The Winner Takes It All by Liz Breen

Tara regretted the shoes. She hadn’t worn heels since Mel’s wedding the previous summer and they were flung off as soon as dancing began in the evening. The grass wasn’t holding and the heels were sinking into the soil. It’s those eight extra bloody pounds. 

When Donna suggested a day at the races, Tara’s first thought was that she’d get to wear the fascinator she bought for last summer’s wedding again, get mileage out of it. A day dressed up sipping bubbly appealed, especially with the current state of affairs. 

The whole gang agreed to come, Julie, Meg, Caroline and Zoe. Rare were such occasions these days, getting everyone together. Life took over, problems took over, diaries never synchronised. Today was different, the stars aligned for all six friends to be standing watching horses do what they do best, run like the clappers and win some lucky people a shed load of dosh. 

Tara wasn’t lucky these days, however. Whatever the opposite of luck was, described her well. There was the pyramid of pain as she called it. Problems built on top of more problems. Life was getting her down but today she’d wear her fascinator and be fascinating, funny and flirtatious if needs be. 

Meg was four parts pissed already, insisting on the obese Prosecco magnum to share in the limo she hired to bring them all to the racecourse. 

- I’m going to make so many bad choices today, who’s going to join me? 

She swayed and shouted as the races began, her fiery side about to erupt any minute. Zoe was playing bodyguard, stopping Meg from getting herself into trouble. Meg insisted on going into the men’s toilet earlier to do a ‘tackle inspection’ and called a woman at the bar ‘a hairy hog’ for pushing in front of her. 

Caroline was quieter than normal, nobody was sure what was up with her until she casually announced that she was seeing a twenty-six year old barista who’d be waiting in bed for her when she returned home. 

- What the hell? 

- How long has that been going on?

- Can we meet him? 

- You sly foxy fox. 

Julie was jealous. Her face gave her away and then she spitefully recounted her cousin going ‘all cougar’ and making a fool of herself with a boy young enough to be her son. He dumped her spectacularly and she’s on antidepressants now and has moved back in with her ex-husband who didn’t notice she’d moved out. 

Donna made a meow sound and everyone laughed. 

- Oh Julie, be happy for Caroline. Just be bloody happy, full stop, you miserable cow. 

Julie said she was right and there’d be tears soon and not to come to her when it all went to shit. 

There was no love lost between Caroline and Julie. They tolerated each other for the sake of the other mutual friends but were best kept at opposite sides of a room. 

Donna and Tara stood next to each other as the races they’d bet on, started up. 

- So, Tara, what’s got into you? You’re a bag of nerves today and not yourself. - Oh Donna, you don’t want to know. 

- Actually, I do. What’s going on? 

- Jamie’s been unfaithful. I found another phone, a pay as you go one— - A burner phone? 

- A what? 

- They’re called burner phones as they’re untraceable. 

- He’s not a bloody hitman, Donna. 

- No, true. How do you know he’s cheated? 

- The phone is full of sexy messages and photos of this woman’s knockers. - The dirty dog. I’m so sorry, Tara. 

- That’s the least of it. Why does life get so shit? Just when you think, I can’t take anymore… 

- How’s your mum? 

- Fading.

Donna put her arm around Tara and they screamed and shouted as Beluga Billy came in fourth. Another tenner wasted, Donna complained. Tara took deep breaths and necked her Prosecco. 

- What are you going to do about Jamie? 

- I’m going to decide today. 

- Can I tell you something? Last summer at that BBQ at yours, Jamie slapped me on the arse in the kitchen. He called me a FILF. 

- FILF? 

- A friend I’d like to… 

- Everyone is telling me now that he was a letch, that he was handsy. I never saw it, I never knew. Maybe I did and just turned a blind eye. 

- I’m here for you. My divorce was horrendous, I won’t lie, but you go through a pain barrier, then there’s sunshine. I’m happy again. I’ve got Tom and all you lovely girls. Chin up. 

Tara looked at the other women, Meg was singing something loudly and holding Zoe’s hand. Zoe rolled her eyes at Tara. Caroline kept checking her watch, clearly eager to get home to her new beau. Julie was sipping her drink and laughing at Meg. These were the people who would see her through the tsunami of grief heading her way. 

It was a surreal moment. Time slowed down and Tara looked at the board then, the horses, then heard Donna shouting and asking Tara if that was the horse she went for. Pharaoh’s Delight came in first and Tara had to ask herself if she had placed a bet on this horse in the end after all the procrastination. 

- Pharaoh’s Delight was one of yours, wasn’t he? 

- Donna, can you hold my arm, I feel a bit wobbly on my legs. 

- Of course. You alright? You’ve gone ever so pale. 

- I put a bet on him, yes. 

- How much? They were great odds. See, things are looking up. 

- I went into the bank this morning and withdrew as much as they’d allow me to. He was going to buy her a diamond dusted necklace, he promised in a text. I put it all on. 

Tara started to scream and jump up and down. It was a win. Money can’t buy you happiness, she thought, but it can get you a deposit for a nice flat to start over.

Published in Issue #12

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