by Martin Burtsyn
Runner-up, MHFGA short story competition 2020
They’d motored down from London in the MG that day and managed to get to the coast by the late afternoon. One of his fellow officers in the Mess had told him about the magic beach and he’d decided to take Amelie there before he was shipped out. Just a few short days together and then he’d be gone for at least six months. He wanted something special for them both to remember.
He managed to find the turning and realising he couldn’t go any further stopped and turned off the engine listening to it popping as it cooled.
“Come on cheri, let’s explore – and bring the picnic basket.”
Before he could reply she’d grabbed her straw hat and was out of the car running down the rutted lane towards what he hoped would be the beach. Her blue summer dress floated behind her and the pale downy hair on her long brown legs glistened in the sun. He took off his cap and flying jacket and throwing them on the passenger seat picked up the picnic basket and made off after her. He could hear her laughter echoing through the woods and then it stopped. Feeling frantic he hurried on and turned a corner in the lane.
“Oh Tom, look, isn’t it marvellous?” She was standing at the edge of the wood looking across an unkempt lawn at a large Italianate-style house that stood gently crumbling at the other side.
“It’s absolutely beautiful, I wonder who lives there? What do you think, shall we knock on the door?” Amelie followed him up to the house but the front door was wide open hanging on its hinges and swaying gently in the breeze.
“It’s abandoned, it must be.”
“Looks like it, shall we go in?”
“We need to be careful, they’re probably rotten floorboards all over the place.”
“Maybe the owner abandoned it during the war. I imagine her sons went off to fight and didn’t come back and so she couldn’t face living there again.
“You’ve such an inventive imagination Amelie, perhaps you should write detective novels like Miss Christie.”
“Perhaps I will, but in French”
They laughed and went back out onto the lawn. Tom spread out the tartan blanket and Amelie unwrapped the sandwiches from their grease proof paper. They sat back to back munching and admiring the house.
“We should buy it Tom. After we’re married I mean. This house would be perfect for children, I want four by the way and one of the boys will be called Timothy. Have I already told you that? I can imagine us all growing up and old here, sitting out on the lawn on your English deckchairs eating cucumber sandwiches and watching the grandchildren climbing in the trees.”
“Will there be Pimms?”
“Mais non, champagne only” She laid her head on his shoulder and he smelled the summer sun in her hair and the lemon breath of her perfume as they sat watching the sun go down behind the house.
“One day, cherie, one day.”
He’d motored down from London and was surprised how quickly it took him, he was there well before lunch. Somehow he managed to find the turning, he wasn’t quite sure how, but there was the lane again. He was relieved to see that it was paved now. He got out of the car his knees cracking as he did so and reached for his stick. The first few steps were painful as they always were but soon the pain eased and he walked slowly down the lane. Nothing had changed except the trees looked taller and he could hear the roar of the traffic from the motorway beyond.
When he rounded the corner he was amazed to see the house was still there. It was just as dilapidated as before though at some point in the past it had been repainted. He could see that the front door was shut and the grass was neater than he remembered. As he crossed the lawn, the door opened and a middle aged man came out. He would have been Timothy’s age.
“Hello, can I help you?”
“I’m not sure you can actually”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Do you know this house?”
“I should do.”
“My apologies. A long time ago my wife,” he paused and took a breath,” my wife and I stumbled across it and immediately fell in love with it. We planned to buy it and raise our family here.”
“Well, it just never worked out. It’s a lovely house though, isn’t it?”
And there they stood.