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Saba Sams wins BBC national short story award for ‘transportive’ tale | Books


Saba Sams has won the BBC national short story award for a tale described by the judges as having a “transportive atmosphere” and “masterful telling of complex family dynamics”. The 26-year-old has received the £15,000 prize, run by the BBC with Cambridge University, and the audio version of her winning story Blue 4eva is available to listen to on BBC Sounds.

Blue 4eva is taken from Sams’ debut collection, Send Nudes, and is about a newly blended family’s summer holiday. It was inspired by Sams’ memories of her own childhood holidays in Formentera, Spain, and focuses on 12-year-old Stella as she navigates the power play between her voyeuristic new stepfather, her 18-year-old stepsister Jasmine, and Jasmine’s best friend, Blue.

Chair of judges Elizabeth Day said she was engrossed by the story’s “transportive atmosphere, its masterful telling of complex family dynamics and the sense of building tension”.

Sams drafted the story when she was 19 while studying creative writing at the University of Manchester, returning to it when she came to write Send Nudes a few years later.

“I’m always thinking about what it looks like to be a young woman: about bodies and power, about friendships and family, about the ways we’re constantly looking to break free,” Sams said. “Blue 4eva engages with sexuality, too, particularly with queerness, in a subtle way that I found interesting to write.”

Madeleine Feeny in her Guardian review called Send Nudes an “exhilarating collection” which “captures the light and dark of negotiating relationships, solitude, sexuality and loss”.

Joining Day on the judging panel were Costa first novel award-winning novelist Ingrid Persaud; writer, poet and editor, Will Harris; Booker prize shortlisted novelist and professor of creative writing, Gerard Woodward; and returning judge Di Speirs, books editor at BBC Radio.

Speirs said the judges loved the “freshness and the spirit in the writing” and felt the story “brilliantly captures the nuances of blended family dynamics, the jealousies and stresses, the efforts and the rejections”.

The other shortlisted stories were And the Moon Descends on the Temple That Was by Kerry Andrew; Flat 19 by Jenn Ashworth; Long Way to Come for a Sip of Water by Anna Bailey; and Green Afternoon by Vanessa Onwuemezi. Each of the five shortlisted stories are available to listen to on BBC Sounds and have been published in an anthology.

Last year, the award was won by Lucy Caldwell for her story All the People Were Mean and Bad.

Also announced today was the winner of the BBC young writers’ award with Cambridge University, an award created to inspire and encourage the next generation of short story writers. The award was won by Elena Barham, 19, from Barnsley for a story set in the 1940s, Little Acorns.


Blue 4eva by Saba Sams

Stella’s lying on a sun lounger, and then her book is wet. She watches the dots darken the paper as they sink in. On the surface of the pool, tiny blue waves ricochet out, the sun skittering off them. Underneath is the dark silhouette of a girl. She swims the whole length without coming up for air. When she breaks the surface, she puts her arms on the tiled edge and rests her chin in the crook of her wrists. Stella looks back at her book.

Hey, you. I see you.

The girl is Blue, a friend of Jasmine’s from school. Her eyes are narrowed to the sun. Under her armpit, Stella notices a tangle of dark hair, slicked down like a clump pulled from the plughole.

You the baby, then?

Guess so.

Blue pushes off into the water again, floating on her back with her head lifted. Stella can’t think of anything good to say, and eventually Blue lets her ears slip under. The cicadas sing in the background like a phone vibrating.

Stella’s mother married Jasmine’s father in February. Stella was twelve, Jasmine was eighteen. For their honeymoon, Claire and Frank went to Costa Rica. Stella and Jasmine weren’t invited. When they returned home, Frank announced that he’d booked three weeks in a villa on the smallest island in the Balearics, to make up for it. Jasmine was over from her mother’s. Claire had baked a lemon drizzle.

Cake’s for children, said Jasmine. And I’m not coming.

They’ve been on holiday for five days. No one asked what it was that made Jasmine change her mind and join them. Stella suspects she’s only here to ensure that everyone has as difficult a time as possible. Jasmine knocks hard on the bathroom door whenever Stella’s in the shower. She steals Stella’s sun lounger the moment she gets in the pool. This is my spot, Jasmine says, waving to the strip of shade where the other lounger waits.

There are other things too, little things that Stella can’t prove. She woke up one morning itchy with bites, and discovered a tiny hole in her mosquito net that she was sure hadn’t been there when she’d fallen asleep. Another time, someone moved her book into the sun and left it for hours, so the glue in the spine melted and the pages started falling out.

Back in England, Stella’s bedroom used to be Jasmine’s. Everything in it is either white or beige. There’s a low bed, a rug made of woven straw, and a pale, angular desk beneath a desktop computer, the monitor the size of a plasma television. Stella had never had her own computer, before this.

I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Claire said, when she saw.

Frank only winked at Stella. She’s at secondary now. She might need it for homework.

It was the day they’d moved in. Frank had already ordered pizzas for dinner, and opened up the shed in the garden to reveal an expensive-looking bike, bright green with yellow lightning bolts across the handlebars. If this was what having a dad was, Stella could get used to it.

