The shame was the worst of it. The tangible odour of disgrace. As if the searing, spiky, red-hot rod of embarrassment lancing through my chest wasn’t enough.
It’s downright scandalous. The whole world saw, I just know. They all saw me in my moment of weakness, bare, uncovered, like a primitive. No doubt they’re talking about it now; I can feel their little barbed words piercing the air around me.
“How could anyone be so careless?” they’ll say. “Clearly an attention-whore,” they’d conclude. “Absolutely disgusting.”
They’d be right. It was disgusting. Lewd. The lowest point of depravity. And what’s worse, it happened at the seaside. Where children could see it.
I could have prevented it. If only I hadn’t left the top buttons of my shirt undone, if only the air hadn’t been so humid, if only it hadn’t been such perfect holiday sunshine weather – this whole ghastly affair could have been avoided!
But no. All it takes is for the fabric to catch on one unfortunately placed nail, to tear, to rip, to reveal to the entire beach of innocent holiday-makers the monstrosity that lies beneath.
Exposed, defiant, and without justification. Resplendent in its pink aereolic glory. Alas, the light dusting of sand did nothing to hide my shame.
I covered it as quick as I could, of course. We all would. My hand slapped straight to my chest. I swear I felt the blood drain from my cheeks in pure horror, while simultaneously rushing to them in abject humiliation.
The damage was done. No one would ever look at me the same way again.
You’d think that a nipple shouldn’t be something to write home about. I mean, we all have them. We all know what they look like. They are pink little protruding bobbles in our skin. They don’t smell, they don’t make a noise: in many ways they are really quite innocuous. But seeing a foreign one always causes us to stare.
To say, ‘I know what your nipples look like,’ is somehow incredibly, inexplicably invasive.
I take a long, deep breath. I can get over this. It was just a minor slip. I don’t have to let it ruin my life; I don’t have to let people judge me like that.
As I carefully fix my shirt, my wife turns to me.
“Stop worrying, Dave,” she says with exasperation, and shakes the water from her hair. “No one’s looking at you.”
She sighs a small, private sigh, and then self-consciously tugs the towel tighter around her bikini-clad body.