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!”
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/.