Early morning surfers are bobbing on their boards, just beyond the breakers. All heads turned toward the open ocean waiting for the tell-tale shadow of a big swell. Seagulls cry into the wind. Dog walkers. Joggers pound the sand. And then there is Tom striding down the beach, his sandals in one hand, trousers rolled up, his bony feet swishing through the water, ready with a cheery hello for vague neighbourhood acquaintances, his glasses dusted with sea salt.
That’s the way Tom likes it. Out on his daily constitutional. Cath at home. She‘s doing the crossword. Eating toast at the table as morning talk back whispers across the room.
It’s the mutual agreement of their marriage; Tom on his walks, trips to the Country Club, forays for supplies from the hardware store; Cath to her film club or progress meetings. If anyone asks, Tom says a marriage is all about space – keeping and giving.
He walks the length of the beach until he hits the cold shadows of the southern headland, then back for the return run.
Tom’s feeling optimistic. It’s a nice day, early autumn, really quite perfect. 8am. There is hardly anyone around. Off in the distance a beach patrol four-wheeled jeep is heading away, its wheels kicking up sand.
Waves break on the shore drawing long veils of foam. He’s making good time. The sand is firm. He can feel his heart working through the exercise. His mind is somewhere else, but he’s still taking in the scene. Then his big toe nicks something in the sand.
He takes a couple of paces forward and then, curious, turns and looks. He’d almost missed it. Gingerly extending a finger, Tom picks at the object and, with just a little force, extracts the object from the wet sand. It’s the lower half of a set of false teeth.
There is no wear on the molars and just a few grains of sand on the gums. He cleans the grit away with his thumb. He looks around, feeling like a fool. No one would have just dropped it like this… The thought that someone might be coming for the teeth fills him with a mild sense of panic. The beach is empty. A light plane drones overhead, lost in cloud.
Tom quickly puts the teeth in his trouser pocket. Continues.
Now the pace is slower, deliberate. He stops and looks back. There is no one on the beach. Deserted. He walks on, the canines of the false teeth biting at his leg, scratching through the thin lining of the pocket. He takes the teeth out, wraps the denture in his handkerchief and then carefully puts it back into his pocket. That’s better, he thinks, and walks steadily toward the path leading off the beach.
The car park is empty, yellow lines on the tarmac partly obscured by drifts of sand. Tom walks the street to the corner and looks down the road. No one.
He’ll have a cup of tea and read the paper when he gets back. Hello to Cath. A late breakfast and then… a trip to the supermarket? Good-oh, he thinks, it’s always best to have a plan.
He walks to the house and up the three low steps. When he puts the key in the front door Tom realises it’s the loudest sound he can hear. He has the urge to look back at the street but it’s as though someone was right behind him. Better to get inside. He opens the door and when it slams behind him the sound is stunning.
Cath! He calls again as he walks into the lounge room. The radio is switched off. There is the plate – with crumbs on it – and a half finished cup of tea. He picks up the cup to put it in the sink and feels its warmth on the palm of his hand. He puts it back on the table.
Tom looks around the room.
He takes out the denture, carefully unwraps the folds of his handkerchief and studies the teeth closely. Maybe it washed in from somewhere? That’d be the more logical conclusion.
He’s looking forward to showing Cath his find.
Placing the teeth on the top of the low bookshelf, Tom sits on the lounge room chair. He gazes at the teeth for a long time until he starts to drowse, then drifts off.
He awakes some time later – how long he’s been asleep he’s not sure – but the room has become quite dark. Light filters in from the window, spotlighting the teeth.
They seem to glow.
Zoetrope: All-Story, 2012.
©Andrew Frost 2016