WRITTEN BY TESS NILAND KIMBER
They were growing apart and never talked. All she wanted was someone to walk life’s path with her…
The beach stretched like ivory ribbon under an autumn sun that glowed optimistically in the sullen sky.
Nay loved Glebe Bay especially when the tourists were back home in front of log burners and Apple Macs. In colder months, the bay felt it belonged to the residents of Sandbridge again. She loved to bring the dog down here for long walks, the waves sweeping in on a north westerly, sometimes whispering, sometimes arguing, beating naval fists against the shore.
“Good boy, Dave,” Nay said, patting the golden Labrador.
Dave was an odd name for an animal but the night they’d brought him home her husband Rex had insisted, “I’ve got a dog’s name, so let’s christen the pup with a human one. Besides, he reminds me of Dave Soper – you know, the guy I worked with at White’s. Has the same glint in his eye.”
Nay had laughed. Rex was right; Dave was cheeky. More than that, he’d kindly given Rex lifts to work whenever their old Ford failed to start. That was before Rex had resigned from the relative security of his job at White’s to run Silver Surf, where he taught people of a certain age to windsurf, sail and snorkel. It had been a complete sea change, but he loved his new life.
“Dave’s a mad name but we’re definitely not calling him Nacho,” Rex had argued against her choice. “You can’t call a dog after a crisp!”
Laughing, she’d given in and their pup became Dave.
Nay sighed, trekking through the sand. There had been lots of giving in during their love affair with Dave and, for that matter, during their own relationship.
Her mother approved saying, “…you must work at marriage.”
But after twelve years, Nay wondered if conceding to most of Rex’s suggestions was quite what her mother had in mind.
Gently, she stroked Dave’s head. It felt soft, almost…
“Walk on, shall we, old fella?”
He looked up, panting. They hadn’t walked far, just to the beach from Shingles, the flint cottage Rex insisted they bought. He’d been right that time; it had proved a good buy.
“It’s a bit tired,” he’d said, during their first viewing.
“Tired? It’s almost comatose!” Nay had laughed, totting up in her head the cost of renovation. Despite her objections that they were taking on too much, Rex put in an offer.
“It’s too low. The vendors will be insulted,” she’d argued.
“It’s fine. Trust me,” he’d said, pulling her close.
Resting against his chest, she wasn’t sure she wanted their offer to be accepted
There was a new build she liked but after a tense couple of days, he took the call that made Shingles theirs.
Somehow through long hours of painting, sanding and swearing she’d grown to love the cottage. In his spare time, Rex made many improvements – installing a new kitchen, knocking down walls, then adding a log burner to compensate for the cosiness lost by the open plan. But his latest idea sent a chill through Nay. He planned to turn the box room next to their bedroom into an en suite.
“Oh…” she’d said, watching him surf the internet for reliable plumbers. “Is that wise?”
“I’d say so – it’ll add value and an extra bathroom will be useful. No more running across the landing in your jim-jams when guests stay,” he’d grinned, rubbing his close-cropped beard.
“But I thought it would make a good…”
He’d looked up from his tablet. “What?”
“A … nursery.”
“But we’re not having children yet – we decided,” he’d dismissed. “We’ve too much on with the business – and with Shingles.”
No, she thought, padding onto the wet sand, we haven’t decided; it was Rex who said the time wasn’t right and Rex who was busy with Silver Surf. And Rex who preferred, for now, that it was just the three of them.
Three… Not for much longer. She bit her bottom lip. Dave was old now. The vet said…
Tears stung as she gazed at their treasured pet plodding along the shoreline. It was incredibly hard but she’d wanted to take him for one final walk. Over the last decade, they’d spent many happy hours at Glebe Bay. It felt right to take him here for a last stroll, although Rex disagreed.
“It’s morbid to take him for a walk when you know it’s his last, Nay. Don’t get me wrong. I love old Dave, but he can’t go on forever. The vet…”
“I know,” she’d said, sharply, leaning against the worktop in the stylish new kitchen. “And I’m ready. But I want one more walk in Glebe Bay. To say thank you and goodbye. Won’t you come? Walk with me?”
He’d curled his lip as if she’d offered him sweetcorn, his least favourite food.
No – go if you must. I’ll say goodbye in my own way.
