Published On: Sun, Jul 30th, 2017

Short story: Skinny Dipping by Fanny Blake


The sun was already high in the sky, sending all but the most dedicated sunbathers into the shade. Sweat stuck wisps of hair to Elsa’s forehead, her T-shirt to her back, as she took the footpath skirting the coast, breathing in the sea air cut with the scent of thyme and oregano. She had left Ted slumped in the kitchen. God only knew where he had got to last night.

She hadn’t heard him come in.

After three days on the island, it was clear the holiday had been a mistake. What she had imagined as much-needed, mother-son bonding time had already disintegrated into two separate holidays: his as part of a gang of other teenagers; hers watching from the sidelines, bruised and sad.

Recently, she was only too aware of having been absent from him emotionally (the protracted and painful divorce) and physically (working late on the newspaper), so this was to have been a way of making up, of showing she cared.

But almost as soon as they’d set foot in the resort, Ted had hooked up with the band of teens skulking on the periphery of the pool. He had been absorbed into them like a drop of water into a puddle, leaving her to amuse herself.

She didn’t mind mooching on her own, sitting in the outdoor restaurant in the company of a good book, surrounded by families enjoying themselves – but she would have preferred to be with Ted, sharing more than just the odd word. That morning, he had been beyond any communication at all.

She rounded the curve of the headland. Below lay a small cove, quite empty. The aquamarine sea lacing its edge issued an invitation she couldn’t pass up. Reaching the sand, she looked to make sure there was no one around.

Satisfied she had the place to herself, she stripped off, leaving her clothes in a pile on a rock, and ran into the sea. It was glorious, warm, clear, glittering with sunlight. She swam across the cove, relishing her privacy.

Floating on her back, feeling the sun on her body, she felt truly relaxed for the first time since their arrival. Perhaps things between her and Ted just needed time. Wasn’t he just like all 15-year-old boys?

The sound of an engine punctuated her peace. Her eyes opened to see a small motorised boat chugging in her direction. She upended herself with a splash, treading water as it drew closer. The man driving it – weather-worn under a wide straw hat – waved. “Holá guapa!”

A thumbs-up. A smile. Then he was past her and moving in the direction of the headland. She raised a hand and smiled back. She hadn’t been called beautiful for a long time. Swimming back to the shore with long leisurely strokes, she felt reinvigorated. She wouldn’t let Ted spoil the holiday. Somehow she would make things better between them. 

As she neared the edge, there was a shout. The first of a gaggle of teenagers stepped off the path to colonise her side of the beach. A couple of them started tossing a ball between them. Wasn’t that…? Yes, it was. Ted! She trod water, aghast.

The heady enjoyment of the moment had vanished. But she couldn’t stay in the sea until they left. Guapa, she reminded herself as she forced herself to stand up, like Botticelli’s Venus, and walked as quickly as she could to her clothes without looking in their direction. Perhaps he wouldn’t notice.

“Mum?” His voice cut through the others.

She froze. Their shouting stopped. Just the murmur of the sea and a bird call disturbed the silence. She reached for her T-shirt and yanked it over her head, snagging it on her wet body, then her pants. Fully covered, she faced her audience. One of them sniggered. 

“Ted, hi.” She sounded bright. “The water’s lovely.” Inside she was dying.

Ted shifted from one foot to the other, clearly wishing he hadn’t identified her in front of his new cool friends. “Wha’ever.” He turned away.

“I’ll see you back at the apartment, then.”

He didn’t reply, just tossed the ball in the air.

That evening, she was sitting in the restaurant on her own. Ted hadn’t reappeared. She must have embarrassed him beyond repair. She would never make good their time together now. Around her were all the same families enjoying themselves.

As she glanced down at her book, she heard Ted’s voice. He was at a different table with another lad his own age surrounded by a group of adults, laughing. One of them turned to look in her direction. Oh God, surely the boys wouldn’t have told them about finding her skinny dipping. Would they? Her earlier confidence evaporated and she shrank into her chair, pretending to concentrate on her book.

“Excuse me.” A woman about her age was standing beside her. “I’m Liz. I’ve seen you sitting here alone, and we wondered if you’d like to join us?”

“That’s very kind, but I…” What excuse could she make without being standoffish or rude. “I’m waiting for my son.”

“But he and Sam, our son, suggested it.”

“Ted did?” Elsa looked over to where he was nodding in her direction, beckoning her over. A different boy.

“Yes. But if you’d prefer to be on your own…”

Suddenly Elsa realised that if she couldn’t have Ted to herself, then she could at least be a part of his holiday. “I’d love that. Thank you.” 

She followed Liz to the large table where she was soon introduced, a chair pulled out and a glass of wine put in her hand. A couple of hours later, when supper was in full swing, Ted came and put a hand on her shoulder.

“Great place, Mum.” He grinned. “But remember your swimmers next time.” 

The holiday had taken a turn for the better. 

Fanny Blake’s new novel Our Summer Together (Orion, £7.99) is out now. See Express Bookshop at expressbookshop.co.uk.


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