In fact, Stella’s school made a point not to set homework on the computer. When Stella found out about the holiday, it was the first time she used the desktop for anything other than video games. She looked up the island and sat for hours, hovering her mouse over the images. She didn’t go downstairs again all evening, and Jasmine left without saying goodbye. The water looked so clear Stella could see the shadows of the boats on the sand at the bottom of the sea. She thought that when she swam in it, she’d be able to watch the fish drifting beneath her, an aquarium without the glass.


Out here, Stella spends most of her time with Frank and Claire, while Jasmine stays alone in the villa. In the mornings, they set up on the beach and eat peaches in the shade of a parasol. Stella climbs onto Frank’s shoulders and dives off them into the sea. In the afternoons, they wander the dusty towns, stopping in cafes and stone churches to drink coffee or light candles, Frank’s camera swinging around his neck. Frank buys Stella little gifts wherever they go: a keyring with a lizard on it, a pair of canvas espadrilles. Sometimes, he puts his hand on Claire’s waist while they’re walking, and pulls her into him. Claire looks at Stella sideways, a little embarrassed.

‘In the afternoons, they wander the dusty towns, stopping in cafes and stone churches to drink coffee or light candles.’ Photograph: Patrick Frilet/Rex Features

In the evenings, back at the villa, the three of them sit on the veranda. Frank cuts slivers of manchego with a satisfying contraption while Claire mixes sangria in a big glass jug. Last night, for the first time, Jasmine came outside and poured herself a glass.

Ok kids, she said. Fun’s over. You can all stop pretending to be functional now.

Frank cut a slice of manchego and lay it down in front of her. Jasmine didn’t touch her cheese. After some minutes, she announced that she’d invited Blue out to join them. Frank threaded his fingers together on the table. The point of this trip, he said, was to spend time together as a four.

Right. And how is that working out for you?

Frank went quiet after that, and Blue wasn’t mentioned again all evening. By morning, Stella had forgotten all about her. By afternoon, here she was.

Blue lifts herself out of the pool and sits on the edge, leaning back on her long arms to feel the sun on her chest. She spreads her legs like a man, not seeming to worry that the flesh of her thighs looks bigger pressed against the tiles. Fuck me, it’s hot.

Stella loves it when people swear in front of her. Tell me about it, she says.

A sound comes from behind the dry stone wall that separates the villa from the farm land around it. The sound is like a tiny sneeze, or the extending of a plastic straw. Stella’s used to these sounds by now, but Blue whips her head over her shoulder to look.

No. Sorry, no. As you were.

Blue turns her head back to its previous position. Frank appears from behind the wall.

Damn, he says. Lost it.

Blue laughs. Am I going to feature in an upcoming exhibition, Franklin Royce? Franklin Royce is Frank’s public name. Stella’s never heard anyone call him that in real life before.

Frank comes over to Blue and kisses her on both cheeks. Only if you’re very lucky, and if you keep still when I ask you to.

You’ll be the lucky one. I’m far too hyperactive to model.

I’ve no interest in models, he says. He nods towards Stella. Have you met my latest muse?

I thought she was your stepdaughter.

She is. But she also happens to be a dream in front of the camera. Unfussy, almost child-like.

That’s because she is a child, says Blue. She turns to Stella. How do you feel about all this?

It isn’t a question Stella’s been asked before. Frank’s interest in taking photographs of her only developed this holiday. I don’t mind, she says. It’s fun.

There you go then. Your girl loves the limelight.

In school, Stella’s not one of the pretty girls. Her face is round and freckled, with a low, square forehead. She isn’t particularly tall or thin. The limelight is a place in which she’d never imagined finding herself. Claire, on the other hand, modelled when she was younger. Stella’s seen some of the editorials hung up in her grandparents’ bathroom.

A few months ago, Stella attended one of Frank’s shows. It was full of blurred, bare skinned women against a blue sky, and those translucent, dusty-looking bubbles that sunlight sometimes creates in a lens. His photographs were printed large enough to take up an entire wall on their own, and people seemed to be able to stand in front of them for hours, just staring. Stella knows her grandparents don’t have that much space in their house, or that much patience.

Frank lifts his camera and snaps it a few times at Stella. She isn’t sure if he’s seriously taking photographs, or if he’s performing for Blue.

Jasmine’s voice carries over from the veranda. Stella hadn’t realised she was there. Will you two stop treating this whole place as your fucking studio?

It was me who paid for this villa, says Frank, and I’ll treat it how I like.

Whatever. We’re heading into town, right Blue?

Blue pulls her legs out of the pool and stands up. Stella thinks that if she had a camera, she’d take a photograph of Blue right there, on the edge of the pool like that.

You wanna come?

Hell no, calls Jasmine.

It’s ok. I’m fine here.

Blue’s hair is made up of tight curls that skim the waistline of her bikini bottoms. When she turns to leave, beads of water spray out from the ends and catch the sun.

Neither Blue nor Jasmine have a license to drive the car that Frank’s rented, so they take the old mopeds that belong to the house. Stella hears the exhausts flare and then fizzle as they drive away. She swims for a while. Claire and Frank set up on the veranda and start eating tuna niçoise.

