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Juliet Kemp

Things Found on a Beach

1. A bracelet of glass beads

Dawn. A young woman sits on the beach, staring out at the horizon, a bracelet in her hands. Her expression hovers between anger and desolation. Suddenly she stands and begins removing her clothes. Stripped to her underwear, she looks at the bracelet in her hand, face twisted in hurt. She places it carefully on top of her clothes, and walks into the sea, wincing at the cold, face and shoulders still tense.

Beyond the foam breaking on the beach, she floats on her back, dark hair fanning out around her in the calm water. She stares at the sky as the colours slowly change, wisps of sunrise-pink cloud against the blue fading as the sun creeps upwards. The air is salt-fresh, and as the warmth of the sunlight reaches her, the tension in her face washes away with the barely-there rise and fall of the water.

She emerges shoulders back, chin up, face determined. Reaching her clothes, she contemplates the bracelet briefly, then picks it up and wades back into the sea. Standing knee-deep, she throws it out, hard, overarm. As she comes back up the beach to her clothes, she is smiling.

2. An old tennis ball

Early morning, bright and clear, a classic early autumn day. A dog, bounding energetically across the beach, stops and noses at something in the sand. He picks it up and runs to his master, sauntering behind.

"What's this then? You've found a ball? OK, give it here."

He throws it a few times for the dog to retrieve. Third time, the dog detours to the edge of the water and stands expectantly, looking back at the man.

"Want to go for a swim then, Alfie-dog?" The man laughs, walks down to where the dog stands, takes the ball. "Let's see if it'll float, first."

He throws it a little way out. Alfie joyously bounds into the water and returns it almost immediately.

"Bit too easy, huh?"

Further this time; further again the next. But as Alfie paddles out, his master sees the ball disappearing under the water and swears to himself. Alfie reaches the spot he's aiming for, paddles round in confused circles, hunting. Then heads in another direction, nosing through the waves. After a while the man calls him in.

"Sorry boy, I'm afraid it's gone. C'mon, we've got to go."

Alfie is reluctant, clearly thinks he's failed. His master coaxes him in - "come on, c'mon boy. Don't worry, not your fault. Come on, Alfie, time to go" - while twice Alfie gets halfway in then turns for another go, still fixed on the task he was set. Finally he emerges, shakes himself, and they set off. The man still reassuring that it's OK, he's a good dog, Alfie casting looks over his shoulder.

"We'll come back tomorrow, Alfie-dog, maybe it'll get washed back up."

3. A pinch of ash

Midmorning, and three sombrely dressed adults stand at the edge of the water. The sun is behind one of the clouds hovering overhead, and the wind has picked up a little. A seagull scratches round at the intersection between sand and sea.

"What wind there is is coming straight down the beach. We need to wade in a bit, to actually get it in the water."

They look at each other and smile briefly at the ridiculousness. The woman carefully sets down the box she holds, and all three bend to take off shoes and socks, roll up trousers or hitch a skirt into a waistband. The woman picks the box up again, holding it gingerly.

"Lucky the waves aren't much today," the younger man comments as they wade cautiously in, knee-deep.

"Should we say something?" the woman asks, holding back emotion behind a bitten lip.

The older man shrugs. "Said it all back there, didn't we?"

He takes the box from the woman, opens it and reaches in. He opens his hand palm-up, and a fine dust rises from it, to be taken by the wind. "Bye Dad," he whispers to the breeze.

The younger man echoes him as his handful goes the same way. The woman hesitates, then opens her hand into the sea, watching as the faint cloud quickly disperses. The younger man takes the box and shakes the rest into the wind. Some, caught by a sudden gust, blows back onshore and settles further down on the beach.

They look at each other, tears not far away. The older man puts a slightly awkward arm round the other two, and the three stand there for a moment, looking silently out to sea. Then turn to splash back to shore.

4. A seagull feather

A man and woman walk together along the sand in the early evening. The sun is low behind the dunes, and there's a chill to the air. Other people dot the beach - an elderly chap walking briskly along the wet sand, dog walkers, other couples. He has a seagull feather in his hand, idly twirling it between his fingers as they talk of what her boss said to her this morning, the project he's due to start on Monday, her sister's latest drunken exploits.

They fall silent and walk on together companionably, although she seems slightly on edge. She suddenly turns towards him and says

"Dan - I'm two days late. I took the test yesterday, and. Dan. Dan, I'm pregnant."

He stops walking, turns to her, the feather falling unheeded. They stare at each other, fear and joy in both of their eyes, a thousand possible futures fading as life shifts beneath them, a thousand new ones arising. They both begin to smile, hesitantly at first, then more broadly. He hugs her, hands suddenly careful on her waist, as she buries her face in his neck. They hold each other, eyes shut, awaiting what comes next.

5. The remains of a bonfire, and an empty plastic cider bottle

"I didn't know your parents let you out this late."

"They don't know."

A group of teenagers around a bonfire, after dark. The boy who asked the question grins at her response, hands her the bottle of beer. She's not had beer before - only the odd half-glass of wine at meals with her parents and their friends - but swigs it down anyway, repressing her grimace at the taste. She passes the bottle on and leans back on her hands, face full of the joy of her first independence.

A joint passed from the other side and she takes a drag, represses a cough. The boy who spoke earlier moves a little closer, smiling sideways at her. She stares at the stars in the clear sky, trying to look enigmatic, sexy. Bubbling, underneath, with the joy of living. She digs her toes into the cool sand of the beach, finding the slight dampness under the surface.

A little later and they're all pleasantly woozy, giggly from the booze and the dope. The boy has his arm round her shoulders, and she snuggles into him a little as the chill of the evening catches her. The fire crackles, and she turns to him to say something, and suddenly they're kissing.

It's almost too much to bear, the sudden desperate wish both for things to stay right as they are, right now this second; and to fast forward to being grown up, being able to do all this whenever she wants, finding out what happens next; and over and above it all the irrepressible joy of all that life inside her and ahead of her and nothing, nothing can ever be wrong.

©2008 by Juliet Kemp

Juliet Kemp is a freelance writer who has been putting things down on paper for as long as she can remember. She usually lives in London, UK, but is spending much of 2008-9 meandering her way to, round, and from Australia overland, blogging her progress at her Live Journal. For more information see her regular Web site.

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