by Cath Barton
On the other side of the tracks, down a steep drop, there are dunes and through the grasses you can just see the sea, if you’re over there. Except we’re not allowed over there.
On this side there’s a brick shed. It stinks and there’s a load of crud in there and droppings in the corners. Jed says they’re rat droppings. Definitely, he says, because once a rat got in his house and his mother went mental when she found them. Droppings in the kitchen. He shrugs when he says that and I know that he’s feeling sad but I don’t ask. We kick some stuff around for a bit and then Jed says he wants to jump.
Jump where? I say. No, no we can’t, we mustn’t, I start, my ma’s words roaring in my head, but he flicks my cap and says Come on, you soft or what? Then he’s on the tracks and jumping down to the dunes and lolloping towards the sea. I push ma out of my head and follow him. The tracks are wider than I thought and I look and the train’s coming. My heart’s thumping and I tumble down to the dunes before I have a chance to jump, blown down there by the whoosh from the train.
I can’t wait to tell Jed but it takes me a minute to get my breath back before I’m running to catch up with him. I’m shouting to tell him I’m coming but the wind off the sea is snatching my words and blowing them the wrong way. There are white flecks on the water and a couple of windsurfers, blobs of colour. It’s like the picture in the front room of our old house. I’d like to know what happened to that picture, but right now all I can think about is getting through the grasses that are ouching my legs. When I get to the beach I stop and look down and they’re all bloody. Jed’s are too. I’ve caught up with him and we take off our shoes and run into the sea and it stings like hell but it washes the blood away. We stand on the water’s edge, Jed’s long toes and my stubby ones side by side. I’m watching the little waves as they come in and go out, bubbling and pulling the sand from around our heels, our feet sinking into the dampness, and next thing Jed’s wrestling me. We roll over and over and get sand in our cuts and down our necks and in our pants and then we pull apart and we lie back on the sand and it’s like nothing else. I look at him and I tell him about the train. Seeing it coming towards me was wild, I say. He’s looking back at me and his eyes are bright and he doesn’t look sad any more.
In a sand flurry Jed’s up and charging along the beach towards something the sun’s bouncing off. I shield my eyes from the glare but I can’t see what he’s picked up. Turns out it’s a bright yellow bucket and spade some little kid’s left behind. We make the biggest sandcastle ever, massive, and I want to wait for the tide to come in and fill the moat but Jed says he’s hungry and our sandwiches are back in the brick building.
What if a rat’s eaten them? I say, but Jed says it’s not possible because they only come out at night, rats. And anyway, rats don’t like cheese, strange but true, he says. We clamber up the embankment and we stop and listen for trains but there’s nothing, not even a faint whistle from far away on the wind. We dance on the tracks like we do on the streets after Saturday-night-cider, and this is like nothing else too. We can’t find the sandwiches but it couldn’t have been a rat. Two packets of sandwiches? I say, that’s impossible. Jed says nothing’s impossible for a rat. Or a person too, if you really go for it, he says, looking at me.
We turn away from the tracks and head for home. We’re hungry and we’re thirsty but we don’t care. The sun’s going down and there’s a blaze in the sky and Jed and I link arms and I smile at him and he smiles back at me and this is totally like nothing else. Ever.
Cath Barton is an English writer and photographer who lives in Wales. She is active in the on-line flash fiction community, including in The Pygmy Giant and Zero Flash. Forthcoming is Red on Red in I Tap I Magazine, This is all it takes in Firefly Magazine and Since in Long Exposure.