In deck-chairs all along the front the bald pink knees of Bradford businessmen nuzzled the sun.
Billy Prior leant on the sea-wall. Ten or twelve feet below him a family was gathering its things together for the trek back to boarding-house or railway station. A fat, middle-aged woman, swollen feet bulging over lace-up shoes, a man with a lobster-coloured tonsure — my God, he'd be regretting it tomorrow — and a small child, a boy, being towelled dry by a young woman. His httle tassel wobbled as he stood, square-mouthed with pain, howling, 'Ma-a-am.' Wet sand was the problem. It always was. Prior remembered. However carefully you tiptoed back from that final paddle, your legs got coated all over again, and the towel always hurt.
The child wriggled and his mother slapped him hard, leaving red prints on his chubby buttocks. He stopped screaming, gulped with shock, then settled down to a persistent grizzle. The older woman
protested, 'Hey, our Louie, there's no need for that.' She grabbed the towel. 'C'mon, give it here, you've no bloody patience, you.'
The girl - but she was not a girl, she was a woman of twenty-five or twenty-six, perhaps - retreated, resentful but also relieved. You could see her problem. Married, but the war, whether by widowing her or simply by taking her husband away, had reduced her to a position of tutelage in her mother's house, and then what was the point? Hot spunk trickling down the thigh, the months of heaviness, the child born on a gush of blood — if all that didn't entitle you to the status and independence of a woman, what did? Oh, and she'd be frustrated too. Her old single bed back, or perhaps a double bed with the child, listening to snores and creaks and farts from her parents' bed on the other side of the wall.
She was scrabbling in her handbag, dislodging bus tickets, comb, purse, producing, finally, a packet of Woodbines. She let the cigarette dangle wetly from her lower Hp while she groped for the matches. Her lips were plump, a pale salmon pink at the centre, darkening to brownish red at the edges. She glanced up, caught him looking at her, and flushed, nor with pleasure - his lust was too blatant to be flattering -but drawn by it, nevertheless, into the memory of her unencumbered girlhood.
Her mother was helping the little boy step into his drawers, his hand a dimpled starfish on her broad shoulder. The flare of the match caught her attention.