From the author: Another meeting at the beach! This is chapter five of a larger work, which deals with a disabled young woman in a rural community and the people she comes to know once she leaves home. This will update fortnightly.
He was there again when she went back to the beach the following week, plodding along the surf line like donkey. She’d seen them at Blackpool, when she was little and could still run on the sand, traipsing along packed strips with children loaded on their backs. The thought of holidays stung in the back of her throat and she coughed to clear it.
She hovered at the top of the ramp, debating whether to go down or not. Couldn’t go worse than last time, really. She pushed forward, smiling as she heard the sound of her treads change into a smooth hiss rather than the steady crunch the tarmac usually gave. She liked it, a different background track for this segment of her life, an indication of change unique to her.
This time she was at the beach for exercise, some cardio that would get the wind in her lungs. The gym was great, but it got busy this time of year with students back from uni for the holidays and they weren’t as careful as the regulars. She could only run over so many feet before even she got tired of explaining, again, that them leaving the weights lying around off the rack was at best bad etiquette and at worst a goddamn hazard.
The suggestion slip noting that the racks should have matching farmyard animals, rather than numbers, may have been a step too far, she could see that now. Better she ride out the wave of well-intentioned and weak willed fledglings then head back when things had settled down.
She wheeled herself along the firm sand, keeping well clear of the spot she’d been stuck in previously, pushing herself to keep going while her lungs burned with salt spray. After three laps she was sweating and let herself rock to a stop, slipping her gloves off to wipe at her face. It wasn’t lifting, but there was the familiar sting in her arms and she revelled in it.
“You practicing to launch yourself off the pier?” she heard beside her, cracking an eye open to see Raymond stood a little way off.
“Why, you wanting to see if I’ll float?” she asked, frowning at him.
“Just checking, might claim the chair for scrap if you are.”
“Like you could get in there to pull it out.”
“I was meaning before you went in. Salt water might rust it, that’d knock down what I could get,” he said with a nod.
“Well that’s the risk you take.” She shrugged, trying to smother a snort of laughter. “Early to be out on the beach again.”
“Trying to avoid any enthusiastic mutts. I don’t mind dogs, but I can’t have them jumping up on my legs. It’s almost as bad as someone throwing things at them.” He gave her a sideways look, leaning on his stick.
“I don’t know, were you pushing the dogs despite the dogs clearly telling you not to? Cause I might sympathise with the dogs in that case,” she said.
He barked a laugh, shaking his head, “I can’t say that pushing dogs is on the list of things I’ve done.”
“What have you done if there’s a list?”
“Ran a fishing boat, helped out on the lifeboat, did some work with the White Fish Commission for a while. Had some kids, had a lovely wife. Lost said lovely wife, drank a lot, fused my leg to a radiator and had to have that fixed.”
“Jesus,” Alice said, grimacing, “You burned yourself into a radiator?”
“When you fall asleep pressed up next to one that’s still on you can get a good chunk into the muscle before your body registers it.”
“Can’t guarantee mine would. Be able to register, I mean” she said, staring at his leg. “That’s why you had the skin graft.”
“Well the skin that was there came out looking more like bacon so they recommended I got a new set. Took it from my back.”
“That’s awful, if pretty impressive. When was that?”
“Month or so back, maybe six weeks. Had to stay in hospital for a time while they set the house up for carers to come in, they weren’t keen on all the bottles.” He gave a shrug, cane bouncing on the sand.
“They’re not awful, but they can get sniffy over things. Mine always nag if my chair’s too close to the bed, like there’s no reason for me to keep it nearby. Not like I’d need it to get out if there was a fire or something, no. Took them months to get mine sorted so at least they were being quicker with you.”
“They just didn’t want to have an old soak taking up a hospital bed.”
“Should you be up on it so early?” she asked, turning to look at him properly. “They had me doing baths in peroxide and shit at six weeks, when I had my accident, I wasn’t able to go out until much later.”
“The nurses tell me not to, but if I stay in the house I get restless. A walk does me good. Turns out I’ve got myself fat on the drink so need to do something.”
“You still drinking?” she asked, looking him up and down. There was some podge there, yeah, but not awful.
“Couldn’t in the hospital, they dry you out before surgery. The anaesthesia can kill you if you’ve got drink in your system. Didn’t have a taste for it much anymore when I came out. If I get some fresh air in the morning it’s easier.”
Alice sat with that for a minute, chewed her lip along with the idea sitting on her tongue. “What happened to your wife?” she asked after a beat.
“Cancer, spotted one type and missed the other. Couldn’t do anything for her by the time they figured that out. We got to nurse her at home, so she was comfortable, but it was always going to end the way it did.”
“That got my mum too. Found out one month and she was gone the next. It was a whirlwind.”
“It’s hard, but better than her suffering. My Eilidh didn’t suffer, it was slow but she was on good drugs. They kill your appetite, you end up wasting off towards the end, that wasn’t good to see. At least your mum had hers about, my kids are off doing big things elsewhere, they couldn’t come till close to the end.”
“Jenny was like that.” Alice nodded, hands grasping her wheels. “She lives over in Northern Ireland so she couldn’t come over right away. She only got to be there for the last week.”
“Some’as say that’s no bad thing,” Raymond said with cough, fixing his hat. “Wind’s getting up. You should head off, the loose sand’ll whip up soon.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Are you walking down here for exercise?”
“Suppose you could say that, aye,” Raymond said, nodding to himself. “I like watching the harbour, and without the dogs the beach is nice.”
“You should come down to the gym, but like next week. It’s full of kids now but they’ll fall off soon enough. I can show you the equipment, and one of the trainers there specialises in designing routines for people with injuries. She could probably figure something out for you that’d be able to be built up after the grafts are healed. Here, give me your number and we can sort something.” She pulled her phone out and he blinked at her, eyebrows going up. “What, no phone?”
“I have a phone,” he said, looking about the beach as if there’d be a clue as to what to do. “Shouldn’t you be doing something else? It’s not a common thing to do.”
“I’m not a common thing,” Alice said, frowning at him again and grabbing the phone he eventually offered. “Anyway if you don’t like it you can come back to plodding along here like Eyeore.”
This story originally appeared in Ravenskald.