by Cath Barton
There I am with Sylvie, squinting into the sun on an old photograph. Her boyfriend must have taken it. It’s not a good photograph, over-exposed and I hardly recognise myself. But I do remember the frock. Blue and very short, that was the way we wore them then. We could get away with it, when we were young. I look nice in that picture, in that sky blue frock.
It was Sylvie’s boyfriend who suggested the outing. A treat, he said, now that the exams were over. I liked him and I thought Sylvie liked that I did. He had a car. He’d take us to the beach, he said. Where was it? Rhyl or Prestatyn perhaps, one of those seaside towns in North Wales any way, they’d have been the nearest, but I don’t remember. We drove with all the windows open, I know that. I must have been in the back because I remember the perfect curve of her boyfriend’s neck, and his soft hair, flicked by the sea-salted air.
I have no idea where I found the picnic basket. It was stupidly heavy, once we put food it in. It banged again my bare legs as we walked over the dunes, the rough edges of the wicker scratching me. I had to keep changing hands. I can see Sylvie skipping ahead, her long hair flying, golden. Wasn’t she carrying anything? I don’t remember. Was her boyfriend in front or behind? I can’t see him. And I don’t remember what happened to the picnic basket. We certainly never ate the food, because when we eventually got home, afterwards, I was starving. I remember that.
And I remember that it was only later that I saw the stain. The stain on my blue frock. The stain which I couldn’t get rid of. A whiff of the past drifts just out of reach as I gaze at the photograph, remembering more than I want to remember.
I remember Sylvie being angry with me, so angry. Saying it was only a frock and I could get another one. It was understandable, after what she’d been through that day. But it was my favourite frock. I never found one as nice again.
Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in Wales and you can read more about her writing here.