Monday 12 November 2018

The Bundle

This story was shortlisted in an online competition organised by Hungry Hill Writers' group from Beara Peninsula. They run interesting competitions for writers. See links below

The Bundle

The red rag lying on the grey stones caught her eye. It was cherry red like the cardigan she had worn when she was a girl. It seemed to Becky that someone had gone to a lot of bother to tuck the red rag carefully around the bundle.

No one else seemed to notice it. Apart from some people now strolling further along the beach; Bray Prom seemed to be deserted that morning. Becky leaned against the iron railings and pretended to scan the horizon. The bundle lay only a few feet away. Becky thought she saw the red rag shift as if something was stirring beneath it.

Looking around again she established that most of the walkers were regulars, sea junkies like her. The ex-shopkeeper belted past, stop watch bleeping, arms flailing, power- walking they called it. He had once run a successful news agency at the top of the town. Now he walked. He was so absorbed in clocking up miles he wouldn’t see a dead dog lying at his feet.

Becky stole another glance at the red bundle. It seemed to have edged closer to the steps that led from the prom to the shingle beach. Further up the prom towards the aquarium she could see Sean pacing up and down. He would be muttering to himself as usual, waving his arms frantically from time to time, as if engaged in some heated debate.  Then suddenly he would thrust his hands deep into his pockets and his chin would sink into his chest. Mothers always warned their children to ignore Sean. “Not the full shilling” they would whisper. And the children would grapple with this. And stare harder. But it was Sean, the ex-schoolteacher who ignored them. Sean would not see a red bundle if it tripped him up.

A corner of the red rag had become undone and was beginning to flap about in the November wind. Becky moved closer. Then she noticed him. He was not watching her, but something in his stance fixed her to the railings. He stood at right angles to a group on the beach, his stillness contrasting with their fluidity. Becky followed his gaze and looked at the group more closely.

There were ten or more of them ambling near the water’s edge. Each moved in his own pattern, different from and yet connected to the whole. The whole seemed to Becky lie a loosely woven garment. They reminded her of dancers, limbering up. Like a Greek chorus before the performance begins. Then Becky spotted the girl.

She was about sixteen and Becky had often noticed her about the town where she would scurry along the pavements and then stop mid stride. She would hold that pose right in the middle of Main Street. Just like a performer. Then with the same inexplicable suddenness she would resume her frenzied journey. Becky had once watched her drop suddenly to the ground to tie her non existent shoe laces, right on the edge of a kerb. She knew that the girl’s name was Molly and that she attended the clinic at the top of the town.

They were all here today- inpatients from the clinic, institute… whatever they called it. She watched them weaving their strange pattern on the sand and feared for the red bundle. What if the Greek Chorus should find it?

The chorus edged its way closer to the bundle and the red rag flapped and loosened in the wind.
Becky moved closer to it and sat on a nearby rock ledge. She was aware that the man was now watching her so she began to pick up stones, appearing to examine them. She had once kept a whole collection of these beach stones and placed them on the mantle place and on a window ledge. She recalled now the different sizes and shapes and colours. They had all reminded her of hearts. Broken hearts, chipped hearts, hearts with deep scars and some with crystals. She would run her finger along the scars and say, “That’s life. That’s how it is.”

On the edge of her vision she could see the chorus creeping towards her.

In a laneway that ran the length of high stone convent walls Becky was pushing a baby in a fold up buggy. The newborn was wrapped in a red cardigan. The baby cried when Becky stopped at the convent gate, but Becky let go of the pram and walked away.

The chorus encircled her now and the girl was gliding towards the red bundle. She stood poised over it and then she swooped.

“No!” shrieked Becky. “It’s mine!”

She was too late. The girl had whisked away the rag to expose a pile of stones carefully mounted beneath it.

“Give it back to her Molly. Give Becky the scarf!” commanded the man from behind her. The girl dropped the cloth and flung herself down the beach, arms extended in full flight mode.

“I think it’s time we went back everyone,” said the man. There were grumbles of dissent from the group. “Can somebody tell Sean; he’s drifted off a bit. Becky, it’s probably dirty now but if you still want it?”

Becky picked up the scarf from the sand where the girl had discarded it. Slowly, carefully she tucked it around the pile of stone hearts.

“I don’t want it,” she said and walked away.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful story. I like how you built up the suspense about what's inside the bundle!