‘Did you remember to lock the door?’ asked Mary as she and David strolled through the long rushes that marked the path to their favourite spot; that special place along the cliff tops where the picnic would take place.
David sniffed lightly at the air, wondering if the pollen would affect his hay fever, before realising just how foolish this concern now was.
‘No,’ he replied. Like the hay fever, the unlocked door didn't really matter anymore.
They had risen early that morning, waking just after dawn. Sleeping only lightly, holding one another close. Drifting in and out of troubled dreams and happy to find that, upon waking, there was still some time left.
Cucumber sandwiches were neatly sliced as the radio was turned on and then off again. No light music could be heard amid the panic that faded in and out of the cold, grey static. Bananas, jams and condiments were placed neatly alongside sealed Tupperware containers packed with salad, freshly baked bread and hard boiled eggs. When the sounds from the back garden began to grow too loud for their nerves to stand, David had found an old record and slipped it onto the gramophone, easing Mary’s concern as she picked out an appropriate table cloth for the spread.
‘Do you think that the sun will come out today?’ he asked her, as from the distance the sound of the ocean, as well as the other sounds, began slowly fading into earshot as they crunched along the path.
Mary nodded and tried not to look at what lay in the reeds.
‘I think so,’ she said ‘I remember it quite vividly from my dreams. It was shining down brightly on him as he came out of the...’
‘Let’s not talk about it.’ said David and they walked in silence along the rest of the path. After a few minutes, their hands came together, wordlessly. The fingers groping for comfort, for something tangible to hold onto.
The tablecloth was laid out along a nicely flattened patch of grass at the head of the cliff top and the paper plates were spread out neatly on top of it. David placed various wrapped meats and cheeses on the plates to stop them blowing away in the wind, then set about laying out the bread and salad.
They used disposable paper cups to serve the lemonade, one of which escaped in the breeze and disappeared over the edge of the cliff, an event which briefly caused Mary to take a turn for the worse. David did his best to calm her and began cutting the cake with a plastic knife; oozing the spongy mixture out onto her plate. From far below them, the screaming almost recalled the gulls that might once have flocked to fight over the scraps.
There were no gulls today. The gulls had gone forever.
‘The sky looks awfully queer that way, doesn't it?’ said Mary as she daintily spooned up a helping of cake and bit down on the soft, wet texture.
David fiddled with his sandwich and ignored both the question and the problem with the sky.
‘Lovely bread,’ he said as he bit into it, ‘I always did like your baking.’ He wondered what other things he should have told Mary over the years.
Mary sipped on her lemonade and shuddered just a little as a light mist began rolling in and the groaning of the ocean grew louder, she looked up again at the sky and tried to ignore what might be looking back at her from behind the clouds. She had really hoped for the sun to come out today, even if she understood the consequence.
‘I brought a little wine,’ she said ‘shall we open it’
‘But it’s still morning,’ said David, then he shook his head as if waking from a dream. ‘I see,’ he said ‘of course we shall.’
David and Mary stood by the edge of the cliff top, looking out over what had once been the ocean. Behind them the wind tugged at the corner of the table cloth that housed the remnants of their last picnic. From above them, Mary felt the warmth of the Sun shining down, but her eyes remained fixed straight ahead, gazing at the thing from her dreams as it rose slowly out from beneath the darkly crashing waves.
‘In my dream,’ she explained to David ‘I looked deeply into his eyes and saw things that I never, ever wanted to see. I think I went mad…in the dream.’
She glanced over at David. He too stared out at the thing in the water. She looked into his eyes. They were big, fearful, alien things that had already given up on ever coming back to the world.
Leaning over, she kissed him on his cheek and brushed away his tears with a handkerchief that she had retrieved from his shirt pocket.
‘Don’t worry,’ she said ‘I’ll help you.’
Glancing back, once last time, at the table cloth, Mary observed the half eaten sandwiches and the remnants of cake. She looked at the cup that had blown over in the breeze, spilling a trickle of claret out into the long summer grass. He had done his best for her. It had been a lovely picnic.
Finally, she turned, took David’s hand tightly in her own and, closing her eyes, stepped forward, taking him with her.
The picnic lay abandoned on the empty cliff as the sun gradually disappeared and older, stranger things replaced it in the unfamiliar sky. From time to time, strange, wet things would come shambling along the cliff-top to sniff at the picnic’s remains, but no gulls ever returned to trouble it.