She’s building a baby. Scooping the beach with busy hands. Limpet shell eyes, driftwood splinter buzzcut. Seaweed nappy wrapped tight.
You stare anywhere but down. Watch a sandpiper in the foam, the pier reaching out in its empty-armed embrace. You taste salt.
‘You don’t like it?’
‘Sand in my eye,’ you lie. The world wavers but you pull it back into focus. Concentrate on collecting necessities, a long list reeled off rapid fire while she pokes dimples into cheeks.
A witch’s stone, hole worn through by time or magic, for a belly button.
Plastic bottle lid dummy.
She spends the day cooing, singing nursery rhymes. Sharing all she’s got with the grainy newborn.
‘You’re a lovely big sister.’
‘Not really though,’ she hurls a pebble. Makes a splash. For a second she’s thrilled, chest puffed at how far she can throw. But it isn’t her inexplicably growing stronger, it’s the surf wilfully climbing closer.
The panic in her voice rises with the tide, ‘save him!’
You become the breaker, fall on the baby like a wave, shovel him into buckets. Flinching at the scrape of spade against his brittle body. Promise you’ll be able to fix him.
Once home, she’s moved on. No longer wants to be Mum. Oblivious to the weight you’ve carried.
Plastic handle ghosts etched into your palms; you tip sandcastles onto the bathroom floor. Turrets for toes. You struggle to remember the shape of him, the size of him. Any version of him. And he slides between your fingers like the final seconds through an hourglass.
Martha Lane is a writer from the North East of England. She began writing flash while shielding from Covid and is working on a collection about parenthood and pregnancy loss. Her flash has been published by Perhappened, Reflex, Bandit, Briefly Zine, and Free Flash Fiction among others. Tweets @poor_and_clean.