She was talking about Damien again.
They were sprawled out by the shore in bikinis, Tati in her white lace set, Ruth in a plain black. Ruth had designed this new set for Tati, with a billowing bright blue skirt recycled from old dresses, embroidered in gold for a goddess. Under the steadily darkening sky they stared out at the round ocean, a giant circle around the island.
“Y’know one thing I regret?” Tati spoke with a half-smile, leaning back with her weight on her arms, legs stretched out in the shallow washing waves. She wiggled her toes absently. “Confronting him that morning. Oh my god.” She rolled her eyes up, head flopping back as she gazed at the sky. “If I can undo one thing in my life, it would be letting him know that I knew.”
Tati had called Ruth up two nights ago, sobbing over the line. Ruth could hardly make out her words through her sobbing, but eventually figured out there had been another woman’s shoes at Damien’s doorstep. A pair of three-inch nude wedge heels. You could tell a lot about a woman from her shoes. This one was practical, just classy enough to reap whatever benefits class came with. Keeping her voice low and calm, Ruth had asked Tati to walk away. “One step at a time, Tati. Let go. Let go. I’ll meet you at home.”
She’d dragged Tati to the beach because she couldn’t stand Tati sitting around moping all day for a middle-aged douchebag trying to cover up the insecurity of his fading abs with an arsenal of booty calls. She’d wanted some good shots of Tati in her new outfit anyway. Ruth had made Tati the face of her beachwear start-up because, honestly, there was no one near as beautiful. But Ruth had to set the make-up and camera aside for now because every few minutes fresh tears would smear mascara down Tati’s cheeks.
Ruth frowned, mustering patience. “You mean when you checked his phone and found out about his Tinder affairs?”
“I broke up with him for that, but after that we were never the same. That was when he gave up on his attempt at commitment and started sleeping around for real. At least before it was only talk. Just dirty talk with other women.” She drew her knees to herself, folded her arms over her knees and rested her chin on them. “I can deal with talk.”
She looked too vulnerable, skinny limbs all folded into herself like that. Ruth wanted to hug her. Wrap rough arms around her and shake her violently. Ruth shifted in her sand instead and looked away. A dangerous rage was beating its great wings inside her chest. She struggled to keep her tone level, but it came out caustic. “You would silently bear with his virtual two-timing. Really.”
“Yes. I can.” A small, determined voice, stony like a pebble. “It may be hard for you to believe, but after all, I’ve already been dealing with it for a long time.”
“It wouldn’t have made a difference.”
Tati sighed, lying down to lay her head on Ruth’s lap. Ruth watched droplets of seawater roll down her chin, her collarbones, the valley between her breasts. Tati’s breasts were small and brown and perky, unlike Ruth’s. Leaving glistening trails behind them, the droplets crept round the circle of her arm till they hung above the washing waves. There they paused, quivering. Ruth felt their uncertainty as a tremor in her skin. Tati’s hair floated on her thighs, straight fine black strands.
“I would have changed myself,” Tati said.
“You don’t have to,” Ruth growled. Her heart ached, and she loathed herself with a ferocity she couldn’t begin to face. “He’s not worth it,” she said. Another meaningless cliché. What could she say? She felt the vast space between them, a helpless paucity of words. Vaguely, as if from a great distance, as though from her body she were strangely detached, Ruth sensed frustration building, a sinking hopelessness. Like an alien flying overhead she saw them both, sitting on the sand. She didn’t recognise herself. Who was this, this block of cold clay beside this folded-in girl, beautiful Tati with her chin on her knees, so sweet and sad and fragile?
“But how then,” cried Tati. “How do I fight if I don’t know my enemy?” She brushed tears and windswept hair from her face. “If I knew her, I might stand a chance! But all I have is that photo I saw on his phone.”
Tati had shown Ruth the photograph a couple days ago, a picture of Damien with his arm around a woman. Tan, with broad shoulders, well-built and fleshy; sporty-looking, but far from Tati’s slim perfection. They looked happy and drunk, the photo badly taken. Damien was grinning, making a silly face at the camera and holding up two large cocktail glasses that covered the woman’s face. Ruth remembered the bartender who’d taken their photo. He was chatty and jolly and after a few drinks so were they. Damien had wanted a picture. She’d turned her face aside, leaned into Damien so that the glasses shielded her from the camera.
Ruth wanted to tell Tati she was sorry, but she couldn’t. She wasn’t sorry. She would do it all over again.
Tenderly, Ruth stroked Tati’s cheek. Tati’s lips were crusted with salt, slightly parted from weeping. Her breath was soft and moist on Ruth’s fingers. Ruth wanted to tell her the truth—but not that truth. The truth had only three words.
She slid her hand down, and as Tati turned in surprise, she waited, fingers trembling, her hand like a drop of water on the soft-sand curve of Tati’s waist.
Celine Low is a nomad writer, painter, dancer and secret bathroom-singer. She holds an MA in English Literature, and her writing is either published or forthcoming in the Muddy River Poetry Review, Fifty Word Stories, One Sentence Poems, BALLOONS Literary Journal, 9Tales from Elsewhere among others.