FICTION: Digging

As a child she had liked to go to the beach. A bucket and spade under each arm, swaying from side to side with her ambling steps, legs not quite long enough but growing all of the time. Green coat, yellow wellies and her parents hovering at either side. Baby swinging on mammys hip, seagulls overhead squawking as they watched. Beady eyes glinting, the colour of coal slicked wet with rain.

On the soft sand she would flick up scoops of white and let it flicker, forming a waterfall from her spade or the palm of the hand. Then her daddy would beckon her on. Down to the wet sand. Better to dig. Better for sand castles. And still now she can hear his low voice, the heavy bass struggling against the whistle and roar of the wind. The ocean breaking. Waves beating against the same sand that would be broken into by their spades and the toe of her yellow wellies. Poor sand, beaten and broken from all directions.

Even now the voice of her father mingles with the wind. The swift flick and crack of the shovel, a heavy metal thing rusting because she always forgets to put it in the shed, the sound mixingwith the  remembered  plastic beating and churning the sand, trying to find water, build a moat or a fairy castle. 

She stops. Hand coming up to her hair pinned back. Sweat drips its way along her forehead, between her brow, down her cheeks, soaking the baby hairs at either ear, dripping from her chin. Hours and hours in the heat with no one to help. He has gone to fight, daddy too busy on his allotment and the kids too young to help any more than passing glasses of water to her and offering her a tea towel on which to mop her head.

Once she loved to dig. Extending the shovel behind her, feeling as though it was her arm that had extended behind her head and then pounding forwards, one great scoop, a slick of sand, moved easily to one side. Now it was solid Earth and mud and rocks to be put to one side.

Someone behind her shouts to stop. They’ll help. Ought not be doing that, a lady like her. Some neighbour who doesn’t know her, doesn’t know to keep away. She turns to see him coming, carrying a shovel that isn’t rusty and wearing a jaunty smile that would make her husband bristle. As he steps into the hole beside her, the thing that will become a shelter, she wonders why he hasn’t gone with the others and she wonders when was the last time she saw the sea.

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