Splut, splut, splut, splut. The rapid sound of running footsteps grew closer on the shore behind me, and I spun around to face a young woman dressed in a bikini and sarong, an infant on her hip. "Miss! You've dropped something," she said to me, and I paused to let her catch up.
The shore behind her was expansive and barren. Where on earth had she come from? And what could I possibly have dropped? I took a quick mental inventory. No. I had nothing, and I had lost nothing.
"Here you are, dear," she said, her outstretched arm offering me a rhinestone bracelet.
The bracelet was familiar. I had spied it in the sand just moments ago. "That isn't mine." My voice betrayed a combination of regret and exhaustion, as well as a maturity that I didn't recognize as my own.
"Don't be silly. I just saw you drop it." Insistently, she placed it on my wrist. It was much shinier than it had first appeared in the sand, and I admired it for a moment before taking it off.
"Really, I didn't drop it. Please take—"
I looked up. The woman was gone.
But the infant was here, sat in the sand at my feet. "Oh, dear. Oh, no, no, no, no," I chanted, scooping him up in my arms and searching the empty shore for his mother. "Where have you gone?" I shouted into the distance. There came no answer. Not even an echo.
The child's patient face looked up at me, and I noticed for the first time that he wore only one shoe.