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JUST MARRIED ON BRIGHTON PIER by Tomas Marcantonio

The two women with blood sprinklers in their eyes stood at the railings and looked down at the water. It churned about like great whips of cream under a lazy spoon, throwing petulant fountains of oyster salt over the groynes. Foam bubbled at the shore when it came in with the morning tide and seagulls barked at the brooding ceiling of grey. The flags along the pier whipped against their poles with heavy slaps.

‘The doughnuts are smaller than they used to be,’ Poppy said. She brushed the sugar from her fingers and fished the pebble from her pocket, a souvenir from the night before. It felt dry between her forefinger and thumb, like the rub of a tongue against a brick wall. ‘Oh, God. Betsy.’

A woman wearing a pink meringue for a dress was walking barefoot along the beach, lipstick-pink heels in one hand. One of the straps of her dress was halfway down her arm but the white sash was still tied over one shoulder. Her cheeks were purple pomegranates, clashing with the pink of her dress and the orange knit-bundle of her hair.

‘God, I hope she didn’t sleep on the beach,’ Poppy said. ‘Let’s—’

‘I can’t face anyone yet,’ Marie said.

A seagull came into landing on the dome behind them and war-cried, its gullet throbbing with undulating golf balls. The other gulls joined the chorus of laughing madness and swept low over the pier, looking for smash-and-grabs.

 ‘Listen, Marie, it happens all the time. No one’s going to say anything. Dave probably did the same thing on his stag—’

Poppy’s words dropped between them like ducks shot from the sky. Marie removed her elbows from the railings and followed the boardwalk out to sea. She watched her feet, heard their rhythmic clapping against the wood. She watched the zoetrope of water in the recesses between the boards, washing up against the iron pilings below. The rank rot of tequila still lined her throat and she tasted it on her tongue.

 ‘You’re not thinking of telling him, are you?’ Poppy asked.

Marie walked on, past the kiosks selling joyous Saturday rock and oversized rainbow dummies and fish and chips and crepes. She leaned up against the face-in-the-hole photo board and doubled over. Poppy opened the paper bag of doughnuts and held it out under Marie’s mouth like a horse’s feedbag, wincing as it filled up.

Marie straightened up and wiped the back of her hand across her lips. She looked at the picture on the board, of the bride and groom riding off together, their faces missing; through them she saw only the sea, bleak and rusted green, frothing all the way to France.

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