She’d agreed – as always, she thought now, looking across the bay to Kennington. The town was where they shopped weekly, where they celebrated anniversaries and birthdays in Felice’s, the Italian restaurant where Rex first said he loved her.
“He was an old softy then, Dave, wasn’t he?” she’d said as the dog plodded silently, avoiding seaweed and rock pools edged with pearly shells.
She studied the bay. A fishing boat see-sawed through the waves. She watched, wondering if she could pinpoint when Rex had changed from sexily decisive to downright bossy. He’d always known his own mind; it was a trait she’d fallen for along with his blue, blue eyes and deep laugh. But lately everything had to be his way or no way.
“We don’t need children, Nay,” he’d said, recently.
“Need?” she’d frowned, pausing as she framed a photograph. It was a seascape – dramatic waves under a moody sky. “That’s a weird way to describe having a baby.”
“You know what I mean,” he’d said, reading the shipping report on his smartphone. “We have each other, Silver Surf, Shingles… One day, maybe, but right now… well, kids would only spoil things.”
She’d wanted to argue, say all she’d burned to say, but she’d lost the knack, she supposed, of putting her point across so he would understand.
It was only Dave who listened. On their long walks, he’d hold his head to one side with his tongue lolling.
“Children make a family, don’t they, Dave?” she’d say.
“Poor boy, am I walking too fast?” She scratched Dave under the chin as tears misted her eyes.
She could almost feel his soft whiskers. How would she cope without confiding in him? She slipped on his lead. It felt lighter than it should but then Dave didn’t pull any more like an impatient pup.
Desperately, she wished Rex had joined them. It was impossibly sad to walk for the last time with a pet who was so loved. When Rex first refused to walk with them, she’d considered putting out a Facebook ad, like that man last year who’d asked local owners to join him on his dog’s last trek.
In the end, she’d wanted Rex with her, not strangers…
This felt too private. Too intense to share with people she didn’t know, no matter how empathetic. And they would have been. There’s a natural camaraderie between dog people. They understand what it’s like to love an animal.
She often envied that camaraderie among parents, part of the club. There was that link again. She supposed, longing for a family, the dog had become a baby substitute. Without Dave, her loss would be doubly felt.
“Except it’s not a loss, is it, Dave?” she whispered on the sea breeze. “It’s not because we can’t have children, it’s because Rex won’t.”
She stood, letting Dave rest. If there’d been medical reasons why they couldn’t be parents then perhaps she’d understand. But this was a lifestyle choice – well, Rex’s lifestyle choice. He didn’t want children yet so they couldn’t have them. The delay scared her. What if they ran out of time?
He decided everything. Where they went on holiday, how they decorated Shingles, what car they drove. Did he realise how controlling he’d become?
“His father was the same,” her mother said. “Pedantic.” Nay’s mother had been at school with Rex senior and recognised the traits in her son-in-law.
“But he’s a good man, Dave,” Nay defended. He was immensely kind, great fun and never saw her go without anything – except the family she craved.
“You’re OK about it, aren’t you, Nay?” Rex had asked one evening when she’d mentioned friends who’d recently had their first baby.
She’d paused, wanting to say, No, I’m not. But as she opened her mouth he’d jumped up.
“Better let Dave out for his last wee.”
He’d slipped on his gilet and called Dave, who’d creaked to a standing position from the fireside rug, following his master.
“Is that what I do, Dave?” she asked, now, the sun hot on her head at Glebe Bay. “Follow my master?”
Sunbathers stretched on the sand, some positioning parasols. A gaggle of teenagers played a loose game of volleyball and toddlers crouched by rock pools. Where had all these people come from?
She looked down. She was alone. Where was the dog? “Dave? Here, boy!”
Nay put her fingers in her mouth and whistled. Turning, she scanned the shoreline. Where was he?
She looked for the lead but her hand was empty.
Then … she remembered.
Racking sobs consumed her as she thought of their old dog and all that he’d meant.
It wasn’t a cold October afternoon; it was a hot August morning. That last walk with Dave had been ages ago but she relived it every time she walked in Glebe Bay. Was she going mad?
Now her mind really was playing tricks. She could swear she could hear Rex’s voice. But it couldn’t be…
“Nay, sweetheart, I guessed you’d be here again.”
She turned. It was him. “Rex! Why are you here?”
“I popped home for my sunglasses. You weren’t there.”
