The fog was closing in. The woman dug her hands deep into her pockets and pulled her coat tightly round her body. Her feet crunched along the beach, as the sea shooshed and sighed against the shingle. The only other sound was the mournful two-tone warning from the lightship on the far side of the sandbanks.
A breakwater loomed up in the fog. She had lost all sense of distance, of time. How far along the beach had she come? Without being able to look back at the town, she was unable to gauge her position. She called the dog to her, and together they crunched along for a while. All sounds were muffled, her own footsteps reflected against the fog, sounding louder than she remembered. Were hers really the only feet walking along that beach?
Another breakwater materialised. Surely that big one was where the sea wall began? She had come further than she intended. A redshank called a warning, once, twice. Was it her presence that had alarmed it? Who else was there?
The woman decided to go to the path above the beach, and calling the dog, they laboured up the steep shingle bank, feet and paws slipping, sliding back, the shingle trickling, chinking quietly down to the bottom. She couldn’t hear the sea now, only the foghorn on the lightship to keep her company. The fog stung her nostrils, and clung round her face in wet wisps. She could feel it on my eyelashes. She finally found the top of the beach, and clambered onto the concrete path. The dog kept close to her, his ears back, his tail down. What could he sense? She walked as quietly as she could along the path. Surely those were footsteps behind her? She increased her speed a bit. Did the other footsteps speed up too? Where had she left the car? How far had she come? The foghorn seemed to be warning her of danger,
Every step she took seemed to take an hour. She’d reached the point where the streetlights began, and their orange glow seemed friendly, but you could only see one at a time. The woman began to count them. It wasn’t far from where they began that she had left the car. Surely it was there? Wasn’t it? Had she missed it? Then, with a thankfulness that turned her stomach to jelly, she saw it. In with the dog, into the driving seat, never mind the wet, dirty boots. She locked the doors.
The windows were wet with fog, it was impossible to see out. The woman put the wipers on, and peered ahead. The dense white wall showed nothing, no breaks. On with the lights. They reflected back at her, whitely, wispily. Was that a shadow going past her windows? Her hands shook as she fumbled with the gears, and trod hard on the accelerator. Nothing happened. Again she put her foot down. The engine roared, but the car stayed still.
There was a knock on the window. She screamed as she saw a man’s face outside. He made signs to open the window, and carefully she opened it a crack.
“Nasty place to break down” he said, putting his fingers on the edge of the window.
“Yes, No” she said, shaking with fear. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong, it was fine coming”.
“Damp gets into the sparking plugs” he said. “You’ll not get a breakdown out in this weather. Open up and I’ll have a look for you”.
The woman was sure there was nothing wrong. By now the dog was pushing at her shoulder, trying to get to the window. A soft growl told her he scented something was not right.
“You going to stay here all night? Come on, don’t be a silly girl, I’m here to help you”.
The woman took a deep breath. She was not a silly girl. No one was going to call her out of her car on a dark and foggy night like this. She might have been afraid, but she wasn’t stupid.
She took her foot off the accelerator. Took another deep breath and methodically put her foot on the clutch, put the car into first gear, took off the handbrake, and gently let in the clutch and depressed the accelerator.
To her relief the car moved forward, she kept going, and watched the man cursing as he pulled his hand from the window.
The woman sobbed with relief as she drove slowly home, peering into the fog, which lifted a bit when she was away from the shore. She wondered afterwards whether she had been silly to be so frightened, what could possibly have happened to her?
The man walked back to where he had parked his own car. Silly cow, but there would be another time, another stupid bitch taking her dog for a walk in the dark. Next time he’d catch up with them on the beach. Bit of meat if it was a big dog, hefty kick for the silly yappy small ones.
What could go wrong? And fog was his friend.
© Gillian Peall