On The Beach

Shutterstock / Helen Hotson © A watercolour painting of a row of colourful beach huts under a deep blue sky at Southwold in Suffolk

Joyce reflects on how the road to the good things in life can be a bumpy ride

Joyce settled back in her deckchair and surveyed the busy scene before her.

A small crowd had gathered in front of the beach-huts. There were plenty of eager parents and children, all armed with rubber gloves and black sacks.

She strained her ears to catch snatches of the leader’s motivating talk about why they were here to clean up the beach. Not as good as David Attenborough of course, but convincing on such a beautiful, blue day.

The gulls swooped in curiosity over their heads and the sea glittered gold on the horizon.

Joyce had been coming to a beach-hut on this shore for more than fifty years now. It had always been a haven, a place to escape from the demands of housework and regimented mealtimes.

When the children were younger, they had loved the chance to play and swim while she grilled sausages for tea as a treat.

Why was it that food always tasted so much better out of doors?

At least a pebbled beach meant it was sand free and you never had to worry too much about washing up.

The children liked fetching the water from the mains’ tap by the café and splashing it over their toes as they carried the bucket between them to the hut.

One kettle full of water with some bubbles made it warm enough to clean their plates and Joyce had no problem finding willing volunteers to do the job.

She smiled as she remembered their happy faces when she gave them a few coins to buy ice cream cornets for dessert as a reward.

Charlie, her youngest, had tried his first ice-cream cone at this very beach and they had all laughed fit to burst when he had ended up wearing more of it than he could eat. Vanilla drips had coated him liberally from head to toe.

When the tears began to well up in Charlie’s eyes, Joyce had to shepherd him swiftly into the waves, to rescue his dignity in front of his older brothers.

If only it was that easy to make Charlie smile these days, Joyce reflected.

She glanced down the beach where she could just make out the tall silhouette of her son in the distance.

She watched him stoop down to help Lilly, her little granddaughter. Together they gathered up the tattered plastic bags and bottles that were clattering across the pebbles towards the water in the wind.

Lilly had told Joyce only that morning that it could take a discarded bottle up to 450 years to decompose in the ocean, maybe 50 for a takeaway coffee cup.

It was a sobering thought and Joyce could see the earnest determination in Lilly’s face as she spoke.

It had been her son’s idea to take part in the Saturday beach clean-up.

He and Lilly were close since they had lost her mum three years ago.

Joyce was proud of him for the good dad he was turning out to be, bringing her up so well on his own. Her own eyes felt a bit moist when she thought about it.

“I’d better get that kettle on before they get back,” Joyce said aloud to herself, determined to stay cheerful.

She hauled herself out of the portable chair but somehow her feet got tangled up in the straps which dangled from the back, and she cried out in alarm as she tripped on the slippery boards.

Caroline, her beach-hut neighbour, was beside her in seconds, dropping her paperback and sunglasses in her haste.

She knelt down beside Joyce and checked her over carefully. Sometimes medical training really did come in useful.

Charlie and Lilly were a few minutes behind, their faces etched with anxiety.

Joyce could not help feeling embarrassed by all the fuss.

“I’m fine,” she reassured them all, leaning heavily on Caroline’s arm to get back on her feet.

It was only a case of a few bumps and battered dignity after all.

It wasn’t easy getting older, Joyce thought ruefully, as she rubbed her knee.

She could not help smiling though, as she watched Charlie and Caroline talking avidly while they made the tea together.

Joyce had always liked the gentle, young doctor who rented the hut next door. She was far too lovely to stay single for long.

Maybe the bruises she’d gathered on her “involuntary” trip were worth the introduction?

Our My Weekly Favourites series of lovely short fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.

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