Something lost

It was a black one-piece, low-cut with a drawstring, criss-crossed almost to the waist. The woman in the picture simmered. Lorena ran her finger down her paper silhouette. She felt a fierce need, her bathers with the sailor’s anchor and twee red belt seemed childish.

She begged her Mum who frowned at the picture.

‘You don’t think it’s a bit too old for you?’

‘No Mum, I’m fourteen. You want me to be a kid forever.’

‘No, it’s not that. It’s just…’

Her mother bought the bathers in time for summer holidays. Lorena shimmied into them and pulled the lycra over her slim hips. She adjusted the drawstring and tied the ends in a bow. In the mirror, her breasts nudged the fabric, barely there. The rest of her was curves and valleys, her bust just needed to catch up.

Her brother had returned from exchange in America. She kept the ten different types of gum he’d given her in a pyramid formation on her dressing table. On a Saturday morning, so hot the oleander tree outside her window wilted, she chose one and ripped open the packet. The gum tasted like ersatz grapes. She called out half-heartedly to her mother as the screen door swung behind her. The sky was bleached blue and the air a fug of heat.

Marion was meeting her near the jetty at the end of the beach. She strolled along the water’s edge, the foam eddied around her ankles. A group of men sat in a huddle on beach chairs, a blue and white esky like an object of worship at their center. One of them, lanky and broad shouldered with a burnt nose, took her measure. His eyes traversed her face and pubescent form, without shame. She felt the hunger in his gaze and jolted. It wasn’t her intention. The new bathers were for her, to be grown-up.

Fishermen dotted the jetty edges, hunched over their rods. She climbed the stairs and walked three planks at a time, the grape flavour of her gum almost gone. The rope handles of the beach bag cut into her shoulder. A drop of perspiration ran down the side of her face. Marion was nowhere to be seen.

Lorena waited. She spat out her gum and wrapped it in a tissue. After a while she sighed and made her way down the stairs and back to the beach. Marion was rarely late. A fly dive-bombed her and her bladder ached. She shaded her eyes and saw the beacon of public toilets in the scrub at the top of the beach. Cypress trees crowded around the cinderblock structure. Cicadas thrummed from the bushes.

She strode towards the entrance, absorbed in her irritation with Marion. She did not see the jagged blue shadow splashed on the wall, the imposing form. Until he seized her arm and dragged her into the scrub, the view obscured by the shade of looming trees. The same man, from the beach, his large nose peeling, his lips curled in a lascivious caricature.

‘You’re a hot little piece,’ he growled, and yanked down her bathers.

***

Lorena lay curled in the bushes. She smelt urine and the metallic tang of blood. She sat up and shook violently. In the sky, a turmeric sun strived to meet sea. Rising took several tries and she staggered to the water, immersed herself to her neck. The water shimmered in one long ribbon to the horizon. A path of gold. Everything in her wanted to follow this path to its end. Yet she placed the straps of her bathers on her shoulders and emerged from the sea.

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