At The Sea’s Edge
The past is remembered in this tender short story by Wendy Clarke.
WE shouldn’t have come. I peer through the cottage window at the beach where Dad used to build me sandcastles.
I can see him still, down at the shoreline, collecting stones for the moat, and one perfect shell to decorate the tower.
When I think of Dad my heart clenches. I’d thought Mum and I were everything to him. That our family would stay together always.
“What are you thinking?” Cam wraps his arms around me and together we watch the waves roll on to the beach. I’m glad he’s with me, here in the cottage we used to holiday in when I was a child.
Somehow, it makes it more bearable.
“Where’s your mum and Brian?” He peers out. “They’ve gone for a walk.” “Didn’t you want to go with them?”
“Why would I?”
As they set off along the shoreline their heads were almost touching. How happy they seemed.
Mum must have said something amusing, for Brian had burst out laughing then pulled her towards him.
“We shouldn’t have come,” I tell Cam. “I don’t know why Mum wanted to come here.”
“Because she has good memories of it?”
“But it’s where we used to stay before . . .” I can’t say speak the words.
“Before your parents got divorced. So what, Leah?” “It doesn’t feel right.” Cam sighs.
“Your mum has a right to be happy. You can’t live in the past. You all have to move on.”
I feel ashamed. Of course I want Mum to be happy.
“You don’t think it’s odd, then? Us all being here?”
“I think it’s nice.” He smiles. “I like your mum and I like Brian. Just because things aren’t the same as they were before, you can’t blame him.
“It’s hard to reach out and grab tomorrow if you’re still holding on to yesterday. Your mum knows that, Leah.”
I can’t help laughing. “Since when did you become a philosopher?”
“Since I saw how this weekend was affecting you. Your mum’s old enough to make her own decisions and her own mistakes. Not that I think this is one. They’re good together.
“Why don’t we go out? It’s a beautiful day.”
It’s warm for the time of year and we don’t need coats. As we cross the road and make our way over the beach to the water, the afternoon sun casts long shadows across the sand.
We take off our shoes and stand at the water’s edge, laughing as the sea foams around our ankles.
“Dad used to jump me over the waves.” I stare out at the horizon. “He’d leave it until the last minute and then lift me up.”
I can still feel his large hands under my arms, the scratch of his chin from the stubble he refused to shave until his holiday was finished. His holiday beard, he’d called it. My heart aches with the memory.
“What happened later doesn’t change those memories, Leah. If anything, it should make them more precious.” I frown.
“They are precious. That’s the problem.”
The waves lap and recede. I see my dad running after me with a slick of green seaweed.
I can hear my childish cries of delight. Mum is on the picnic blanket, unfolding sandwiches wrapped in shiny silver foil, smiling. She always was, in those days.
“There they are.” Cam points to where the barnacled groyne stretches out into the sea.
The beach this side is lower than the other. We watch Brian lift my mum down, hear her laugh as he twirls her round.
“What are you scared of?”
“I’m scared she’ll have her heart broken again.”
“It was fifteen years ago, and Brian’s not that man. Did your mum speak to you about what happened?” I shrug.
“She said they married too young. That by the time they’d reached their thirties, they wanted different things.”
Cam bends and picks up a mermaid’s purse and studies it, stroking the leathery egg case with his finger.
“It’s natural to want to protect your mum, but it’s her life. She’s a different person now and is in a different place. You can’t deny her the chance to be happy. Life goes on; people change. We’ll change.”
I take hold of his hand. “I don’t want us to.”
“But it will happen.” He places our joined hands on my swollen belly. “It’s inevitable that we’ll change once we’re parents. The only difference is we’ll be older. We had more opportunity to do the things we’ve wanted to do before settling down.”
I know he’s remembering the year we spent apart after university. We’d agreed to have a break, to give us a chance to find out who we really were.
But as I’d travelled Europe, meeting new people, kindling new romances, I’d known it was Cam I was meant to spend my life with. Thankfully he’d thought that, too.
I hear Mum call.
“Don’t be hard on them,” Cam whispers. “It just took them a little longer.”
As they reach us, Brian holds out a perfect shell, its inside lined with silver.
“I saw it and thought of you,” he says.
I hesitate, then take it from him and, as I do, I notice the stubble on his chin. His holiday beard.
“Thank you, Dad,” I say.
I had so many fond memories of this place. When my family was together . . .