Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Short story continued...

Martha gathered her coat and canvas bag from beside her. The bag had been a gift from a thoughtful friend years before and had a description of Karma inscribed on the side in bold letters. She stepped to the counter to pay for her toast and tea. The woman behind the register smiled with recognition handing over the till receipt.
“It’s a beautiful morning out there”.
“Yes”, said Martha as she handed over a crumpled five pound note. “It certainly is. See you soon”. This morning she wasn’t in the mood for small talk.

It was only a short walk to the surf shop on the corner along the seafront. They had walked past it many times before. The smell of the sea air felt reassuringly familiar as the sun’s rays began to break over the sea, creating undulating reflections of iridescent light. A young girl with salty, sun bleached hair and ruddy cheeks was stacking boards and buckets outside the shop on the pavement. A fuchsia fleece cocooned her top half, and a pair of denim shorts barely covered her bottom. She wore her youthfulness like a prize, all bare legs and unkempt hair. As the girl turned, Martha caught herself staring at her protuberant bum cheeks. To conceal her embarrassment she quickly approached and asked about renting a wet suit and board for the day.
“Have you surfed before?”
For a moment Martha wanted to lie. She felt embarrassed that she had reached 54 and not surfed, as if she had to justify herself; join the dots to explain the journey that had brought her there.
“No.” Her honesty took her by surprise.
“That’s cool.” Shrugged the girl, clearly familiar with the scene.
“We have lessons too if you want”.
“No, I think I just want to give it a try first – I’m not sure I’ll be able to stand the water to be honest.” Martha’s smile belied the genuine fear that lurched deep in the pit of her stomach. Cold temperatures and deep water were two of her biggest fears.
“Our suits are pretty good to be honest, you won’t notice the cold once you’re in. Come in and I’ll find one that’ll fit. You’ll be a small I think.” Martha was surprised that she took the unintended compliment to heart. The years of swimming and gym memberships had paid off. Her skin sat looser than 20 years before, but she had managed to maintain her small frame despite her appetite for wine and expensive cheese.

Once inside the shop the girl carried over a long wetsuit like a flaccid corpse. A zip ran all the way up the back, and as she took it Martha noticed how heavy and slightly damp it was. The thought of getting out of her warm clothes and pulling on the cold suit didn’t appeal. For a moment she contemplated handing the suit back and retreating to the warmth of the cafĂ© and the glowing embers of the stove. Then her son came back into her mind. The many times she’d insisted he go to rugby practice despite the snow, swimming lessons with a cold, and once even skiing albeit with a paralyzing fear of heights. He had stood routed to the spot, fear gripping him, and somehow she had coaxed him down the mountain. Now she couldn’t let the same fear and discomfort dissuade her.

She stepped into the changing room and removed each layer of clothing until she was left in her swimsuit that she had put on that morning instead of underwear. Getting ready in the pre-dawn light her plan had been to avoid any internal excuse that might veer her off her course.

Stepping into the black suit felt entirely alien. The ankles were uncomfortably tight, and she had to carefully pull the thick, foamy material over each soft fold of her body until she could push her arms into the stiff arm holes. Again she questioned why people did it. Once inside the wetsuit Martha stepped back out into the shop where the girl was waiting.
“See – it’s a good fit. Do you need help with the zip?” Martha was grateful for the extra pair of hands to pull the zip up her back despite the long cord that hung from the catch.
“If you could fill out this form with your details, it’s £25 please. And then we’ll pick out a board”. Located now on either side of the shop’s counter the disparity between the two women seemed almost comical to Martha. She felt awkward; upright and orka-like in her suit, boobs squashed unflatteringly against her ribs, an untidy bundle of clothes stuffed into her bag, and a nervous knot forming in her stomach; while the young girl slouched against the desk, her insouciant style and manner felt jarring in comparison.
“You can store your things here if you like? It’s easier than taking them down to the beach with you. I’ll put it in the store room at the back, you can just pick it up when you bring your board and suit back”.
“That would be great, thanks.” Replied Martha, relieved at not having to worry about her clothes, wallet and mobile phone being stolen from the beach.

Outside, they easily chose a board; short, lightweight, “easy to begin with”. And after a few words of advise about the best place to head, she lifted the board artlessly under her arm with the elastic cord in her grip feeling as though her fingers didn’t quite hook around the edge so she could carry it with any degree of ease and finesse.

Walking across the road and down to the sand in her flipflops Martha felt slightly ridiculous, as though the few dog walkers and early morning runners could tell this was her first time.

Reaching the spot she intended to head out from, she paused at the water’s edge, kicking off her rubbery sandals away from the lapping waves for fear they wouldn’t be there when she returned. For a moment she wondered whether she should have called David to let him know where she was heading. As she left the flat that morning she’d said she was going for a coffee and then to the shops not wanting to seem absurd. He would have laughed. No, she’d call when she got back to the shop, after all, her phone was now in the pocket of her coat in a corner of the store room.

CONTINUED ON FRIDAY

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