Two Minutes Later
It was one of those perfect moments that are rare; my body still tingling from the sea and soaking in the warmth of the sun, I wrapped my white finger tips round a mug of fresh coffee. In the blue skies above, vintage aeroplanes soared and swooped. While others stood on the crowded cliff tops in the baking sun, I enjoyed the privacy and comfort of my little shady window box on the world. The four figure beach hut rates for a six by six wooden box, one tier above the promenade, were worth it for this moment alone.
I looked at my watch as I polished off my sandwich, 1.30 pm; another hour and I would plunge back into the sea. In the meantime it was inevitable that I would drift off to sleep… the sunlight was red through my eyelids, the planes and waves together made soothing background music.
Two minutes later a chill on my skin prompted me to open my eyes. I looked at my watch, 1.32pm and closed them again. But a voice penetrated my oblivion.
‘You’ve let your tea go cold.’
‘Geoff, I thought you were on the cliff top taking photos, no peace for the wicked.’
‘What… I thought you’d be in a panic to get ready for work.’
‘You’re late shift…’
Reluctantly I opened my eyes, wondering if my husband had gone mad. He was sitting next to me and peering over the top of his newspaper.
‘Good thing we didn’t move to Bournemouth, look at all those crowds on the beach for the Air Festival.’
‘But we did… and we’ve got a beach hut…’
He carried on talking as if everything was normal ‘…and as for getting your dream beach hut, long waiting list and much too expensive apparently.’
Something was wrong, very wrong and I could not avoid the evidence of my eyes. We were sitting in the garden of 29, Mildred Crescent, Harmonton. I recognised it even though the trees and shrubs had grown a lot in the seven years since we moved away; this was turning out to be a very vivid dream, a nightmare. I looked at my watch again, 1.34pm. If I closed my eyes I could finish the dream and wake up at the beach hut.
We had both taken early pensions from work, I loved working at Heathrow, but I did not intend to spend the rest of my life living in Harmonton, Middlesex; the sea beckoned. Geoff was equally determined not to end up like his boring parents living in the same road all their married lives, round the corner. We had never regretted the decision.
The sun must have gone behind a cloud, I felt chilly. I should have changed out of my wet swimming costume, my beach towel must have fallen off. I looked down at my lap and saw my old skirt, I turned my head to see my old pink blouse.
‘Are you okay,’ said Geoff ‘shall I phone in and say you’re sick.’
‘Er… I’m fine, I had this strange dream we were still in Harmonton.’
‘Ha, ha, very funny… was that the door bell, is Marion giving you a lift to work?’
I shook my head in disbelief; Marion who I felt sorry for, guilty even, when I handed in my resignation and she realised it was true, I really was going. We’d worked together for years, lived close; I had been an aunty to her children. She was never going to leave Harmonton and I was never going to stay. We popped up to visit at first, but their seaside holidays with us never materialised, we made new friends, she wasn’t on Facebook…
I looked up and there she was, hair different, a few more lines.
‘Don’t blame you for dozing in the garden, that’s what I hate about late shift, I’ll admire Geoff’s vegetable beds while you get changed, don’t be long, we can’t both be late and don’t forget your ID pass this time.’
If I stood up I would wake up and stop my past playing out in my dreams. I walked towards the back door, the scent of Alyssum tumbling over the edge of the patio was so real I bent down to pick a sprig, I crushed the tender stalks in my fingers. I reached out for the back door handle, it was solid and very real. I walked through into the old kitchen I’d been a little sad to leave behind. Then it had been stylish, now it looked very tired compared with the fitted kitchen in our Bournemouth flat.
Now there was a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach. This house was no dream; I dashed frantically up the familiar stairs into the bedroom; yellow and blue, what had happened to the dated eighties pink flowered wallpaper? My work uniform was hanging up on a strange wardrobe…
I stumbled down the stairs, I didn’t want to face the truth, there was still a chance to wake myself up. Out in the street we got into a strange car, not strange to Marion though.
‘Marion, remind me why we’re doing this, still working at the airport?’
She laughed. ‘We’re not getting our state pensions yet and you said you would go mad with boredom staying at home now Geoff’s retired.’
‘I had this vivid dream when I was dozing in the garden, I was sitting in my own beach hut, we lived in Bournemouth.’
‘That was a dream for sure, you’d never get Geoff to move, remember when you suggested it years ago?’
I certainly did and now I knew the unthinkable had happened, I had slipped into my alternative future, a future where nothing had happened except our bedroom being redecorated. Geoff had become his boring father, not the new man who hiked in the New Forest and followed tide timetables for his photography. Boring Geoff was happy with his vegetable beds and fish pond and would never move away while his parents were still alive, or when they were dead. Now I remembered the alternative past seven years, the mortgage paid off and money kept sensibly in the bank. Geoff would not even contemplate a caravan. I let out a silent scream.
For more short stories, open the book and have a look.