Come try this, calls Claire. Have you been drinking enough water?

The salad has green beans in it, and the water next to Stella’s plate has been poured into a pint glass. She takes a sip.

Drink it all, says Claire. Show me you can.

I’m not eight.

No, says Frank. You’re eighteen. Now down that pint. Down it.

Stella drinks the entire glass of water in one. She splutters as she finishes, trying not to laugh. By the time she gets around to her salad, Claire and Frank are done eating. Frank gets his camera out and holds it to his eye, twisting the lens very slowly so that it ticks like a clock.

Frank’s camera is newly fitted with something called a Dream Lens, a rare piece of kit that he bought specifically for the intense sunshine of the holiday. A month before, he’d sent the lens to Japan, along with his film camera – purchased for thousands of pounds at an auction the previous year – to be modified to fit.

Stella only knows such details because Frank has told her. Frank is obsessed with his photography equipment. The day before they caught their flight out here, Stella watched him line up his camera, lenses and film canisters in the rectangle of light coming in through his bedroom window before taking a photograph of them on his phone.

I’m shooting the tools I use to shoot, he’d said over his shoulder. How meta.

Stella finishes eating and gathers up the plates to take inside to wash. Something about having Frank around makes her a better daughter, and she can feel it happening. This seems to work the same for Claire too; since she married Frank, she remembers things like how much water Stella’s drunk that day.

Stella stacks Frank’s plate on top of the rest. He reaches out and puts his hand on her forearm. He’s leaning back in his chair with his linen shirt undone, his camera still unzipped from its case. His chest hair is silver, the skin on his bare stomach thick and red-brown.

Jasmine should lay off you, he says, now Blue’s here as distraction.

Stella thinks of Blue, standing on the edge of the pool in the midday sun. Maybe, she replies.


That evening, all five of them go out for dinner, to a restaurant on the beach.

Stella sits at the head of the table, Jasmine and Blue on either side. Jasmine’s wearing a baby-pink sun dress, and has picked out each of her eyelashes with a lot of mascara. Blue isn’t wearing any makeup, but her dress is made of gold sequins that throw rainbows across the drinking glasses. Her bare feet are dirty with red dust, and she has a few long, dark hairs growing out of her toes. On her wrists, she’s wearing thick silver jewellery that rings when she moves.

Stop looking at my friend, says Jasmine. It’s like, super weird.

Stella feels the inside of her mouth get dry. She pours herself a glass of water from the bottle and takes a sip.

Now, now, says Frank. Don’t be jealous.

As the waiter pours Blue’s wine, she leans back in her chair and starts speaking to him. Her Spanish is soft and low. The waiter gets his notebook out.

Hey small fry. You want what the grown-ups are having?

Stella nods. I eat everything. There’s nothing I don’t eat.

My kinda girl.

Seafood paella.
‘Blue teaches Stella how to rip the head from a prawn and suck the brains out of it.’ Photograph: Toni Sanchez Poy/Alamy

There’s a huge steel dish of paella with wedges of lemon, a pile of calamari, and a platter of tiny green peppers, scorched black and sprinkled with rocks of salt. Blue teaches Stella how to rip the head from a prawn and suck the brains out of it, and use the shell of one mussel as a pincer to pull the flesh from another. For pudding, there are entire lemons that have been scooped out and filled with ice cream, and a plate of purple figs.

You know, says Blue. Every fig you eat still contains the corpse of the wasp that pollinated it.

For real? says Stella.

Jasmine hasn’t spoken for almost the entire meal, just moved the rice from one side of her plate to the other. Now, she lifts her napkin to her mouth and spits a chewed fig into it. That’s fucking gross, she says.

Blue shakes her head. It’s nature, baby. That prawn you just ate spent most of its life nibbling a bunch of parasites off larger sea creatures to keep them clean. What d’you think of that?

Jasmine takes a long pull on her wine. Just stop talking.

Claire and Frank laugh. They like Blue, Stella can tell.

Are you planning to go to university in September? asks Claire.

Jasmine rolls her eyes, as she does every time Claire speaks. She’s hoping to go to Sussex, although there’s some doubt around whether she’ll get the grades.

My first choice is Glasgow, says Blue.

You and Jasmine’ll be living at opposite ends of the country, says Frank. How on earth will you cope?

Oh, I’ll have a whole new crew by then, says Blue. I won’t still be wasting my time with this one.

Everyone laughs at that, apart from Jasmine. Stella laughs so hard she nearly falls off her chair. When the laughter dies down, Jasmine’s looking right at her.

Oh yeah? Because you’ve got so many friends yourself.

Oi, says Blue. Lay off. I’m her friend.

Yeah, says Stella. She’s my friend.

Jasmine shakes her head. She’s just using you to wind me up. Blue and I have been best friends since we were practically babies.

That’s what she thinks, says Blue. I’m just in it for the free holidays.

Claire and Frank laugh more. Stella bites down on the insides of her cheeks.

Blue leans forward, catches Stella’s eye, and winks. Hey bestie, she says. You wanna split the last fig?


