The Launch

‘Just launch it…’
‘I will. I just…’
‘Come on Eillidh, you need to launch it. Just throw it in…’
‘I just need a minute Cara…just give me a moment…please…’

The two girls stand at the edge of the pier, their slender outlines gently imprinted on the calm, idyllic coastal scene. The first hint of the early evening’s shadows begin to invade the cool, crisp, and often, unexpected sunshine of the late Spring day. A frittering, uncertain sunshine. Like an infant taking its first steps, desperate to exude confidence, all the while only a heartbeat, a mis-step, a moment away from defeat. Gentle waves prod at the foot of the brickwork pier below them, respectful of the calm, quiescent air, careful not to intrude upon the measured silence. Across the river the Lothians stand proudly, illustriously, distant. The peaks of the far-off Pentland Hills creeping into the horizon. Another world, another life. To their right the Forth bridges cut through the landscape. Each bridge unique, oozing character. Each offering a varied route of travel, a mode of escape, from the introspective small town life, piercing a hole into the seemingly salubrious, high-rolling, problem-shedding city life.

‘You’re going to have to do it sooner or later Eillidh. The quicker you do it the faster you can walk away. Yeah?’

Cara glances briefly at the object, the focal point, the subject of the conversation, forcefully clutched in her friend’s hand. She follows this up with an unsteady, yet comforting, squeeze of Eillidh’s shoulder. The latter’s hand slowly rises to meet Cara’s, gently caressing it as her gaze remains fixed on some nondescript point on the opposite shoreline. A slight smile, more forlorn than joyful, edges across her lips.

‘Do you remember when we used to come here as kids? To the beach I mean.’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Any sunny day. Even some rainy ones. Hiding in the caves-but-not-really-caves further along the coast to keep dry.’
‘That’s right’ smiles Cara.
‘All the way through Primary School,’ Eillidh squeezes her friend’s had before withdrawing her own, letting it hang by her side. Cara taking this as a cue to let go.
‘I honestly can’t remember the last time I even built a sandcastle. Buried someone in the sand. Skimmed a stone, even. No matter how crap I was at it.’
‘Everything seemed…I don’t know…freer then. Easier.’
‘Look Eillidh…you’re still…’ begins Cara meekly before she’s cut off.
‘I had my first kiss there aswell, remember. That English boy, Will, up here visiting his Granny, or Auntie, or someone, I don’t know. Where was he from? Cornwall or something, wasn’t it. God, it was awful. He tasted like cheese and onion Pringles. He wasn’t even eating cheese and onion Pringles.’
‘Yeah, I remember’ replies Cara, now managing to force only the barest hint of a smile.

The light continues to gradually diminish around them, the evening entwining with the daylight, a dusky hue beginning to claim sovereignty over proceedings. Towards the opposite shoreline two birds, seagulls thinks Eillidh, one noticeably larger than the other, suddenly career into the air. The larger of the two confidently cutting through the encroaching shadows, the smaller visibly struggling, ascending and plunging with all the consistency and speed of an unrestrained roller coaster. The larger bird descends time and again, flapping alongside the smaller; in support, in encouragement, in kinship. Until, eventually, the smaller bird finds its stride, its confidence, and propels itself into the air. Gliding gracefully through the landscape, pirouetting over the lush red steel of the railway bridge. The larger bird proudly mirroring its every move, coasting close by as the younger of the two etches its own celebratory path into the coastal expanse.

‘And then the beach parties started’ she says.
‘Well…’
‘Didn’t they?’
‘Well, hardly parties’ answers Cara, ‘more like a group of underagers getting together and smoking and drinking anything we managed to steal from one of our parents’ drink cabinet. If that’s classed as a party then…’
‘Suddenly everything just felt different.’
‘Eillidh…’
‘Like happiness is suddenly something you have to work for, y’know.’
‘Eillidh, listen…’
‘Appearance. Expectations. Responsibilities. Exams. Careers. Plans. Books. Looks. Boys Girls. Everything. Like you’re no longer only making decisions to please yourself and make yourself happy any more. Every little thing you do or don’t do, every little thing you say or don’t say, somehow it suddenly becomes all about pleasing someone, anyone, everyone else. When did that start, tell me that.’
‘I don’t know Eillidh. Look, you did the right thing. You did. It’s not…’
‘And then you end up doing the wrong thing anyway. Making the wrong choice. It’s always about the wrong choices.’
Cara’s voice drops to a whisper. Unsure. Muted. She pulls nervously at her hair, curling it around her index finger, tangling it in the process.
‘Eillidh…’ she begins, ‘you had to do it. Ok? You didn’t have any choice. There wasn’t a right or wrong choice. There was just the only choice. You have to know that. To believe that. You had to get it done. You’re 15 years old, Eillidh. 15! It was the only choice you had.’

Eillidh looks down at the object in her hand. Staring at it. Fearing it. Hating it. She looks up again, indifferently staring across the glistening waves. The skyline above the bridges glows a fiery red, the dying embers, the final flourish of an otherwise fading daylight. She tightens her grasp of the object.

‘I could have waited though.’
‘Eillidh, why say that?’
‘In the first place I mean. I could have waited.’
‘Come on Eillidh, there’s no way you could have known this would happen. No way.’
‘Cara, I could have waited.’ she replies sternly, ‘like you just said, I’m only 15 years old. I didn’t have to do it. Didn’t have to say yes. To agree to it. To let him. Even though I knew…I knew it wasn’t what I wanted.’
‘You just…you only…’
‘You weren’t that stupid were you!’
‘It’s not about being stupid, Eillidh. Like I said, it’s not about being right or wrong. All you did was…’
‘Well, I don’t know. All I know is I could have….I mean, you weren’t…I don’t know. I don’t know.’

Cara looks up at her friend, still gazing blankly into that unspecified spot in the horizon. She gently slips her fingers through Eillidh’s, clasping hold of her quivering hand.

‘You did the right thing. I promise you. School. Your parents. Your own life. It’s still yours to live. You had to do it. You’ve not let anyone down…’
‘I know…’ whispers Eillidh in reply, her voice cracking ever so slightly as she does, ‘I know.’
‘It’s not an ending. It’s just something that’s happened. Something that could have been but isn’t.’
‘Yeah…’
‘So just launch it. Just throw it in, Eillidh. Please.’
‘I will, I just…ok.’
‘Besides, I’m starting to shiver. I told you summer dresses in spring was a shocking idea.’ she forces a trickle of laughter.
‘You did.’ smiles Eillidh, this time tightening her grip on her friend’s hand.

Her attention is drawn to the waves continuing to claw at the foot of the pier below. The gentle lapping of the water against the wall bringing with it an almost serene, hypnotic quality. A distant, echoing seagull screech breaks her repose, calling to her attention the near total darkness now surrounding the two of them.

She squeezes her friend’s hand tightly once again, emphatically even, and then lets go. And with a gentle flick of her wrist she sends the white object flying through the evening air. As Eillidh and Cara turn and walk away the very last fragment of the day’s sunlight briefly enshrines the object in a surreal glow. The white object’s small LED screen, once adorned with the word ‘Pregnant’, glistens under a momentary flash of light, a blinding reflective spark, before it continues its downward trajectory, tumbling towards the shadow-strewn, all-consuming waves.

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