from Liz's story, Past Echoes
ROSE slowed as
she saw a road sign that read "Welcome to Little Piddling sur Mer".
postcard and the website, she had still half believed that it was a
comic opera fantasy, but she’d already driven through the narrow streets
of Piddling Magna. It was real enough.
She pulled into
a layby and climbed out of her van to take in the sea stretching out
until it became one with the horizon. Below her, the town was tucked
into the lee of the hill that stretched out to a headland.
a sandy beach, empty this early and, what had not been evident on the
website, a small island half a mile or so offshore that was topped with
a picturesque ruin.
She had never,
to her knowledge, been here before; like "Adlestrop" she would surely
have remembered the name and yet that island chimed in her memory.
Maybe it had
been used as a setting for an episode in one of those not-so-cosy crime
series. The kind where the body count reaches massacre proportions
before the detective finally has a lightbulb moment.
With its narrow
streets, it had the old-fashioned charm to have been used in an outing
for Poirot or Marple.
Or maybe it was
simpler than that. The view from here was very like the retro cover of
one of her grandmother’s childhood books that she’d devoured as a child.
She’d found it
when she’d been clearing the bookshelves in her father’s house and
unlike the rest, which had gone to a charity shop, she’d put it in her
The one thing
she could be sure of was that it hadn’t been on the postcard.
running a vacuum cleaner around the bedrooms, clearing away the last of
the dust that had settled behind heavy old furniture that hadn’t been
moved in years, when she’d spotted it stuck in the skirting board.
it out and wiped off the dust to reveal a row of brightly painted beach
It was just an
old holiday postcard but, as she’d looked at it, her heart had begun to
beat a little faster and she’d had one of those
Less to do with
the postcard than the fact that it was the last time she’d ever be in
her childhood home with all its memories, good and bad, she knew, but
she’d turned the card over to see who it was from.
great. Katy can't wait for her birthday. Jules."
There was a
single cross that looked like an afterthought.
Her name was
Katherine Rosalind Redmayne, but she had always been called Rose. Rose
Red when she was little. Cute when she was at primary school. No fun at
all when the mean girls at High School had found out.
The card was
addressed to her father, but not at this house which meant that it had
been sent before she was born, but the postmark was smeared, the date
It must have
fallen out of one of the boxes of photograph albums, cards, school
reports, stored on top of the heavy walnut wardrobe that had been a
fixture of her parents' room for as long as she could remember.
through them in the dump, save, or pass on to her brother and sister,
triage when she had more time.
Matt and Lisa
had, of course, been "much too busy" to stay and give her a hand once
they’d been through the house to grab what they wanted in the way of
furniture, pictures or anything else of value.
Too busy to
help with the funeral arrangements or any of the endless details that
had followed their father’s death.
All they were
interested in was their share of the house sale, accompanied by grumbles
about how much she intended to rip them off for her expenses as
executor. She’d been too weary to fight with them, would have let it go.
Their father’s solicitor, realising how it was, had been firm on the
subject at the Will reading, but a difficult time had been made a lot
worse by their whingeing.
Heaven help her
if she threw away some cherished piece of their history.
want this old postcard, though, and she slipped it in the back pocket of
her jeans, intending to drop it in the rubbish on her way out.
She found it
there when, hours later, she’d stripped off dusty clothes before sinking
into a hot bath.
The Beach Huts,
Little Piddling sur Mer.
The name was
ridiculous, but it made her smile, which after the last grim months was
worth a great deal. Her father was famously allergic to the sea but it
must have meant something to him and instead of tossing it into the
wastepaper basket, she put it on her bedside table.
weary but her mind churning with the emotional fallout of the day, she
picked it up and, seeking a distraction tapped Little Piddling sur Mer
into her tablet’s browser.
expected a "not found" response; a place with a name like that belonged
in a comic opera, but the town was real enough and a list of links
immediately popped up.
There were the
usual cricket, bowls, rugby clubs, a couple of pubs and restaurants with
websites, a brewery, an arts festival, a group called The Piddling
She clicked on
the town’s official link and there it was on the header, the kind of
seaside town that you saw in art deco posters. The golden era when
families took the train to the seaside for two weeks holiday in the
photograph, taken from the sea, showed a curve of sand, and a tastefully
preserved promenade that gave the impression of municipal gardens and
afternoon tea rather than amusement arcades and hot dog stalls.
There was a
pier, too, with a little theatre, and a slipway for a lifeboat station.
intentionally or not, appeared to be aimed firmly at the nostalgia
market and the row of colourful beach huts was very much part of that
She clicked on
the link and, in a close-up photograph, she could see that some of them,
the older ones, she thought, had been individually decorated and given
Rassendyll Lodge had been trimmed to give it the look of a Bohemian
hunting lodge. There was a Blenheim, an Arundel, a Chatsworth but in
amongst the stately homes there were huts with candy stripes and some
named after flowers. A pale blue Forget-Me-Not, and a Marguerite that
had been painted yellow and decorated with large white Mary Quant
daisies. Very nineteen-sixties.
