To Be the Beach by Amanda Huggins

At the end of the track a row of caravans came into view; four bleak hulks crouched in the grass-covered dunes. The one they stopped in front of was the dirtiest of them all: dented and rusty, coated with the salty skin of the seaside. A dead rabbit lay outside the door, flattened and bloodied, staring up at them through a single glassy eye. Lydia walked to the edge of the low cliff, where a few stunted trees still clung to the eroded bank. The sand below was littered with thick ropes of seaweed, broken shells and dead starfish that had been caught out by the tide. The sea was grey and silent; far out at low ebb. Without waiting for Dean she scrambled down the cliff path to the water’s edge and stared out towards the horizon and the distant fishing boats.

Lydia wanted to be the beach; her wrinkles smoothed by the sea, her slate wiped clean, her rubbish swept away. The beach presented herself anew each morning, as though nothing had ever happened there before. As though no dog had ever raced headlong after a ball, leaving untidy paw prints in a skittering arc. As if lovers had never walked arm in arm along the shoreline, stooping to pick up shells.

She must leave Dean; she knew that. She must wipe clean the marks of his knuckles and his words. On the drive over she had almost believed this break would do them good; that he really meant what he said this time. When she looked down at the bruises on her wrists he had stroked her hand, switching on his familiar, lazy smile. But the damp caravan and the scowling sea made everything unbearable again. When she saw Dean kick the rabbit away with a vicious flick, Lydia knew it wasn’t safe to stay.

A lone gull wheeled overhead, the bird’s eerie cry mingling with Dean’s voice as he shouted down to her from the cliff top. She turned with a start, automatically lifting her hand to wave. As she looked up she saw a red helium balloon. It jerked and dived and soared, pulling free, higher and higher, carrying a handwritten message to the world on its fluttering label. Perhaps a child was watching its steady climb from further along the cliff top, waiting for the moment it disappeared into the sullen clouds: hope swallowed whole.

Dean called her name again, but she couldn’t hear him any more, she could only see his lips move. For a moment she allowed herself to imagine him slipping off the cliff edge and dashing his head against the jutting rocks.

Further along the beach a dog was barking, and Lydia turned towards the sound. A collie raced in circles, waiting for his owner to throw a ball. The man’s anorak was a splash of scarlet against the pale sand. He was her own bright, beckoning speck of hope.

Lydia set off slowly, then broke into a run.

About the author: Amanda lives in Yorkshire and works in engineering. Her travel writing and short fiction has appeared in anthologies, newspapers and magazines.

She has won numerous writing competitions and been shortlisted and placed in many others, including those run by Bare Fiction, Fish, Ink Tears, Cinnamon Press, English Pen, The Telegraph, and Bradt Travel Guides. She won the BGTW New Travel Writer Award in 2014, and was the runner-up in last year’s Henley Literary Festival Short Story Competition.

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