by JP Relph
A roiling marmalade sun burned as we danced in the strange snow. The rail-track verge like a packed platform, dense with brambles and bindweed. A playful breeze plucked willowherb seed-heads; they feather-fluffed the sky like a torn pillow. We stuck out tongues, spat them out, laughing. Always laughing. Her hands constantly on our faces, our waists. Sudden hugs and entwining fingers. Fruit-balmy kisses.
Morella. The girl with beetroot-red hair, golden apple pendant nestled in an enticing crease, and a goldfish tattoo. It arced over her neat bellybutton with a flicking orange tail. Her shirts knotted at the waist, we followed the sun’s toasting of skin, the fish ever-brightening. She’d arrived with the fairground, was taken and dismantled before the Dodgems and Big Wheel.
Drawn to that sweat-bobbled goldfish like herons, we stalked the toffee-apple stand to watch Morella work. Stabbing sticks into yellow apples, her bruised-plum eyes enchanted us. We oozed onto the mudded grass like the blistering-red caramel, as she plunged, flashed a disassembling smile.
Ferdie was besotted. Like a crepuscular bird, he’d appear as night fell; we’d retreat to the quiet woods. He had eyes like scuttling clouds, a crucifix earring. Morella mocked his funereal style, snaked her jewel-vibrant headscarf round his neck. Willard feigned disinterest. Yet I caught his sharp eyes on her river-transparent bra, his mouth gaping like a basking shark. She’d smiled knowingly, then kissed the river into my mouth, a tease of grape beneath.
I was enraptured. Molly-Mouse to the mean girls, hanging with boys because of their shared disinterests – makeup, fashion. Kissing boys. Morella would wrap around me from behind, hook her thumbs into my waistband, rub the sun-shy skin. She’d roll and tease our names like cherry drops, tell me I wasn’t any mouse, inside I was vibrant, gregarious – her sweet minnow. Languid on the riverbank, warm beer loosening, her head in my lap, I’d twist and plait her hair. Later in bed, I’d press my cheek to my folded hands, inhale her orange-blossom shampoo. Curl around the hollow she’d briefly warmed. Morella was a glimmering fish, enlivening our cold, lonely pond that summer. Enlivening us. We all loved her.
Kids shrimp-fishing in September’s mist found her. Slimy, green ribbons soiled her hair. Summer skin bleached and rippled by the river. The goldfish suffocated beneath dried mud. We cracked that autumn, like bitten toffee-gloss, our plundered-apple hearts exposed.
I lean over the bridge, my tears falling, falling, lost to the rushing river. My belly skin burns, the tattoo still to heal. I remember the thumbs stroking there, my nose in citrusy hair, hungry grape-sticky kisses. The latter more painful. As even while the sweet-sour taste had lingered on my tongue, I saw her biting her blushing lips, moaning, as Willard pulled at her shorts, his tongue lashing over that goldfish.
We all loved her.
I open my clenched fist and the gold apple shimmers down to the river, following my tears. Lost to the minnows.