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
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 earth. 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.
(c) Chloe Winterburn