they were fine anyway. Then you would take your turn at hovering over them and answering their mangled requests for numbers and colours and their guarantees of happiness and "You will have a nice holiday soon," as if in their little minds this wasn't one, and I would try to focus on a shiny page and the bright red lipstick and not feel sick.

I could never imagine having that on my lips, so thick and gloopy, like a hand clamped over my mouth. At least out here I felt salt, felt chapped. Felt pain. Felt somehow real, connected to the world.


Sails and smiles

When the blessed evening came it got easier. We would gather and play cards below deck, huddled together against the sudden harsh cold. You would dole them out, because you were the best at shuffling according to - well, you. You gave us hearts and diamonds, and spades to dig ourselves into a hole. And clubs to... join? Or hit one another? I don't know which would be worse.

Oh, yes, I do. The second. I would rather watch us all self-implode and whack each other into the sea than believe for a moment that one child loved you more than me, that there were divisions, lines drawn silently on the floor between us, around us, making us islands, making two archipelagos.

Or three. The kids, you, and me.

When we went ashore we'd feel dizzy, nauseous, like we were waking from a dream. We'd post our letters and postcards with their happy doodles. The babies would bounce along, chattering, exploring bakeries and toy shops. You and I would link hands and chat, and for some reason, with people around us, it felt authentic.