A Green Beach Shovel
“Zoe is so excited.” Darren said as he looked over Judie’s shoulder. She stared outside. It was the perfect day. A few small, white clouds in the bright blue sky. There was no getting around it. Darren had taken the day off for this.
He kissed her shoulder. “You’ll be fine.” He promised. He knew her so well. “It’s just the beach.”
It wasn’t ‘just the beach’ to her. There would be people there, and sun, and fresh air. She’d have to go out there in a bathing suit and pretend it was nothing. For Zoe. Which incidentally was the only reason she had even considered this.
Darren knew how hard it was on his wife. And he knew he’d not do her any favours by letting her back out of it. “Come.” He took her hand and pulled her away from the window, out of the bedroom, down the stairs.
Zoe sat on the living room floor. Playing with one of her many toys.
Together Judie and Darren made breakfast and treats for in the pick nick basket. “Want to go to the beach, Zoe?” Darren asked as he watched his daughter eat in her own messy way. She was just like her mother in that, he often joked. Not that morning.
After breakfast and a few last minute things, Judie couldn’t stall it any longer. “Ready to go?” Darren asked. He smiled warmly. Even after nearly ten years, Judie was still in love with that smile of him. She tried to answer it and nodded.
He picked up Zoe as she took the basket.
She opened the boot of the car and found a few items there. Two wrapped packages and a big parasol.
“Have you been buying Zoe gifts again?” She asked. He put Zoe in the car seat and walked over to her. With his hand on her back he kissed her cheek. Then he took the packages. He handed her one. “One for Zoe and one for you. Because I really appreciate you doing this. And I know how easily you get a sunburn. And the parasol.” They had plenty of sunscreen with them. Judie expected to have to use it at least hourly. Thank heavens Zoe had her father’s darker skin type.
“Get in the car, Hun. We’ll be just fine.” He loved the long dress she wore. She had her bathing suit on already, so she wouldn’t have to get changed at the beach.
Judie smiled, for real this time. It was all about Zoe today, they’d agreed to. About giving her the perfect day.
It was about an hours drive to the beach. Because it was a weekday and the summer holidays hadn’t started yet, it was rather quiet. And not as hot out there as it would be in July or August.
As always in the car with Zoe on the backseat, they sang all kinds of songs together. Not just children’s songs. Judie and Darren had quite the repertoire together. They’d been singing together for years before actually becoming a couple.
Zoe hummed along, making up words on the spot. When she threatened to get bored, Judie gave her the package her father had bought.
Judie watched sideways as a beach play set came out of the paper. A blue bucket, yellow rake and a bright green shovel.
“That’s so sweet.” Judie said. Zoe immediately picked the green shovel and started to hit the back of her father’s seat with it. Judie couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Serial killer in the making.”
“Going to unpack yours?” It was still in her lap.
“I’m not getting bored yet.” She rarely was. If anything, she loved long drives.
Her hands weighed the package though, trying to assess what was in it. She couldn’t control her curiosity any longer and undid the paper. As it fell away a large straw hat unfolded on her lap. It had a colourful ribbon around it that matched her bathing suit perfectly. And in it Judie found a large pareo in the same pattern as the ribbon.
“So you won’t have to wear the dress all day.” Darren said.
“I really struck gold with you, didn’t I?” She answered. Before she met him, she had never known attentive men like that existed.
“Yes, you have. So?”
“Thank you, Darren.”
He found a parking spot near the beach. With Zoe in between them they descended to the beach. Zoe did manage to fall over and rolled the last bit down. Screaming happily she got up again and waited for her parents to join her.
They found a nice spot near the dunes. While Darren made camp, Judie took off her dress and made sure both Zoe and her were properly covered in sunscreen. It was still early and quiet on the beach. This might be a good moment to go into the water.
Darren caught up with them before they reached the surf. He ran by them and after the water got deeper after a few metres, dove in.
Zoe wouldn’t hear of Judie’s caution. She pulled free of her mother’s grip and ran after her dad. Only to find he sat on the ground. The water at that point wasn’t deep enough to cover Zoe. But the unexpected pull nearly threw her off. She had her armbands and the swim trainer around her waist. Still Judie couldn’t help but run after her. In cases like these she could really be an overbearing mother. For a while they played in the water. Just the three of them.
Zoe was very happy to have her parents full attention, she couldn’t help but keep laughing.
She splashed around in the water. Darren followed her example and Judie couldn’t stay behind. The water splashed onto her glasses.
After a while they retreated back to their parasol. Zoe wanted to play with her new toys and was very distinct in who she wanted to help her out. Darren was put to work and Judie was sentenced to sit under her parasol. She wrapped the pareo around her hips, hiding her more than generous curves from sight. So far so good. This wasn’t too bad, she had to admit. Thoughts of what it would be like on a full beach, she pushed to the back of her head. Here and now, she reminded herself. Zoe and Darren, and her.
After building a sandcastle and utterly destroying it by walking right through it, Zoe was tired. She curled up next to her mother and within minutes fell asleep. Darren laid down next to them. Judie was on a towel, he lay in the sand, half in the sun. “You look like a movie star.” He said. Despite the parasol, Judie wore the hat. She had her sunglasses on. He had always loved her body. How at ease she had seemed with it. Now he knew how far that ease stretched. As long as she could wear clothes she was fine. And alone with him, naked or barely covered. Like this, in a bathing suit in public however, it was a big thing for her. And he was happy to see she could enjoy it.
Everything was different since she’d gotten to know Darren. She’d not counted on starting a family anymore. It certainly hadn’t been in the planning. Judie counted herself blessed in so many ways that she’d almost get religious.
After Zoe had woken up, they had lunch. Time on the beach went incredibly fast, they found. After that Zoe voted for another swim with her mother. Darren took pictures as Judie and Zoe played in the surf. The beach had gotten more crowded. It was not that late in the afternoon at all, but Zoe was all played out. Judie looked like another layer of sunscreen wouldn’t help anymore. They went home.
Judie got behind the wheel of the car. Zoe was asleep before they’d even made it to the highway. The green shovel still clutched in her hand. Darren sat beside Judie, smiling like an idiot.
“Thank you.” He said. “For this perfect family day.”
Judie nodded. It was hard to believe. They’d made it. “Day isn’t over yet.”
At home there was a family shower. Judie and Darren baked pancakes, Zoe’s favourite at the time. And before it was even dark, the entire family had fallen asleep in the parental bed.
Judie held the little green shovel in her hand and a tear escaped her eye at the memory. Such a perfect memory, of a perfect day. The plastic had hardened a bit over the years, but the colour was still the same as she remembered it. The bucket and rake, of course, had gone missing ages ago.
Sighing she threw the shovel back in the box labelled ‘Zoe’s toys’. Tears streamed over her cheeks in earnest now. Maybe she shouldn’t be doing this just yet.