WATER’S EDGE • by Sarah Hilary

It’s gritty at the shore, gets between the toes. The lake waits, the skin of it blistering under a low-slung sun that makes mirrors of flat pebbles, the fastenings on bikinis, metal bottle tops. You think you see the sun’s shadow on the beach but it’s the remains of a camp-fire, an ashy black circle on the shale.

You go down to the water’s edge, holding the flask firmly in both hands. Everyone is here with someone else. Only the lonely come to the beach by themselves. The lonely and the perverted; mothers sling black looks at single men. The clever ones have dogs on leads, which seems to make them more acceptable. No one looks twice at you.

Children throw laughter around like a ball, then tire of it and start snapping, slapping the water with the palms of their hands, making it jump.

You came here with Sammy, not so long ago. He hiccupped inside you, and kicked your ribs. You wore a swimsuit to show him off. “When’s he due?” you were asked. “Or is it a she?”

“He’s a boy,” you said, although you didn’t know that for sure, then. No black and white evidence to hold in your hand. Just the blood-red rush, the hiccup and kick inside you. “He’s a boy.”

Water curls its hand at your toes. You let it come, wetting your feet, and walk a little way from the bathers and picnickers, for decency’s sake.

The lid of the flask unscrews without a sound. At the hospital they handed you an urn, but you didn’t want to bring an urn to the beach. So you decanted, a spoonful at a time, the ashes into the flask. Now, standing with wet feet at the shore, you put the lid under your chin so you can hold the flask with both hands, one last time.

“Deep breath! Breathe, breathe!”

“Keep breathing!”

Both arms in front of you, waiting for the wind to change direction, your eyes are wide open so you can see —

Sammy slips out into the sunshine, a dazzle of golden brown, and dances and dances to join the other children.

Sarah Hilary is an award-winning writer whose fiction appears in Smokelong Quarterly, The Fish Anthology 2008, LITnIMAGE, Word Riot, The Best of Every Day Fiction, and in the Crime Writers’ Association anthology, MO: Crimes of Practice. A non-fiction column about the wartime experiences of her mother, who was a child internee of the Japanese, was published in Foto8 Magazine and later in the Bristol Review of Books, Autumn 09. Sarah blogs at http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.com/.

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 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • J

    Incredibly moving and sparsely told. I love the disorientation of seeing the sun’s shadow.

  • Fabulous, as usual. God I could actually see the story happening before my eyes, including the mirrors made by the low slung sun!

  • And writing doesn’t get better that!

  • Your last line got me in the gut.

    Moving. Left me shivering. Peace, Linda

  • mothers sling black looks at single men

    Great line. The ‘L’s in ‘sling’ and ‘black’ feel oily as I read them.

    Also I like the image of the flask – the negative connotation that perhaps the protagonist is drunk and therefore outside societal norms then being transformed into something darker yet more sympathetic as the flask transforms to an urn in her hands.

  • Very moving, Sarah. It doesn’t get better than this.

  • Margie

    Any woman who has miscarried will grieve with this young mother. Sorrowfully told, but so very well written. Keep writing!

  • This is writing at its very best. This is what we all strive for.

  • Beautifully crafted… Such an emotional subject for anyone who has ever suffered such a loss – and yet you convey the grief without ever lapsing into sentimentality. A 5 star story if ever I read one…

  • You should not get me bawling in the morning like this. SO powerful.

  • pdw

    Beautiful, sad and sharp. One of the best stories yet.

  • J.C. Towler

    “Children throw laughter around like a ball”

    This story is filled with terrific individual lines like this; just parts of a greater whole which was a very moving story. Like #9 said, it conveys grief without being sappy or sentimental. I’m torn on the POV; usually I don’t care for the “you you you”, but this was so well written it overcame the artifice of 2nd person. Still, had she been named I think I’d have liked it even better.


  • Wow. thanks.

    But next time could you not use my sons name, I can only take so much.

  • gay

    Fabulous, just as we’ve come to expect. Sarah, you always deliver. This story breaks my heart and does what good stories do: create a profound emotional response. Wish I could give it a 5 twice.

