Toes rip through wet sand. They trace stones through the stinking weed, around flaking logs until I’m skidding, dry and squeaky, up the path to the car. The sun has seared the afternoon white. My hands, still gluey from the orange, slap passively at flies. Half the beach has settled in the pouch of my swimmers and I sway until I hear someone rattle the keys. Mum opens the car. A hot ghost escapes and slams into our faces on its way to freedom. With belching panic, the dog scrambles through the door. She finds her corner and starts to wheeze. We stand around the open door and stare at the seething interior – the plastic, the steel clips of the seat belts – and wonder why everything is so glossy, so still. My brother takes the front seat and urges haste. He says he’s dying in there. Mum and I throw the boards and bloated water bottles in the back with the dog and edge ourselves into the throbbing car like it’s a steaming bath. Our sweat finds home on itching seats. Mum struggles with the clutch, but the engine fires first go. As we back out, we take one last look at the cerulean bands of water.
The sand migrates; it settles in fleshy crevices as the car rattles over headland screes. Wind them down! Wind them all down! We gain speed and coins clatter on the dashboard, the voice in the radio laughs; outside, green and blue lie motionless and severe. First gear and the dog slides backwards, then shakes a violent spray about the cabin. My brother slips his head out the window and curses the canine stench. I stamp the floor to accelerate our descent. Not long to go, Mum says and shifts in her seat. The ancient towel she’s wrapped around her hips has come undone. My brother tells her to turn the blinker off – she doesn’t need it anymore. Mum replies by asking him why he’s so burnt. The cream had promised otherwise. Suddenly, her beetling glance is upon me. Even in the mirror she can see it: my ears are also aglow with that sleeping sting.
When the motor dies we unbuckle our seatbelts and coil our feet for the launch out of the burning Zeppelin. There is only the crackling of the driveway between the garden hose and us now. The dog senses our plan and canons over the backseat and lands on my lap, snapping at the air and scraping my legs raw. Her breath paints my face. Mum brakes harder than she wants to and we lurch forwards. She shouts, but the doors are already popped and the three of us are away, chasing down the green salamander, elbows and tails out and ready to extinguish another summer.