The next day, Stella wakes late. The sun filters through the wooden shutters. A mosquito, fat with her blood, swims lazily around the top of the net. There’s no air con in the house, so Stella spent the night thrashing about in the wet heat, re-angling the fan so that it was pointing at her face.

The door opens, and there’s Blue, dressed in a pair of fluorescent orange bikini bottoms and a white crop top, her dark nipples just visible underneath. One of her hands is full of cherries, the other full of stones.

Morning lazy bones. We’re going to the beach.

Me and you?

Yup, and Jazz.

Blue swings the door closed behind her. Woah. These are so cute.

She drops the cherry stones in a small pile on the dresser, and reaches down for a pair of trainers that are peeking out from under Stella’s bed. She holds them up to the soles of her feet, then tosses them back down again. Too small, she says.

Blue picks up other items of Stella’s clothing from the floor and holds them against herself. Can I borrow this?

Blue pulls the t-shirt over her head. It’s green, with little frills at the sleeves. On it is stitched a felt bumble bee and the words Bee Kind.

I only ever wear that as pyjamas.

Really? I love it.

The t-shirt is tight on Blue, but in a good way. It rides up to show a strip of stomach, her bellybutton as dark and perfect as the cherries she was eating.

By the time they leave the bedroom, Blue’s dressed head to toe in Stella’s clothes. She’s wearing sunglasses decorated at the edges with plastic daisies, and a pair of stretchy shorts so small for her they look like knickers.

Jasmine’s waiting on the sofa, swinging a set of moped keys in her fingers. What the fuck are you wearing? she says.

Blue gives a twirl. Stella knows that most grown women in that outfit would look crazy, but Blue manages to pull it off.

Come on, says Jasmine. We’re going.

Stella’s coming too.

Seriously?

Blue underlines the slogan on her t-shirt with her finger. Read it and weep, baby, she says.


The first time Stella met Jasmine, Frank had just left Jasmine’s mother for hers. It was winter, and they went out for breakfast in a new café that had opened near Stella’s school. Stella got a hot chocolate with marshmallows that melted and gave a sweet, chemical taste to the milk. Jasmine was wearing foundation so thick her skin looked prosthetic. She looked at her phone under the table the entire time. If Stella closed her eyes, it was almost like Jasmine wasn’t there at all.

Come on Jazzy, said Frank. Say something. Say anything.

Claire touched him lightly on the arm. It’s ok, don’t push it. She’ll talk when she’s ready.

The bill had to be paid at the counter. When they got up to leave, there were lots of people in the queue. Jasmine and Stella went and stood outside. The wind was cold, and Stella pulled her scarf up around her ears.

Your dad’s really nice, said Stella, through the material.

Jasmine was standing with her body facing the road, not looking at Stella. Well your mum’s a fucking homewrecking fucking whore.

She spoke at an even volume, as if she was saying something completely normal, still looking out over the road as the cars went by. Stella didn’t reply. The words stayed in her head like an echo, and she couldn’t think of anything else.

When Frank and Claire came outside, they all got in the same car. Jasmine was still living in the house Stella lives in now, and Frank was staying in the flat that Claire and Stella had lived in all Stella’s life. Frank gave Jasmine a lift home, and she made him drop her off a block from the house.

I don’t want you setting her off again, she said, before she climbed out.


Blue swings her leg over the moped, slots the key into the ignition, and slaps the empty part of the seat behind her. Hop on, she says. Let’s make this pussy roar.

Blue drives fast. The paths are bumpy and full of sharp turns. Her body feels solid and strong, like hugging a snake. The wind combs Stella’s hair. They drive through the pink salt flats, past fields of dry, ploughed earth, pulling over intermittently to let Jasmine catch up. Jasmine’s nervous on the moped, whirring along at the speed of the bicycles, looking over her shoulder constantly to check for approaching cars.

It isn’t long before they’re lost. The beach is small and deserted, with gritty sand. The sea is choppy, mauve jellyfish bobbing like single-use plastic. Blue and Jasmine take their bikini tops off and lean back on the puckered grey rocks to tan.

You’re in my light, Jasmine says to Stella, though she isn’t.

Once the girls become so hot and thirsty that they have to brave the sea, Jasmine devises a game in which Stella has to paddle around her and Blue in circles to make sure they don’t get stung.

Oh please, says Blue. That’s practically child labour.

I wasn’t planning on paying her.

It’s ok, says Stella. I don’t mind.

In fact, she doesn’t. There’s something heroic-sounding about the set up to her. She’d never been stung by a jellyfish, and doesn’t imagine it could hurt that bad. Although Stella sticks to the plan, it’s Jasmine that gets stung. Her scream is throaty.

You’ve got to piss on it, says Blue, back on the sand.

Jasmine is hopping on one foot. That’s disgusting, she says. Her eyes are wet with tears and a hot-pink rash has flared up on her ankle.

I swear, says Blue. It neutralises the sting.

Jasmine frowns, but she lifts her ankle. Fine. You do it.

Sorry, babe. I went when we were swimming. Small fry might have something to offer.

Stella sucks her bottom lip.

Go on then, says Jasmine.

