'Melt' by Nicola Belte
"There we go mi babby, yam looking pretty," I say as I run a red lipstick around her lips and strap her in. She looks surprised, but she always looks like that.
I reverse out of the driveway, holding her hand as the neighbourhood kids jeer and rap on the glass and make crude comments that no lady should have to hear.
"Ignore them, sweetheart," I tell her, turning up the radio to drown them out, propping back my ex-wife's sunhat that's fallen forward over her beautiful face.
My wife was nothing like my Babs. Mean, bitter; always measuring me up against the other husbands, nothing that I did ever good enough. She'd hate Babs, think that she was stuck-up with her pert breasts and her red curly hair; think her weak, just because she cares.
"We'll watch the sunset from the pier," I say, leaning back to check that the thermos isn't leaking, that the sandwiches in our picnic basket aren't being crushed. Her head bobs, and I can tell that she's excited.
I hire two deckchairs, ignoring the vendor who's trying to take sneaky pictures of us with his mobile phone. I may be old, but I'm not stupid. And I don't blame him. In her large sunglasses Babs looks like Onassis, or Hepburn, like a star. I put my arm around her. For the first time, I have somebody who's mine.
We sit by the sea, and I weigh her down with books, so that she doesn't blow away. I rub sun cream into her shoulders, and tell her about when I was in the Navy, when I'd lived in Malta, and Spain. She doesn't interrupt, she never does. She's a good listener, my Babs; her silence like freshly made tarmac around the tread of my tales, making them real, making me remember when I wasn't afraid to leave my mark, when I didn't erase myself with apologies and excuses.
I buy ice-creams, with flakes and strawberry sauce, and tenderly scoop out the pools that have collected inside her open mouth. She'd melt for me, my Babs; not like those other women, with their cold hearts like coals that would never kindle, no matter how much you gave; no matter how kind you were.
"We're lucky, you and me," I tell her, seeing the proof in the parents' angry faces as they pull their kids away, in the laughter of the teenagers who've gathered around us; their insults fired from the turrets of sandcastles that the tide will take, of no consequence.
"Happiness can do that, Babs," I tell her, as I wipe their spit and kicked sand from her perfect cheeks, "can make unhappy people nasty."
Mud, blood, sweat, regret; with her, it all comes off. But not love, never love.
"Let's go then, babby," I tell her, and loop her loving arms around my neck as we follow the lights of the pier, back to the car, and home.