First Date (273 words)​

They met at the vernissage of an art installation called “Mirrors in Scarlet”. Supposedly “a three dimensional critique on the use of reflection in The Scarlet Letter”, Dave thought it was actually just a load of bollocks. Red lights, scarlet ribbons dancing in currents of air (produced by two large men dressed as Pilgrim women each pumping a pair of massive bellows), mirrors of various sizes, and shitty atmospherique music, did not make what he considered to be art. There were, of course, the requisite number of beard-stroking hipster types, nodding appreciatively, as they quaffed the free champagne. And some dreary bloke (presumably the “artist”) wanking on about imagery, symbolism and other bullshit to a crowd of sycophantic hangers-on.

He watched Diane as she contemplated the scene. He couldn’t read her expression: did she actually like this crap? It had been her who had suggested meeting here for their first date: her friend had given her tickets. Dave hoped her friend wasn’t the dreary bloke or one of his simpering groupies. He really liked Diane: online chats, and the five minutes they had spent chatting outside, had shown she was funny, intelligent and cute. But he was fairly sure he would end up insulting someone if they didn’t leave soon.

Diane mouthed something. Dave raised an eyebrow, not quite sure if he’d understood. She moved close to him, and whispered in his ear.

“Let’s go to the pub,” she said, her breath tickling his lobe. “Before I end up punching one of these arseholes.”

Dave smiled, and they linked arms as they left the room. They were going to get on just fine.

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Ibiza (470 words)​

I find the water’s edge, easily: it glitters in the light from the moon and the stars. The sand against the skin on my back is warm, soft and I push my feet through it, until I feel the cool water lick my toes. A tingle runs up through my body, and I smile, watching the stars above dance in time to the pounding beat of the music from the bar, far behind me.

The smell of a cigarette tells me I am no longer alone. On a Saturday night in Playa d’en Bossa, you’re never far from someone. I turn my head towards the scent, and see the silhouette of a man sitting beside me. I see moonlight reflected in his eyes, and the glint of his teeth as he smiles.

“Hello”, he says. He is English. From the North I think, but I am no good with accents so can’t be more specific. He offers me one of his cigarettes. I take one and as he leans in to light it I catch the scent of his aftershave. It’s not one that I recognise; pleasant, delicately spiced, possibly expensive.

“What’s your name?” he asks, as I inhale deeply, letting the smoke trickle through my nostrils.

I shake my head, to free my hair of sand. He blinks against the flying grains.

“Sandy,” I say, and laugh. He laughs too. “And yours?”

“My name is Ibiza,” he says.

“No man is an island,” I say, and laugh again. There is a glimmer of a smile and I realise it would not have been the first time he’s heard that line.

“I am,” he says. “Like this island I am full of contradictions: popular, tacky and obvious like San Antonio; classy and rich like Ibiza Town; and I have isolated spots of beauty hidden from those who don’t know where to look,” he pauses to stub his cigarette into the sand, and carefully puts the butt in a tin. ‘This island is in my DNA,” he says, “I was conceived here. Eighty-eight: the second summer of love.”

We share more cigarettes, stories and jokes. We sit here, on this beach for what seems like minutes, but it might be for hours. It might even be forever.

Overhead, something roars. A plane, coming into land at the nearby airport, flies so low I can see the detail on its undercarriage. A shiver runs up my spine into my brain. A cheer erupts from the people on the beach around us: they wave and shout woo hoos, come ons and let’s ‘ave its into the nights sky, welcoming the latest bunch of party people to our island.

I leap to my feet.

“Come on, Ibiza,” I say. “We need to dance.”

He takes my hand and we run back up the beach.

The Crumpled Note (729 words)

Looking back on that brief summer in France, I can’t help but think how different my life could have been. Regrets are such wretched companions: they nag me, laugh at me and bully me.

I remember the picnic with Peter (how could I ever forget it?), by the tree stump, on the small oak-shaded hill overlooking the vineyards. Insects buzzing around us, and birds of prey swooping down on unsuspecting rodents in the fields around us, we were the only two people in the world that day. Or, at least, that’s how it felt to me.