Stella squats. It takes a while for the piss to come. She’s nervous with them both watching over her like that. Her aim isn’t particularly good, and she only manages to get a little bit on Jasmine’s sting. The rest splashes up around her ankles and across Jasmine’s shins. Jasmine squeezes her eyes shut and retches.

There, says Blue. Wasn’t that good bonding?


Back at the villa, Frank and Claire have left a note on the table saying they’ve gone into town for dinner, but there’s fish from the market in the fridge that the girls can barbeque.

Blue enrols Stella to help. She says she’s seen a bunch of samphire down by the lagoon. Stella doesn’t know what that was, but she follows. They walk barefoot in silence. Geckos scuttle in the dry-stone walls, and the yellow grass creaks. Blue teaches Stella how to pick the more tender stalks of samphire by snapping them to check the thickness of their stems. They collect them in a sandcastle bucket that Blue found in the garage. When they have enough, they leave the bucket on a low wall and go swimming. The lagoon’s warm, and only as deep as Stella’s waist. The sun sinks into it as they swim, leaving the sky and the water the same orange-pink.

Minorca, Balearic Islands.
‘The beach is small and deserted, with gritty sand. The sea is choppy, mauve jellyfish bobbing like single-use plastic.’ Photograph: agefotostock/Alamy

Back in the shallows, they stand to walk out. The bottom is smooth, slimy clay, and Stella feels her feet sink into it with every step. The swim has shifted Blue’s swimming costume, revealing the lighter shade of skin beneath. Water gathers over her body in droplets and runs down her legs. On the thin slip of sand at the shore of the lagoon, Blue carves the words Stella & Blue 4eva with a stick.

In the kitchen, they boil the samphire and chop it fine with other ingredients, like capers and red onion, to make a relish. There’s a barbeque on the veranda, and Blue lines fillets of white fish over the coals. The flood lights are on in the pool, and the water looks like a huge turquoise crystal.

Jasmine comes out and sits on the veranda, swatting at her ankles to get rid of the mosquitos. She’s wearing a beach kaftan made of sheer cotton, and the outline of her bikini can be seen underneath. Her body has wide, soft curves like a Kardashian, whereas Blue is gangly and narrow, with the bones sticking up out in her shoulders. Blue serves the fish, and Stella spoons the relish. Blue and Jasmine drink wine.

Blue talks for a long time about one of the boys she’s dating back home, and Stella can’t understand half of what she’s saying. He’s a total stoner, but he goes down on me whenever I want.

After the fish is gone, Stella takes a scoop more relish and eats it plain off the spoon.

What d’you reckon, small fry?

Most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. Zingy!

Glad you like.

Stella almost takes another spoonful, but changes her mind. Let’s save the rest for mum and Frank. I want them to try it.

Jasmine sniffs. They’ll be full up on posh shit.

Like what?

Lobster, probably.

A vibe, says Blue. Maybe I should start fucking your dad.

Gross, says Jasmine. Please don’t.

Blue licks the length of her knife. I’d fuck anyone for a lobster.


The following day, Frank drives all five of them out to the edge of the island, where the caves have created little swimming pools from the sea. The rocks are sand-coloured and craterous from the spray. Blue and Jasmine swim off to explore the caves, while Frank gets his camera out and waits on the rocks above for the sun to move a fraction. Stella stays below, trying to forget the camera is on her, and watches Claire, who’s lying out towels in a sheltered section of the cave for everyone to sit on. She’s bought a cool box filled with water bottles and beers, as well as a few bags of salted almonds. The freckles have come out on her face, some of them joining together into age spots. She’s wearing a black swimming costume with a green sarong tied around her waist, and the soft skin on the underside of her arms has concertinaed into lots of tiny wrinkles.

The rock edge of the pool is covered in sea urchins, and Frank swims next to Claire as she climbs in, his face close to the water, pointing out the safest spots to step. The sea is teal, and Stella can see a bike wedged in the sand at the bottom.

What did you guys eat last night? asks Stella, once they’re out.

Frank is wearing expensive sunglasses, and the lenses blink in the sun. Lots of things, he says. Tapas.

But what? Specifically. Tell me every single thing.

Claire laughs.

Alright, says Frank. Um. We had some big fat prawns, Spanish omelette, patatas bravas.

Those marinated anchovies that I like. We had lots of those.

There was bread and aioli, and some olives.

We had an aubergine thing as well. And some delicious little croquettes. So no lobster?

Lobster? says Claire. Not that I can think of. Why d’you ask?

No reason, says Stella. Just wondering.

Jasmine and Blue get back a little after that. Jasmine sits down with a beer while Blue climbs up over the rocks. Stella’s noticed that Blue is always moving. Even when she sunbathes, she jitters one of her ankles, or ties little plaits into her hair.

Look, shouts Blue. This is the perfect place to jump.

Stella isn’t so sure. It’s high where Blue is standing, and the rock curves outward, so that if Blue didn’t push herself off far enough, she could scrape her body on the way down.

Jazz, get your ass up here. You too, small fry.

