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"The Last Birthday Party" by Hanne Larsson

You’ve been here before.

The sea nips at your toes, the sand cool after so much walking that your shoes have almost shredded away and your fine dress – its pearled train draping – finally in tatters.

Exhale deeply.

Wading out to the shallows, you find yourself singing obscenities so loud that the morning gulls and seals look up in surprise. The singing is new, a smooth-polished shell, reaching for blue skies and skidding clouds, and you revel in its clarion call. You're discarding your carapace – emerging true.

You’ve been here so many times. There used to be such creasing laughter that time ebbed and flowed from day to twilight to night. You circled each other into every dawn, repeating old conversations, morphing from raised voices into screaming into threats and then apologies and hugs and tears and sobbing.

You know each grain of sand here by name and shape now. Each one bounced against its neighbour, spilling secrets and crashing parties over and over again. This place is sacred, from when it was a new experience: now familiar, comforting, full of memories.

No break-ups here, in the turquoise waters, only feelings of love and warmth, hugs held, eternal kisses enticed.

There has to be a first for all things, you suppose. The slender arms of an octopus tickle your toes before billowing away, your decision this morning none of his.

They baked your favourite cake – a sponge with raspberry jam and decadent ganache – flooding it with candles. So many candles you ran out of breath, and everyone laughed, you included. They paid for this holiday; the villa flowing out over the bay, the golden sand and sea-green waters far below. There were presents, but you couldn’t open more than the one, wearing the shoes you are still expected to fill. There was a five-course meal, a personal chef in the kitchen, a waiter to dole out champagne and drinks, and your feet aching from those diamond heels – gorgeous, sharp, uncompromising.

You realised your nails have become too polished. This was not how your story started.

You still love the people they used to be, how you used to be with them. But they’re not good for you now. There was talk of change, but nothing happened. And anyway, a cake cannot be eaten twice. You’d chew only air and spoiled decorations, stomach griping.

You leave the shoes on the shore, let your toes curl in damp, claggy sand, the morning sun warm on your back. The water laps at your feet. Your prints will wash away. You waited until the drinks were past flowing, claimed a slight headache, packed a rucksack. Walked away from the money and bite marks. You’ve a little squirreled away, enough for a plot of land. Time to get the dirt and grime back under your nails.

You’ve been here before, but you’ll not come back.

Hanne is a British Swede who longs for the 95% humidity and hawker centre food of her childhood. Her stories are fed by environmental science topics, moss-covered rocks masquerading as trolls and what-if scenarios. Her words can be found lurking in various web-nooks and print anthologies.

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