On a wide sandy beach dipping to the sea, overlooked much more closely now by the Pennines than would have been the case only 50 years previous, a couple strolled hand in hand. It was less than three days into their break away together – the first of the year – but the rigours of the hospital lay far behind. No anxious parents, no screaming pensioners, no howling ambulances. The sun was drowning into the sea, skimming the edge of the Manchester Bank, just visible above the water line, and throwing red waves of colour up to the sentinel clouds above. The storm had passed over that morning, while they had still been in their hotel, leaving nothing but a glimmering sheen to the hardy, deep green grass of the roadside verges as the hot spring sun had taken over the afternoon.
Few other souls intruded on the couple's alone time, older men usually, benefiting from an early retirement brought on by the riches – and tribulations – of the Century Reserves, discovered not far from here. The man nodded a congenial ‘hello' to one of these unassuming millionaires as they passed. In secret he resented them as much as he did the Reserves, but on this trip there was no use voicing his disagreements too loudly. His wife rested her head on his left shoulder, well aware of what he was holding back, and loving him none the less.
Before the last figure had disappeared over the dunes to the south another figure approached, this time close to the water's edge, kicking at the surf dejectedly, arms at a slight angle from his torso. She sighed quietly. If only they had the beach to themselves... these were rare moments. But the movement of this new man caught her attention. He lurched forward slightly, took three quick successive steps, and rocked back. She soon saw, even at this distance, that he was having difficulties.
"Richard, that man" she broke from her husband's embrace, somewhat to his chagrin, and hurried towards the strange figure.
"What...?" he said, tiredly. He was the one needing to be told to forget work, and here she was tending the sick... He stopped himself on this fruitless train of thought. He had a duty, and so did she. Anyway, it looked likely to be a surfer with a sprained ankle. A quick bit of assistance to the promenade, and they could be on their way again in no time. Richard caught up with his wife, who was already looking worried as she looked from the patient to her husband.
"Hi," he said. "I'm Richard, couldn't help but see you..." he trailed off, but added "... have a problem..." almost as an afterthought. The man was staring blankly at him, definitely eye contact, but a certain absence of mind behind those eyes. The mysterious stranger made no reply.
"Is he drunk?" Richard asked his wife.
"Richard!" she said, angry he should say such a thing in front of the accused. "I think there's something wrong with this poor chap." The man now returned his vacant gaze to Elaine. "I couldn't smell it on his breath," she conceded. "Can you understand me?" she addressed the man. "Just nod your head if you can." No response.
"Maybe he's concussed," Richard offered, looking up and down the shore and out to sea for signs of a board.