The beach was deserted as Casey and Bilbo took their normal Sunday walk. A fine snow was falling and Casey paused to watch it landing on the choppy wave tops and the sand. She tucked a loose strand of her brown hair back into her hood and wiped at her somewhat runny nose. Switching her red umbrella to her other hand, she flexed the stiff fingers on her bandaged left hand, A result from a fall on ice a few days ago and tried to pull up the fluffy glove covering it. She had to juggle the umbrella and fight against the sleeve of her caramel coloured parker coat to do so.
Bilbo barked and she looked down at the white West Highland Terrier. He was wrapped up in a warm tartan patterned dog coat and had just dropped a small piece of drift wood at her wellington booted feet. His stumpy tail was wagging madly and his panting pink tongue was covered in sand grains and a sliver of bark.
‘It’s too cold,’ she told him and shivered slightly.
Bilbo barked again and jumped a pace back. He wouldn’t take that as her reason.
‘Just for a few minutes,’ Casey said and switching the umbrella again, picked up the stick.
Even through her gloves, she could feel the roughness of the wood. The sea had yet to make it smooth and she wondered where it had come from. She threw it along the beach, careful to keep the little dog out of the chilly waves. Bilbo shot off, barking like a mad in determined to retrieve the new play thing.
Casey watched him go before glancing around the beach once more. Snow was piled up against the wooden wave breaking fences and the chipped stone wall. She thought it was strange to see snow and sand meeting, but then it happened every year in her seaside town, no matter how much snow they got. She still could see anyone else around and really she didn’t blame people from staying away. In this weather, the sea was always unpredictable and the beach looked highly uninviting.
She walked on, holding the umbrella in both hands and following the light paw prints left by Bilbo. He was now wrestling with the stick, but when he saw her, he darted back to her side, stick in mouth and jumped up, proudly showing her he had won the game. Laughing, Casey took it from him and threw it again. He raced after it, kicking up some sand in his wake and barking again. She watched him tumble on top of the drift wood and a large wave smack into him.
‘Bilbo!’ she cried out and rushed over to the spot he had been in.
The wave rolled back, dragging sand and the little dog with it. Casey dropped the umbrella and let out a scream. From somewhere inside the wave, she thought she head Bilbo yelping. She paused at the frothy edge of another wave and shouted his name again. Everything was yelling at her to step into the sea and searched for her dog, but a slight fear of danger was holding her back. As her eyes searched the now growing waves, she saw a flash Bilbo’s tartan coat.
Calling his name, she hasty walked towards it and saw him struggling in the water. Quickly, she reached out for him as another wave arose and threated them. Bilbo must have known it was her as he renewed his efforts and paddled towards her hand. Casey felt her now wet gloved fingers trying to grab him and finding no hold. Franticly, she tore the gloves off, and scooped Bilbo up. He shook in her arms and licked her face with salty kisses.
The wave broke around her wellies, almost knocking her down and she felt water splashing up her jean covered legs and running down into her long woollen socks. Clutching him tightly, she fought her way out of the sea and up the snow covered sand. Breathing heavily and feeling unable to catch her breath, she fixed her sights on the glowing lit windows of a café on the beach front. Bilbo whimpered and nestled against her.
Casey stumbled up the snow concert ramp, almost falling over, but somehow finding her balance again. She picked up her pace at the top and ran towards the café’s door. Throwing the door opened with her almost frozen fingers she rushed inside and shrieked in a raw voice, ‘My dog almost got swept away! Please, you’ve got to help us!’
The elderly couple behind the counter stared at her then rushed forward. Casey felt the woman tumble Bilbo out of her arms and the man easing Casey into a wooden chair. Suddenly, Casey realised she had been crying, but now because the café was warmer then outside, her tears were falling more freely. She sniffed and tried to compose herself, but couldn’t. Her vision went blurred and her ears seemed to dim all sound. She was aware though of the man quickly walking away, the woman shouting orders, then trying to comfort her and showing her that Bilbo was still alive.
Casey reached out a hand to the dog as she sobbed hard. The woman handed him back, repeatedly telling her that he was okay, ‘a little shocked and exhausted, but he’s okay. See? He’s worrying about you, Dear. It’s okay. You’re all right. Joe? Where are the towels? I’ll get you a cup of tea, Dear. Don’t worry. It’s fine.’
Casey hugged Bilbo and buried her face into his wet and sandy fur as he tried to lick her. The woman had removed his coat and now came back with a towel, which she tried to wrap him in.
‘You should take off your coat,’ the woman spoke, ‘here, have this towel. Joe? Can you bring the tea over?’
Casey did as asked and let her coat fall against the chair. She took up the towel and pressed it to her face and hair. Breathing deeply, she tried to calm herself, but found that panic and fear where still racing around her body. She heard Bilbo yapping and dropped the towel to her lap. The woman was on the floor, scrubbing him dry and the little dog looked over joyed. He turned his face up to Casey, his tongue lolling about, his eyes bright black and his eyes pricked up.
‘There, Dear,’ the woman said to him, picking another towel to wrapped him up in before placing him on Casey’s lap.
The man put a cup of tea beside her elbow and Casey bust into apologies and thanks. The couple waved it all away and encouraged her to drink her tea. With shaking hands, she picked up the cup and took a sip. Bilbo nuzzled into her, pressing his wet nose against her and making soft noises.
‘No more beach for us until spring,’ she told him.
Bilbo barked and Casey placed the cup back down, hugging him tightly.