Ger plods through the dry sand until he reaches the part the sea has licked clean. He huddles into his coat, fingers feeling the envelope crinkling in his pocket.
He tells himself that the water in his eyes is from the wind.
The sand is slick from the retreating tide, shells with tiny pools around them, gulls following the tide.
The nutter is absent, thank god, or he’d have had to be patient and nice, and that would not suit. Not today. He needs to keep today to himself. Hard work, Doug is now. When he was a tiny lad Doug had helped him tie hooks on his fishing line and shown him how to fish for crabs. Then one day Doug told him that he’d joined the army, told him with a big grin that he was leaving forever.
Ger picks up a few flat stones, and a shell with an inside as pink as a sunset. The stones are spun into the water, just like Doug taught him years ago. Before. The shell he keeps.
He pulls the envelope from his pocket, the wind snatching at the paper. He reads the letter through, just in case it has changed since he read it last. The tears threaten, so he stuffs the letter in his pocket and zips it up. He runs to the water’s edge, where the waves keep time with his breathing.
He whoops and runs along the edge of the waves as they foam round his ankles. He yells, he screams, and waves his arms as he goes. He is six years old again.
Doug rises out of the rocks, horror on his face.
Ger stops. “Doug. It’s only me, man. I’ve got a job. I’ve. Got. A. Good. Job.” He grins wide enough to crack his face.
Doug relaxes, smiles vacantly. “A job.”
“Yes, man, a real job, not a part-time-helping-out-Mum job.”
Doug picks over each word like the pebbles he plays with. “You’ll go away, then?” he says. Today must be a good day.
“Yes—not for a while, though. Not for a couple of weeks.” Doug’s blue eyes lose focus. Maybe not such a good day. Or perhaps he’s upset, hurt. “I want lead my own life. I have to get away from here, see. I need to get away.”
Doug is looking skywards, lost again. Looking for Whitey. Ger shrugs. “Bye now,” he says. And as he walks away he hears a twenty year old whisper following him. “I’m going away, Ger. I’ve got away. And I’m never coming back.”