by Sarah Leavesley

I shouldn’t have let him off the lead. It’s obvious once Sammy’s gone, but I’m only 13 and not thinking clearly.

For a small dog, Sammy is determined. Or ‘determinded’ as Nan used to say. ‘Like you, Claire,’ she would add, with a wink. Would. Used to.

A West Highland terrier, Sammy is a muddy cloud with legs: soft to stroke but with a bark to rival thunder. A bit like Nan—scolding me for lateness or spilling the gravy, then enveloping me in her warm arms or tucking my recalcitrant curls behind my ears so she could kiss my cheek.

Walking’s my natural escape, and my spontaneous reaction to pain. When Mom told me Nan was gone, I grabbed Sammy’s lead, headed straight down the path and out of the gate.

Before I was past next door’s garden, I was running. I didn’t hear Sammy’s yapping, only the tug as he outpaced me. I bent down automatically and unclipped his lead.

Too soon. We were only at the end of the road, not at the beach. He slipped loose like a jet-streamed cirrus. There were cars and noise and Sammy weaving and dodging between people. But what if he darted into the traffic? What about when he got to the last few metres and had to cross the street? What if he too never came back?

‘Sammy!’ I shout, then shout again, and again, as I rush after him.

Everyone turns to stare. But not Sammy. He’s off in the distance, then lost somewhere, somewhere beyond sight.

By the time I reach the sea wall, I’m breathless, and gasping as if the whole world were lodged in my throat.

There are no horns beeping, no body on the tarmac. But no Sammy waiting for me either.

I look out across the beach with its large pebbles slithering and sliding beneath people’s feet. There are walkers and bathers and some large black and brown-haired dogs running free. No sign of a small white cloud.

‘Sammy! Sammy!’

The wind takes my words, whips loose hair across my face.

And then, at last, he’s racing towards me out of the water.

I hug him to my chest, his sea-sodden fur soaking through my dark T-shirt, the sharp cold coastal air stinging my skin. Rocking him in my arms, I can’t tell if the taste of wet salt on my lips is brine or tears.

Sarah Leavesley is a prize-winning fiction writer, poet, journalist and photographer, with flash published by journals including Fictive DreamEllipsis, LitroSpelk Jellyfish Review, and Bending Genres (forthcoming). Her short novellas Always Another Twist and Kaleidoscope are published by Mantle Lane Press and she is currently working on her first flash fiction novella. She runs V. Press, publishing poetry and flash fiction.