The Secret Beach

Shortlisted for Field of Words Flash Fiction Competition 2015

They sit there all day in the end, the café emptying around them as dark falls, the girl transfixed by the woman. They aren’t ready to go home when Rosemary closes up and so they walk through the dead town to the end of the road where a path leads down to the far beach, away from the shops and cafes and carpark, the one no one goes to. The secret beach, they have said to each other all summer. The girl is thrilled to be sharing a language with the woman. They have reached the stage of friendship when they can call each other and say, ‘It’s me.’

As they leave the road and start down the dirt path the girl is laughing at the woman’s impression of a man she met in Paris, and not noticing the sudden drop, stumbles. The woman takes her arm and the girl breathes in her scent of suede and little dogs and expensive perfume.  She is imitating his accent and gesticulating and the girl drinks her in, mindful that the woman is leaving, that a whole bare year stretches out in front of her, that each step they take along the path is bringing them closer to her departure.

They come to the beach. Rosemary had given the woman a little glass box filled with sand from the beach as a farewell gift that afternoon. The woman was charmed, and the girl wished it had been her idea. The tide is halfway out, and the moon almost full. They start along the sand, going slowly, sinking into it, and the woman turns to talking about the man. She is still not sure about him. But she is going back so that says something doesn’t it. What does it say, the girl wonders, searching the woman’s eyes. And it has been more than a year now, and it somehow works, in spite of the different countries, it’s still alive. Sometimes she has thought it has died for an hour or a day, but then there it is again. She smiles. You will meet him next time.

Next time, the girl thinks.

‘We’ll just go a little further,’ the woman says. They are almost at the cliffs and there are two figures huddled together on top. The girl thinks she can make out that one of them is leaning towards the other, his hands wrapped around a glass or a mug. The other has his arm draped around the first.

‘Hang on – is that two guys?’ the woman laughs. ‘Do we really want to go any further?’

She stops.

The girl thinks, Oh.

She sees the woman drive back to her house, zip up her last suitcase, board the plane and return to the man, again to be swallowed up by the world of men and women.

They walk back into town and the warmth of the two figures retreats into the distance.

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