  • Obviously this story has strong emotional connotations to some, but I found it lacking. There was lots of emotion here, I guess, but little plot or action.

    Writing in the second person is supposed to help the reader connect to the story and the POV character, but when the reader is male, and the POV character turns out to be a pregnant female, there is a jarring disconnect.

    I also had trouble following the timeline, at some points she seemed to be pregnant and other times it was after she had lost the baby. Confusing.

    Some nice descriptive passages about the beach, well written, but overall a low score from me.

  • Wonderful imagery, Sarah. Thanks so much for writing this and making me think in a slightly different direction.

  • Jen

    Wonderful writing as always, Sarah.

  • Rick

    The ending gave me a chill, not because she was parting with her son, but because of the implication that she was a serial killer. “Only the lonely come to the beach by themselves. The lonely and the perverted; mothers sling black looks at single men. The clever ones have dogs on leads, which seems to make them more acceptable. No one looks twice at you.” This is very creepy. Then at the end, when she dumps the ashes from, of all things, a “Flask,” she sends the boy “to join the other children.” When seen in the contents of “perverts,” these other children are her other victims, not the splashing kids.
    A very disturbing story designed using the 2nd person, present tense to invoke pathos for the evil in us all. Five stars

  • Thank you, everyone, for reading and commenting. I’m always fascinated by the way in which people read my stories, and Rick and Jim’s responses gave me pause for some interesting thoughts on how I told the story and how it came across. Thanks, to everyone, and to EDF for publishing it.


  • Sharon

    Wish I could give you a higher score for this emotionally charged, unforgettable story. Most of all, I wish I could write like that.

  • Those last two lines were breathtaking, Sarah. Well done, as usual. 🙂

  • Lisa C.

    Nicely done, but the second person POV was a miss for me too.

  • Just beautiful. Quite lovely, yet very sad also.

  • The imagery was magnificent. Second person is tough, but this view totally worked for me.

    Nice job, Sarah. A rare 5.

  • Fehmida

    Beautful writing Sarah, fantastic sentences woven into a story – it cannot get any better.

    No doubt about it, one 5 is too less, let me see if I can vote twice at least 🙂

  • David

    Great. Reminds me of Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” Beautifully written, five stars.

  • Thank you everyone who’s been reading since yesterday. I really appreciate the lovely comments. It’s a tricky one with the second person, I know. I nearly changed it to first person BUT I so rarely write in second person that I thought I would let it stand.

  • Han

    Absolutely beautiful writing. Lovely and poignant and it stayed with me all day.

  • Still one the most emotionally invasive things you have written – so completely powerful, and painful to re-read. I mean that of course in a good way – the writing is utterly sublime.

  • Bill West

    Fabulous! A 10 but I’m only allowed to score 5


  • Angela

    lovely very moving.

  • Great stuff!


  • Superb writing – both beautiful language and a touching story. I, too, wish I could give you a score above five.

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  • Cant say i comment much these days but this needs it.

    Amazing writing, perfect imagery and a moving story that kicks you slowly enough to expect it but hard enough to hurt.

    Thank you Sarah

  • Dee

    Hauntingly beautiful.

  • Karen

    Wow! So succinct and packs a punch. Beautifully written, Sarah. Such clear images.

    A few comments above caught my eye, took me aback, and caused me to re-read. REALLY interesting. It’s fascinating what writing can provoke in people, and how things can be seen differently. And THAT, to me, is the definition of good art – something which shifts and changes, depending upon the beholder and their point/s of reference. BRAVO! 5 stars.

  • Lisa

    No doubt this is a powerful piece of writing and beautifully done. It needles its way in an hits you deep inside leaving it in your mind for the day. I was very interested to read the serial killer take. Accomplished as always!

  • Jen

    So beautiful and harrowing, Sarah. Wonderful, poetic language. Left a lump in the throat.

  • Thank you, everyone.

  • jennifer walmsley

    Wonderful, sad, visual. Loved it.

  • Thank you, Jennifer.