‘You’re in, love.’ She looked right at me. Aquamarine eyes surrounded by crepey skin, hers.
‘Eyes down, look in.’
I didn’t want to put my eyes down. I wanted to study her, the way smile lines had deepened on her face. I wanted her to see, that it was me.
‘Two fat ladies, eighty eight. Eight and eight.’
My body responded instantly to the sight of her. I couldn’t steady my breaths. Her eyes met mine. I waited for them to widen, for Trudy to pause in disbelief at this woman before her. But, she just continued the game. All this way, all these years of pain, and she didn’t remember.
‘Unlucky for some. Thirteen.’
I couldn’t bear to listen to her voice, couldn’t bear to be in this place where time had stood still, with the same Persian-esque carpets and the same tinkling machines.
I stood up from the blue plastic chair and reached down for the Michael Kors bag, my innards folding like a squally sea.
‘You’re not off are you love?’ Something in me flooded. Had she…realised? ‘You might be onto a winner!’ Was this her arcade patter or was this it? That moment I’d been playing in my mind.
‘Bingo!’ Someone had won. The other two players staggered outside, cigarettes already in their mouths.
‘How long are you staying for, love? Holidaying?’ she asked me while lovingly arranging some googly-eyed toys which were dangling from the mirrored wall.
‘Just a short break,’ I lied. My accent felt wrong here. ‘I used to visit as a child. Haven’t been back in many years.’
‘Hasn’t changed much I dare say. That’s what I love about Whitby. She’s a constant.’
‘You’re right. It’s like I’ve been transported back to being nineteen.’ I made a point of looking right at her, holding eye contact for longer than was polite. She stopped nattering and her mouth lolled open.
‘Wait. You look…You’re not…?’
I waited for the sheen of romance, the shiny eyes, the hand on her heart. I tried to smile in a way that was beautiful.
‘You, you can’t just come rolling into my place of work with no warning, announcing yourself and scaring the living daylights out of me.’
‘I, I’m sorry.’
‘What did you think you were doing? I don’t need this…posho tourist coming back here and tryna dredge up the past.’
‘Oh Trudy, please. That’s not…I didn’t even know if…’
She maneuvered out and disappeared through a door in the mirrored wall. Someone swore in triumph behind me as coins cascaded from a flashing machine.
I stood looking out to sea like an unrequited cliché. My vision fogged as too many thoughts assaulted my mind. Fool. Idiot. Silly woman.
I felt its smoothness in my pocket, flipped it with my thumb and finger over and over again. This precious thing, the blackest of stones. I’d carried it with me for thirty nine years, since my father had given it to me on that trip to Whitby. The same day I’d met her.
I pictured it arcing through the air against the white-grey of the sunless sky, plopping into the water and sinking, taking every belief I’d held onto with it. Years of putting on a mask, of living my life for a cruel man. I held the jet brooch on my palm. Beetle-esque, polished, still the darkest colour I’d ever seen. Shiny, like my darling Jessica’s eyes. The one wondrous thing that I’d managed to achieve in my life. Mum, I’m glad you’re finally living your truth. Go for it. Find out. It was her who had given me the final push, now that her father had died, to follow my irrational heart, like a sailor to a mythical siren girl on the rocks.
I scrunched my fingers around the brooch, readying myself. The rushing of wind in my ears willing me on.
‘I knew it were you,’ a voice floated on the breeze. ‘Course I knew it were you. I just didn’t know how to. It’s been…’
‘Thirty nine years.’
She was real but looked so fallible. ‘You’re poisoning your system you know?’ I said.
‘Oh, jog on will you? You’ve just swanned back and already you’re nagging on at me.’
Trudy nudged me and smiled, weathered skin puckering around familiar eyes.
‘You know it’s just because I care. I’ve always…even from a great distance.’
‘Really?’ Trudy’s voice came out with a plume of smoke.
We strolled shoulder to shoulder but not yet hand in hand along the harbour. The little lighthouse stood solidly in the same spot as all those years ago. A pleasure boat chugged past, a pirate on board swashbuckling and arr-ing to delighted kids.
Everyone was here just because. To be with each other and feel the sea’s salt in their nostrils. Our steps fell into a steady rhythm. I looked at the melted-looking scar on Trudy’s hand. I desperately wanted to ask, but it wasn’t yet time. I wondered what or who could have damaged her. The thought made my heart crack.
Trudy flicked the butt to the ground. ‘Don’t you say ‘owt,’ she said, looking straight out ahead at the glistening grey.
‘So, Aqua Marina. What do you wanna do now? Fancy a dip?’ She cackled a throaty cackle and slapped her thigh.
‘Well,’ I said, swallowing first ‘I want to do it all again. In the same order.’
‘Yes. We started by…’
‘At the steps. Aye, I know.’
‘Oh. Then we…’
‘Yes. Along the cliffs. I remember, flower.’
Our bubble was burst by a young boy in a Spiderman outfit careering towards us on a scooter. I looked at Trudy, a raspberry sound escaped her lips. With one hand in my pocket caressing the brooch Trudy reached for the other and we set off towards the old side, shedding the baggage of thirty nine years with every step.