‘Summer Pins you’ll fall for,’ announced the email. She often deleted them without a thought, but impulsively clicked on this one. It revealed six images, each daring to epitomise summer.
Her mouse pointer dawdled over one of a bay warmed, she supposed, by late afternoon sun. It opened at her prompt and enlarged to fill the screen. A small cloth of glowing sand, freshly laundered by the tide. Fists of rock took over in the middle-distance, and beyond, a sweeping arm of green-grey promontory stretched into the sea. To landward the bay’s limestone rocks rose to a low cliff, above which climbed a shoulder of bracken and gorse. Two rowing boats lay abandoned above the tide’s reach on the far side of the bay. So peaceful, she thought.
She clicked ‘Save’ and Pinned it, after a moment’s thought, on the board she’d called ‘Summer’s Song’. The image reminded her so much of Fall Bay. She posted it onto her Facebook page too, so she could discuss it with Tab on Thursday.
The dot under Tab’s user name turned green and moments later her daughter’s bleached face and dry wave filled the screen from the other side of the Atlantic; a modern miracle she was starting to take for granted. They chatted until she asked, ‘Did you see that beach picture I posted this week, Tab?’
‘Hold on’, her daughter busied herself with out-of-sight keys before saying, ‘Yeah, atmospheric shot, Mum’.
‘It reminded me of Fall Bay.’
‘Could be’, a frown of concern, ‘I guess. You’ve got plenty of shots of that already.’
‘I know, but that’s where so many pictures of your childhood are from. So many wonderful…’ She had been going to say ‘memories’.
Their cottage had been on the road that swept out and away from the twist of village, following the arc of the coast but most of a mile from it. In out-of-season breaks they walked down into the tiny community – small cafe; closed gallery, bucket-and-spade shop, popular pub – out onto the cliff that overlooked the glitzy blonde curl of sand that was the arresting Rhossilli beach and further onto the wide headland that ended with the view of the Wyrm’s Head as it snaked out into the Bristol Channel.
When stormy high tides hit in autumn or spring they would brave the weather to witness the moment the rocky monster stirred into life as spume burst from blow-holes where its nostrils would surely have been.
Come summer, when they always spent a month in their cottage, they left Rhossilli and the Wyrm to the day-trippers from Swansea and South Glamorgan. They escaped the holiday cottages with their discharge of Home Counties accents, and headed to their bay, Fall Bay. Their path took them through farm-worker twitchels, between head-high wild-flower-studded earth banks hiding forgotten fields, across to the uncelebrated side of the promontory.
‘Pin Twins for you to follow’, invited an email. Click, then again on a landscape shot. A board chequered her screen with sunny splendour: tree-crowned hills, auburn-tinted villages, coastal havens. ‘Landscape porn’ Tab called it. She agreed to ‘Follow’ without thinking, and scrolled down until her gaze snagged on the ‘Fall Bay’ picture again. She recognised it immediately, except that there was something she hadn’t remembered there. Enlarging it, revealed a small child in the middle distance, back to the camera kneeling on the sand, busy.
She navigated to her Summer’s Song board and sure enough there was the child, if anything even more obvious, on her clone of the image. How had she missed it first time?
‘Pictures don’t update on that site,’ Tab assured her, ‘it’s not how it works. Occasionally – rarely – they are deleted for copyright reasons, but if someone updates the original, it wouldn’t alter the Pin on your board.’
She leafed through old photo albums in the spare bedroom. Summer after summer, Fall Bay and its surrounds flowed beneath her fingers: Tabby, skinny then rangy in a series of redundant bikini tops, John smaller, a touch podgier and pugnacious in saggy trunks; her filly and her terrier pup. Rich, balding, genial and still handsome, smiled out from fewer pictures.
On the last set of images, the two rowing boats, one russet, one grey, emerged on the rocks at the west end of the bay. She knew it!
She compared it to the shot on Summer’s Song. The distinctive headland, the flat rocks where Rich taught John how to fish and the two casually discarded boats left no doubt, but under this deeper scrutiny she saw discrepancies.
