by Kate Jones
He pushes the heavy metal wheelchair up the steep, cobbled hill of the coastal town. Why she had to choose this place for a day out, he doesn’t know.
He wonders if she did it on purpose; she must have remembered this punishing hill from their visits in their youth.
He stops to take a breath. She tries to swivel her head around. “Why are we stopping?” she asks, her voice abrasive, brittle as glass against glass. The way she always speaks to him these days.
“Just taking a breather, this hill’s a killer,” he says.
She folds her arms in her lap and stares stonily ahead. The collar of his waterproof jacket tickles his neck where sweat has begun to trickle down into it. It had been spotting with rain down on the beach, where they’d sheltered to eat bags of sharp, vinegary chips with tiny wooden forks. Now the sun was beating on his back as he resumed pushing.
“Put your back into it a bit,” she shouts, without turning round. “My cheeks are getting sunburned.”
He pushes on, allowing the delicious edge of a thought to dance across his mind: What if I let go? He sees himself standing on the hill, watching the chair gather speed, bumping and careening over the wet cobbles. He wonders whether the bumps would cause it to tip over before it reached the bottom, or if it would continue to gather speed, crashing into the sad accordion player at the edge of the slipway.
Maybe she’d carry on down the slipway and end up in the sea, carried away to France.
As he pushes, he remembers other summers, when they would come here and swim in the sea. When she would laugh as he tossed her around on a bright yellow dinghy, bobbing up and down in her bathing suit, tossing chestnut curls into the wind.
He remembers seeing other men look at the way her nipples stood out under the wet, clingy material, and felt proud she was his. Images of the two of them walking hand in hand along the coastline, talking of the children they would bring back here to build sandcastles and eat ice creams.
Disappointing, barren years followed, as their dreams faded and tarnished.
He forces his mind away from his memories; they are more painful than the daydream of letting her slide back down the cobbles, a pile of crumpled metal and his wife on top. The saddest thing is, he thinks, she probably doesn’t remember any of that. He wonders if it’s better for her that way.
He feels a tug in his chest, regrets his earlier uncharitable thoughts.
“We’ll get a nice ’99 when we get to the top, shall we?” he says now to the back of his wife’s thinning grey, wiry curls.
She doesn’t answer; hasn’t heard him.
She’s thinking of a hot summer, and a yellow dinghy. And a beautiful girl in a red swimsuit from a long lost dream.
And she’s wishing he would just let her slide down the hill, to be carried away by the waves.
Kate Jones is a freelance writer based in the UK. A regular writer for Skirt Collective, she also writes features and reviews for The State of the Arts. She has published flash fiction and poetry in various literary magazines, including Sick Lit, Gold Dust, and 101words. She has been long-listed for Flash 500, and won the weekly Ad Hoc Fiction contest, as well as being nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Find her on Twitter @katejonespp. She also blogs at writerinresidenceblog.wordpress.com.