Sugar Free

It was cola he gave her in the end. A long, glass bottle of it. And she: waiting on the lounger – legs crossed, one Achilles resting against her shin, flip-flops flat, the skin of her soles stretched smooth. Toes twitching as she curled her hair, sun-bleached nuclear white, between fingers.

            ‘That was a big hill,’ he said. ‘You must be thirsty.’

            And she was and she drank. Tilted the bottle, drew it down her neck in smooth gulps that, on another day, on a cooler day, on a day without him, might have made her think of a dog throwing up like hers did that time he ate Bolognese for four in one sitting. Slobbered it up as violently as her bracelet had rattled up Henry’s nose, her mother holding the black handle like a lead, scowling at her: that serves you right. I told you to clean your room.

            The cola made her teeth feel cloudy. A tongue over them didn’t shift it.

            ‘Is it good?’ he says. Watching her. He is good at watching her.

            Through the fence mesh at the beach. When she followed Mum back from the pool like a duckling, hair dripping and glued to her back like sticky weed.

            ‘Don’t stop. See if you can do it all in one.’

            She wondered why there wasn’t a bottle pushed against his lips. But that was the way. He was not thirsty.

            He watches.

            ‘You like it?’

            She’s concentrating on two things at once now.

            ‘Down in one. Come on. It’s only fizzy pop.’

            And he leans to her then. Eyes wide in a way she had not seen before.

            ‘You like it, don’t you? In your mouth.’

            With the pad of his index finger he helps her along. The tip at the glass bottom, tilting it.

            Now: bubbles up her nose and she might choke or spit it over his sun-lotioned bowl of a belly and he would not like that. So she keeps it in, eyes watering.

            He asks again, ‘Do you like it?’

            She nods. Yes, she likes it. Very generous. What’s your name?

NIk Perring

About Nik Perring

Nik Perring is the author of five books and countless short fictions, which have been published in many fine places all over the world in print and online; read on radio; and performed on the stage. Nik mentors and teaches writing too. He's Writer in Residence for Sheffield's Year of Reading.

Nik Perring is the author of five books and countless short fictions, which have been published in many fine places all over the world in print and online; read on radio; and performed on the stage. Nik mentors and teaches writing too. He's Writer in Residence for Sheffield's Year of Reading.

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