Doris is taking her usual stroll on the beach. She’s not as fast those days and the footsteps she leaves on the ochre ground are so close together, almost forming a line. A snail trail, she thinks.
How many times has she walked on this beach? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands?
She took her first steps on there, one sunny afternoon, ninety years ago. There is a dog-eared picture in her album that had immortalised the moment. A curly browned hair toddler in the knee length bathing suit, undaunted by the large wooden camera. She’d like to think she remembers this moment, but she doesn’t. She remembers the picture with its tilted horizon and, in the background the old teahouse, lodged in between the rocks.
When she was seven years old, Ma took her there for the very first time. Now watch your step Dory, this staircase is very steep.
Doris can just about make the remnants of the staircase now. A few steps survived the tragedy and still hang on to the side of the rock, twenty feet from the ground, and leading nowhere.
When she was eighteen, John took her there after they got engaged. They had tea and scones. They were unsweetened as it was a no sugar week but they had tasted wonderful to them both.
Once married, they’d gone there most Sundays. They would first walk the mile down to the cross and pray for all those that were lost, shed a tear for all those that were missed. They never talked much after going to the cross. They would just sit opposite each other, enjoying the warmth of the tea and of each other’s company.
When she was twenty-six, they took Mary for her sixth birthday. There is also a picture in the old album. A little girl, contrite in her Sunday best, her comical toothless grin clashing with the severity of her outfit.
When she was thirty, the teahouse came down during a violent storm. The waves bashed and bashed until its foundation finally gave up crumbling slowly into the sea, soon followed by the terrace and the rest of the building. The next day, the low tide had uncovered tables and chairs and teapots; and for months after, the sea would bring fragments of the building large and small. She found a discarded gold-rimmed plate once. Every time she looked at it she thought of John, and thought of the teahouse.
Last week, she gave the plate to Emily. Emily is young, twenty-seven. She never saw the teahouse and the plate won’t bring any sad memories. When she took it out of the buffet to give it to her granddaughter, she told her where it came from, told her about how her and John used to go there and about how her mother had a birthday there once, fifty years ago.
Emily called her a few days later, breathless with excitement. “Nan! I have great news! They are going to build a café where the old teahouse used to be! Isn’t it wonderful? I can’t wait to go there with you.”
The crane has been here a while now, disfiguring the beach, ruining the soothing sound of the waves. Doris has followed the builders’ progress, feeling strangely moved when the staircase started leading somewhere again, when the foundations of a terrace started emerging from between the rocks. But she’d missed the last few days of the building work, a nasty cold keeping her in bed. Emily had come to see her, telling her that the place was to open in a few days. She’d mentioned its name but Doris had forgotten it.
She’s finally better, and as promised, Emily takes her there. “I can’t wait to buy you a cuppa, Nan.”
The place is busy, and loud. Emily settles her at a small table overlooking the sea. “I’ll be right back,” she says. She comes back a couple of minutes later, carrying two large scalding hot paper cups with plastic lids.
“There you go, tea with a drop of milk.”
“Oh don’t worry about that Nan, they just misspelled your name.”
B.F. Jones is French and has stories in (or soon in) STORGY, The Cabinet of Heed, Train Lit Mag, Soft Cartel, Spelk and Bending Genres.