The Magic Hour by Fiona McKay

The sun is shining relentlessly as I chase my two across the sand for what must be the millionth time today. Exit, pursued by a mother with sunscreen, I think. I don’t laugh though, as I’m a little out of breath and in a hurry. Why must my kids be the ones to do full-body exfoliation with sand, as though this were a fancy spa and not the local beach heaving with people on an unexpectedly sunny bank holiday weekend? And while it may be a tiny bit funny, my kids have some red-hair genes buried deep in their DNA, so multiple applications of factor 50 are required on the rare occasions that the sun shines, and more are needed when they keep scrubbing the damn stuff off with sand.

I’m on the long sandy beach that they argued for this morning, where the tide is shallow and has retreated leaving some sandbars and puddles packed with kids playing. I can’t see mine anywhere, and they were right there a second ago. I feel panic begin to rise and imagine the headlines: ‘Useless Mother Loses Not One But TWO Children On Day Out’, ‘Danger Lurks on Sunny Beach’, ‘Search for Missing Twins Goes Into Second Day’.

I catch a flicker of red and, quickly turning my head, I see my pair rounding the point separating this boring stretch of flat sand – ‘but it’s so good for making sandcastles, Mommy!’ – from my favourite beach, the one with rocks and coves and gritty sand, fewer ice cream vans and deeper water.

I give chase and round the point a moment later, a bit disorientated, if I’m honest, after sitting in the sun. It’s hotter than I imagined here, where there’s no breeze and the sun dazzles and shimmers like a curtain of light. I pass through and a waiter approaches with a tray of cocktails, motioning me to a waterside table. I place my jewelled bag on the table and wonder where the sunscreen went. The silk of my kaftan pools around me as I sit, and I know for sure that I wasn’t wearing this earlier as I don’t own anything made of silk or that pools in elegant folds – not anymore, and never this nice. I take the cocktail and look around me. Couples and small groups are at the other tables, the sun is beginning to set, and there is a scent of flowers, growing herbs, and salt. I sip my drink and see the waiter approach with plates of food. He is followed by someone who has a smile that would rival the dazzle of the sun, hurrying towards my table. I stand up to greet him and am dazzled again by the setting sun. I shield my eyes and take a step.

‘Excuse me! Hello? Are these your children?’

I’m gazing down the length of the sandy beach and a young lifeguard has my kids by the hand.

‘They were heading out too far and the tide is turning.’

I take their hands and pull them wordlessly back to our picnic blanket where I cover them with sunscreen and pass around sandwiches with my sticky hands while the sun winks off a plastic gemstone nestling on the rug.

Opera-loving Mom to a Tween, also a recovering lawyer, Fiona McKay lives and writes beside the sea in Dublin, Ireland. Words now or soon in Blinkpot, 50wordstories, FlashFlood Journal, 5minutelit. Tweets at @fionaemckayryan