The wind gusted across the seafront, disturbing a thin layer of sand and swirling it randomly into the salty air.
Frank and Rosie were sitting on one of the many benches that faced out towards the choppy sea. They were eating sandwiches from a large Tupperware box and had balanced two plastic mugs containing coffee on the bench seat.
Frank swallowed the last bit of his sandwich before reaching for his mug of coffee.
“You never forget that smell, do you?”
Rosie ignored him and took out another sandwich.
“It takes you back to when you were a child. That smell of the sea: a day out at the seaside. The excitement of it all. Wonderful times, they were.”
Rosie bit on her sandwich and stared out at the bristling sea.
“It’s bloody cold, I know that much.” She said out of the side of her mouth, before continuing her chewing.
“Cold? It’s not cold, woman, it’s bracing, that’s what it is. It’s fresh air. Isn’t this why we moved down here.”
“Well fresh air can be cold, you know.” She took a sip from her mug.
“It’s only cold if you have the wrong clothing.” Frank said. “You’ll have to get yourself an adequate wardrobe for our new habitat.”
“Habitat? We’re not squirrels.”
“You know what I mean. Anyway, I thought the mention of buying new clothes would have you dancing up and down the promenade.”
“Well, it’s hard to get excited about buying a duffel coat and a couple of woolly jumpers. Do you want some cake?” She picked up a large canvas bag that was lying on the concrete floor next to her, and searched through it casually.
“It’s like a nice final chapter for us, don’t you think?”
“Final chapter?” She took out a small plastic container.
“In our book of life. This is like the final chapter, isn’t it? Retiring down here.”
She opened the lid and took out a piece of lemon sponge cake before passing it to Frank.
“Excuse me. It’s not my final chapter. I’m counting on a lot more chapter’s thank you very much. In fact I’m counting on volumes still left to write.” She took out the other piece of cake out and placed the lid back on the container.
“We’ve got to go sometime, Rosie. You have to face up to these things.” Frank took a large bite from his cake.
“And you’ll be going sooner than you think if you keep stuffing your face like that. Why don’t you just shove the lot in and be done with it.”
Rosie ostensibly took a small nibble from her cake. Frank looked over at her and shook his head slowly.
They both sat in silence for a few minutes.
“Do you know something? If I was asked to sum up my life in as fewer words as possible, do you know what I’d say?”
“I’d say: 1,2,3,4,5; 5,4,3,2,1..”
“They’re not words, they’re numbers.”
“You said, if you were asked to sum up your life in as fewer words.”
“It’s the same thing.”
“It’s not though, is it? No-one’s going to say ‘can you sum up your life for us in as fewer numbers as possible’, are they?”
“The numbers are words if you write them as words. So it still counts.”
“Well, if you’re going to make your own rules up.”
“It still counts. Now ask me why?”
“I’ve got some biscuits somewhere.” Rosie picked up her bag again and searched through it.
“I’ll tell you, then.” Frank turned to face Rosie, who was still searching through her bag. “I’d say, that because, in the beginning there was just me. One. Then we met and got married. Two. Along came Jenny. Three. Then little Frankie. Four. And last, but not least, Flora. Five. Then Jenny left to go to University. Back to four. Frankie went and got himself married. Three. And little Flora…Well, back to two again. Do you see what I mean now?”
“Died, Frank. The word you’re looking for is died. Flora died.”
Frank faced forward once more and stared out into the distant horizon.
“I’m just saying we’re back to two, that’s all.”
“I know, love. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so abrupt.”
“And then it’ll be back to one.”
“Frank, I hope I’m not going to be spending the rest of my many days left listening to your morbid ranting. You carry on like this and the tide won’t come back in. It’ll be too depressed.”
“Did you find those biscuits?”
Rosie reached back into the canvas bag and pulled out a packet of chocolate digestives.
“Here, and don’t scoff them like a pig.”
Frank took the packet from her and opened it up.
“Anyway Frank, in your life story, it ends up back at one. With you.”
“So, what if you go before me?”
“Well then you’ll be the one, won’t you? It’s not rocket science.”
“But I can’t be the one. It’s your life story. You’re summing your life story up as you being left on your own. One.”
“I’m sorry I started this now. I wish I’d never opened my mouth.”
Frank took a large bite from his biscuit and munched on it noisily.
“Can you please eat with a little more decorum? It’s embarrassing. It’s like being at the zoo.”
Frank swallowed hard and picked up his mug of coffee.
“We should go to the zoo. I like zoos.” He mused.
“I bet you do. You can go and visit all your relatives.”
He gulped down some coffee and balanced his mug back on the seat.
“Do you think we get a discount? Pensioners prices?”
“They’ll let you in for free if you turn up eating something. They’ll think you’ve come home.”
Frank wiped the crumbs from his coat and tossed the packet of biscuits into the bag.
“Fancy an ice-cream, love?” He asked.
“Don’t mind if I do. Plenty of raspberry and a flake.”
“I’ll make that two of them, then.”
Frank tenderly got to his feet and stretched his back.
“Have you taken your tablets?”
“I’ll take them. I was just about to.”
“Why do you have to get in such pain before you remember to take them? I swear, if I wasn’t here to tell you…”
“I’d have a bit of piece and quiet. Right then,” he said, turning around, “where’s the ice-cream man. There has to be an ice-cream man at the seaside. It’s the law.”
He searched in vain in all directions.
“There’s a shop across the way, Frank. Just nip over there.”
“It’s not the same from a shop. You should get an ice-cream from the ice-cream man. That’s what they’re there for.”
“Well, he clearly isn’t there, is he? Go to the shop.”
“You won’t get raspberry and a flake at a shop.”
“Well just get me a choc-ice. I don’t mind.” Rosie didn’t hide her increasing irritation with Frank.
“He should be here. Then you wouldn’t have to change your choice. If you want an ice-cream with lots of raspberry and a flake, then you should bloody well be able to get one: especially at the sea-side, for heaven’s sake. I’ve a good mind to complain.”
“Write a letter to Mr. Whippy, why don’t you?”
“I’ll write to somebody. Someone will answer for this. You see if they don’t.”
“Frank, have you heard yourself. Get a grip will you. It’s an ice-cream. Just go and get me a choc-ice.”
“Why don’t we have a walk further down? We might see one there.”
“Come on, I could do with the exercise. It’ll do us both good.”
He picked up the plastic Tupperware box and tossed it into the canvas bag.
Rosie resigned herself to going for a walk and followed Frank as he sauntered off down the promenade with the canvas bag hanging off his shoulder.
The wind had softened and the sun was now beaming through the cloudless sky. Frank and Rosie were holding hands as they strolled along.
“It’s beautiful now, isn’t it?” Frank said. “This is why we came here. These were the days we were thinking about having before we left.”
“They’ll come to see us, won’t they.” Frank said.
“Course they will. The grandkids will love it here. We’ll be sick of the sight of them.”
“Oh, never. The little mites. They can come as often as they like. They can stay over for a few days. Have a little holiday at the seaside like we used to when we were kids.”
“They’re different kinds of kids, Frank. They want different things. The world’s a different place.”
Frank stopped and stared intensely down the promenade.
“Well I never.”
“What it is it? What’s the matter?” Rosie asked, worryingly.
“If I’m not very much mistaken, I can see an ice-cream van. The world isn’t entirely broken, then. And I’ve saved the cost of a stamp. The good old sea-side. There are still some things that will never change.”
“You really are an old fool, Frank.”