Ethel's Exit by Bruce Costello

Bruce Costello's character goes paddling in the lagoon, remembering times past.

The days were long past when Ethel could perch on one leg and lift up the other to put on or take off a shoe. She found a log, sat, removed her shoes, then stood and tucked her frock into her bloomers.

The creek formed a lagoon that fed into the sea. Families from the camping ground played in the sand, paddled canoes, swam and splashed each other. Dogs chased sticks and boys skipped stones.

Ethel tied the laces together and slung the shoes over her shoulder. The sand on her bare feet felt yummy. She stepped into the lagoon and splashed along close to the edge, steadying herself with her walking stick, as she was overweight and the muddy bottom was slimy and slippery.

She could feel people looking and children pointing but she didn't care.

"Squelchy," she said aloud, "A lovely word. Squel-chy. Such a long time since..."

She chucked away her walking stick and ran, just as fast as her little legs could carry her, laughing with glee as the water wet her new beach shorts. She saw her father pick up her mother, carry her squealing to the lagoon and chuck her in, what fun, how funny, poor Mummy, naughty Daddy. She ran up to Daddy to smack him. He was ready, reached down, grabbed her and lifted her high above his head, and there was shouting, and splashing and sun and blue sky and waves and other kids running about and the beach with rock pools with warm water and wee fish and crabs under rocks and the sand was gritty in your crack when it got into your wet togs.

Her Daddy who went away to the war and came back growly and dying.

Her Mummy, always crying.

And herself now, old, fat and terminal.

Ethel slipped and fell, arms outstretched. Her hands and knees sank into the mud and she wallowed like a hippopotamus until a big Maori chap with a hairy chest came running up. He pulled her out, helped her to her feet, led her back to his rug and sat her down on a camping chair. He knelt beside her and gave her a cup of tea from a thermos.

He introduced himself as Hemi and held her hand. Ethel began to talk and cry and cry and talk and when she had cried and talked enough she stopped. Silence fell between the large woman and the big man and they listened together for a time to the sounds of the beach.

Hemi began to speak. He told Ethel about his father whom he'd never met. He'd created a shrine for him at home in the hallway, an alcove containing war medals, an RAF cap, a few photos and a 75 Squadron badge, all that remained.

Hemi said that before his wife died they'd gone to France to visit the Commonwealth War Cemetery near where his father was shot down and he'd fallen on his hands and knees beside the gravestone and cried his heart out for over an hour.

Ethel saw the trembling on Hemi's face and she heard his voice quiver for the father he'd never known.

The day suddenly darkened as if a black cloud had crossed the sun. Everything became blurred and Hemi's voice sounded a thousand miles away.

Ethel struggled to her feet, swaying, gave a cry, and pitched back onto the chair, which collapsed, leaving her sprawling on the sand, unmoving.

Two people came running up from far away, laughing and crying.

Ethel leapt to her feet and ran towards them. Father gathered her up, took her hands and swung her round and round while Mother jumped up and down, squealing for joy.

The sand was golden, the sky was blue, the air so clear and light.

Hemi was a tiny figure far below, looking up, and waving.


  1. what a truly great story! loss and longing beautifully portrayed. absolutely first class!

    Michael McCarthy

  2. Nice work. There are some great details here and the way the story circles around loss, death, etc is very interesting.

  3. Wow! Great story in every way. To capture so much in so few words is the height of artistry in short story writing. Hats off to you!