Below, you will find a new short story, The Beach House, which in its original 350-word form was a finalist in the Australian Writer’s Centre Furious Fiction contest back in October. Reading back over it, I could see it was forcefully crammed into the word count, so I’ve loosened it up a bit, added a few hundred more words, and I think it reads a lot better. I hope you dig it!
Once again, I procured the formidable talents of my ten-year-old daughter India to create the artwork for the story, and I love what she came up with.
The Beach House
Memories are ghosts. That is all. All that’s left here.
The beach house is empty. Lifeless. Dead. Devoid of occupants, it is nothing more than wood, nails and paint. T.S. Eliot said ‘Home is where one starts from’, but this here - this is where it ends.
Instead of music and laughter, there is stillness. Quiet, except for the ocean’s dull rumble, calling out from over the dunes. What was once a calming soundtrack to our weekends here, now bubbles in the distance with a low menace. Come to us, it says. I scowl at the horizon. Knock it off, you son of a bitch.
Out of habit, I fill the kettle, place it on the stove and ignite the gas burner. Luckily, the big canister at the front end of the house still has some gas. All I need now is a tea bag. And a cup. I search through the cupboards. Nothing of course except dust and dead bugs, their spindly limbs curled up towards the sky like petrified trees. There are no cups of course. They got cleaned out on my last trip out here, then dropped off at the Sally’s in town along with all the other unwanted detritus. The jug begins to whistle, laughing at me. Yeah, you and the goddamn sea.
Right. No more putting off the inevitable. Might as well just get on with it. I shake open a plastic rubbish bag and start feeding it with bits of miscellaneous debris, dull reminders of a previous life. Pieces of paper, business cards, takeaway menus and half-stamped coffee cards. Anything of value, sentimental or otherwise, has been taken already.
A real estate agent grins up at me from a garish brochure, urging me to choose them. There is a barely hidden desperation behind their otherwise perfect smile. Into the bag with your photoshopped teeth and your ‘doer-uppers.’ Your ‘indoor-outdoor flow.’ Didn’t need you in the end anyway. Private sale saved me a hefty chunk of change there. Small mercies and all.
I move on to the kitchen drawers. More meaningless crap in there. But that doesn’t halt the hopeful anticipation of finding something I might have missed the last time I was here—a faded polaroid of us or maybe one of those cute notes you used to leave me. The ones adorned with a hideously cheesy movie quote like “You complete me,” and then a drawing of someone vomiting.
The air is stale with dust and sunbaked surfaces. If dust is skin cells, then a part of you must still be here. A permanent fixture. I run a finger through the dust, catching a grey smear and raise it to my nose in the faint and foolish hope that it smells like you. Stupid. The idea of someone coming in and carelessly sweeping you away just doesn’t seem right. But that’s where we’re at.
The rubbish bag has eaten its fill, its distended stomach threatening to split and spill its innards. My time here is up. The cleaner will do the rest. Time for one last walk-through. My mind inserts wall hangings, pieces of furniture and of course, you into the bare skeleton of the house. Vivid, crystalline memories that will surely fade like a sun-bleached polaroid, devolving into a blinding indecipherable white blur. Like staring into the sun.
I lock the front door and slip the key under the mat. The cleaner will be here soon, and it’s not like there’s anyone else around in the off-season. That’s why we liked coming here in the winter. There was no one else around. We could do as we pleased. Drink wine and light bonfires in the sand dunes. I would strum tunes on that old acoustic guitar I found at a garage sale. Sometimes if we were feeling particularly bold, we would strip off and plunge into the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean. The ocean was unseasonably warm the last time we swam in it. Looking back, it almost felt like a lure. A trap.
It’s time to go. But I can’t. Not yet.
The ocean sounds louder now, raising its voice. Admonishing my departure. Come on down. We miss you.
Fuck you. You took everything.
We are sorry. Come and see us one last time. I spit into the sand, as if it were a meaningful gesture. As if the ocean could sense my disdain.
I gaze out across the dunes to the cool blue expanse in the distance. The car keys jingle expectantly in my hand. In a minute. There’s no rush.
I walk past the station wagon, drawn to the rough path that takes me down to the sea. Where the currents are strong and treacherous.
I reach the beach and start to undress. A strong wind whips across my body, stinging my legs with sand, goading me on towards the expectant ocean.
Come on in, the sea whispers. She’s still here. Waiting for you.
Copyright Beware the Moon.
Artwork by India Grenell.