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- 1st Short Story


First Prize

Signs by Tania Park

There is no sign of the boat.

As I sit back from the water's edge, the sun is doing its best to glint from every single grain of sand, each prismed ray arrowing into my eyes. To gain relief , I twist my head to the left and squint, searching. The range of low dunes and narrowing stretch of sand reach vanishing point at the same place, beyond which is nothing but water: green and turgid with a silver sheen on top mirroring the still high sun.
Waves from a high swell, roll from far out, the white crests racing with each other to see which can reach shore ftrst, where they tangle to create foam then hiss and crackle while running up to the tideline . The only sign of life is a single gull caught on an updraught, soaring with ease, its wings in an elegant arch, barely moving as the breeze lifts it higher and higher.
There is no sign of the boat.
To the right, the scene, as always, is much the same but has denser dune plants and a sole scraggy tree, stooped in a permanent bow by the constant winds.
Behind me, the low dunes are fringed with smoky greys and greens of native coastal shrubs, struggling to survive against the forces of nature and human intervention. Pigface is prevalent with its moisture filled stubby leaves and distinctive odour. The flowers, when they bloom, bring beauty to the desolation.
Today there are no flowers.
A lifetime of feet have worn a path in a valley between the dunes, laying the track bare of flora. I wince, knowing I am equally to blame as I have trodden the same path too many times to count. This place in the hollow of sand is my refuge; the one place I can seek solace to think, to consider, to hope.
I glance back to sea but still there is no boat.
There is no reason for me to worry as the time given had been vague but within an hour.
But it doesn't prevent my nerves from tensioning, my stomach to roil or my mind to consider too many thoughts of what-ifs in a constant re-run.
Despite the sun being unhindered by clouds, it doesn't feel hot for the wind is strong, coming from the west, sucking up cool moisture from the ocean before it hits the land where it whips up the sand along with small bits of desiccated brown plant life. It's not so strong the sand stings but strong enough to cool the skin and tickle the lining of the nasal passages with a sharp salt tang.
The sun would bum my freckled skin if I hadn 't taken the precaution of slathering on a layer of high factor sun cream. My hat is ugly but sensible, shading my face and ears. I don 't really care what it looks like. Why should I? There is no-one here to see and even if there were, I still wouldn't care.
I gave up caring a year ago when things changed. All of my own doing . I was stupid, didn't think, didn't see the signs.
Loneliness is the only reason I can think of for moving into the cottage. Caring, gentle, funny: my new partner was the sort of person I needed until subtle innuendos turned to dictating demands and put-down s. Caring questions about how my day went, slowly switched to constant calls of what are you doing, where are you, who are you with? Quiet but snide comments about dust particles, late dinner, overcooked or undercooked food, switched to shouts and fist thumps, scaring the living daylights out of me. When the data on my phone was surreptitiously searched, I learnt to delete messages as soon as I read them, careful to leave those from my parttner as a sign they were the only ones I received.
The signs became blatant.
The punch woke me up.
She thought she had financial control -I let her believe it while I hid statements, tore up personal mail and burnt it, leaving the rest unopened, for there were sneaky glances to check the seals for signs they had been tampered with. I think she was pleased when I received no mail. For the past six months I have siphoned away enough into a secret account, stolen loose change from pockets, the car and wallet while I made plans. I did not reveal how I resigned from my job yesterday nor about my new position.
I glance to the sea, stand and pick up the small backpack with my necessary personal papers, a wad of cash, a change of clothes, leaving no sign in the cottage of me not coming home. Not that I had many belongings.
I wave as I grin.
The boat is coming.

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