A Picked Scab Always Scars
When Clara swiped through pictures of Wendy and Ian’s wedding on Insta, the exquisite pain reminded her of picking her biggest ever scab. Her badge of courage. She’d won it earlier in the summer diving to stop a stranger’s toddler drowning in a swimming pool. In a split second she’d thought, ‘If he slips under the pool cover, he’ll be dead before we can wind it back.’
It was a June evening at a Dorset hotel – coincidentally where Wendy and Ian had celebrated their Insta-perfect nuptials a couple of weeks later. Perfect for louche media guests and their spoilt, neglected offspring. Spotting the baby wobbling on the edge of the pool, she’d launched herself with booze-fuelled bravado and grasped a plump foot, landing on her right knee, hoiking him bawling onto the paving slabs.
His parents, alerted by his squeals, looked back having missed his fall. ‘What did you do?’ said their faces. She didn’t know them. Just fellow guests. Technically she wasn’t even a guest - the hotel was far too expensive for a jobbing freelancer. She was writing the hotel’s new brochure. ‘Get a feel for the unique atmosphere,’ said the marketing manager. ‘Have a weekend on us.’ The pay was so paltry – ‘great exposure for your copywriting business’ - she’d wrung all the value she could from the poolside wine fridge.
The parents bustled back, tipsily affronted that anyone should touch their child, cradling him in indignant arms. He went rigid with rage, arching and screaming. Clara thought that he probably wasn’t used to them, preferred the nanny – who clearly had the weekend off.
She sat dazed on warm stone in her orange bikini, watching blood pool and drip from her gashed knee and not bothering to explain. The mother was about 40, self-consciously retro in her black 1950s swimsuit, winged shades and turban. Her dark matte lipstick mouth puckered like a cow’s bum with disapproval. The bearded, paunchy dad was clearly drunk. She’d noticed him scanning her body earlier and drawing up his legs on the lounger.
Ian and Wendy invited 75 ‘close’ friends and taken the whole hotel for their wedding weekend. A casual invitation arrived for her from Ian the week before. He was the son of her much older former lover Bruce, whom she’d met at 22 as an editorial trainee on Tempus magazine.
She’d considered toughing it out and going; to hell with the £500 it would cost her, just for bed and board, and then there was a suitable, expensive gift off the list. Her credit cards were already beyond hope – she had to decline.
Then another text arrived. From an unknown number: ‘I'm sorry that you’re thinking of coming, as it will mean some - let's say - inconveniences at the venue. I know you would not want that. We want at all costs to protect Ian and particularly Wendy – who is very sensitive (yeah, thought Clara, like a Spinosaurus is sensitive) - from any unnecessary and unintended distractions from their happiness. I suppose it's a matter of sensitivity under such circumstances, not raising any irrelevant difficulties.’
It confirmed what she already knew, that Ian’s mother Sheryl had suspected the truth about Bruce and her all along. But did she know the rest?
Drenched in movie sunlight, the cast – sorry, the wedding party – had been hand-picked for looks from bridegroom down. Not a dumpy cousin, embarrassing uncle or senile great aunt to be seen. It was surprising that Ian’s parents were allowed to go at all.
Any shred of the visceral attraction to Bruce, for whom Clara had overrode all reason for ten of her best and most beautiful years, had long gone. He looked shambling and bewildered in the pictures, large of belly, his thick black curls now grey and thin, drawn back into a skimpy ponytail. Sheryl had him firmly under her calloused thumb. She was a shoe heiress – Clara felt so stupid for believing that Bruce would leave all that free money for the sake of her. Many a media marriage depended on tolerating irrelevant mistresses for its longevity.
At the agency where she had a copywriting contract, the lads had taken her out as it was Friday lunchtime. She stood in the sunlight in her short skirt enjoying the warmth on her long legs. Their casual flirting made her giggle and swig wine. She hadn’t had a man for a while. Even when Bruce was wasting her youth, she kept an eye out for a nice man of her own, with no success. There just didn’t seem to be any guys on her level around. Sometimes she was possessed with the writhing discomfort of a spinster on the shelf at any time in history, and then felt ashamed for feeling it in 2018. She’d joke about it, saying her allergy to cats meant there would be nothing to eat her when she died alone. short mother of the bride dresses
All 10 years or so younger, her colleagues were out of the question. They’d stood around her discussing ‘Tit Monday’ – when girls first revealed their bodies at the true start of summer. She imagined their cocks, coiled in their tight Calvin Kleins, stirring at the thought.
When she got back to the office, she couldn’t resist a retreat to the loo and a slow scab peel revealing skin as roseate as Wendy’s ombré satin-backed crepe wedding dress. The sensation was almost orgasmic in its pleasurable pain. She sat nibbling at the edge of the scab, before flushing it away.
