Bern sat in bed looking at the beach. He could see pale winter sand and, above it, a gleaming smear of ocean. A surfer’s silhouette emerged out of high, white breakers. Bern rolled a pre-breakfast cigarette and lit up. In a while he would make coffee in Marv and Jennie’s cafetière, sit at their kitchen table and listen to their radio. He would spend the morning in the kitchen doing crossword puzzles.
He knew the owners’ names from the answering machine. “Hello stranger, you’ve just missed Jennie and Marv. Please leave a message after the tone.” It was the sort of upbeat, tangy voice you’d expect from a woman who owned a house with beach-facing bedrooms. People seldom left messages, but when they did Bern liked to play them again and again. He listened for clues as to when Marv and Jennie would return, if they’d return—he’d started to hope they wouldn’t. Sometimes, he called the machine himself. He had left “thank you” messages on the tape in five different accents.
When Nicole returned from her swim, Bern scooped her up into his arms and onto his knee.
“What you want to do today?” he said.
Nicole wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “I don’t know. Same as always I suppose.” Her eyes were red with saltwater. She has sand stuck to her elbows.“Same as always” in North Cove meant nothing. They couldn’t go into town because they might get recognised. But they didn’t need to go into town. They had everything they needed. There was enough food in Jennie and Marv’s basement to see them through two more months.
Nicole slipped off Bern’s knee and went off to shower. He knew she was too spooked to be near him just lately. Every day she said, “I thought these people went on holiday? How much longer can we stay?”
Bern couldn’t answer that. You took a house when you found it, and skedaddled when your luck ran out. That’s how it had always been. But this one was different. They’d been here four weeks and he felt like a proper homeowner.
A dog barked outside, somewhere further up the beach. The sound was picked up and wrung through the sea winds and the waves. Ben thought about tides, and the phases of the moon; about wax and wane. It was hard to keep track of time in such a place, even with calendars and clocks. Dunes cascaded and changed shape.
The dog stopped barking. Bern stroked his hand across his face. He took his coffee outside and sat on the doorstep. High above, oblivious, ever-hungry, the gulls swam through air like kites.
About the author:
David Mohan is based in Dublin. He has been published in Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Opium, Contrary, elimae, Flash International magazine, The Chattahoochee Review, New World Writing and Used Furniture Review. He has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize.