by Josephine Howard
The BBC news said that winter had been one of the coldest on record. Even the sea froze and salty snow on the beach left a white scattering. We could feel the sand in hard bumpy ridges, solid as a cobbled path, where the tide had been, beneath our padded feet.
It was so cold, later even my glasses broke on our way home.
The sky was a beautiful cloudless clear blue, kidding us with sunlight. The wind was still and yet froze us right through, breathing it shocked us like sucking fresh clean oxygen into our lungs and left ice in our veins for blood.
We should have felt snug wearing American tan tights under our jeans, three pairs of socks, fur lined boots, mittens hiding gloves beneath and scarves wrapped around our heads. Our noses were running with the cold but I didn’t want to take my gloves off to find a tissue to wipe mine so I just kept sniffing it back up until I coughed and couldn’t get my breath in the chill air.
We weren’t allowed on the pier. The handwritten sign tied to a piece of rope said it was closed: the old rotting planks were icy and the steps leading up were covered in untouched snow. The fairground was closed and eerie: a winter ghost town of faded colour.
A handful of cars drove slowly down the coast road, cautious to avoid skidding on the huge icy patch of flood water beneath the pier, collected where the road dipped. Even the seagulls appeared to shiver under their feathers, I thought, from my blinkered view of them underneath my scarf wrapped around my head and held on by the hood of my navy duffle coat.
‘Let’s take a picture, I’ll finish the film!’ I took my Kodak 110 Christmas present from my pocket. The others huddle together, smiling, shivering on the beach.
Photograph taken we went to the beach café – the portakabin one by the fairground entrance. Relieved it was open we quickly shut the door behind us, to keep the cold out. We sat on red plastic chairs by the steamed up window. I just about dared to remove both my mittens and gloves. I wrapped my hands around the white chipped mug, breathing in the hot chocolaty steam. A Kit-Kat would have been good to dip into it, but we weren’t allowed; we had loads of chocolate at home still from our selection boxes. I wished I’d brought one with me.
With a serviette I wiped the condensation from my foggy glasses. With another I cleared the window; water trickled down to a puddle on the sill.
I gazed out at the expanse of sand, empty, apart from a most familiar and welcome silvery haired man dressed in a grey-blue jacket, a jumper to match and a stripy navy tie. No coat or scarf though, he must be freezing, I thought. He had no cap either. He turned toward me. Only me, and waved. I looked around. The others with me hadn’t noticed he was there. I waved back, my hand against the window soaked from the melting ice. I caught the twinkle of his eye and the accustomed way he carried himself. I recognised his solid and steady walk. I saw his smile.
Then I blinked and he was gone.
I wiped away a tear.
Josephine Howard lives close enough to the sea to hear the seagull feathers shivering when wearing her hearing aids.