Main view of ‘Es calo d’es mort’ beach, Formentera.
‘In the mornings, they set up on the beach and eat peaches in the shade of a parasol.’ Photograph: Nachosuch/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Even getting over to the platform is a little scary, and both Stella and Jasmine have to use their hands to support themselves as they climb. There’s just enough space for all three girls to stand side by side on the ledge. The rock bulges beneath them, the sea so far off it looks solid. A cloud passes over the sun, and the water flashes black. It occurs to Stella that Jasmine might push her off, and she shifts slightly towards Blue.

Below, Claire and Frank stand to watch. Be careful, Claire calls.

On three, says Blue. Ok? Three. Two. One.

It’s only Blue that jumps. Jasmine and Stella stay standing. Blue’s body is in the air for whole minutes before the sea swallows her whole. Stella watches the white foam spit on the surface and waits.

Fuck, says Jasmine.

Blue comes up whooping. Come on, pussies, she shouts.

Jasmine has her arms folded across her chest. I’m not doing it.

She starts to make her way back down the rock. Stella stands on the platform, contemplating. Underneath her, Blue treads water and waves. The sea sloshes lightly against the rocks. Stella thinks about how if she died when she jumped, it would be all Blue’s fault, and their names would be tied together forever.

Stella jumps. The bulge of the rock passes so close to her body she can hear it, like a bus driving too fast down the street. Someone screams, probably her mother. The air feels hard, and the surface of the water even harder. When Stella comes up, she’s shaken, certain that her organs have swapped places inside her body. Blue swims to her.

You good?

Stella’s panting so loud she can barely hear. She grins. Yeah, she says, between pants.

That was great. That was so, so great.

Blue puts her thumb in the air so that the others can see. Claire’s had her hands over her face, and she takes them down.

Again? says Stella, though she doesn’t want to.

You’ve got balls, small fry. I’m impressed.


In the car on the way back to the villa, the seats are so hot they burn. Stella puts her head on Blue’s shoulder and closes her eyes.

What shall we eat tonight? says Frank. I can drive via the shop.

It’s Blue’s last night, says Jasmine. We were planning to go out.

Stella lifts her face to Blue’s. No. That went way too fast.

Light comes through the sun roof and shows a faint, dark moustache on Blue’s upper lip. Only a few weeks ago, Stella noticed her own in the zoom-in mirror that Frank has in the bathroom, and used his razor to shave it off.

Come with us, says Blue. You’re invited. Isn’t she, Jasmine?

Jasmine doesn’t respond, and Frank coughs to fill the silence.

See, says Blue. I told you she’d be cool with it.

Frank laughs then, and so does Claire. Stella wonders if Blue was born exceptional, or if it’s the kind of thing that happens gradually.

At the villa, Stella sits on the veranda with the adults while Jasmine and Blue shower and get ready to go out. It’s almost like before Blue arrived: Claire leafing through a book, Frank loading a new film into his camera. He puts the previous canister carefully into his bag, and lets out a long, low whistle.

There’s some great shots on that sucker, he says.

Quickly, Stella prays that the best photographs are of her.

Stell, says Claire. You’ll be careful tonight, won’t you? Those girls are adults. You don’t have to do the things they do.

I know, mum.

A shout comes from inside the house. Hey, small fry. Come try this. I think it’ll suit you.

The dress is made of velour in a muted gold colour. Stella puts it on in her bedroom, and Blue tightens the spaghetti straps by tying them in knots on Stella’s shoulders. On Blue, the dress would have been shin-length, but on Stella it trails the floor, and she has to lift it every time she takes a step.

Guapa.

What’s that?

It means gorgeous.

Stella looks in the mirror.

Go ahead, says Blue. Play dumb. Act like you don’t know.

I didn’t know! I’d never heard that word before.

I mean you’re acting like you don’t know you’re gorgeous.


Frank drives the girls into town, pulling into a bus stop to drop them off. He passes Stella a roll of notes through the window, to pay for dinner.

What about me? says Jasmine.

I was getting to you.

The cobbled streets are strung with fairy lights, and the tiny church is flood-lit. Lots of men run their eyes over Blue as she walks. Stella follows directly behind and pretends it’s her that the men are looking at. When they come to the restaurant, Jasmine picks a table that’s set up on the street outside. The moon is big and yellow in the gap between the buildings, and Blue orders red wine that comes in a carafe with short, stubby glasses.

Have a sip, says Blue.

Stella shakes her head and shivers. I’ve tried wine before. It’s horrible.

It’s not how it tastes, small fry. It’s how it makes you feel.

Blue pours her a glass, and Jasmine picks it up and drinks. Hey, says Stella. That was for me.

When Jasmine puts the glass back on the table, it’s empty. You’re twelve years old. Remember?

How could I forget.

Jasmine laughs, for the first time Stella’s ever heard. It feels nice.

Blue orders an entire fish that comes on an oval platter, swimming in its own juices. She pops the eyeball out with her fork and places it carefully in the middle of Stella’s empty plate. That’s your dinner. If you’re good, you can have the other one after.

I know you’re joking.

I’m deadly serious.

Stella picks the eyeball off her plate. In her fingers, it feels like the balls of polystyrene that had protected Frank’s new lens when it arrived in the post. Stella tosses the eyeball into her mouth and swallows.

