Amelia still isn't sure what it was she saw that day exactly, but she knew what furry meant. Instinct told her she was up to the job. She bit down hard.
‘She may be soft-shelled but she has powerful jaws and razor teeth,’ her boy had boasted earlier that day. This was before Amelia was lost.
At the beach house, the boy will not sleep. He would not eat from the barbecue, even when coaxed by paternal gentleness or chased by the woman with snapping tongs. Sent to his room, he stares at the bowl on the sill, empty, his turtle gone. Through shutter gaps, he watches the sand change mood beneath a cream and raspberry sky.
On the far bank where the river dribbles into the sea a cat stalks tufts of dune grass, gliding then breaking. When static its pelt body looped like a charity ribbon, as though sensing something immediate and vital. Amelia?
‘Legged it, has she?’ Dad’s new girlfriend had said when stinging grains, whipped up in the sandstorm, had sent them running for weather-boarded safety to Amelia and her bowl on the windowsill.
Except Amelia was not there.
The boy, compelled by the empty water, the pain of loss, recalls the car journey down. The woman flashing an invitation of complicity at his father, ‘Turtle will be alright in the glove compartment, darling.’
Thoughts of the beast splashing about behind her mahogany dash had provoked the woman to fitful acceleration, creating turbulent seas in the bowl. Making an insecure home. In a fit of guilt, seeking redemption, she had asked the creature’s name. But the boy, practiced in silence and multi-armed, star-fished his father, said nothing.
This night must not take Amelia. Mimicking the feline’s litheness, the boy twists through the casement of the window, grazing day-old coin skin, but he will find her. Flip-flopping over the damson sand, he pauses to look up at a posse of yob gulls flying inland, screeching. The cat, sensing the boy’s approach and already bitten, stares Frisbee-eyed, then hops backwards, freezes, hops back some more then skips away.
Squatting on arthropod haunches, the boy scans the dry terrain and plucks something from the stubble. The tickle of tiny claws, as she scrabbles in his palms, brings the day’s first smile. Cradling hands to face, the boy opens a small hole and whispers the name of his mother