It wasn’t as good as the first time.
This was hardly a surprise, and indeed both of us had known it was going to fall far below even our meagre expectations, but it was still an unpleasant thing to experience.
The whole enterprise had been doomed from the start. Some wishy-washy, over-thought attempt to recapture a spark that had long since left the stable (to mix imagery). We both had strong feelings regarding the beach, and that particular stretch of it especially. Thinking about it still made both of us happy. Given that happiness these days was somewhat thin on the ground, this made the thought precious. It was subject to diminishing returns however, and as the time between then and now grew the power of the memory to make us smile got thinner and thinner.
This was bad. The world was a dark and dreary place now, especially compared to how carefree and full of possibility it had been then. Even the filmiest means of obtaining a shred of joy was worth bending over backwards for. So that was what we planned to do. We would go back to that stretch of beach and we would recreate everything we had done, so as to refresh the memory and stave off the ever-encroaching bleakness.
Planning was the first mistake. Originally, the excursion to the beach had been spur of the moment. We’d been nearby (though neither of us could now remember why) and having nothing better to do we had run off to be fools in the surf. The spontaneity had been a key aspect of the whole thing. Removing it hobbled it before it even got started, and we both knew it. Going through the motions of what we had done the first time with none of the thought or feeling that had been involved in the WHY of what we’d done was hollow.
None of this helped by the fact the beach itself was never going to be like it had been back then, either. The bleakness and gloom that suffused the world was not purely metaphorical and had many tangible, physical aspects to it. The water had been cold before – as we’d experienced, squealing as we splashed one another with it – but now it was both freezing and highly caustic. Hence the wellingtons. The sand too was rougher and had more malice in it. A pinch of the stuff had managed to sneak into my boot and the flesh had worn raw very quickly indeed. I’d pretended it was fine and plastered a smile onto my face to match hers, but it had been quite significantly painful.
Collapse was inevitable. Her efforts were admirable and she really did put in far more effort than I did, but she did eventually have to admit that it had been doomed. The look on her face would have broken my heart, had it remained capable of such a thing. Environmental conditions had hardened it, both figuratively and literally. That was why it was sat in a jar some distance away, the gap in my chest instead occupied with something more mechanical and more efficient.
I think the mounting grimness in the world had got to me far quicker than it had got to her. The downcast look on her face was so potent because underneath it was still the faintest – though dying – glimmer of hope. If not hope that our little beach re-creation would be successful then at least hope that tomorrow might be just that little bit better. I had no such illusions, to the point where I considered them illusions by default. I tried to smile, but it just made her look unhappier.
This wouldn’t do. She’d even gone to the trouble (and danger) of finding the same dress she’d had that day. She looked much as she had done that day, in fact, which is to say achingly beautiful. And there I was, a hunk of so much dour gristle. Even if I thought that the tiny flicker of yearning that still hid somewhere inside her was a silly thing, that didn’t really give me the right to dampen it by hanging around being so damn depressing. It wasn’t fair on her.
I managed a proper smile as I reached a decision. Stepping up I put a hand to her cheek and planted a kiss on her forehead before striding off into the waves. She cried out and made to stop me, but I was already too deep and with the dress and the looseness of her wellies she was unable to pursue without sustaining horrendous burns. I was sustaining horrendous burns, but I wasn’t too fussed. It would be over soon.
And who knows. Tomorrow might turn out better after all. For her, at least.