Caitlin – A short story

Caitlin

 

The translucent sun shone through the candyfloss clouds lifting the morose from the sea.  Caitlin stood on the edge of the surf allowing the sea to foam between her toes, she giggled her laughter a melody of life. Her long copper curls flounced around her shoulders as she hopped from one foot to another while waiting for her footprints to be erased from memory.

It was a strange kind of day, the sun was bright but cool, the sand held no heat either, and there was no wind, not the slightest breath. Caitlin didn’t mind, she was content to run up and down the water’s edge kicking at the surf. She would stoop to grab handfuls of sand and throw them in the air in the vain hope of knocking a gull from the sky. She squealed and laughed, her delight as full as the ocean and its gently rocking tide.

Caitlin ran in and out of the sea as she ran and skipped her way along the beach toward the white-face cliffs and the lure of crabs and rockpools. Somewhere, she remembered, was her lunch. She had left it to splash in the warm pools. She smiled at the memory of food and warmth, and something else: family. She had not come by herself but the beach was deserted, there was only her in her pink and yellow dress and red jelly sandals.  Caitlin looked down at her feet, she could see her toes wiggling through the glittering plastic. Her smile broadened into a grin, she had never been so happy.

Once more time, she told herself, mustn’t get too wet or go out in the water. The ocean glittered invitingly. Caitlin ran, really ran, with all her might splashing as hard as she could at the water lapping her ankles and shins. The water hung in the air, Caitlin was sure she could see her green eyes smiling back at her from the droplets, briefly, before gravity spoiled the lustre of her diamond crown.

The urge to reach the cliffs was undeniable, mummy was there daddy too, he had taken the weekend off work to come along. The memory of her parents was swiftly swallowed by one of ice cream with sprinkles and chocolate sauce. It must be getting late, she couldn’t tell. Had she eaten? She was not hungry or thirsty despite all the running and sea spray.

It was not far now the cliffs were getting taller. A blue light flickered beyond the rise leading up to the coastal path, the carousel was open she loved the golden horses with their red leather reins and dipping run. The bright lights and spinning mirrors made the whole world brighter, happier. She would investigate later, daddy would lift her onto one of the horses and take her photo as she went around and around.

There were more lights as she walked along. Fragments of sound intruded on her silent world. A hiss of sea on a cluster of pebbles, the caw of a crow fixing her with its beady eye as she passed the deck chair abandoned to the elements, its tattered nylon seat a shred of its former glory. Caitlin shuddered. Putting her hand to her brow to shield her eyes from the sun she watched the clouds pull a shroud across the blue sky. It was then she noticed how the light glowed around her fingers making them appear see through at the edges. She pulled her hair over her face to see if that too went transparent in the sun, to her wonder, it too was filled with light.

Caitlin slowed, she had lost the excitement of running. Lost the wonder of the day, suddenly the whole world seemed a little darker. The cliffs no longer shone, she could see dark patches among the white chalk. Grasses hung tight to the cliff face inviting birds to come nest and create life. Caitlin gazed up as she walked along the beach. She saw a policeman talking to someone at the base of the cliff, his bright yellow jacket an eyesore against nature’s canvas. She wanted to go and speak to him but her feet were drawn elsewhere as though she was no longer in charge of her shoes and where they went. More people were up ahead, pointing at the rockpools and looking out to sea. The tide was going out now. She remembered it coming in, she was sure of it.

With her head crooked to one side, she watched the people on the rocks. A man held a woman tight against him, her body shuddered with every breath she took. She wore the same outfit as mummy, though she had never heard her mother much such a hollow cry. The man was daddy, she could see him clearly now as she climbed up on the rock beside them. Daddy’s eyes were as red as the streaks painted down his face by the rivulets of tears. They were both crying.

Caitlin climbed down into the rock pool. The plastic carrier bag her lunch was in wrapped around something sticking out of the rock. She remembered trying to use it as welly boot, she had put both feet in it at once stirring up clouds of sand as she shuffled about in search of hidden creatures.  That was when the sea came. A huge wet hand slapping her down into the pool. The water swirling around her as she struggled to get up, the bag shackled her feet. She wanted to scream but only bubbles came. She remembered the taste of salt, her head hurting, and then … the sun.

Now as Caitlin sat on the rock staring at the little girl in the yellow and pink dress with crabs crawling among her copper coloured hair she remembered it all. She remembered the water splashing over the rocks, how it ran down into the pool. How pretty it looked, tiny glittering streams running down the dark rocks filling the pool. She could hear the ocean roar as circled around her closing in. She was wet, very wet, mummy would be angry as the dress was new. Then it came, the hungry lion roaring as it swatted her with its immense paw. If she tried she could picture it, see it all, the sea, the sand floating in it blurring her vision.

Mummy was watching her now, she had never seen her so sad. Caitlin stood up and tried to speak but she had no words to say, she made no sound at all, the world was once again – silent. Mummy was looking right at her, not the girl in the pool but at her. She waved. Mummy blinked and sniffed, her chest stopped heaving, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Daddy was watching too; the policeman was looking the other way talking into his radio. Caitlin smiled. They smiled back. Caitlin waved. Looking nervously around them, her parents gave a tentative wave.

Caitlin took a step and jumped. The pool was wide but she made it without stumbling. They all stood there just staring at each other. A shaft of sunlight cut through a chink in the clouds illuminating them. Then Caitlin smiled, her green eyes dazzling. She waved a happy, vigorous wave. The sun reflected off the wet rocks in an effulgence of halos. Caitlin’s hair turned transparent in the brilliant wash of light. In the twinkling of an eye, she was gone. Her parents turned away leaving the little girl in the pink and yellow dress to rest.

The last thing they remembered was love

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