But it was the
pink hut that caught and held her attention. Not just because the roof
ridge had been adorned with an exquisitely carved wooden garland of
roses, but because it was called Rosa’s Retreat. And at that moment a
retreat with her name on it sounded very appealing.
She was aware
that there was a big demand for beach huts with some, in the most
desirable places, fetching ridiculous sums.
A few of these
were available to rent by the day, the week, the season. Some,
including, Rosa’s Retreat were for sale and, without the stately home
pretentions of her neighbours, at what seemed to be a very reasonable
There was a
button to click for more details that seemed to pulse, inviting her
You’ve had a
rotten year, it seemed to be saying.
fanatic Dad dropped dead while out running and you had to deal with the
Coroner, arrange his funeral, sort out Probate and sell the house
without any help from your shit of a partner.
contrary, while you were dealing with grief, overwhelmed with paperwork
and working all hours in an effort to keep your clients happy, he was
consoling himself for your lack of attention with extras from a woman at
money coming from the house sale and there’s nothing to keep you in
Maybridge. Your clients are all over the country, you can work from
anywhere, so come and sit here, breath in the sea air, dip your toes in
the sea, have an ice cream from the little kiosk on the front.
It would be a
A beach hut is
Rosa, but why would I buy a beach hut in a town I’ve never heard of?"
eyes, she shut down temptation. Talking out loud to a beach hut was a
sure sign that she really did need a break.
she thought. On one of the Greek islands, maybe, with a what-happens-in-Santorini-stays-in-Santorini
Two days later,
searching for a sock, she found the postcard under the bed.
seemed closer this time, a little brighter than the others and when she
ran a thumb over it, she could almost feel the texture of the carved
She blinked and
it was just a faded old postcard, but hadn’t there been a gull on the
roof? She shook her head.
It had been in
the picture on the website, she told herself, propping the card against
the lamp on her bedside table, hoping for sleep.
taken on new commissions whilst she was dealing with the aftermath of
her father’s death, but there had been unmovable deadlines, contractors
and suppliers to be chased. She’d spent hours travelling between sites
to sort out problems, hours online, sourcing the perfect fabric, light
fitting, antique rolltop bath. Time spent calming a client who, when she
saw the colour she’d chosen on the wall, had burst into tears.
She had finally
signed off on the last outstanding job, but the stress had taken a toll.
The cheating ex
was history, but she missed the warm comfort of someone beside her in
the dark and she wasn’t sleeping. When she did manage to nod off for a
few minutes, her mind had not shut down but had been chasing down
corridors, searching for something. Trying to call out to someone who
was always just out of sight, who couldn’t hear her, because the sound
was on mute.
avoiding the emotional minefield of the boxes that had been cluttering
up the hall since she’d cleared her father’s house and one night, afraid
of slipping back into the dream, she got up, went downstairs and dragged
them into the centre of the room.
It took a
while. She was continually ambushed by memories. Her mother’s last
birthday before the cancer took her. Pictures of graduations, holidays,
birthdays going back through the years. A photograph of the twins making
their promise when they’d joined the Cubs brought her to a halt.
Why hadn’t she
been a Cub? Or a Brownie? She searched her memory but there was nothing
there, and now there was no one to ask.
She was torn
between a smile and tears when she found the photograph of a birthday
cake her mother had made when she’d been expecting the twins. She’d
picked out her name in little red roses and there was a single candle in
the shape of an eight.
And that was it
Every step of
Lisa and Matt’s lives had been recorded from the first moment of birth.
She remembered them coming home. There was a picture of her holding one
in each arm...
photographs of her playing with them in the garden, on holiday, older,
but there were none of her before they arrived. None of her as an infant
in her mother’s arms, a toddler. There was no first-day-at-school
It was as if
her life had started on her eighth birthday.
Had she missed
an album somewhere? Thrown it out in box of rubbish?
down a lump in her throat and, as she climbed back into bed, something
made her reach for the beach hut postcard, a distant connection with her
father, and tuck it under her pillow.
It didn’t stop
the dreams, if anything they became more intense until weeks later, in a
moment of terror, she woke herself up, screaming.
She reached for
the comfort of the postcard, clutching it against her chest until her
heart stopped hammering.
She had to get
away from everything that had been happening and, as the first streak of
dawn lit the horizon, she was in the fast lane, on her way to Little
Piddling sur Mer.
Like it? Buy it!
From the story Past
Echoes by Liz Fielding,
in the anthology
BEACH HUT SURPRISE
Copyright © 2020
by Liz Fielding