Retire to the beach – a short story
This morning I escape, for once, the stuffy house and his constant demands. I walk to the beach.
Two men and a woman cluster around the back of their four wheel drive. Its rear door is lifted up. They’ve parked at the bottom of the approach road used for backing your boat down to the sea. Now they stand there chatting, fishing tackle at the ready. They will fish off the beach or put a line out with one of those electric things.
The woman wears a puffy vest. She favours navy. The men are strictly corduroys and jackets. I walk past them all, eyes down.
There’s a Labrador sniffing around the buckets and dashing off to chase the seagulls. These huge white and yellow varieties caw at the sand, as if demanding service, now! Raw fish a la mer. Fish guts avec sand sil vous plait. Oui monsieur, with or without fish hooks?
It is one of those delusionary days, the deceiving ones. They come here in August to tempt you in to thinking it is Spring, only to fade in to nothing. The next day a nasty southerly blasts in and before you know it you’re putting on your scarf and gloves again.
But while they last, they are a lovely illusion. The sun shines almost warm, the clouds skid away and the ocean throws in a few boisterous waves. People come out of their hidey holes, walk their dogs and break out their sun glasses. The ocean shimmers like a sequined Oscar dress and even I bring the walking gear out of hibernation.
Up ahead of me now are two men with two children. The children dig with little plastic spades in a pool of water the sea has left behind. Pools litter the sand with smile-shaped mirrors, reflecting the sky above.
The men toss a ball to each other. They look so similar I’m forced to look back. One kicks the ball to his brother. They’re twins, as alike as two shells, but I wonder which one is the father. They ignore me and I stride ahead, swinging my arms and taking deep breaths of salty air.
For a moment I let myself picture him, imprisoned back in the confines of the house. I hope he doesn’t try to boil an egg or answer the door. Most likely he will fall asleep and not know I am gone. He would have loved a walk on the beach once. Back when his legs were good.
Up ahead the mountain looms out of a fine haze in the distance and to my right there are islands out to sea. One is long and thin, hugging the horizon with just a few token trees breaking its silhouette. Just off its coast, a tiny dot of an island seems to finish the picture. The whole collection looks just like a lower case letter i. I smile. An island of i. Isle de i. i-land. What a fabulous name for an internet café.
My breath is laboured now and the cold air has made my ears ache. One part of my brain is still worrying about him. What if he…I decide to turn and go back, retracing the indents of my shoes along the steaming sand. There’s no sense over doing it.
The twin fathers are now half way up the sand dunes peeling off the children’s wet clothes. They re-dress them in warm fleecy jackets and long pants. They’ve collected up the buckets and spades. The children whine and resist the cosy clothing.
My pace has slowed but as I pass the four wheel drive I make a final effort to speed up, face down, eyes running in the cold, bright air. The lady in navy throws me a cheery good morning and I’m forced to mutter my greeting over a shoulder, as if in hindsight.
Near my exit, a woman hails her dog. She scolds him as he refuses to return. He races by in an ecstasy of wet fur, wagging tail and lolling tongue, intent on the waves and air and the seagulls that constantly outfly him.
I watch the joyful mutt bound through the waves, return tantalisingly close to his owner and sprint away again.
Why not just enjoy this moment, he seems to reproach me. The wind and rain may be back tomorrow and I’ll be back in the old dog house but right now I’m happier than a…dog with a bone?
The woman scolds the dog again, expecting him to come. But he won’t. She took off his leash and set him free. He won’t go back for some time.
I find a seat at the top of the dunes, plonk myself down and gaze out to sea. Resolutely, I focus on the view, taking his advice.
A bunch of frothy clouds hover over the lower case i-land now and as I watch they form the shape of a giant bird. Its elegant swan-like neck stretches high over outstretched wings, its head looks disdainfully to one side.
The wings strain to take off but can’t. The earth holds them down, keeps the bird grounded. The froth dissolves until the shape is just a cloud again.