No one speaks for a moment. Stella worries she’s done the wrong thing. Then Blue slips low into her chair, throws her head back and laughs and laughs. I fucking love this kid, she says.

Stella feels her body float upwards, a little off the seat. Jasmine cuts a fillet away from the fish and places it on Stella’s plate. Here, she says. To get the taste out. I’ll get you some water as well.

The girls begin to eat. Blue and Jasmine talk about learning to drive, which Jasmine is doing and Blue is avoiding.

Dad took me out to practice once, says Jasmine. I guess he thought it was a good opportunity for bonding.

A good opportunity for mansplaining, says Blue.

Literally. The only person he was bonding with was himself.

Like that’s necessary.

Jasmine nods. He’s a shit driver, too.

Fuck driving anyway, says Blue. I’d rather get driven.

That’s probably best for everyone, pipes up Stella, thinking of her ride on the moped.

Jasmine laughs at that, too.

They’re midway through the meal when Blue waves at someone. Stella looks over her shoulder to see a man a few tables away. Jasmine looks too.

This guy’s been eyeing me for ages, says Blue, not breaking her smile.

The man has hair that looks matted on purpose, and there’s a guitar propped against his chair. He’s fit, says Jasmine.

He’s alright, says Blue.

Yeah, says Stella. Nothing special.

What do you know about it, small fry? says Blue. She calls the man over. You fancy buying us a drink? she says, when he arrives.

How old is she? says the man. His accent is maybe French or Italian.

That’s Stella. She’s nineteen.

And your name?

Blue.

Ok. Now I’m sure you’re lying.

Blue reaches over and pulls the empty chair back from their table. We drink vodka, she says. Vodka and orange.

What are you doing? asks Jasmine, once the man is inside the restaurant, standing at the bar.

What does it look like? You said you fancied him.

I said he was fit. It’s different.

Is it?

The man comes back with a round tray. He puts the drinks down on the table. Jasmine moves Stella’s glass next to hers. This time, Stella doesn’t protest. The man sits down. He tells them his name is Nico.

We have a question for you, Nico, says Blue.

Go on.

D’you think there’s a difference between fancying someone and thinking they’re fit?

Under her makeup, Jasmine goes pink. Nico doesn’t notice; he’s looking at Blue. My English might not be good enough for this question, he says.

Just answer. We’re having a debate.

Nico picks up his guitar and starts plucking at the strings. What’s fit?

It means hot, says Blue. Sexy, attractive. It’s what Jasmine thinks of you.

Jasmine blushes even more then. She has her eyes on her empty plate, and she looks to Stella like she might start to cry. Nico is smiling a little, amused.

So, what’s your answer?

I’d say they’re the same.

Blue grins. That means you’re with me.

Nico looks at Blue, and she looks back. The evening is balmy, and their faces are shimmering. Stella thinks that the sounds coming from the guitar are sort of tinny, perhaps out of tune. That look lasts a long time.

The screech of Jasmine’s chair against the paving makes Stella jump. She has to run to catch her.

Are you ok?

I’m fine. Leave me alone.

That was kinda unfair.

What was?

You know.

Jasmine stops. They’re at the bottom of the street by now. The fairy lights have run out and things are a shade darker. Jasmine’s face is mostly covered by her hair, but Stella can see that her mascara is running.

I’m used to it, she says. I’m never the first choice.

Blue arrives then. She’s jogged down, and her breathing’s loud. I’ve always wanted to do a runner, she says.

Jasmine wipes the mascara from under her eyes with her index finger. Fuck’s sake, she says, turning to make her way back to the restaurant.

At their table, Nico has gone. Perhaps Blue sent him away, or perhaps he was simply afraid of being lumbered with their bill. Stella hopes it is the former. She pulls Frank’s money from inside her trainer, and leaves the lot in the middle of the table. Neither Blue nor Jasmine make signs of contributing.

The taxi ride home is taken in silence. Stella rolls the window down, sticks her head out, and watches white stars run through the sky like streamers.


At the villa, Frank and Claire are in bed already, and the girls sit out on the veranda. There’s a box of cigarettes on the table, so Jasmine and Blue help themselves to a couple. After Jasmine lights the cigarettes, she uses the matches to light the candles on the table. The girls’ faces flicker.

Isn’t it past your bedtime? says Jasmine.

Blue takes a drag of her cigarette. Can you put your insecurity on hold for like, five minutes?

Fuck off, Blue.

We all know it’s not small fry you’re pissed off with, or me.

Jasmine doesn’t reply to that. Stella can see the milky way behind her head.

It’s not even Claire, says Blue. It’s your arsehole of a dad.

Jasmine keeps refusing to meet Blue’s eye. The ash falls from the end of her cigarette onto the table and scatters.

He spent ten years of his marriage sleeping with Claire, says Blue. He clean broke your mum’s heart. She can’t get out of bed for weeks at a time, and he’s out here with his new wife and his flash camera. He’s an arsehole, Jazz. He’s a fucking arsehole. Say it with me.

He’s an arsehole. He’s a fucking arsehole.

