12+ The sky-blue swell pounded the breakwater at Borthel on Sea in a steady rhythm. John gazed out at the mountains across the broad bay and drew a deep calming breath. The anxiety that had built up and wracked him in recent months and on his spontaneous long drive from the city eased its intensity.
John breathed out and turned to look back at the fishing village. Childhood memories of summer holidays at Borthel on Sea with his parents and sister swept through him.
At the end of the breakwater, the fisherman's market, where his mother bought fresh flapping fish for dinner. The pebbly beach where he and his sister played and paddled at the water's edge. And the driftwood bonfires his father lit on the beach in the evenings, where they toasted marshmallows.
Borthel on Sea looked run down nowadays, with shops closed and buildings boarded up. But it hadn't been popular with holidaymakers back then, either. Rail and roads bypassed the village due to its unfavourable location on a kink in the coastline. The swirling seas outside the breakwater could be treacherous. And somehow, like the rail and roads, warm summer currents bypassed it, too, and the water always felt chilly.
Then there was the village name, Borthel, an easy target of innuendo and laughter, even by those less skilled at anagrams.
However, John's family had loved their annual holidays at Borthel on Sea. Far from the city's madding crowd and the tourists of more popular seaside destinations, its unpopularity perfectly suited his family.
John recalled one afternoon sitting with his father on the breakwater, staring out at the bay and mountains.
"You know, son," his father had said, putting his arm around John's shoulders, "I'd love to retire here."
But before their next holiday, John's father was lying under a marble headstone buried in a coffin. "A stress-related heart attack," a doctor had told John's mother. It left her a widow with two young children. She moved north to be nearer her family, and there were no more holidays at Borthel on Sea.
The years passed. After university, John followed in his father's footsteps in the city and started climbing the corporate ladder. He met and married Beth, a fellow high-flyer. They worked long hours and had little time for holidays.
Last month, John was offered another promotion, with more pay and responsibility. "It's a marvellous opportunity," Beth had congratulated him. But John wasn't sure. He felt anxious and stressed. He thought of his father and Borthel on Sea.
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John needed to call Beth. There was no mobile phone reception, so he crunched across the pebbly beach to a red telephone box.
"Beth, it's me. Guess where I am, Borthel on Sea." John heard Beth sobbing. "Look, I'm sorry. I should have called earlier. We need to talk. About the promotion. About life. Could you drive down here tomorrow? I'll find us a room. Oh, and the village shop's closed," John added. "Can you pick up some marshmallows?"
© 2021 Robert Fairhead
- The story must include the setting pictured (with the brief*) at some point.
- Because it's March, the story must include the following "MAR-" words: MARKET, MARBLE, MARVELLOUS, MARSHMALLOW.
- And the final sentence must contain dialogue — i.e. someone speaking.
*The brief's picture was very similar to the Pixabay image in this story. There was a broad bay, mountains in the distance and a red telephone booth on a beach. But there was also a breakwater with ramps for launch boats. And the telephone booth sat on the pebbly beach.
I looked at the picture and reflected on my childhood memories of seaside summer holidays. Of favourite rundown places, I've visited over the years. The wild coastal villages of south-west England. And how sometimes the hurly-burly of work can take over our lives. Until it's too late!
I hope you enjoyed the memories and marshmallows in this short story. Please leave a review or click on my writer bio below to contact me via Facebook, Twitter or email.
You might also like to read another of my recent Furious Fiction short stories, The Performance.
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert Fairhead is an editor and writer at Tall And True, and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com.
His favourite pastimes include reading and writing, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Football with his son. He is also a part-time dog trainer and runs classes at his local dog training club and through Robert's Responsible Dog Training.
Robert has worked as an electrician, a computer programmer, and a sales and marketing consultant, and he is the principal copywriter at Rocher Communications.
His book reviews and writing on dogs have appeared in newspapers and online. And in 2020, he published a collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story.
Robert has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.