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by Steven John

I take my “Beatles” notebook and black felt-tip pen to the fruit machine arcade by the harbour. I stand behind a girl with blond, corkscrew hair, streaked with toffee brown. As she feeds in her pennies and pulls the lever, I note down all the fruit combinations looking for repeat patterns.

She turns to me. “I’m out of money, creep,” she says. “You want a go?”

“This one will win,” I say, and give her one of my coins.

Three cherries. A hundred penny coins pulse from the machine. She shrieks and laughs. She unties the knot in her shirt-front and, holding up the hems, fills the cotton pouch. Her loose shirt shows the freckles between her suntanned boobs. I give her another penny and the same thing happens. Then I tell her we’ll lose ten pennies, then we’ll win again.

“Are you a fucking freak?” she says and tries to take my notebook. I hide it behind my back. Her up-close skin smells of vanilla ice-cream and seaweed.

“The winning streak is over now,” I say, so she takes all the coppers to the booth and changes them for a fiver note.

“Let’s walk to the beach,” she says, “buy some chips on the way.”

She says her name is Pamela. Like me, she’s here on holiday with her mum and dad. She comes from Liverpool and talks like The Beatles, dead smooth. She says I look like Ringo Starr, which isn’t smooth. I want to look like John Lennon.

We sit together on some rocks, watch the families on their tartan rugs with cheese rolls and strawberries, kids with their buckets and spades.

Rain begins to plink onto plastic plates, dimpling the sandcastles. People huddle under sun umbrellas, the sea empties except for those who say they’re wet anyway. We walk to the shelter of the caves.

Pamela takes my hand as we step deeper in, to where it’s cool and dark. We kiss until our lips are raw, coiling each other’s salt and vinegar tongues. My hand shakes as it crabs its way up her skirt and down her bikini briefs, feeling the velvet between her legs. The rising tide reaches its hands of water into the cave and I’m out of my depth.

Steven John’s writing has appeared in Riggwelter, Spelk, Fictive Dream, Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Ghost Parachute and Best Microfiction 2019. He’s won Bath Ad Hoc Fiction a record six times and has been nominated for BIFFY 2019. He lives in the Cotswolds, England. Steven is Fiction & Special Features Editor at New Flash Fiction Review.