The Insta wedding photo story took the usual course, formal as a country dance. From coy bride in her pale lingerie, surrounded by attendants in dressing gowns and huge curlers, to final disintegration in the early hours. Clara was surprised that the bridesmaids were all beautiful. Where was the fat, plain one usually recruited to throw the bride into sharp relief?
Then there was the video of everyone self-consciously singing, ‘Going to the chapel, we’re going to get married’ as the bride walked through the garden. Supporting her was a handsome silver fox who looked like he’d stepped out of GQ. Wendy appeared to be a picturesque orphan. No unsightly old parents for her.
Solemn moments in the chapel, sunshine pouring through stained glass. Then the joyful couple positively prancing down the aisle. Guests in groups, hats on. As the photos progressed, champagne softened the formality. The last pictures, in darkness, showed – as much as Wendy’s strict edit had allowed – booze-fuelled shenanigans and wild dancing. Clara was sure it had all ended with skinny dipping, drunken snogging and shagging in the manicured bushes.
As she looked and looked at the perfect pictures, the pleasurable pain of scab picking came back to her. She kept returning to a certain picture of Wendy and Ian with their foreheads touching, looking upwards into each other’s eyes. Wendy had a kind of flirty curl to her lips that Clara associated with dating profile pictures.
The wedding was already all over social media, and they can’t have been on honeymoon for more than a couple of days. Wendy must have been eager to pump maximum publicity value from the event for her celebrity styling business. Clara wondered idly where they’d gone when, unbidden, Ian’s long lean body was in her mind.
She could see the base of his neck, where there’d been a single yellow-topped pimple last time they’d shagged. The vague edging of scab picking was replaced with a full on stab of jealousy as she realised she’d fallen in love with Ian, just as she had with his father.
They’d last been together a month ago. He’d been busy since, she would understand, wouldn’t she? Lots of wedmin to get through. The Paul Smith suit to be fitted. The cool, up and coming band to book. Sheryl would be paying for that of course. None of Ian’s creative projects seemed to fly somehow.
She’d been in denial about beautiful auburn-haired, green-eyed Irish Wendy, with her successful business and perfect life. She’d thought nothing would change. That he’d retain the feeling he’d had when he leaned across the table that time and said, ‘I feel I want to make love to you, not just screw you.’
She'd told herself it would be an Instagram marriage, designed to boost their profiles. Ian would be round to enjoy her vicious tongue just as soon as the honeymoon was over. They were friends, weren’t they? Ian was always telling her that, particularly when he was making excuses not to stay the night.
She should’ve known it wasn’t just sex for her when she couldn’t bear to wash his sheen from her hungry skin for hours after he’d left. Usually she was a straight into the shower girl. That forehead-resting picture had told her she was most horribly wrong about Wendy. There’d be no more booty calls from Ian, and she was ashamed of her fantasy that, unlike his father, he would commit.
Landing Ian, after an unexpected encounter scoping a hotel in Wales for brochure work, had felt either like subtle revenge, or the chance to start again and have the relationship she wanted. The young healthy and single version of the love of her life. Same black curls, but no gut and a very reliable erection. That was before Wendy.
The stinking green mist crept into her brain’s every sulcus as she fell into full stalker mode. Where had they gone? The Maldives? Thailand? She writhed with envy and bitter sexual jealousy long suppressed as she swiped. Dismissal. Like father, like son. She was nothing. A mistress. Something to shag. The wives won every hand.
Wendy O’Reilly had an open Insta profile so it was no trouble at all to see they’d stayed put at Startridge Manor after the wedding. Then she saw why. A coy hint in a post about the food there – ‘Must avoid the shellfish now! Ian’s loving it of course….’
Heat rushed to Clara’s face. The bitch was pregnant. That’s why the wedding had been organised in such a rush. She sat naked in bed, and looked down at her barren belly with its small, unfecund folds. She balled a fist and plunged it into the unscarred, unsoft, smooth, ugly skin, hollowing her empty belly even further. Rage coursed through her. Ian had been inside her. Why had he not left a baby there as he had in Wendy? Ah, because he was so careful to catch every last tiny DNA package.
She went to Google photos and searched on the date of their last fuck. There it was, date stamped, a run of naked selfies with Ian in the background on his phone, oblivious that she was taking a picture.
All the accumulated grief and loneliness gripped her tight. She threw on her orange bikini with a sundress over the top. Not stopping to pack, she grabbed her phone and bag and ran for the door. Her old Fiat was parked outside, and she jumped in.