BY LILIAN BUTTERWICK
There’s something about a timeless day on the beach that can ease our worries
Someone had told Mel that the sand on this part of the beach was imported. Anna certainly seemed to appreciate it, as she filled her bucket and carefully tilted it under her dad’s supervision. With all the solemnity of her three years, she tapped it with her spade, before lifting it off and sitting back on her heels to survey her handiwork.
Amusingly, Aidan looked as proud as if she’d built a sand version of the Taj Mahal rather than a standard sandcastle, a rite of passage over generations.
Further round the shore, chalk pebbles and rocks lay in the sun, warm to the touch. When they’d walked there earlier, Anna had picked one up to put in her bucket with other treasures.
Had their daughter changed since last year?
Mel had picked one, too, a smaller one, that nestled now in her cardigan pocket. Every so often she worked it between her finger and thumb. Its smoothness was comforting, almost like a worry stone.
If she’d picked it up when they’d last been here, when she’d been expecting David, she could have used it for precisely that. She could have done with it. So could Aidan. So, perhaps, looking back, could Anna – even though many may consider her too young for such matters.
While Mel had been pregnant, she’d done all the right things to prepare Anna for the baby’s arrival. There’d been so much advice, she’d practically been drowning in it. But none on what to do if things didn’t turn out as planned.
Looking at her now, as the sun lit up the golden cliffs across the bay, Mel tried to work out whether their daughter had changed since last year. Was she quieter these days?
They followed their instincts and hoped …
Anna had been two and a half when Mel and Aidan had to leave her new-born baby brother and come home to an empty crib. They’d been too busy going to and from the hospital to think how it was for Anna. Now Mel wondered how much a child of that age absorbed of what was happening.
“Is Granny my mummy now?” she’d asked one night, when Mel had actually been there to tuck her in.
That had been when they’d decided what they had to do. They gave her the “present from David”, telling her he wasn’t able to give it to her himself yet but wanted her to have it. They weren’t sure whether they’d got that right, but they’d followed their instincts, and hoped.
They’d all learned how to smile again
“There.” With a final pat of the spade, Anna stood up. That was the Taj Mahal, or whatever she wanted it to be, finished.
Aidan stood up, too.
“Coming in the sea, sweetheart?”
Anna looked back at Mel briefly, before putting her hand in Aidan’s, with a proper smile that lit up her whole face. They’d all gradually learned how to do those again. Soon her delighted shrieks as she was “jumped” over the waves mingled with those of the other children.
What had happened was bound to have left an impression. Yet somehow, Mel knew now, she’d learned that life moves on. They all had. Little steps, that was what life was about, even in the face of something that had been so momentous at the time.
Like the little collection of sandcastles on the beach. They may be tiny, but their presence was unmistakable. Transporting the sand here so that it and others could be built must have been an unusual decision and involved an enormous amount of upheaval, but it had turned out well in the end. Someone, somewhere, had followed their instincts and hoped.
Her attention was drawn by a sound beside her
Mel’s attention was drawn by a sound beside her. Lying on a folded towel on the sand and shaded by the windbreak, David had woken up. All round limbs and soft skin, he was barely recognisable as the desperate scrap of humanity he’d been just months ago.
When she kissed him and lifted him onto her lap, he, like his sister, rewarded her with a beautiful smile that lit up his whole face, as bright as the sunlight that glittered on the blue-green water of the bay.