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“Pebbles or sand?” she said.
“Sand, obviously,” I said. “But pebbles are alright.”
We stumbled towards the sea, the pebbles forming mini-cascades beneath our trainers. She hung onto my arm and giggled as her foot slipped.
“They don’t look real,” she said. “It’s the colours. And they’re so smooth. It’s like they’ve been mass-produced in a factory somewhere.”
I was going to say, “This isn’t a genuine shingle beach – the stones were shipped in to form a sea defence,” but I didn’t want to sound like a smartarse and ruin the mood.
I said, “They’re all different, though. I bet we can’t find two pebbles that are the same.”
“Like fingerprints,” she said.
We crouched down and collected a few, examining their misshapen curves. They were all strangely imperfect. I found one that looked like a face, with holes for eyes and a long ridge underneath like a set of smiling stone lips.
“I’ll call him Brian,” I said, “after Brian Wilson.”
“Brian Wilson? Beach Boys? No?”
“Before my time, obviously,” she said.
I was going to say they were before my time too, but I didn’t want to make it sound like I was having a go at her for not knowing. I knew things she didn’t; I knew things she didn’t. “It’s not a pub quiz,” I almost said.
We carried on peering at the ground.
“Do you know how to skim?” I said.
“You know, when you make pebbles bounce on the water?”
“I’ve seen it done on the TV,” she said. “Never in real life. It must be a boy thing.”
“You need to find a flat one,” I said. “Make sure it’s not too heavy.”
We wandered hand in hand along the shoreline, looking for flat stones. I found a round splodgey one that was flat on one side, but had a sticky-out bit on the top like a shark’s fin.
“This one might work,” I said. “What you do is, you hold it flat, like this, and grip it in your hand like this, and then you just …”
I thrust my arm out, sending the pebble spinning horizontally into the lightly lapping surf. It made a double splash – the skim was so small and fast you couldn’t see it.
“Wow!” She hung onto my arm like a groupie. “That’s amazing!”
I knew she wasn’t impressed at all, but I loved the way she was playing along, because it meant she understood how important it was for me to demonstrate my skills and how important it was for her to be impressed. I didn’t know why it was important, and maybe she didn’t know that either. It’s just something people do. I was pretending to be a boy and she was pretending to be a girl, and even if it all ends in tragedy we’ll still have that afternoon playing with pebbles.
Frank Burton is an award-winning fiction writer and performance poet. His short story collection A History of Sarcasm is forthcoming through Dog Horn Publishing. In 2007, he released the performance poetry CD Collected Words and is currently working on a second album. His fiction and poetry has been published in magazines including Etchings, Poetry Monthly, Pulsar, Twisted Tongue, Obsessed With Pipework, Gold Dust, Skive and Whispers of Wickedness. www.frankburton.co.uk