The winding lane stretches down toward the strip of beach. There are no holidaymakers left now; just fading footprints in the wet sand. A fish and chip wrapper blows up in the growing wind. The hem of my thin skirt blows out imitating the flapping seagulls.
The sea is inching its way inland; ten more minutes and the small stretch of remaining beach will be washed away.
Moving along the shoreline a little, I dip a reluctant toe into the foamy ripples. The water is shockingly cold. I move to lean on a rock – it feels slightly damp. Two children’s lolly sticks point out of the crack between the rocks.
The wind is really picking up now, and the tide is almost in. Each time it reaches its foamy claw toward my rock, it just misses and flows back to become part of the mass of ink. Like watching a child trying to reach a toy and getting thwarted again and again.
There’s a sound of scratching on the stone steps above me, and I turn to see a dog. I sit perfectly still, hoping it will walk off. But the dog, reaching the bottom of the steps, pads towards me. It sniffs at my legs and rubs its soft ears against my reluctant hand, forcing me to stroke it. It looks like a young red setter. ‘Hello there, are you out all alone?’ I say. The dog wags its tail erratically and pants, dropping its bottom onto the sand.
I look all around the wet beach and up towards the headland. But I can’t see an owner for the dog. ‘You need to go,’ I say, but it just wags its tail again, lolling its tongue out of the side of its mouth. It looks like it’s smiling.
I check for a name-tag, but it doesn’t have one. It doesn’t look like a stray – it’s too well fed. I look around me for a stick or even a stone to throw. But everywhere is covered with sea-water now. I reach into my cardigan pockets, which are filled to the top with rocks. I pluck out a flat, grey pebble amongst them and fling it across the sand as far as possible, in the direction of the slipway. The dog just stares after it. Then it stares back at me.
I sigh. This is all I need. I try not to feel responsible for the animal. It’s just an animal, I tell myself, over and over. This is what’s got me into problems in the past -taking responsibility for others, putting their needs over my own, I think.
I take a last look at the wide, vast sea in front of me. There is no beach left now and the water is pooling around my ankles, reaching upwards, as though inviting me in. The dog climbs up onto a rock to escape getting wet.
I walk forwards, foam and splashes kicking off my bare feet. I don’t look back, just keep my eyes focused on the horizon. I don’t want to see the dog watching me; I don’t want to see the houses of the town stretching off towards fields and sheep and people’s lives beyond the cliffs.
I don’t want to think about the people left behind.
This is about me. It is just me and the sea, I think.
I hear a bark and a man’s voice carry on the wind as I get further in, as the water whirls around my shoulders. I can no longer walk, but am pulled in like a donkey on a rope. Not reluctantly, but needing to be coerced. The water is freezing and my summer skirt has wound itself around my legs, clinging like arms, pulling at me. The rocks in my pockets drag me and as I stumble, I am pulled beneath the waves and my long hair fans out around my head like a halo.
As my breath leaves my body, I feel a pair of hands pulling me backwards. I’m not sure if I’m floating across the sea on my back or if I’m floating into the next place.
I hear a man’s voice swear as the power of the waves pull against his strength. I hear the dog barking, worried for its owner.
I feel hardness behind my back and shoulders as I’m roughly dropped onto a dry rock. A man’s lips are over mine, the taste of salt and of his breath, hot and smoky. Large hands painfully pound my chest.
I cough, my head raises and sea-water spews out of my mouth over the side of the rock. The dog sits beside me vigilantly.
‘Thank God – I thought you were a gonner’, the man says, pushing back onto his knees.
I don’t answer. I shiver, and he takes off his jacket and places it around my shoulders.
‘Are you okay? What were you thinking? If Rory hadn’t found you and I hadn’t found him…well. I guess I saved you,’ he says. He can’t help saying it without the edge of manly pride to his voice.
I look at him. He’s just like every man I ever met. Rushing in to save me, thinking he knew what I needed.
I want to scream at him – I didn’t want fucking saving.
But I don’t answer. I don’t say anything.
I don’t want to hurt his feelings.
I just stare out at the wide sea, with its blurred horizon, and I know it is leaving without me.
***Kate is a freelance writer based in the UK who writes articles, including regular contributions to online women’s magazine Skirt Collective, as well as publishing life writing and poetry both in print and online. She has a passion for flash fiction and short stories, and is usually found lurking around coffee shops, writing and listening to other people’s conversations. Jones has also become a regular contributor to Sick Lit Magazine, and is a 2016 nominee for the Pushcart Prize through Sick Lit Magazine.***
She blogs at www.writerinresidenceblog.wordpress.com.
Find Kate on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/katejonespp