The geese were a grey blur against the early evening sky. Without her glasses, Carrie couldn’t distinguish between them and the great water of the lake. They sat, a shapeless form on the surface. Their usual angry sounds seemed strangely calm tonight. The honking merged harmoniously with the twitter of the wildlife.
She lay against the grassy bank. The dampness of the morning hadn’t quite dried up, and she felt the moisture leak through onto her skin.
‘There’s a blanket in the car,’ her friend said. ‘Shall I get it?’
‘No,’ she replied. ‘I’m fine. It was warm at work.’
* * *
A metallic crash came from the back room. Tom stormed out, red faced.
‘Carrie!’ he bellowed.
‘Fuck,’ she muttered.
In the quiet of the back room, Tom’s scarlet face screamed. ‘Did you put the trays in properly? Because I sure as hell did. And I know it wasn’t Hannah.’
‘Really? Did you really?’ He came closer. ‘You know we have plenty of cameras out here. If you’re lying, I will know.’
‘I put them back.’
‘Properly? Did you put them back properly?’
Tom folded his arms and looked at her. ‘This is your last warning, Carrie. If it happens again, you’re out.’
She didn’t respond. Heard this shit before. Heard it in every form possible.
‘Shit, Tom’s not in a cheery mood, is he?’ Hannah laughed. She stood by the door, with a smile plastered on.
Carrie shrugged, plunging her hands back into the scalding water. The last pair of rubber gloves had holes in.
‘Got any plans for the weekend?’ Hannah said.
‘I’ve got a date, actually,’ Carrie replied over the gentle slosh of soapy water. Hannah gasped.
‘You lucky thing!’
She smiled. ‘I’m excited. Hopefully it’ll be good.’
‘So what’s he like?’
A cut in Carrie’s hand stung as the washing up liquid tickled in. She winced at the sharp pain.
‘Have you met before?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘They’re lovely.’
‘Oh, I’m so jealous,’ Hannah said with a sigh. ‘It’s been so long since I had a proper date. A date with a purpose. The amount of men I’ve slept with and never seen again is beginning to get embarrassing.’
The pain in Carrie’s hand wasn’t subsiding. ‘Hold on,’ she said, and escaped into the bathroom.
* * *
Big, grey geese. More were gathering now. They swept in from across the lake, their shadowy shapes bustling together. Cackles and squawks.
‘Fag?’ said the friend.
The bitter taste flooded Carrie’s mouth. Soothing relief. Throat burning.
‘Have you tried menthol?’
‘Yeah. Not the real thing, though.’
‘I don’t mind it.’
They puffed in silence. The edges of the water crept up as the moon rose.
* * *
‘How was the date?’ Hannah exclaimed, from her doorway post.
Carrie held her breath as she emptied the dustpan into the bin. ‘Amazing.’
‘Wow, really? What happened?’
‘We just had a really great time. Going out again tomorrow.’
Hannah put her hands to her cheeks. ‘Oh, you lucky bitch. What I would do to have a bit of male attention.’
Carrie smiled. The bell jangled as a customer came in.
‘Hello, welcome to Shanty’s!’ Hannah warbled. ‘How are you today?’
‘I’m very well thanks,’ the customer replied.
Their conversation continued. Carrie listened from behind the big grey oven as she loaded it with a new batch of pastries. Her skin crawled as she felt Tom creep up behind her.
‘Hello, faggot,’ he hissed.
She ignored him. There was a smudge of dirt on the oven’s shiny surface. She breathed out, polishing it with the corner of her sleeve.
The patch was shiny again. Maybe there were more smudges. Maybe I can find them if I search.
‘You like pussy, don’t you? Yeah, you do.’
‘Oh, is she butch? A fit little tom-boy, is she? Is that what you’re into? You’re in denial, you little whore. No man’s good enough for you. Is that it? You crazy feminist bitch.’
* * *
‘How’s work going?’ The smoke followed the words like a carriage.
‘You don’t seem thrilled.’
‘I work in a fucking coffee shop. It’s hardly adrenaline fuelled.’
The friend looked at Carrie softly. ‘Sorry.’
Carrie lifted her legs in a stretch. ‘Not your fault.’
‘University is going well, by the way. Thanks for asking.’
She shut her eyes. Nothing but blackness. ‘What is it you study again?’ she asked out of courtesy.
‘History of Art. It’s really interesting, once you get past the fact that it means essentially nothing.’
‘I wish I’d studied.’
‘Yeah.’ The dirty breath was invisible in the fading light. The smell rang through, strong and sour.
‘At least you’re not in several thousands of pounds’ debt.’
‘There is that.’
* * *
The frozen brickwork scratched Carrie’s cheek as Tom’s hot hands held her. His unrelenting fingers gripped her hair. It was a cold day. There was a mist in the air. Tom’s heavy, frantic breathing mingled with the November chill.
The bricks shed their dust.
‘You dirty, alien slut,’ he shuddered against her.
* * *
‘I think I’m going to lose my job,’ Carrie said.
‘How can you know that?’
Carrie’s eyes were closed. She stubbed the glow of the cigarette into the wet grass.
‘Because I slept with Tom.’
The slap echoed across the water, like a shot from a gun. There was flurry of wings as the sound startled the geese.
‘You did what?’
Carrie closed her eyes again. ‘I slept with Tom,’ she repeated. ‘You heard me. That hurt, by the way.’
Her friend stood up. ‘You know Tom is married?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’
Carrie gazed across the lake through her eyelashes.
‘He will probably tell his wife!’
‘Are you not sorry?’
The white ash fell onto the grass as Carrie stood up slowly. Then she took a step down the bank.
She didn’t look back.
‘Carrie, are you not sorry?’ the friend said again.
Carrie still did not speak. She lifted her pale hands to her hair, and released the elastic. It tumbled down her shoulders and obscured her eyes.
‘Seriously, Carrie? What were you thinking? Were you even thinking at all?’
The geese had settled down again. Their silhouettes made black outlines against the red of the evening sky.
Carrie reached into her pocket.
‘Carrie, you little home wrecker. You won’t get away with this. Did you think that you would? What was Tom thinking? Fuck, I swear he’s only been married for a few months. His poor wife -’
The click of a lighter cut her off.
‘Carrie, will you just put the fag away and answer me?’
Carrie peered through the dusk at the gaggle of geese. Were they cold, on this night?
‘Carrie, please. I can help you.’
The geese had gathered closer together.
‘Could you get my jacket from the car?’ Carrie asked, without turning around.
The friend sighed. ‘Sure.’
They departed. The soft grass squelched beneath the footsteps. Carrie listened as the car door opened.
She flicked the lighter. A bright flame shot into the darkness. It gave off little heat, but she felt it.
The car door slammed shut.
‘I’ve got it, Carrie -’
* * *
In the bathroom, Carrie cleaned herself. The throb of Tom still lingered, overriding the memories from last night and the hope for tomorrow. There was a knock at the door.
‘Carrie? Are you nearly done? I’m desperate,’ came Hannah’s lilt.
‘Two seconds,’ she called back in reply. The water in the toilet swirled, red and white.
* * *
The flames shot up in a wild strands of fury. An unfamiliar scream, the waves rushed over. Blackness, blackness, blackness.