We're at the beach today. Ma's wearing her old sundress and Lou's wearing her new one. Actually, Ma gave Lou hers but Lou gave it back when she got the new one. It's Ma's thirty-fifth birthday, so we thought we'd go out, only Ma's drinking has taken a bit of a toll on our finances, so we took the bus to the beach. Lou got the day off, and made a picnic. The only reason we do birthdays now is because when Lou went to school, all the other kids had birthday parties and cakes and lollies. Since it was rare we had more than canned tomatoes and cheap bread to eat, Lou never got a birthday party until she was thirteen and had her first part time job, and figured it was a good investment to buy a cake if she got presents in return. Took her a while to realise that meant she'd get invited to parties too, and would have to come up with presents of her own.
Once Lou left school it was easier for a couple years - we had two incomes, and we started having our own little birthday dos, just us two. That was before Ma started drinking - but we're working on that. We always support each other. When Lou got into trouble with the cops, Ma told them our sad story about how that bastard walked off and left her holding the baby and they felt so sorry for us they just said don't let us catch you dealing pot again. And Lou can be pretty smart when she wants to be - she hasn't let them catch her again.
We're happy just to walk along the beach. Some boys are playing around on the tidal flats, finding shellfish or something. Neither of us likes seafood. Ma doesn't even like the smell of the sea, though Lou doesn't mind it. She’d a boyfriend who smelt like the sea once, because he used to go fishing all the time. Actually, that was her only real boyfriend and he was a tough one. Ma would’ve scared him off if he hadn't got himself into trouble already because of the weed. Ma’s a bit put off lunch by the smell, so we wander back towards one of the benches and sit down. Lou starts eating, makes a face. “Good to see your sandwiches ain’t changed,” says Ma, “go put some salt in it, that’ll make it taste better.”
A boy runs up to us with a big grin on his face and a kete in his hands. The others are straggling back to the shore. This one can’t be more than six or seven. “’Scuse me.” He drops the kete and we can see it’s full of mussels and something else. “Mattie says we got too much, and would you like some?”
We don’t know what to do for a moment. Ma’s eyes’re full of tears.
“Oh, darlin’. ‘Course we would. Would you like some cake?”
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