A Morning at the Beach, In the Warm Sun
The sun was hot that morning. Hal had taken off his sweater and just sat there on the sand in his baggy shorts and equally large tee-shirt (These clothes had once been much tighter). It had taken him twenty minutes to walk down there and he was now tired, so he just was sat on the sand and slowly waited for the energy to return to his body.
It wasn’t an unpleasant wait; the sun was warm on his skin. It felt good just to be outside in the open air, not cooped up in his tiny room back at the cottage. As a child he had always loved coming down to this beach, with its white, white sand sloping gently down to the sea and acres of dunes behind it where he would play in a near alien landscape (Nothing like the suburban landscape he had grown up in). Hal’s mother had always owned that cottage at the edge of the dunes; it had been their family holiday home throughout his childhood, even after his father had left, and he never questioned it. It was a paradise away from his dull suburban home.
After his first course of chemotherapy he had longed to return here, to escape the busy city and everyone asking after his health; but Hal’s health was too poor to survive down here on his own. Hal’s mother had noisily stepped in and told him he had to stay where he was, stuck in his tiny flat, full of fatigue and nausea. During those days of illness, he dreamt of returning here, it was his goal for when he was finally well again.
Hal’s second course of chemotherapy finished three months ago and he had finally convinced his mother that he was well enough to stay here on his own, he was not but needed time away from his mother’s concern and every else’s questions. The journey down here, yesterday, left him exhausted and this morning was the first time he’d had the energy to venture outside of the cottage. Now Hal was sitting on the sand, tired again.
He turned around to get the sun shining onto his back when he saw them. Behind him was a wooden picket and wire fence and hanging off two pickets were a pair of bright pink running shoes. They were high fashion, expensive shoes, the type that had a demarked space for the big toe, making them look more like a pair of mittens for the feet. Completely unlike the cheap plimsolls on his feet.
He wondered why someone had abandoned such expensive shoes, different stories circulated in his mind, and then he saw movement in the corner of his eye. Hal turned his head and saw a man running up the beach, towards him.
The man was in his early twenties, half Hal’s age, tall and lean, long arms and legs pulling the man forward. The man was wearing a wetsuit, the type with short arms and legs, exposing the man’s tanned limbs.
Moving so fast, the man reached Hal in no time at all and stopped in front of him. The man’s body was still moist from the sea, his wetsuit still glistening with seawater, the man’s hair plastered down to the contours of his skull.
“Morning”, the man said to Hal before he strode over to the fence and pulled the running shoes off there. They were the man’s shoes and as soon as Hal realised that he saw a small sports bag hidden in the grass at the base of the fence.
The man glanced around himself before he asked Hal:
“Do you mind if I get dressed here?”
“No,” Hal replied.
“Thanks mate, some people get funny with me getting dressed out here on the beach.”
“No problem,” Hal said.
Quickly the man began to get changed, pulling dry clothes out of his sports bag.
Hal tried to politely look away but the man’s quick movements kept catching Hal’s peripheral vision, drawing his eyes back to that man.
The man’s body was lean and muscular, but lean from exercise. The man’s skin glowed healthy, it was tanned golden brown, except for the white patch which must have been covered by his trunks. The man’s skin was smooth, not scared and pot-marked, no thick and ugly catheter hanging from the man’s chest. His body radiated casual health, the type of health that most people almost take for granted. Hal certainly had his good health for granted, once.
In only a few moments the man was dressed, his sports bag over his shoulder.
“See you mate,” the man said, before he causally walked away down the beach, as if he didn’t have a care in the world, which he probably didn’t have, Hal guest.
Hal remembered being like that young man, before the cancer wrecked his body. Hal stared at the man’s receding body and felt a pang of envy. Even for just day more day, Hal craved to be that healthy again. He didn’t want to struggle to get dressed, robbed of all energy. He didn’t want to be ashamed of his withered and scared body. He wanted his health back, but that was now impossible.
Last week Hal had visited his Oncologist, in her polished clinical office. She had been all apologetic smiles but her news had nearly destroyed him. The chemotherapy had failed, but the news was worse than that. His cancer had come back and worse than before. It was killing him. His only hope was more and stronger chemotherapy, but that would buy him an extra six months of life at the most. To endure all that nausea, pain, weakness and fatigue for only a few more months of life, Hal can’t face that. Neither could he face a long and drawn out death, his body failing him piece by piece.
Hal would never have his health back, never to be as healthy as that young man who was now disappearing into the horizon.
Before leaving the cottage, an hour ago now, Hal had taken all his medication. Three weeks worth of pain killers and anti-sickness medication. It had taken him nearly an hour and four glasses of water to swallow all those tablets but he had managed it. His will had forced him on, especially when a tablet would catch in his throat.
Hal lay back onto the warm sand, still enjoying the warm sun on his skin. He should be falling asleep soon, he told himself.