“Heart attack. It’ll be a miracle if he survives it”, said the man.
Melissa stared at her uncle. His face was pale and seemed hollow. With wide open eyes, he stared into emptiness. His breathing was labored and irregular.
“Uncle Herbert?” Melissa had not used her voice for so long that she only managed a hoarse whisper. She felt as if her heart was squeezed by a gigantic fist.
Freya pushed through the ever growing crowd. “Herbert!” She threw herself on the ground next to her husband and tried to hug him. “Herbert. Please.”
Melissa heard the siren of an ambulance and retreated. Then, everything happened really fast. People were pushed aside by the first-aid attendants and the doctor, Herbert was gently placed on a stretcher, hung on a drip and carried off. Freya got an injection and was led to the ambulance after her husband. Melissa saw the flashing blue light disappear between the trees.
She felt numb. The gapers disappeared and nobody cared about her. Only when she noticed the colored beach bag and the parasol lying lost at the wayside, it became clear to her that she had been forgotten. She pushed the worry about her uncle into the same forsaken corner of her heart where the mourning for her mother and brother were buried.
She shrugged. Then, she remembered the book. At least, I can fetch it now. She turned round and walked back down the stairs to the beach. The place where the book had landed was harder to find than she had thought. One bush looked like the other. She climbed up the slope in widening half-circles. Slowly, it grew dark and the beach emptied. Melissa didn’t spare a glance for the splendor of the sinking sun over the sea. Soon, she heard the shrill whistle of the steam engine when it left the stop for the last time this day. Stupid book. Now, I’ll have to walk back to the hotel. She cursed and continued to search. The thought of sitting alone and without a book in the hotel room waiting for a message from Freya scared her more than being alone on the beach. She searched and searched but did not find the book.
She felt restless. After all, there were wild rumors about what the town’s teenagers did at the beach at night. Melissa’s heart beat faster, and she crouched to be less obvious. Hopefully, she would be taken for a bush in case someone came. The gloom made the search more difficult. She could hardly see although it never got quite dark in summer.
A light flashed weakly between the bushes. Carefully, she walked closer. There, her book lay, open and half buried in the sand. Beside it lay a stone that pulsated. She extended her hand and nudged it carefully with her forefinger. Nothing happened. It looks like glowing amber. With growing confidence, she picked up the golden brown, oval stone and held it in both hands. Are there ambers this big? Can they shine like this? She rolled the egg-sized stone around on her palm. It’s much prettier than the ambers I have seen. What did Herbert say? How can I find out if it is really amber? Melissa thought for a moment. Oh yes, amber swims in saltwater. I only need to put it in the sea and I will know for sure. Uncle Herbert will certainly be happy, once he is out of hospital.
She put the stone into the pocket of her beach dress, stuffing it deep into the handkerchief she had inherited her from her great-granny. She tried to imagine her uncle giving the shining stone a special place in his collection. But instead of his happy smile, she saw only the empty hotel room with the bed covered in pink clothes and the chairs blocked by half-packed suitcases. She sighed.
I wish I could be somewhere else. It was hard not to think of the chaotic but happy holidays of her childhood. Her memories tormented her like cutting knifes. Stop it, she called herself to order. Her gaze fell on the book in the sand. I’d love to be in a fantasy world. Then, I could forget this one. Her wish came from the bottom of her heart.
Melissa extended her hand towards the book when she was blinded by lightning. Dizzy, she fell.