Tabitha Potts is a writer in the second year of a Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck. She has had several short stories published in print and online and was recently long-listed for the Royal Academy ... [+]

Image of Short Story

There’s not much to do in the caravan park, and Mum says me and Alannah should go out for a walk, she needs to get on and make our dinner. Alannah’s been quiet all afternoon, sulking most likely. She’s lying on our bed in the back of the caravan, playing on her phone. I don’t mind sharing the room with her normally, we have a laugh, but I’m starting to wish I hadn’t invited her to come with us.

‘Come on then. Let’s go up the cliff’.
‘I’m tired. And I’ve got sunburn’.
She turns over on the bed, her back towards me so I can see how pink she is, and sighs.

‘I’ll give you some money, Jasmine’, Mum goes. ‘You can both get some drinks in that café’.
Usually she doesn’t give me money for the café, it’s well expensive.

‘Let’s go then!’ says Alannah. She stops being salty with me, just like that. She wants a cool drink sitting outside the café on the hill, just as much as I do.

We’d been on the beach all day. I wore my yellow bikini and Alannah wore her pink one. Pink is to go with her red hair, and yellow suits what she calls my ‘olive’ skin. We took some selfies of us lying there with the sand between our toes. We’d both painted our fingernails and toenails cherry red, so they glistened in the sun. Alannah’s jealous of me because I don’t burn. She has to wear factor 50 all the time and sit under a beach umbrella. Still, though, the boys all check her out when she’s sitting there in the shade.

That’s why it was a surprise when that boy on the beach asked if he could Whatsapp me and not her. He was nice looking and a bit older than us. She was surprised too. She’d been talking about him all week and I suppose she was just expecting him to like her best.

I mean, Alannah’s got these big green eyes and long legs. She looks like she’s a lot older than thirteen now she’s got boobs. I just look the same as ever really, skinny and tall. She used to get called ginger at school, but nowadays it’s ‘strawberry blonde’.

We’ve been best mates since my first day at primary school. I arrived a few years later than everyone else, after Mum moved back into Nan’s house in Mile End. This tall ginger girl with her hair in plaits came over to me when I was standing there in the playground on my own, eyes all prickly with tears, and asked me to play with her. And just like that, things were OK. I got picked on too sometimes, I’m either too dark or not dark enough, depending on who you ask. It’s like my Nan used to say, the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.

We start walking up to the top of the cliff. As usual, Alannah goes on the left, next to the cliff edge and I go on the right. We don’t discuss it, she just knows, same way she always sleeps nearest the door because I don’t like it. I’m scared that someone might come in. She laughs at me sometimes and says I’m a baby. I don’t care. Sometimes bad things do happen, and I don’t like heights.

It’s still really hot outside even though it must be getting late and sweat runs down my back as we head up. It’s quite a long climb and we don’t talk much, because we’re saving our breath. The grass is long and dry and it makes a swishing noise as our legs scissor through it. At the top of the cliff, there’s a barrier marking off the edge of the cliff from the main bit leading to the café. The sign says ‘Cliff fall – do not go beyond this barrier’.

Alannah stops and looks at it like she’s never seen it before. ‘Let’s take another selfie’ she says. Her eyes are glittering like they do when she’s excited. She edges around the barrier.

‘Don’t be dumb’.

‘You’re so boring, Jas. Boys don’t like boring girls. Bet you’ve never even kissed a boy’.

I can feel the heat rising on my face. She knows I never kissed any boys.

‘You’re just a boring little baby’.

Slowly, I edge towards the barrier. What I don’t like is when I can’t see over the edge of something and I don’t know what’s waiting for me. It means I have to freeze completely still, or go back. I thought I was the only person in the world like this, then I googled it. It’s not called vertigo. It’s called acrophobia. ‘An irrational or extreme fear of heights’.

Alannah’s still there waiting with that weird look in her eyes. I creep around the barrier but I’m holding on to it. Now there’s only half a metre to what looks like the edge of the cliff, Alannah is so close to it, waiting for me. It’s so high up here. Out on the sea, there is a little white boat, sailing along the horizon. If I look behind me, there’s no one around. It’s just the boat, Alannah and me.

‘Oh, you made it! OK, selfie time’.

Alannah turns me around, puts her face next to mine and lines up the shot. I can smell her sweat. She smells of salt. I can see our faces in the little screen, right next to each other, just like the thousands of selfies we’ve taken over the years, except that in this one neither of us is smiling.

‘You don’t even like him, do you?’ she says. ‘You don’t like boys much. They scare you’.

‘Let me take one’, I say, and she passes me her little pink phone as I’d left mine behind. My stomach is churning. It takes a second and it makes no sound. I imagine our two faces sinking into the dark green water as the phone dies.