Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 28 January 2012

We parked the car and spent a carefree hour on the beach, Oscar and I. The beach was a crescent of pebbles three miles long, and we were the only people on it. A recent easterly gale had driven the tide much further up the beach than usual, leaving behind it a pebble ridge, ideal for granddads and two-year-old boys to fling themselves off, or roll down roly-poly fashion, which we did until granddad was exhausted.

Next we searched for suitable pieces for the driftwood bookcase granddad is making, and found a frayed and salted plank of eight by two. Just the job. Nearby, a stranded dogfish lay stinking among the tide-line debris. Its eyeballs were gone, its rotting flesh eaten away by scavengers right down to the exposed vertebrae, which granddad snatched up and pretended to greedily gnaw at.

We’d wandered far up the beach in search of driftwood and it was a long trudge back to the car park. I carried Oscar on my shoulders, casting a grotesquely long shadow in front, the plank under my arm. At the car, I leaned the plank against the boot and fumbled in my jacket pocket for the key. Not there. With rising panic I checked my jeans. Not there. ‘Gone,’ I said, reporting our predicament to Oscar using the most serviceable word in his still small vocabulary.

Oscar doesn’t do sympathy yet, but a problem shared, and so on. I made a deduction. The car key and immobiliser fob must have fallen out of my pocket while we were roly-polying down the shingle bank. I don’t possess a spare set. The only option, therefore, was to about turn and head back towards the rapidly sinking, reddening sun, hoping to be able to identify where we’d played by the avalanches we’d made in the ridge, and hoping against hope that the key and fob would be lying there on the pebbles, easy to spot.

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