Saturday 26 June 2021

'On Brighton Beach' by Georgia Hilton

There’s a heaviness in her chest that Sarah can’t dislodge. She’s aware of it each morning on waking. It’s dense, hard, smooth as sea-weathered stone. It’s curled as tight as a baby’s fist.

She tries various things to dissolve it, most of them bottled. The red she favours feels like drinking the cool dark of a lake, she imagines the sediment settling in her belly, accumulating.

Sarah takes a train to Brighton. It’s November, there’s an anniversary coming up. She can’t cope with another one. Her plan is simple, she’ll lie on the beach until the gulls peck the stone from her heart with their cruel curved beaks.

On the downhill walk from the station, she’s feeling reckless. Scatters coins like confetti. She’s half-running and for the first time in years feels light, as if she could take off.

On the seafront Sarah buys fish and chips. She eats most of it but saves some to attract the gulls. They hardly dive for fish these days, they’re shameless scavengers. Despite the cold she lies down, unbuttons her shirt and bares her chest, masking her nipples with battered cod.

Sarah closes her eyes, breathes slowly. Everything disappears except for the suck and sigh of the sea, the crunching of pebbles.

‘Excuse me love but this isn’t a topless beach, you’ll have to cover up’.

Sarah squints upwards to see a large uniformed woman standing over her. A community support officer. She has barbed remarks for this fake policewoman on the tip of her tongue but the woman holds out her gloved hands, as if offering condolences.

Sarah takes the woman’s hands and pulls herself to standing, suddenly self-conscious. The fish peeling away from her torso, drops onto the beach. When the tears come, hot and salty, seagulls are wheeling overhead, oblivious.

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