THE OCEAN OUTSIDE MY DOOR

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
***WINNER OF THE 2007 THENEXTBIGWRITER OCEAN FLASH COMPETITION*** Linda returns to the small sea front hut the family owned and enjoyed when they were children and that she has now inherited. Her plan is to sell the property to help buy herself a new future. But sometimes the future can be found in the past.

Submitted: October 22, 2007

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Submitted: October 22, 2007

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The Ocean Outside My Door

by Brian Lancaster

Linda sat on the top step leading to the family beach hut, hugging herself and rocking. She tilted her head up to see the word 'Gingerbread', still legible even though rust had spread like disease from the dimples where screws fixed the plaque to the exterior. Many people had probably sat here, she thought, but how many had considered starting life over again at fifty-six?

Her artist's eye found the October shoreline stunning. Brooding, thunderous rain clouds wrestled above the wild Atlantic; the scene a sombre battle of greys, whites and blues. Would she have more time to paint, she wondered, now the burden of motherhood had eased and Donald had walked away from their marriage?

She clamped a hand around the wooden handrail built on the right side of the steps. Her father told her the hut was left to him by his great aunt, a distant relative nobody knew about until her death in 1963. After that, the place had become a familiar summer haunt for their family.

A memory flashed, of holding her little sister Elizabeth's hand and the pair of them struggling barefoot down to the chill sea, squealing amid breaking waves. It was the first time she had returned there since her inheritance six years before.

She remembered her call to the estate agent in Suffolk, enquiring about renting the hut to holidaymakers.

"This is prime real estate, Mrs Brentwood. There are waiting lists for these kinds of beach front properties. Last month one sold for over 40,000."

"Property? It's a shed. Not more than a dozen square feet."

"A collector's item, built between the wars. People will pay anything for them."

"People with more money than sense."

A part of her felt guilty about selling but another knew the proceeds would give her choices. She could go back to college to study art. She could take a long holiday overseas, something time and money had denied her.

She hauled herself up. "Come on Linda, old girl. Let's get this over with."

The back wall housed the only item of value; a familiar antique Welsh dresser of dark wood with two white enamel plates on the top shelf and mugs lining the lower, grinning like an old friend.

After cleaning the rest, she tried removing the final drawer twice but both times something snagged. Eventually, she yanked so hard the whole dresser tilted forwards.Her steadying hand came up but not before one of the plates clattered to the floorboards. There was another sound, something heavy dropping behind the unit.

She knelt to the floor and retrieved an object wrapped in brown waxed paper fastened with string. Despite her curiosity, she placed the parcel onto the table and continued cleaning until a full sack of rubbish rested at the bottom of the steps.

Satisfied, she sat in a chair and began unwrapping the bundle. It contained a journal bound in stitched leather. On the inside cover, the owner's name was recorded in confident strokes of purpling ink:

Julia Margaret Cheltenham. Her great-great aunt.

She flicked through the first few pages and gasped. Julia had been an artist; each page had magnificent sketches, one recognisable as the facade of Gingerbread. Others captured the wild vegetation and rugged cliff faces along the south coastline but most depicted seascapes, both calm and tempestuous. All were drawn using charcoals creating moody shades or carefully outlined detail.

Although most pages were filled with illustrations, some contained Julia's writing.On its own,the book opened to what appeared to be a diary entry.

12th October 1924

To AJB

The ocean outside my door reminds me of you; passionate and untameable, fathomless and yet familiar. Except that you are no longer here and the restless sea will remain long after I am gone.

The shelter I have purchased is simple. I often wish your final fragrance had been these of fresh wood, paint and sea air rather than of mud and flesh, of mustard gas and mortar. I have named her Gingerbread after the Somme trench rat you wrote about days before your life was taken.

It saddens me that we cannot share this simple existence, the rain dancing on the roof, the wind cradling the hut, the sea's lullaby. Every living soul should experience such uncomplicated joy.

I sleep here in the autumn months when families return inland to their homes taking with them their noisy, carefree abandon. I sleep here when the beachfront is surrendered back to the townsfolk and quietude descends.

Last night, when once again the nightmares woke me, I heard your voice in the surf whispering my name. Those are the times I see you clearly, my love, your spirited grey eyes under dark brows, your mouth curved with lines of humour, leaning over me in the night, lulling me back to sleep when all I want is to keep you with me.

And always you win and I wake to another day without you.

Sometimes my thoughts turn to ending this joyless existence. But as you once reminded me, however fleeting this life may be, it is a gift from the Lord and while the ocean outside my door continues to breathe then so shall I.

Forever yours,

JMC

For the first time in the three weeks since her life had changed, Linda sobbed unashamedly, hugging the book. When at last the tears subsided she took a deep breath and made herself a promise.

She would keep the hut, a symbol of happier times and uncomplicated joy. She would treasure this symbol of pure yet unfulfilled love. She would bring her paints and easels and set up on the veranda.

She would start over.

To brave a new future we don't always have to let go of the past.

Copyright 2007 brian s. lancaster All rights reserved.


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