by Rosie Sandler
The next big wave brought a body and Lillian Ashby made as dignified an entrance as she ever had in life.
‘Always has to be the centre of attention, doesn’t she?’ said Margot, looking up from her book and jerking her head towards the vision in white. Irene nodded and adjusted her straw hat, whose torn brim wasn’t giving enough shade.
‘Last week it was that opera song after dinner,’ said Margot, settling back in her deck chair. ‘Oh – and don’t forget her dance at the Easter party.’
‘I liked that poem she recited on Pancake Day,’ called Barnabas Foggatt, who was standing a few feet away, gazing out to sea. ‘What was it again? Something about a boot.’
‘Not a boot, Mr Foggatt, a boat,’ said Margot.
‘A what?’ He cupped his hand round his ear.
‘A boat – you know, a thing you sail in.’
‘Oh,’ he laughed. ‘I thought it was a bit strange, for the poet to have gone to all that trouble about a boot… It’s lovely here, isn’t it? Just look at the way the sun sparkles on the water.’
‘Shouldn’t someone do something?’ asked Irene, adjusting her straw hat again.
‘About what?’ asked Margot.
‘About the body.’
‘Well, she’s dead, isn’t she? I should think it’s a bit late to do anything now.’
‘Well, perhaps we should tell Mrs Simpson, or one of the nurses.’
Margot sighed and glanced around. ‘Mr Shaw!’ she called. ‘Could you grace us with your presence a moment?’
Gregory Shaw heaved himself out of his deck-chair and hobbled over; his cheekbones were flaming from their exposure to the sun.
‘Mr Shaw – have you seen that?’ Margot waved a limp hand towards Lillian’s form.
‘Oh, my goodness. I haven’t got my glasses,’ he rummaged in his pockets. ‘What is it? Some type of fish?’
‘You could say that,’ said Margot. ‘It’s an especially cold one, called an Ashby Flapper.’
Gregory stiffened and put his glasses on. ‘Good gracious. Poor Lillian. Has anyone told Mrs Simpson?’
Margot yawned. ‘No, not yet.’
‘Right, well, I’ll get on to it right away.’ He headed slowly up the beach, towards a group of people in pale-blue shirts. Margot and Irene watched him go.
‘Where’s he off to in such a hurry?’ called Barnabas.
‘To get Mrs Simpson,’ said Margot. ‘Lillian’s performing again.’ She gestured vaguely in the direction of the body.
‘Is she? I’ll go and take a look,’ said Barnabas, striding off.
‘What a shame,’ said Irene after a moment.
‘What?’ murmured Margot, returning to her book.
‘Well, it’s just… she was going to perform that piece from Hamlet for us on Saturday.’
‘Oh, yes – Ophelia, wasn’t it?’ Margot sat up in delight. ‘What an idea, for an octogenarian to play a young girl. Wasn’t Gregory Shaw going to play Hamlet?’
‘Yes, I think so.’
‘Well, I think she’s played Ophelia to the hilt, don’t you?’ said Margot, looking over to where a futile resuscitation attempt was now underway. She took a small tin of boiled sweets from her bag and held it out to Irene. ‘Blackcurrant or Lime?’ she asked.
Irene watched the figures moving around Lillian’s prostrate form, then turned her attention to the sweets. ‘Ooh,’ her fingers hovered over the tin. ‘Blackcurrant, I think, don’t you?’ she said.
Rosie Sandler‘s stories have been published in 34th Parallel magazine, The Local Writer 2007 collection, and an anthology of flash fiction called Jealousy (published by slingink.co.uk). You can read more of her work here.