‘She’s there, just by the shore.’ Sarah glanced nervously at Martine, hoping for some response. Any response.
Sarah sighed. Martine was like the others. ‘About 200 yards, at two o’clock. She’s staring out to sea.’ Of course she was. ‘You don’t think I’m bonkers, do you?’
Martine put an arm round her friend. Yes, maybe a bit, she thought. ‘Course. Always were. But only after a couple of peach mojitos.’
The smile, when it came, was forced. ‘She never looks back. Not once.’
‘When did you find her?’
Sarah nodded, grateful that Martine was at least trying to believe. No one ever saw the woman. Only her. Of course, only her. ‘Three years ago. I thought I was mad.’ She snorted a short laugh. ‘I think the really mad bit was coming back the next year, to check. I had to know.’
Sarah shook the tension from her shoulders. ‘Come on. I’ll explain as we walk.’
‘Where are we going?’ Martine vaguely hoped it was coffee. June on the beach wasn’t always welcoming.
‘To prove I’m as sane as you.’
Good luck with that, thought Martine as she followed her down the steps.
Sarah started speaking, in a flat voice. ‘Her name was Kate Atkinson. She was nineteen, married, with a daughter. On 25th June 1944 she came here to stare at France, knowing her beloved husband Albert was there, part of the D Day landings. He was a radio operator.’ She swallowed. ‘He was killed outside a small town about ten miles inland. A gas explosion, apparently. Kate received a telegram the day after hew as killed.’ She stopped and looked at Martine. ‘You wouldn’t think they could have been that efficient.’
‘How’d you find that out?’
‘The coroner’s court records were put on line a few years ago. Kate came here the same day she heard the news. She dressed her best. Nice skirt and blouse. Patent leather shoes. Shoes for dancing. She took them off and walked into the sea.’ She checked her watch. ‘In about five minutes.’
‘Geez, you’re not serious?’ Martine stopped and stared at the empty beach, trying to imagine being that depressed. Especially a mother of a child.
Sarah had kept going but she paused to wait for her friend. ‘I don’t get too close until she’s gone. I worry I might see her expression. I don’t think I could cope with that.’
‘Earlier, when I said how did you find out I meant how did you find her name.’
Sarah smiled. ‘It’s why I came first time. She was my grandma. When mum went into the home I found a shoebox in her wardrobe. There were pictures of Kate and Bert, a newspaper article about his death and hers. They only knew it was here she walked into the sea because she took off her shoes. It was foggy that day, a real peasouper, and no one saw her go.’ Sarah turned towards the shore and stood very still.
To Martine, it looked like a thousand yard stare, but she knew now what Sarah was seeing. Then Sarah sighed, her shoulders dropping as the tension left them. Like the relief at the end of the minute’s silence, Martine thought.
‘Is it over?’
Sarah nodded. ‘Come on, before the tide turns.’
In silence the pair trudged across the wet sand, both of them gazing towards France as Kate has done seventy five years before. Sarah began hunting for something, her head down concentrating hard. ‘Here.’ Her voice spoke of relief not triumph.
Martine walked over. Sarah stood a few feet from a set of prints: the sole and heel of two size six, or so Martine guessed, women’s shoes placed side by side. Leading away from those two prints and into the sea were more prints but these were bare feet, deep and determined. She looked up and met Sarah’s gaze.
‘You can see them?’
‘Yes. Yes I can. Oh my dear, how utterly poignant.’ A thought struck her. ‘If you can see your grandma, what about your mum? Do you think she might? Even now?’
Sarah crouched down and traced the edge of one shoe print with her finger. A wave curled across the toe softening the edges. She stood, brushing away a few grains of sand. ‘Let’s get a coffee.’
As they headed across the beach, Sarah peered at the flat white sky. ‘I thought about that but it’s too late.’ Tears which Martine had expected earlier poured down Sarah’s cheeks. ‘She’s gone into the fog, just like Grandma did.’ She sniffed and took her friend’s arm. ‘Let’s hope they find some comfort in there, eh?’
Behind them the waves spread across the sand, smoothing it for another year.
This is another story that will feature in the upcoming anthology, Life and Soul.