“I wanted to come,” she said, quietly. “To feel close to Dave. Here I imagine…”
Should she admit she saw their old dog when she was at the beach?
Gently, Rex smudged her tears with his thumb and pulled her close against his bare chest. “Oh Nay.”
He smelled gorgeous, of expresso coffee and of the Boss aftershave he always wore. She smiled at the irony. Even his aftershave was a statement of his dominant ways.
“Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“It’s OK – my next class is at one. I miss Dave, too, you know. It’s not the same coming home to Shingles. It feels empty sometimes – especially when you’re not there, either.”
“Shingles always feels empty to me,” she said, quietly.
“Does it? Look…” he said, as they walked over the ridged sand. “Is it time to consider getting another dog?”
She paused, gently pulling away from him.
It’s… not another dog I want.
The waves hissed on to the shore as she shielded her eyes against the striking sun. He was frowning and there was a stillness to him, as if he feared her next words.
She took a deep breath. Whatever his reaction, she must tell him how she felt.
Before she could, he said, “I know you say it’s too early to think of owning another dog but…” He rambled, telling her one of his clients had a Red Setter with a litter of pups. “Beautiful temperament… ready in three weeks.”
He reached for her hand and they climbed up the beach. It was a long time since they’d last walked together. When they’d had Dave, there was always an excuse. Lately, they’d begun doing things separately. It was good she’d noticed; it mustn’t become a habit.
“We could see them at the weekend, if you like, Nay,” he continued.
His words pummelled her head. She didn’t want another dog. She didn’t want to smile and agree as always. She didn’t want…
“It’s not a puppy I want, Rex. It’s… it’s a… baby.” There! she’d said it. She braced herself for an argument. Perhaps he’d be angry that she’d brought up the subject again when he felt the matter had been resolved.
He stood still on the soft sand. Gently, he stroked her blonde hair from her eyes. “But Nay, we’ve decided it’s too much. That–”
“No, Rex, you decided. Not me.” She pulled away and felt, rather than heard, him sigh. “Everything we do is because you want it. Do you realise how controlling you’ve become?”
I don’t mean to be bossy…
“No, you don’t,” she smiled, catching hold of his hand, feeling the familiar roughness of his skin, “But that’s how you come across. There are decisions we should make together. Children are important to me. Especially since we lost Dave.”
“No couple,” he said, quietly, “should start a family unless both partners are totally ready.”
She sank on to the sand, pulling him down beside her. “Absolutely, but you used to want a family. Before we married, you said you wanted a couple of daughters to care for you in your dotage.”
He smiled, “I did, didn’t I?”
“After the honeymoon, I thought it would only be a matter of time,” she breathed.
“I know.” He gazed out to sea, concentrating on the horizon. “But it took a while to find the right home. Then Shingles needed so much work. And the business – Silver Surf’s going great, but kids need security.”
“I agree, but we’re doing well. If everyone waited until they knew they’d never lose their job or their marriage wouldn’t fail, no one would ever have children.”
He turned to her. “Look, we haven’t time to discuss this now. My class…”
“I know. The time’s not right but I wish we could talk about it. I don’t even know your reasons.”
He fell silent. Eventually, he said, “Neither do I… it’s just a feeling.”
“That’s OK.” She squeezed his hand.
“I’m sorry, Nay. We’ve never really discussed it, have we? I’ve just said not yet and I assumed you agreed.”
“I love you more than anything, Rex. And if we talk it through and you really don’t want a family, I’ll understand. It’s the not talking about it that I hate. It makes me feel less of a partner in this marriage and more like I’m… I’m Dave on a lead.”
He laughed then, lightening the moment. “I suppose I am like that. Blame it on me being an only child. That would be one stipulation – we must have more than one.”
“Unbelievable! In five minutes, we’ve moved from not having children to having at least two,” she smiled.
He pulled her to him, kissing the top of her head. “It’s not a yes or a no. It’s a let’s talk.”
“That’s all I ask,” she smiled.
“Come on – walk with me.”
His words were like music as they climbed up the beach, the screaming seagulls circling overhead.
“But there’s something I do insist upon if we have children,” he said.
“Let me choose the names – I did all right with Dave, didn’t I?”
She laughed, snuggling into him. “Yes, you did.”
Perhaps, they might never be a family, she thought, but this afternoon they’d certainly grown closer as a couple. Dave, she knew, would approve.