The waiter was a young man with high cheekbones, a half-mask of light stubble and a tattoo in burgundy and ochre that peeked out from the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt. He kept yawning and rubbing his eyes. Her mother allowed Fearne a diluted glass of the white Burgundy she was washing her bivalves down with. Each time she heard a boot gritting on the pavement she lifted her head in case it was Dad, but he didn’t appear. Her mother flirted with the waiter, her chin slicked with butter. Fearne wanted to be in her room listening to music through her headphones, reading her book, anything else.
‘Do you live around here?’ her mother asked the waiter. Fearne turned her face away.
‘Yeah, just up the road in Mapleton. But I’m aching to get out. I’m busting a nut. I don’t trust the power station. I don’t trust the sea. This place is a ghost town and nobody here realises that yet.’
‘What’s wrong with the sea?’ Fearne asked. Her mother arched her eyebrow, evidently amused that she’d engaged with another human being, and a boy at that.
‘It’s like a tsunami, only in super slow motion. Tide goes out. Comes back with interest. I don’t want to be around come that reckoning.’
‘Oh don’t be so apocalyptic,’ Mum said. ‘Guy your age. You shouldn’t be worrying about stuff.’
‘Yeah well,’ he said, ‘I’ve been here all my life. I’m not just a tourist.’ He seemed about to say more but he pressed his lips together and collected plates instead. ‘How was the meal?’
‘Lovely,’ Fearne said. ‘What’s wrong with the power station?’
‘Nothing,’ said the waiter. ‘Guy my age? I shouldn’t be worrying about stuff.’
‘People around here,’ her mum continued (Fearne recognised the drawl that alcohol lent her voice), ‘and I’ve heard them, still talk about the sea as if it should be placated. As if we should be sacrificing our first-born sons or daughters. Flinging them piecemeal into the waves, like rubby-dubby. Like chum. What do you think of that?’
‘You don’t have to worry,’ he said, smiling at Fearne. She felt her cheeks burn. ‘Your daughter is no child.’
‘She’s my little girl,’ her mum said, tartly. ‘She always will be. My baby.’
For a moment Fearne thought her mother might cry, but she cut it off with another gulp from her wine glass. Thirteen years old. On the cusp. Like this place. Her hips were becoming wider, like the bay. Her breasts were swelling, like the ocean. She felt something like the tide pulling at her insides. Childhood was something she had wanted to escape for so long, but now that time was here, she feared it. She wanted infancy back. The comfort and simplicity. The lack of confusion and doubt.
My story, The Offing, which originally appeared in Terror Tales of the Ocean (ed. Paul Finch, Gray Friar Press) is to be reprinted in Best New Horror 27 which will appear later this year from PS Publishing.