“You gave him enough chances,” Trudy says.
Sandra doesn’t respond – she has sat on the shingle to pull her legs to her chest and press her forehead against her knees. Water’s running off her, from the sleeves and edges of her blouse, the folds of her skirt, the skin of her face and bare feet. She can hear the pace of her breathing – she’s trying to calm it but can’t be expected to. Lifting her head she stares at the shallows of the loch where Don’s body floats prone, arms out at each side. The wider surface of the water is at rest, coloured by a hint of sunrise; surrounding hills are covered in Douglas firs and hazels, some areas left empty after a recent gale.
Trudy approaches, using both hands to push the hair back from her brow, ginger hair soaked black. She’s donned in a rain jacket, sodden jeans and a pair of Wellingtons – drops of water meld on her chin but don’t fall. She’s already getting her breath back, inhaling softly through her nose.
“Had to happen,” she says.
Sandra ignores her, hands gripped around her legs, the cold setting in.
“Had to happen,” Trudy says. “Say it.”
“You’ll need to say it and keep saying it.”
Sandra turns her face away, teeth clenching her lip.
“Where’re your shoes?”
“Did you take them off before you went in?”
“They’ll have come off.” Trudy glances at the shallows, sniffs and kneels beside her. “They were nice shoes. Show me your feet.”
Her friend examines the soles of each foot, both slit open in a scrawl of cuts and scrapes made by rocks or pieces of shell – Sandra hadn’t noticed, she’d not felt any pain at all. Trudy reaches for her right ankle and Sandra flinches at a smear of fresh bruising and broken skin sensitive to the touch.
“What happened here?”
“He wouldn’t let go.” Sandra’s voice cracks and she starts crying. Trudy straightens and walks away, boots champing on the stones.
By the water Trudy considers what she can see, hands pushed into the pockets of her coat. “Need to take it somewhere,” she says.
Sandra looks up but is unable to reply.
“We’ll need to bury it.”
“Him,” Sandra manages to say.
Her friend looks over her shoulder.
“He has a name,” Sandra says.
“No, he used to have a name. Now he doesn’t.”
Trudy chooses a pebble from the ground – with a flick of her arm she spins it forward through the air. The pebble skites on the loch three times and vanishes in a murmur of water.
Trudy doesn’t acknowledge her, bending down to select another stone.
“Don’t do that,” Sandra says, voice louder. Trudy rolls a pebble in her palm but doesn’t move to throw.
“Waiting on you,” she says.
“I can’t touch him.”
“You have to.”
“Tough.” Trudy flings the second stone over the loch – it bounces once on the surface and splashes under. “Can’t sit there all day.”
Sandra sobs, her breathing erratic – she tastes mucus from her nose on her top lip. After picking up a small rock that lies nearby Trudy returns to her – she stands close enough to make Sandra conscious of her friend’s height, the solidity of her frame, and of the apprehension she feels whenever Trudy is silent. Above the hills to the east is the beginning of the day: a glint of early light behind lashings of red and pink cloud, their reflections spilled on top of the water.
“I’m never going to sleep at night,” Sandra says.
“I just wanted him to let me be.”
“Aye, you’ve said.”
Sandra wipes her face on her sleeve, slicks of ruined mascara and foundation marring the fabric.
“He changed,” she says. “I don’t know why.”
“No, he didn’t. He was the same from day one.”
“He used to be good to me.”
Trudy moves to stand above Sandra, sunlight trapped behind her figure and her grip tight around the rock in her hand. Sandra lowers her head before she speaks.
“He did want the best for me.”
“You still don’t have a clue.”
“It didn’t have to come to this.”
Trudy crouches to Sandra’s level, eyes hard and bloodshot – she motions her head towards the edge of the water. “I keep picturing you there,” she says. “That’s how you would’ve ended up. You reckon if it was you there, and him sitting here, that he’d be sorry?” Her voice quietens. “He’d be looking at you and laughing. He’d be laughing his arse off.”
Sandra can’t bear to raise her head – she listens to Trudy retracing her steps to the shallows. When Sandra does look up she finds her friend watching, water glistening on her jacket and her face in the fresh light of morning.
“Get up,” she says.
Sandra prises herself off the shingle and wraps both arms across her chest – more dribbles of water fall from her to the ground. She has to hobble over the stones to join Trudy, whose focus is the body and the faint pulses of water nudging it to shore.
“Just another mess that we have to clean up,” she says.
Her right arm slips over Sandra’s shoulders and draws her close. A draught of wind worries the surface of the loch – Sandra winces against its chill. When she glances again at her friend, Trudy gives her a small smile.
“I’ll buy you some new shoes,” she says.