Thursday, April 15, 2021

Memory Stones by Chloe Winterburn

 The warmth of the sand under the children’s toes was welcoming. The ocean crashed its waves onto the beach and the sun’s rays pushed them towards the cooling water. The beach looked more inviting to them now than before.

Caleb grabbed Clara’s hand, pulling her to the water. The twins’ black hair bobbing over the bright sand. Marie pushed Jamie lightly and sprinted towards the older two. Her legs began to ache before she reached them, but her brother was laughing close behind her, so she forced herself to carry on. 

Their parents smiled as they sat against the white cliffs, the blanket spread out beneath them. They felt a twang of guilt as the children splashed each other, squealing happily. The beach had been off limits to them; only seen through the windows of their home. 

The children played and splashed for a while before running back to their parents shivering all over. Their mother laughed as they rubbed their hands up and down their arms to keep warm. She wrapped the towels tightly around them and they sunk into them, feeling the new warmth spreading through them. The adults shared a knowing look.

“When you have dried off, why don’t you collect some shells and stones to remember this day at the beach?” Father smiled, showing them the colourful buckets that lay next to him in the sand. 

“Then, when you’re all finished, we can have some sandwiches.” Mother said, coughing slightly. Their father frowned, then laughed at the children. 

“Let’s help you dry off now shall we?” He ran after them, growling as they ran around their picnic area laughing and shouting. They couldn’t hear their mother finishing her coughing and that was the way she wanted to keep it. 

Soon they were dry, wearing their summer clothes to keep them warm. They each had their own coloured bucket and were told to collect as many pretty shells and stones as they could. Their father wagged his finger at them playfully. 

“Whoever collects the most wins a prize.” He grinned at his wife who gave him a sharp look; she knew he didn’t have any such prize. But the children were already running in separate directions, eager to win. 

Caleb had run to the left of the beach, near the cliffs and the path leading the way home. He loved the different sizes and shapes of stones, so he picked lots of different ones at the bottom of the cliff face. 

Clara had a different idea. She loved the rock pools so she decided that the prettiest shells and stones would be around there. She hopped from rock to rock fishing some stones out from the pools as she took in the smell of salt water. 

Marie ran towards the sea where the waves pull back from the sand, leaving fresh shells and stones in its wake. She shook off the squishy, wet sand and put them in the bucket, greedily scooping them up in her childlike excitement. 

Jamie, however, wandered across the soft sand pretending he was in the desert. He dug through the sand for the stones and the odd shell, blowing off the sand before placing it carefully in his red bucket. 

Their parents watched them carefully from their spot, making sure they didn’t wander too far. Father glanced at Mother worriedly. His lips trembled as he looked at her bright red face, listening to her wheezing. He felt sick as he glanced at the children, scattered happily across the beach: What would he tell them? Should he tell them anything? 

Maybe it’s best not to tell them yet; at least not today. He just held her close as the laughter bounced across the beach. 

Soon the children were running back, presenting their buckets and shouting over each other. Their mother smiled and showed them the basket of sandwiches. Buckets and prizes forgotten, they sat down with a thump and ate ravenously. 

On the walk home, the children chattered endlessly, showing each other the full buckets. The trees waved to them in the evening breeze as the setting sun lit the way. 

That evening as they sat around the fireplace, they each chose a favourite shell or stone to put in a memory box to remember their first day back at the beach. Caleb proudly showed his black and white stone, placing it in the glossy brown box. Clara put a stone decorated with moss into the box. Marie shyly placed her small pink and yellow conch shell into the box. Finally, Jamie deposited his shiny black stone into the box. Then they gave their parents their buckets to pick something. The adults smiled, carefully picking through the four buckets. Mother picked a red cockle shell and Father picked a cream scallop shell. 

“Why don’t we put the rest of these in the garden? They’ll look lovely in the flower beds.” Mother said, beginning to get up with one of the buckets. Her knees trembled but she managed to stand. She proudly led the way to the garden through the house. They spent the rest of the evening decorating the flower beds with the shells and stones from the beach. 

****

Ten years later, the children are no longer children. Their father is moving into a smaller home, in the middle of town. Their childhood home is being sold and the four of them solemnly pack everything up. Each of them felt sick and their hearts ached as they stared at their empty home. The only home they really knew and loved. After sorting their separate rooms, they all pack up the living room together. Sometimes one of them would find a memory and show it to the others. They would smile and laugh, then come back down to 108earth. A tear often escaped, and they looked at the picture of their mother on the mantlepiece. 

“Look what I found.” Caleb tried to smile as he picked up the glossy brown box and opened it. 

Clara pushed her long raven hair over her shoulder as she stared into the box. “My moss rock. I remember seeing a crab after I chose that rock.” She smiled widely now at the memory. 

Marie wiped a tear from her pink cheek as she moved around her brother. “Oh look, my conch shell. Father would love to see this box again.” 

“He would but I don’t want to upset him either.” Jamie’s brown eyes glistened in the light as he peered into the box. “I thought I was an archaeologist and I loved to dig.” He chuckled drily. 

“Then let’s keep the box out of the other things and take this to Father today. While we’re together.” Caleb nodded, decidedly. 

In their father’s new home, they took the shells out of the box and placed them on the new fireplace around the picture of their mother who will forever smile happily. They sat around his armchair and spoke especially about that wonderful day at the beach. Tears spilling and laughter high in the air. 

© Chloe Winterburn

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