They walked together on the beach at Brighton, at first among the upper levels where the big pebbles slipped beneath their feet and they found themselves bumping into one another and muttering tiny, hardly audible sorries. So they moved, without words, nearer the water.
Then Matthew said: “Do you know how many pebbles there are on Brighton’s beaches?”
Phoebe said: “No, Matt, I don’t.”
“About six hundred thousand million.”
“That’s a lot of pebbles.”
Matthew had known, even before telling her, that Phoebe would not be interested in how many pebbles there were on Brighton beaches, but he had felt that something must be said. It was simply that absolutely nothing else occurred to him.
“I knew you wouldn’t be interested in that”.
“It’s a lot of pebbles.”
I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Should he say that? Was it an admission of his own shortcomings or perhaps it would be interpreted as a plea for mercy. Either way, bad news. Then again it was a kind of intimacy, wasn’t it? To admit that? To go to the bottom of his mind?
“I couldn’t think of anything else to say,” he said, and Phoebe looked up at him and smiled and laughed a little. He looked at her, and she was slightly shaded by the sun over her left shoulder. He felt a surge of gratitude mixing with his affection.
“Better than me, though. I didn’t say anything.”
They walked on, slightly more comfortable in their silence, and yet Matthew was aware that perhaps this was the moment when he should release his desire from the bonds of his shyness, sit Phoebe down and kiss her. His heart beat faster with the conflict of desire and fear. Both seemed ferociously strong, producing, now, an overwhelming need for food, a hot dog from the pier, as though the distraction would salve his anxiety and the pork, mustard, onions and bread satisfy his lust for final contact with this girl with whom he believed he was in love.
NB This is a fragment from the novel on which I am working, which seems to me to stand alone as a piece of what is called flash-fiction.