In the dream it’s always the same. The long stretch of beach, crammed with sun-baked tourists and beach towels, children running, laughing, lathered in factor 50 and eating ice creams before the sun can melt them. The tang of sea salt hangs in the still, hot summer air and the air above the sand wavers.
And amid the noise and the chaos and the excitement I am completely alone.
Adults tower above me, uncaring and unseeing; groggy and half dazed from the sun, lumbering to the cooler for a cold beer. Their children elbow past me without noticing me. It is like I have become suddenly invisible. I wave my hands and shout, but no-one pays any attention.
I push my way through the crowds, frantically looking for a familiar face or landmark. The beach towel with the puffin - didn’t the family beside ours have that towel? I stumble towards it, the salt water already drying on my skin, my feet burning in the sand. But then I see the puffin again and again, picking out its stupid grinning face across the beach, stretched out on sand, draped over shoulders, hanging from the back of a fold-away chair.
I turn back around to find I went into the water. I remember passing sandcastles and a pink bucket, but the tide is creeping in now and the shoreline is changed completely.
Excitement begins to sour around me as the heat builds. The laughter of the other children begins to turn to angry, uncomfortable crying. Water is passed around as adults try desperately to buy a few more minutes peace in the sun.
I feel the dryness of my own mouth, the pounding of the sun on my hatless head. I move to ask a girl about my own age for a sip of her water, but she scowls at me, cheeks flushed and overheated and her mother worries me away from her like an angry hen.
Soon all around me children begin to be picked up, litter bundled into plastic bags, sand dusted from backsides. There is a sense of resignation in the air. I pick up my pace, my eyes still scanning the beach ahead, but everything looks the same, whichever way I turn.
In the dream I feel again that sensation in my chest, that sense that I have no choice but to give up. I taste the salt of my tears on my lips and am impressed again by how no-one sees, no-one cares. They are too wrapped up in gathering up their own families to worry about me.
And just as my knees buckle and the hot, rough sand grazes my dry skin, and the panic rises up in my chest, I suddenly feel cool, familiar hands and my waist, the sensation of being lifted through the air and the overwhelming impression of relief envelopes me.
Then the tangle of sheets wraps itself around my legs and the bright white heat of the beach is drowned in the darkness of night. I am in my bed, I am home, I am safe.