The following piece of Flash Fiction won first place in the 2016 Dromineer Literary Festival Flash Fiction Competition.
In The Cool Of Evening
In this vivid place, there are no beaches that haven’t been shaped by man. Rock measured, dug out and dumped inland, tonnes of sugar-white sand lorried in and spread, pristine like the pleats of towels digitised by the marketing designers who conjured the brochure.
When he first glimpsed those deliberate beaches, he recognised them as where he would die. The sunshine fallacy rendered the place perfect for a premature end and while making plans, it became the only location where he could live and die without her.
To begin, he rewrote his script, fashioned a visible timetable, clear so that he could be missed and maybe someone in the post office would contact his children once the mail gathered.
His mornings started with coffee and a croissant at the bar front downstairs. A nod to neighbours from the last fifteen summers, the man who patted him on the shoulder when he realised why his wife no longer sat opposite, goading him for using too much sweetener in his coffee. “Aspartame will kill you, love. It’s a known carcinogen.” That man gave him the comfort of letting his shadow fill what should have been her chair, a small moment of company.
In the afternoon, he would idle down the sunburst streets towards the Prom, making sure his hat brim covered his ears, the tip of his nose. A jaunty angle suited his countenance mostly, but he had long outlived the touristic pinkening that came from an ill-advised shunning of sun screen.
He had been sunburnt the day they met, in the gentle days before UV rays, SPF, when assessing curious moles and markings remained the preserve of elderly ladies and the paranoid, when men unburdened their shoulders of shirts the minute the sun staggered out. It was a time when reddened skin made a man, the evidence of hard work peeling into drooped collars in the cool of evening.
In that sepia tinted way, their initial contact was a standard meet-cute from a simpler time, him working outdoors, her employed inside a home grander than either of their origins. Feelings cultivated through a respectful courtship of ha’penny cinema trips and shared bags of chips, of walks on roads bordered by unkempt ditches, furze, bracken and cuckoo spit.
The first time skin met skin was the cool of her palms soothing a kitchen-made balm into his brittle sun-dried neck. He never asked for care, wasn’t reared to ever expect a tender hand. She owned every kind touch he never thought he deserved and he lived each of their days trying to earn what she gave freely.
He told the children, in the days after they buried her, that their life together had been lived in the open air, that there hadn’t been a second she didn’t search for a fresh breath. He told them that he had to go where he would be sure to find her. He said he wouldn’t live again until he filled his lungs for the last time.