The beach had changed in the past forty years, though to be fair, probably not as much as I had.
As I made my way down the half a dozen stone steps to the sand, I could feel the twinge of pain in my hip as for the last dozen or so years. By now it was, if not an old friend, then at least a faithful companion.
Dropping a old, frayed towel to the beach, I lowered my old frayed self onto it, and lay the cane by my side. It was mildly chilly, but I never felt the cold so much these days; sometimes I missed not feeling the cold, but not now. Not today.
I liked the softness of the sand beneath me, and the sounds of families around me, though most of the sounds were of faint annoyance as parents gathered children and those same children faintly protested at the closing of a day’s enjoyment, and the shared prospect of long and boring car journeys to come.
Closing my eyes, I could hear the sea, rushing into the shore and I was for a deliberately long moment transported back over those four decades, to the first moment I’d seen her.
She’d been young then, as had I. So much to look forward to, for both of us.
She’d literally been in the air, at that first glance, mid-way through a game of volleyball, her long powerful limbs having thrust her into the air, her arm swinging down to connect with a brightly coloured beach ball.
I’d been smitten with her instantly, long before we met, long before shared glances, of lust, of longing, of love.
I’d been invited down to Brighton by an old close friend ostensibly to meet his new ‘crowd’, but in reality to meet his new girl. Her.
It hadn’t been long before curiosity had turned to kisses, before desire had to turned to decision time.
One kiss had sealed it, one October afternoon, under a bridge arch that I now realised with a faint smile that I no longer knew whether it still existed. If not, it would be fitting, I supposed with a brief, satisfying sigh.
I knew she wasn’t right for him and eventually she realised it as well. That, of course, had been long after she’d married him. And more than a dozen years since we’d seen each other.
She died last week. I received got a phone call from a very old acquaintance and he’d mentioned it as an “oh, by the way did you hear…?” type comment towards the end of the call.
To be honest, I hadn’t thought about her for some weeks before that moment, and even then it had only been a brief flash of memory. My grand-daughter had mentioned something which had reminded me of a movie we’d once gone to, chastely holding hands in the middle of the row, feeling daring but determined.
But now, as I lay on the beach, my eyes still closed, I missed those times. And I missed her.
I wondered if she’d remembered me. Or ever thought of me.
And then I shifted uncomfortably on the sand as I realised that I couldn’t remember the colour of her hair, or the way she’d smelled, or the sound of her laugh.
But I remembered how she’d made me feel: king of the day, prince of the moment.
And that, I realised, was enough for any man.
I opened my eyes, looked at the night for a long moment, then closed them again and slept the sleep of the old.