Winter’s End

Shutterstock / IrynaL © Pensive mature man in hat and coat looks out over the sea

Would just a glimmer of light be enough to help him turn a corner and emerge from the darkness?

Martin pulled his coat around him and took the path to the beach, where boisterous waves thrashed the rocks.

In the distance a woman, her back against the blustery weather, called to her dog, her red hair dancing in the wind.

Sarah had red hair. But it wasn’t Sarah.

He could see his daughter Emma outside the small beach café. It felt odd to see it open on such a cold day.

He turned to the sea. “Do you feel lonely in winter?” he whispered.

“Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness,” Sarah would laugh when he’d chatted to the plants in the garden of their cottage.

He’d spent so much time on this beach with Sarah over the years.

When first married, they would share a ham and cheese baguette, and make a coffee last for hours as they sat in the little café planning their future. A life stretched out like untrodden sand.

Martin tried for a smile. There must be one inside him somewhere, but it never came.

He continued towards Emma, pausing as he noticed the mural on the side of the café.

It was a picture of the beach – this beach – Martin and Sarah’s beach. It depicted the sunniest of days: the sea and sky bluer than Sarah’s eyes, the sand a rustic gold. Adults smiled, faces aglow, and children in shorts and swimwear filled buckets with sand.

He looked at the grey sky and sighed. Summer seemed so far away. His summer might never come again.

“What do you think, Dad?” said Emma as he approached, her smile wide but her eyes dull. Her stripy apron was long, covering a chunky-knit cardigan. She was carrying a tray with one empty cup perched on it.

Martin dropped a kiss on her cheek, before taking a seat.

“Do you like it?” she asked again, eyeing the painting.

“It’s different, I’ll give you that,” he said. In truth, he wasn’t sure he did. It changed the look of the café, disturbed his memories.

Emma sat too. She’d been running the café with her husband Joe since her mum died. Martin and Sarah had bought it ten years ago, but he rarely came down any more.

“I’ve called my mural Hope,” she said.

“OK,” said Martin, studying the faces in the painting. They were bright and abstract. “Hope.”

“Yes, because following grey days, there will always be blue skies.” Her voice broke, and Martin reached for her hand and gripped it.

“Dad,” she said insistently. “Everything will be OK, you’ll see.”

He wanted to say, “Will it?” but instead bit his tongue and nodded.

Emma had lost her mum too. He wasn’t the only one grieving.

Emma stood up, sucked in a breath, and pointed at a young man and woman in the painting, running along the beach hand in hand.

“This is you and Mum when you were young,” she said.

Martin screwed up his eyes. The woman had red hair. “I see.”

Emma pointed at a child building sandcastles. “And this is me,” she said.

Martin tilted his head.

“And this is us later,” Emma went on, pointing to an older version of the three of them. “Remember my Gothic phase, Dad?” she said with a small laugh, staring at the girl dressed in black.

A tear ran down Martin’s cheek.

“I do.”

“Oh, Dad,” Emma said, distressed, rushing to his side. “This was supposed to make you happy.”

Emma had always painted and when Martin and Sarah bought the café, he’d promised her she could paint a mural on the side one day.

Yet time drifted, and there was always one excuse or another as to why it wasn’t such a good idea.

But yesterday Emma had phoned.

“I’ve got something to show you,” she’d said. And now she smiled, as though certain the mural would help him.

“Everything will be OK,” she repeated. “It will just take time.”

She returned to the painting, and he rose and joined her.

“It’s lovely, Emma,” he said, meaning it. “Mum would have loved it, I know she would.”

Suddenly the sun broke through the grey clouds.

“Summer always comes, Dad,” she said, and pointed at two figures in the picture walking in the sunshine, arms linked, the young woman’s head on the shoulder of the older man.

“It’s us, isn’t it?” Martin said, a beam breaking through the lips he thought had forgotten how to smile.

And then he saw the child holding his hand – her hair tied loosely in bunches.

“And that,” said Emma, stroking her stomach gently, “is your future granddaughter.”

Martin nodded, a shine of happy tears in his eyes.

“A future worth looking forward to,” he said, dropping a kiss on Emma’s cheek.

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We’re sharing a selection of uplifting winter-themed short stories from our archives, every Monday and Thursday during November. Look out for the next one – and pick up My Weekly magazine for lovely new short stories every week. Subscribe here – and you’ll recieve a free gift too!