“I’m going out,” he said.
“Where?” she said, from the chair by the window.
“Up the beach.”
“Do you -”
He pulled on his shoes and didn’t look at her, even though he could feel her watching him.
In the car he turned on the radio, then turned it off, and then turned back on again. He turned it off and sat in silence.
At the beach he got out and walked up the muddy dyke wall and looked down onto the sea. The groynes were sinking in the sand. They looked like blackened fingers against the grey sky. Broken fingers. The beach looked the same, and not the same. There were rocks that had been uncovered by the receding mud, and he could not figure out if they were larger than they had been. So much had changed. They might be bigger.
He walked along the soft, wet sand by the white froth left by the waves and followed the triangular foot prints of a wading bird along the beach. There were no bottles half-submerged in the sand. No bullet casings. Just twisted brown, orange metal. Indistinct. Could be anything. Formless.
At the skeleton of the old house he stopped. It had shrunk. That was certain. Some of the concrete supports had fallen away, and you could see the beach rushes through the holes in the walls. Someone had had a fire out the front and there was a pile of rocks, shaped like a cairn, surrounded by blackened wood and half burnt paper. He sat in the divot of sand where they had all sheltered so many times, so many years before, with his back to the crumbling wall and his face to the sea.
“Afternoon,” said a man, who had appeared over the bank, followed by a white and black dog with a tennis ball in it’s mouth.
“Afternoon,” he said.
That was all.
He sat there for ten minutes. His hands became numb, his face stung, and his ears burned red. The rain came down harder. Like tiny artillery shells, the rain left circles in the sand.
He got up and rubbed his hands together. He blew a kiss to the sea.
He turned around and walked up the beach.
He looked once more over his shoulder at the sea. The great, unknown expanse lay before him, and he was ready to turn towards it. He walked down the bank and got into his car.
This great, unknown expanse.