At The Sea’s Edge

The past is re­mem­bered in this ten­der short story by Wendy Clarke.

The People's Friend Special - - FICTION -

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 . . .

The End.

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