"Stick?" Astarte puzzled, reaching for a cake. "Where did you get that from?"

Mouth too full. She lightly touched the crease at the edge of her lips.

"From watching a rescue. The stick saved a life."

She slid a finger through her closed lips.

"The lake was full to the brim." Astarte watched his hands give the level, waiting for them to stretch out to her.

"The fall had taken her out of arm's reach from the bank." He poked with an imaginary stick & she took his hand.

                                     *                                     *                                   *

Still with her shoes on. Legs crossed at the ankles. Astarte sat up on the edge of the bed, made-up to look like an adolescent doll, a touch of lipstick, hardly any, on a docile smile, slyly licking the fingers of a sticky hand. Her lank hair, unusually undyed, had patchy wisps of brown in the black froth springing from under a little embroidered hat that she never wore again. Astarte sighed. Then gripping the mattress in a way as if she feared it would engulf her, to prevent being offered up, she whispered, with eyes like a dog tied to a post, that she didn't know why she had come. Astarte couldn't explain it. She had felt a tug to try again to see. And also implied that the tumult of words I pelted her with, trying to persuade her to change, were like hot water flushing out different colours into the wash, shifting them to bleed, merging them to leave just one cold hue. She hunched her shoulders, taking the weight of an invisible icy hand & shook her head. All the chances had gone.

That way I remembered the snow flying off her hair long ago.

"I can't go back." Astarte blew into her hands as if caught in a tempest & the gust had sucked out all her breath. "It would be like deliberately stepping back into a nightmare. Who would do that?" She sucked her fingertips, unaware.

We keep doing it. We're always going back & are never satisfied by what we find. I'll bet.

By what finds us. We try to keep it. To hang on. Too late usually.

Break the stick in two. I read. And wish.

And the same gale blew her clothes off. I’ll bet.

We decided to take our time before we made love & so she led the way.

It wasn't difficult, I bet, to get her to throw a few poses for a set of photographs.

We knew you would guess. We talked about it.

Astarte grinned eagerly into the lens, her lips that she'd now pasted with lipstick wide, but only her legs riding the stick & the wonderful sleek black gloss of hair at their joint with a flash of red came out in colour.

With those large dewy eyes tracing such a need each time they met yours, I bet. It was strange you should try & hold back. She was a tart. And you'd got that gaping mouth ready for anything. What was the catch? If only I had been there to take the photographs. I would have caught you both just as you were.

I'll bet.

Her eyes popping out of their sockets with the exertion of acting as if she was completely without an emotional memory. And you with that strained blank look . . . I remember it so well. Why?

Because I so wanted to catch that dried blood look of her tan. And it was a loss that the rest of the images taken in the heat & flush were bleached of any colours & only the outline of her body printed.

She was like a bag of flour.

That’s unkind. You liked her once.

Flush! You should have shifted the focus away from where she was astride the stick. Got your nose out of it & used your head. No. I'm sure that came next.

After, Astarte stretched out on the bed rolling her face into the pillow, arms by her side, both wrists lying loosely in the small of her back.

That was your chance. You could have slipped away while she slept.