It was Fall Bay certainly, but more perfect: the promontory formed a regular arc, the sand had its disfiguring shingle griddled away, the rocks were nudged into more recognisable shapes and the distant boats less bleached by sun and spray. It was Fall Bay rendered more simply, as if by a gilded memory.
The child was in dark red trunks, immersed in some sand sculpture; surely the little red spade and emerald bucket hadn’t been so obvious before. She felt her tears before they came.
‘If it upsets you Mum, delete it,’ advised Tab’s barely animate image on the screen. ‘I’m sorry I left that comment on your Facebook page now. It’s just that all the things we loved about that bay: no people, no phone signal, a long way from the village, the tricky climb; they became all the things I now hate about it. If ever a bay lived up to its name… Anyway, I spoke to Dad last week; he and Jules are well but I think the twins are wearing him out.’
Next morning she deleted the image, noticing for the first time that the child’s head was obscuring part of the russet boat. She knew she was being stupid.
They rented the holiday cottage out occasionally, unprofitably.
Unfashionably out on a limb, away from the beat of the village, it had never been an investment; it had been their summer escape.
When the children were older and slept in, she would wake early, whisper to Rich’s grunting head, and take Scruff on the brisk walk to the cliff-top path where she could look down on Fall Bay and sit to watch the sun wake the rocks on the far side, its stroke releasing them from shadow. She didn’t bother with the steep awkward climb down onto the beach. She just sat; listening to the colonising trawl of the waves on the sand.
She logged onto her Facebook page and scrolled to where her picture had attracted an extended family of ‘Likes’ and ‘Comments’. ‘So peaceful, Trish, lovely’, Donna had noted. ‘Let go of Fall Bay, Mum’ read Tab’s comment, ‘it’s a shrine. Move on.’ Then, further down, below other well-meaning but meaningless ‘Likes’, she saw:
‘Mum? I’ve missed you so much’.
She emailed Tab immediately; it was too early to call or Skype. ‘Tab, miss u too; let’s chat today.’ The simple message haunted her. The words dangled lonely and desolate.
That picture was to blame. She glanced at it again and her finger froze over the mouse. There was no child in the picture. Boats, beach, cliff, headland, rocks; as she remembered, but the small boy had been air-brushed out. It wasn’t possible.
She had removed its twin from Summer’s Song, so she navigated to the board she had chosen to ‘Follow’. Its pictures populated her screen but now they were all of Fall Bay. In the first it was empty; the second, had the distant figure of the small boy; the third, saw him closer; in the fourth, the spade and bucket were visible; the fifth showed him nearer, head obscuring the boat; in the sixth, a small dog was beside him on a rock; next, the boy was closer still. The next shot revealed the hair matted with blood, the open wound on his shoulder, the arm dangling awkwardly at the angle she remembered too vividly, and then his head was starting to turn; and to turn…
Fingers flew to the top of the screen to click the ‘Unfollow’ button. Her eyes stumbled on the title of the board; ‘Don’t’, it read. Ignoring the instruction, she clicked it away.
That final summer they left the cottage hurriedly and never went back. A year on they sold it. Two years later Rich had left her for Jules. More accurately, he had left the memories, reminders, blame-game and guilt and started afresh.
Tab’s text came in, ‘Why ‘Miss u too’? Off to work, mail me there, laters, T.’
She pondered her daughter’s question, returning to Facebook. The last message wasn’t from Tab. It had been posted by ‘a Fallower’. As she stared a new comment arrived. ‘It’s been so long, Mum. I’ve followed you back. I’m here.’
She was shaking. She moved to slam the laptop shut but the intrusive Skype call sign burbled out insistently. Tab, please, let it be Tab.
‘John calling’ said the words on the screen, ‘Answer; answer with video; decline?’
Prize winner in Greenwich Writers competition and published in the 2017 Greenwich Writers Story Anthology