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by Mara Dougall

She'd always liked Scandinavian men.  She didn't seek them out, they just happened to be the most forthcoming, and she was glad.  She put the bag down on the kitchen counter – but perhaps that was unsanitary.  It was thick though.  There was a special lining inside it that kept everything warm, like the kind they delivered takeaways in.

Here was hers; her own little bit of Denmark.

She sat down at the breakfast bar and ran her hand over the counter.  That bar had definitely been a sound addition; its utility knew no bounds and was now even infringing on lunch and dinner times.  It was nice and close to the kettle, and less formal when you sat someone down for a serious talk.  You could catch them unawares, like her sister, who had been sitting on one of the high stools, clutching a cup of tea while she told her about the plan.  Her sister already had two kids and wasn't as easy to shock these days.  She blew small ripples across the surface of her earl grey, her lips barely moving.  

“Like her from The Archers?” she eventually said.

“Oh for fuck's sake.”

“Well you'll need to cut down on the effing and jeffing for a start.”

She'd cut down on lots of things – hadn't touched a drop for months now.  A special doctor had calculated her optimum weight.

“You could probably do with putting on a pound or two.”

“Really?” she said.

“Does that worry you?”

“No.”  She sat up straighter in her chair.  “Of course it's inevitable.  Maybe I've been overdoing the exercise a bit.  I wanted to be in peak condition.”

The doctor looked at her for a moment.  “And what about in general, would you say you have...a healthy body image?”

What the hell kind of test was this now?  After all the years of calorie counting and contraceptives, my god, she could almost laugh.  Deny, deny everything.   

The doctor was still looking at her.

“Sorry, yes, I suppose it is fairly healthy.  I look after myself.  I can look after myself.”

The two pounds was easy.  She'd been carrying it around for a while now.  Since March it must have been because she'd finished the kitchen in February and her first appointment was only a couple of weeks after that.  The kitchen still looked like new though with all its lab-like white surfaces and smooth cabinet work.  Swedish design of course; that particular model was called Kvarnsten.  Kvaaarn-sten.  Slightly laboured but she liked the way it felt in her mouth.

She liked how it all looked; and to think, when he'd first left she didn't even know if she would be able to keep up the mortgage.

Her parents would still worry though.  How on earth would she manage on her own?  She'd seriously considered just telling them after the fact.  Or lying even, saying it had just sort of happened.

“You can't do that,” her friend Jackie had said.

“Och, I suppose it is hell of a whorish sounding for a woman of my age.”

“No, it's not that, but well aye I suppose – but isn't it meant to be your decision?”

She was in control, she had the very specific instructions and equipment to prove it.  Gloves even, because god forbid she should accidentally touch herself.  She was almost disappointed they hadn't included a white coat and safety specs, though she'd have to go pretty far wrong for it to end up there.  

“I want everyone to know that it was through choice, but I doubt they'll understand.”  

“Well you're fucked either way then,” Jackie said, looking out of the window with a small smile.  “Or not, as the case may be.”

It was strange to think, amidst all the form-filling and cross-examination, of this man, whoever he was, pleasuring himself in a facility somewhere in Denmark.  It was almost distasteful; the rest of it was so unsexed.

But it was strange too how she felt having it in her handbag, the awareness of it on her that had made her give that man the eye on the underground.  Clutching it against her, and him averting his eyes when she crossed and uncrossed her legs, like he was supposed to.

They had been to Denmark – when they were still they.  They had sat by the water, drinking beer and watching the boats.  Her teasing him about how good looking the men were, though she knew the women were even better, and herself coming off worst of all.  Cold beer with herring that was slick and salty, not quite to his taste but she'd tried it anyway.

That hadn't been their only seaside holiday of course.  There was that week on Skye when they'd spent long hours in bed, or argued about the driving through the bad weather and the poor visibility.  Those little roads and huge hills, so many blind summits.  She'd made him do the horn until he'd said he couldn't handle it anymore and hadn't they better just go back.

“You'll thank me when we meet something careering over,” she said.

He just raised an eyebrow.  “Oh aye because it's nose to tail around here.”

“Well exactly, some beast or other. Did you see that sign?  I think we're nearly there.”

“What the hell is even at Tarskavaig anyway?”

“I don't really know but it sounds nice, don't you think?”

“Sounds like Vikings to me.”

“Oh,” she paused and looked at him.  She could see the grey in his hair, around the ears, as he leaned forward peering out at the driving rain.  “Yes.”  She wanted to touch it, to stroke the side of his head.  Squinting up and down to see past the windscreen wipers battling on.  “Yes, I suppose it does.”  Her voice was quieter, almost to herself.  “I can't believe I hadn't thought of that.”

And then they'd passed a sign for Tokavaig and Ord and he'd given her a knowing nod that had made her laugh.  And they'd been everywhere those Viking names, once you notice one – but isn't it always the way.

No herring on the menu there though.  What had become of the silver darlings?

She hadn't thought of him for a long time.  Today of all days.  The bag was still sitting in front of her.  She was pretty sure she should be doing it by now.  You could pay extra to have a doctor put it in for you, but she somehow preferred the idea of having her hands on all the ropes.

She lifted the container out and looked at it.  Fairly inconspicuous, like the tub of face cream she put on at night.  She unscrewed the lid.  Looked like it too, a pale gel that she smeared from the bridge of her nose in a line across the top of her cheekbone.  She dipped the tip of her index finger in.  It keeps you young – that's what they say anyway.

It was starting to cool, you weren't supposed to let that happen.  She was being irresponsible which wasn't really a good start.  Her eyes fell on the dining table.  When was the last time she'd even sat there?  Probably when Jackie and Dave had come over for dinner but that had surely been months ago.  The poor table, and it such a fine old thing.

She held the tub tighter.  Staring.  So all life was this.  And all this started with a groan somewhere.  Apparently you just couldn't do without it.  Disappointing really.  Her other hand was moving in, scooping some out and squeezing it into a fist until she could feel it seeping between her fingers.

The Danish landscape was very flat, not like here and certainly not like Skye.  You could see for miles and miles until your eyes didn't work anymore.  He had found that dull but of course it had appealed to her.  

She would make a mess of the counter.  It wasn't what she was supposed to do.  It didn't matter though.  Those were solid surface tops: man-made acrylic resin, available in a range of tones and finishes.  The non-porous surface makes it easy to clean and ideal for those with children.  

And it still had the coolness of stone, so that when she rested her forehead on it she felt the muscles in her face relax as the chill spread.  She hadn't even realised she'd been tensing them, but they eased off one by one – well once you notice one...

She'd always liked the smell of the sea.  Maybe she would go again.


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