As the day tips towards twilight the lights flicker on along the seafront, garlanding the bay; tracing the stretch of the pier across the dark heaving water.
The daytime crowds disperse. In an hour or two the night-time crowds will emerge, all fancy clothes and swagger but now, this pause between day and night, is Ruth’s time. As the light leaches from the sky the tides seem to hesitate; even the gulls are subdued. Just the quiet pad of a runner passing by and a solitary walker letting his dog chase the waves as they retreat. The sky flushing gold and soft, bruised mauve above the reach of the sea. And Doug, out on the beach still, stumbling across the cobbles. His worst time of day.
Ruth clips on Judy’s lead and grabs the bag and soon she is out beneath the softening sky and Doug when he sees her stops his frantic lurching, his yelling at the promise of stars and he is quiet again, so quiet that just for a moment Ruth thinks that today might be one of his good days. She lets Judy off her lead and watches as the little dog runs stiffly up to Doug, her stump of a tail wagging frantically, even after all these years.
Ruth has had Judy for longer now than Doug ever did: has fed her and walked her and watched her transform through the years from a swift little terrier to this lumpen, arthritic thing yet everyone still calls Judy Doug’s dog.
Doug walks towards Ruth, smiling; takes the bag from her hand without a word then hurries to the rock pools, Judy beside him. He sits with the little white dog and eats the sandwiches, the apple. The piece of cake that Ruth wrapped so carefully he flings to the few remaining gulls and soon the air around him is full of white flashing wings and as his voice rises with them through the cooling darkened air Ruth remembers when he laughed with her on this same beach, and held her hand and smiled. The way his gaze had focused beyond her, telling her before he spoke that it was over. His dog left behind with her like some sort of consolation prize.
When the food is finished and the gulls have dispersed Judy noses her way back across the stones and stands by Ruth’s side, ready to go home.
“Same time tomorrow, then, Doug?” Ruth says but he is too busy pointing out to sea to reply; too busy watching the waves washing his footsteps off the beach, reaching for him still. Searching for Whitey in the dimming, empty sky.