I had always loved Peter. He had been a dear, dear friend for many years. He could always make me laugh, even when I was in “one of my moods”, in my darkest of days, at university. It wasn’t just the way he spoke, but the way he used his eyes, in the expressions on his face.

It was that day, by the tree stump that I realised that my love for Peter went past that of mere friendship. I didn’t just love Peter: I was in love with him.

I often ask myself what my life would be like now if I had just said it. Right there in the moment, when he was passing me the brie, or later when he used a napkin to mop up up wine, spilt on my shirt.

By this time, the day of the picnic, I had already spent two whole weeks with Peter. If I had realised my feelings for him before that last afternoon, would I have had the courage to tell him?

That night, whilst he slept in the room next to mine, I wrote him a note. A love note for heaven’s sake! Young as I was I was no brooding adolescent. It was short and to the point. I decided I would give it to him at the station, ask him to read it when I was on the train. I remember that I had a ridiculous little fantasy that he would quickly devour its contents and run after the train, like the hero in a romantic black and white film. I would lean out of the window and we would kiss….

We said our goodbyes. Not on the platform: my silly fantasy was dashed upon the cobblestoned pavement outside the station. We hugged and told each other how much we had enjoyed our brief time together, and that we shouldn’t leave it so long next time, and we must do it again soon. Really, we must.

All the time I felt awkward, nervous. Thinking of the note in my pocket.

And then it was time to leave and I stuck my hand in my pocket and searched for the note. I thought it must have fallen out, but no there it was at the very bottom. I took hold of it and…

…and then I ran for my train. The note remained crumpled in my hand, in my pocket.
At first I told myself I would forward the note on. Or rather rewrite it, make my feelings clearer, and on a rather less tatty bit of paper.

But the weeks went on, and I did not write. The crumpled note found its way into a drawer in my writing desk.

Peter wrote to me at Christmas, and after that we exchanged letters. It was before the time of skype, of course, before the time of emails. Communication was slower, more formal.

Some thirty years have sailed past me. The river of my life seems to flow faster and faster. Peter got married. I did not, of course, but I had my fair share of adventures. I received the invitation to Peter’s wedding, But things were difficult for me, at that time, and I didn’t go. We lost touch, after that. My fault, I suppose.

And then a few weeks ago I had a friend request from Peter. His wife died five years ago, cancer he said. He has a couple of children, grown up now. He doesn’t see them as much as he’d like, he said. He still lives in France, he invited me out there. He even suggested we go back to the oak-shaded hill with the tree stump for a picnic.

I still have the crumpled note. Perhaps this time I will give it to him.

 

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You can listen to the author read this story on SoundCloud

The gift from the sea

“I used to come here, everyday, when I was.a kid, this beach was my playroom. I spent hours clambering over the rocks searching the rock pools for crabs. One day (I was ten, or eleven, I think) I saw something sparkle in the water. Just over there… You see the gull ? Well just to the right of him there’s a a big rock. It was right there. I clambered over the pepples slippery with seaweed, I fell over twice in my haste to get there, grazed my left knee although Ididn’t notice until much later. At first I couldn’t see what had caught my eye. I almost gave up. And then the sun came out from behind a cloud, and I saw it, twinkling in the rockpool. It was jammed in between two stones, andit took me 10 mimutes to dig it free. It was a ring. I ran back up to the house, desperate to show my mother. When she saw what I held in my hand, she simply burst into tears. I didn’t know what I had done. When she eventually spoke, she told me she had lost her engagement ring, here on this beach, a couple of months after I was born. She told me her and Dad searched for it for hours, but it had gone. A gift for the sea, she said. That the sea had chosen to return it – to give it to me – was a very special sign, she said. She said I should keep it. She said I should give it to the person that means the most to me. That’s why I have brought you here. This ring was meant for you. Will you marry me?”