To the Beach


I snatched up the mobile phone again, and my hands were shaking – badly.

''Sophie, I'll call you back in a minute.'' I said, then pressed the red button.

I sat. What to do next?   I had to get out of here. I had to think about all this.   I looked around the bedroom and spotted an unfamiliar blue suitcase next to the old-looking brown wood wardrobe.   Was that ours?   I couldn't even get my head around the concept of ours when it seemed to apply to Henry and me, but apparently, if this wasn't some cruel joke in which Sophie and Henry were in collusion, it was the case.   The fact that the suitcase was there implied that we didn't actually live here.   Despite my confusion and – yes – fear, I couldn't help feeling slightly relieved.   Looking down at the flower-sprigged duvet cover again,   I was grateful that my own taste in décor apparently hadn't taken such a u-turn.   This must be Henry's mother's house – in Margate?

There was a chest of drawers next to the window.   I walked over, on unsteady legs, and pulled open the top drawer.   Female underwear.   Mine, I assumed.   The next drawer down contained three or four t-shirts and a couple of pairs of cargo trousers, plus a pair of jeans.   I lifted out a pair of the cargo pants – beige, my size.   Well, these were the sort of thing I wore, but I didn't recognise this particular pair, or the others – or the t-shirts either, for that matter.   There was a pair of trainers on the floor next to the chest of drawers.   Again, they were my size.   Well – at least I could get dressed.   I was beginning to feel hot and clammy in these fleecy pyjamas anyway.

I picked up the phone again and pressed the redial button. Sophie answered on the first ring.

''I need to see you, Soph. As soon as possible.''

''Clare, you sound terrible.'' she said. Her voice was anxious. You're not the only one, I thought.  ''I'm free all day. Ben's away, at a conference all weekend.   Tell you what – I'll come down.   It'll only take me an hour or so.   Give me the address.''

I would if I knew it, I thought. I didn't know Margate at all. I'd never even visited the place as far as I could remember.   I knew it was by the seaside, in Kent, but that was about it.

''No. Not here. I'll head for the beach. Give me a call when you're here and I'll tell you where to find me.''

''Oh. Okay, Clare.'' There was a pause. ''I've never heard you sound like this.   You sound really ... panicky.  I wish you'd tell me.''   If only you knew, I thought.

''Yes.  When you get here, Soph.   Please don't worry.   I'll tell you when I see you.''   But what will I tell you? I hung up.

I went into the bathroom again and had a quick wash, then grabbed the beige trousers and a brown t-shirt and put them on, together with the trainers.

What do I do about Henry?

I looked at the mobile again. I could ring him – but what do I say?   I don't know why I'm here with you when up until yesterday I was with Steve.   And Sophie's just told me that I'm with you,  and I'm wearing a wedding ring but I don''t remember any wedding and certainly not with you.

I put the phone back in the handbag and went downstairs, cautiously, in case Henry suddenly reappeared.   In the hall, there was a table with a telephone, and a little jotter pad and pen.   I scrawled a note.   Gone out for some fresh air. Don't worry.   I opened the front door, and looked around.   It was an ordinary residential street.   The day was fine, thank goodness.   I hadn't noticed a jacket or coat in the bedroom and I didn't really want to waste time looking around this strange house.   I just wanted to get away, and find somewhere I could talk to Sophie when she arrived.

I walked past the pleasant looking semi-detached houses to the end of the road.   With no idea where the beach was, my only option was to follow my instinct.   I turned right.

After walking for maybe ten minutes I came to a parade of shops, and in front of it was a bus shelter.   I looked at the timetable.   The number eighty-eight bus went somewhere called ''Marine Terrace.''   I assumed that was the beach, or at least nearby.   It ran every 30 minutes, according to this.   It was one of those bus shelters with seats on a hinge, so I sat and rummaged in the handbag and found... my purse.   I almost burst into tears again at seeing something, at last, that I recognised.   My old brown leather purse, looking a little battered, but that was nothing new.   I held it against my cheek, feeling as much affection for it as I would for an old friend.   Unzipping the coin compartment,  I was happy to see a few pound coins,along with some silver and a few pennies and two-pence pieces.   Should be all right for the bus then, I thought.   I opened the notes section.   There was a single note, and it was one I didn't recognise at all.   It was dark purple and very crisp.   Twenty pounds – it said – but it looked like foreign currency to me.   I felt lost, again.

A bus was approaching.   I strained my eyes and when I saw it was the number 88,  I stood and put my hand out.

''Marine Terrace'',  I said to the middle-aged driver, handing him a pound coin.

''One-fifty, love.'' he said, and I dug in my purse for the extra fifty pence piece, then made my way along the bus, clutching my ticket.

I sat on the edge of the seat for a few minutes before relaxing a little.   There were a couple of teenage girls sitting on the back seat, chatting and giggling, their conversation punctuated with frequent four-letter words.   They were talking about last night's edition of ''Big Brother'' and talking about some big fight which had taken place.   Oh well – that hasn't changed then.

I looked out of the window, while the scenery changed from residential to commercial, then town centre shops.   The girls alighted at the railway station and I was alone downstairs on the bus.   A few minutes later, I was spotting frequent hotels and guesthouses, and assumed we were nearing the beach,so I sat on the seat's edge again, not wanting to miss my stop.   When I had my first glimpse of the sea,   I stood and approached the front of the bus.

There was a board outside one guest house which caught my eye - Deja Vu.   I felt dizzy, all of a sudden.   I was level with the driver, and he glanced over at me.

''You okay, love? You look a bit peaky.''

''Yes. I'm fine, thanks.'' I managed to mutter. ''Are we near the stop for the beach?''

''Yep, nearly there, darlin'. You visitin', are you?''

I nodded. I didn't want to talk. Not till I saw Sophie.

He stopped a couple of minutes later.

''Here you are, darlin'. Have a nice time. You look as if you could do with a cuppa.''

I thanked him and got off the bus.

There was a long promenade of souvenir shops, pubs, amusement arcades and cafes.   The smells of candy floss, and fish and chips made me feel queasy again.   I soon reached a gap in the promenade, with a cluster of hotels, set back off the road.   A sign on the front of one of them said, ''Tea, coffee and snacks. Non-residents welcome.''

I walked into a cosy foyer.   There was a bar, with a girl in her twenties sitting, looking bored.   I went up and asked her for a coffee.   There was an array of buns and pastries.   I was hungry, and I thought I should probably eat, but my throat felt tight I was still hovering on the edge of nausea.

I took my cup and saucer to a table by the window and sank into a comfortable armchair.   I sipped at the hot coffee, and took my mobile out, resting it on my lap.   And waited for Sophie to call.

The End

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