Jasmine stands up and goes into the house. Stella cranes her neck, but the lights are off all through the villa. When Jasmine comes back, Frank’s camera bag is slung over her shoulder. No, says Stella.

Jasmine takes the steps down from the veranda. Stella stands up and follows. Blue falls into step behind her. The cool air opens around them, and Stella’s eyes adjust as she walks.

Throw it, says Blue. Let it go.

Blue’s enjoying this, Stella can tell. There’s something like laughter in her voice. That camera’s worth thousands, says Stella. Think of the films. They’ll be ruined.

The splash is big enough to set the sensors off. The pool lights up to show Frank’s bag sinking to the bottom. It quivers gently as it hits the tiles, its strap settling around it like a rosary.

Fuck, says Jasmine.

Blue laughs. I didn’t think you were actually gonna do it.

I’ll get it, says Stella. I’ll get it now. It might be ok.

Nah. Blue lies her hand on Stella’s shoulder. It’s over. That camera’s fucked.

No one says anything for a while. Stella can feel her pulse in the ends of her fingers, all up her neck. A bat sweeps down from the sky, drinks a sip of water from the pool, and flies off into the dark.

Alright, says Blue. Let’s get you kids to bed. That’s enough excitement for one night.

Stella barely sleeps at all. It’s just past nine when she hears Frank’s voice, slightly raised, through the shutters. What the, he says.

In a short space of time, everyone’s out on the veranda. Stella supposed that staying in her room would look guilty, and it seems that Blue and Jasmine thought that too. By this point, Frank is already in the pool.

What is it? calls Claire. She looks at Stella, and Stella looks away.

In the pool, Frank splutters as he surfaces. Blue chews on her nails.

My god, says Claire. Is that your camera?

Frank swims with his bag held above the surface. In her mind, Stella sees the water seeping into all the round outlines of the buttons, the ridges where the Dream Lens has been carved to fit, the film canisters sloshing aqua.

Frank climbs out of the pool and walks back to the veranda. Drops fly off him, and the wet camera slaps at his chest. He passes by Stella, Claire and Blue, until he’s standing in front of Jasmine. His face is a strange colour, like something cooked. He leans very close to Jasmine, and she squints back at him. She stands a foot shorter than him, her head angled upwards. It’s like that for what feels like hours: nose-to-nose, both shaking, silent but for Frank’s ragged breaths. A single tear runs down Jasmine’s cheek. The sound of the camera dripping slows to a rhythm.

It was me, says Stella. She has the same feeling she had when she ate the fish eye. It was me, she says again.

Jasmine and Blue look at Stella. Jasmine is crying more now. Frank lowers himself slowly into a chair. The thick skin on his belly makes narrow rolls, and he hangs his head low over them.

What? says Claire.

Stella turns and runs through the house. In her bedroom, Blue’s velour dress is a loop on the floor. On the dresser, the cherry stones have lost their shine. Stella crawls into bed, pulls her knees up beneath her chin, and waits.


Some hours later, Stella wakes to Blue shaking her gently. Small fry. Hey, I’m outta here.

In the airless garage, Stella climbs into the car. She didn’t see Frank on the way through the house, but Claire is sat in the driver’s seat, next to Jasmine. Blue’s in the back with Stella, her suitcase jammed into the footwell, her legs folded on either side. No one says a word as they drive. The day’s so hot the tarmac on the roads is melting. The whole car smells like Blue: coconut oil and Hawaiian Tropic. Stella watches Claire in the wingmirror. It’s clear from her eyes that she’s been crying.

The drive to the port takes fifteen minutes. When they arrive, Claire waits with the car while Stella and Jasmine walk Blue to the ferry. The boat is huge and white, chugging black smoke into the cobalt sky. The girls stand on the concrete jetty to say their goodbyes, their shadows long and thin in the afternoon sun.

You’re pretty badass, small fry, you know that?

Stella shoves her hands deep into the pockets of her shorts. Thanks.

Behind Blue, the edges of the jetty ripple in the heat. There’s a slope set up for boarding, and a man checking tickets. He waves Blue over. The boat’s scheduled to leave any minute. It’ll take Blue to the mainland, where she’ll catch her flight back to London.

Well, says Blue. It’s been real.

She pulls Jasmine and Stella into a hug, and they stand like that for a while, sticky against each other. Stella can feel her heartbeat pressed up to Blue’s body.

Jasmine and Stella stay a little too far apart after Blue walks away, leaving space for her to change her mind. Instead, the ramp lifts and the boat starts to pull out of the port. After a minute or so, Blue appears on the flat roof of the ferry and stands with her hands on the railings, a black silhouette against the wide sky. Stella waves and waves as Blue gets smaller. When the ferry is unintelligible from the other boats in the distance, Stella and Jasmine turn back to the car park.

Hey. Thanks, by the way.

Stella slows, uses her hand to shield her face, looks at Jasmine, and nods. Through the car windscreen, Stella can see her mother fanning herself with a map of the island. Shotgun, says Stella.

Jasmine doesn’t fight her, only gets into the back seat without a word. Stella stands for a moment in the heat, looking out at the horizon, before cracking open the passenger door and climbing in herself.



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