Overload

Drawing of a beach, with the caption: "She hated the beach."

Overload

Short story by Iris Carden

Cindy didn’t know terms like “sensory overload”, she just knew she hated the beach.

Every summer, her family took the caravan and went to the beach. She wished they would go somewhere else.

The beach was too bright. There were no trees or buildings to cast any shade. The light reflected off the water as well. It overwhelmed her. So everything was too bright, so bright it hurt her, and a hat didn’t help.

Then there was the incessant sound of the waves. In the suburb where she lived there was noise: cars, people, dogs. The noise there was intermittent, not constant. At the beach the waves just made their noise all the time. The caravan park was close enough to the beach itself that she could hear it all night and it kept her awake. The sound went in through her ears, but she felt it through her whole body. Like the sunlight, it was overwhelming. It set her nerves on edge, making her want to scream to drown out the noise.

Sand made things worse. It stuck, it scratched. It got in everything. No matter how careful she was, sand was through her clothes and got into her bed and irritated. Walking in it was awful, it wasn’t solid, but gave way under her feet and each time she sank slightly in the sand she felt more insecure, more frightened by the world.

Then there was the smell of the ocean. The rest of the family didn’t seem to notice it, except when it was really bad, but the smell made her feel sick.

She asked repeatedly if they could go to a national park, in a forest, where the light was softer, the sounds were less constant, but her parents wouldn’t hear of changing. The beach was closer. Dad could still work and just come and join the family in the evening or weekend. The other kids in the family liked the beach.

So every Christmas holiday, they would have Christmas at home and then go to the beach for two weeks before coming back to get ready for the new school year.

The caravan, just a big metal box on wheels, became unbearably hot through the day, so even if her mother would allow it, Cindy could not stay there when the other kids and their mother went to the beach.

It was years before terms like “neurodivergent” would come into popular use. The family just thought Cindy was weird and liked to complain.

Cindy spent as much time as she could escaping into reading. Books were safe. The real world was too much. That was true all the time, but even more so at the beach.

The world turned, the years moved on. When Cindy had her own children who hated things that were too loud, things that were too bright, she understood.


It’s winter here and uncomfortably cold, but Lady Jabberwocky’s prompt for the week was “Summertime Sunshine”, which led me to writing this.

By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian chronic illness patient, former journalist, and retired Christian minister. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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