‘Would you like a drink?’ I ask loudly because it’s heaving.
‘Oh,’ she says. ‘I saw you over there.’
‘Yes, that’s where I was,’ I say. ‘And I saw you wearing this green dress. So I’m over here now.’
‘Do you like it – my dress?’ she asks.
As I’m about to reply, a guy – a big lad with a Smirnoff Ice and a face like a fist – walks up to us and pushes a drink into her hand.
‘Here’s your Tropical Reef, Hermoine,’ he says, and looks me up and down.
‘Excuse me, that’s not a reef, it’s an atoll,’ I say.
‘What did you say, mate?’ he asks, eyeballing me.
‘I said that in my opinion the drink you have just handed this young woman is more akin to an atoll than a reef, and you called it a reef.’
‘He likes my dress, Jed,’ she says.
Jed is starting to sweat.
‘I think you’ll find, mate,’ he says. ‘That, as everyone – except you – knows, an atoll is a type of reef – a circular one – so using the generic term is perfectly acceptable. Anyway, that’s what they call them at the bar. No one’s going to ask for a fucking Tropical Atoll.’
He pauses then adds, ‘So why don’t you piss off before I stick this Smirnoff Ice up your arse?’
‘Don’t mind him,’ Hermoine says.
‘Random fact,’ I say, as I turn to walk away. ‘The word atoll was coined by Charles Darwin in 1820.’
I feel a blow on the back of my neck. As I begin to fall forwards and lose consciousness I can hear him say, ‘Survival of the fittest, mate. Survival of the fittest.’
I wake in a hospital bed. My eyes slowly focus on someone sitting in the chair next to me. It’s Hermoine.
‘You alright?’ she says. ‘Don’t worry, you won’t see him again. As well as being a violent bully, he thinks he knows every bloody thing about islands, archipelagos and isthmuses. I ended it.’
‘You’re wearing a blue dress,’ I say.
She looks down as if she’s checking. ‘Yes, I am,’ she says.
‘I have something to ask you,’ I say, slowly flexing my neck. ‘What’s your favourite atoll?’
‘Jesus, you really are a man obsessed,’ she says.
‘Am I?’ I say. And I ask her again.
‘Oh, I dunno. Probably Bassas de Pedro in the Indian Ocean.’
‘Really?’ I say. ‘You prefer that to Maro Reef in Hawaii or Kaafu Atoll in the Maldives?’
‘Yeah, yeah, I do,’ she says. ‘Now let that be an end to your obsession.’
‘Of course,’ I say. ‘But if we go there – to Bassas de Pedro – together – would you wear your green dress?’
John Holland is a prize-winning short fiction author from Gloucestershire in the UK. He also organises the twice-yearly Stroud Short Stories event. Website – http://www.johnhollandwrites.com