Carol Coupland



He looked out across the water in the bay. It was supposed to be his time away with his daughter before she went back to her mother for the school term. Just as he was about to pull anchor a man’s voice hollered out his name and came running towards his yacht. He was slightly overweight and puffing by the time he had reached Aidan, but he managed to get the message out between breaths of how urgent the letter was. He knew Aidan from the cafes he frequented and patted him on the shoulder.

‘See you on your return.  Don’t be out there too long. Take care.’

Aidan smiled and told him not to worry. He would be fine. Stella was as good a crew mate as he could possibly have. He put the letter in his jacket pocket. He would read that later. He knew it was important but so was his daughter. He might never get this chance again. Somethings were more important than what other people considered to be important. He looked over at Stella and smiled. She was growing up fast. He had spent too much time away from home trying to provide for her and her mum, and had missed out on the most important memories that would never be.

The water was calm, tranquil like a polished gemstone just waiting to be caressed by a hand in a passionate way. The fourteen year old girl leaned over the railing; the surface just out of reach of her fingertips. She was promised they would go snorkelling later that day. The prospect of that was exciting. She had only snorkelled in very shallow water before.  

Stella wanted to take a photo of the bay as they were leaving, as civilisation was disappearing and all the problems that handled them would dissolve. She liked to think she was great with the camera but knew that the man who took great photos was at the helm of the yacht. She put the lens cap in her jeans pocket and looking from the bay towards the wharf now in the distance, slipping silently away with just the slow chug of the motor creating any natural noise she snapped a photo. They would be able to cut it when the wind returned further out to sea.

‘Put your life jacket on Stella,’ Aidan called out. Stella reluctantly did. It seemed so cumbersome to her and not very flattering. He smiled. She knew he could read her mind. It was a special time for Aidan. And that letter was not going to ruin it. They had three weeks together; away from technology; away from hampering remarks by professionals telling you how to live your life. It was time to reconstruct his life and take on what really mattered.

Stella knew something was bothering her dad. He was normally so happy when on the water, but he seemed preoccupied.

As they sailed father on they could see islands that dotted the landscape. Another half an hour and they would be in deeper isolation. Time away from her mother and time away from her mother’s annoying ‘other man’ she couldn’t understand what she saw in him. Dad was everything that she needed, but her mother didn’t seem to see it that way.   

The early morning light gave way to a bright afternoon. They had laughed and Stella had seen her father more relaxed now. He was in his element. The sea relaxed him. They donned their snorkels and had agreed to not get too far away from the boat. Stella was to stick next to her father at all costs. She agreed. There was so much to see and Aidan showed her how to use the underwater camera as well. She took the camera for a moment and watched the fish swimming by. There was a nod to head back to the surface and onto the boat. They swam to the surface gently kicking a few times to get the first rung of the ladder. Aidan pushed Stella up first and then sprung up with the camera. He felt a slight twinge. Probably another pulled muscle.  He had to remember he was not as young as he would like to think he was. 

He had married later in life and the first five years had been great but then the cracks started to show. He knew something was wrong but he didn’t want to admit to it. The distance had grown too far by the time he did try to remedy the situation. It had been an amicable arrangement for the most part but a teenager is a teenager and it seemed odd how her mother wanted him to take her away for a few weeks. Perhaps she did think he had some influence on Stella that would be positive.  What he didn’t want to read was the letter from the lawyer. Obviously she had got a good deal from him in the divorce and he continued to pay for Stella’s education even though in theory he didn’t have to, but Stella was his daughter too and he would be wanted some part in her upbringing.

He looked across at her dripping wet and peering through the viewfinder of the camera. 

‘C’mon we’ll look at the photos down here out of the sun,’ pointing below the deck.

They were good photos but he could see the rookie in her.

‘We can get some better one’s later on, maybe tomorrow when we are near the sounds.’

Great, thanks Dad.’ 

Aidan tousled her hair and grabbed two cans of Sprite for them. They went through the photos and Stella learnt more about taking a photo than just snapping one. How different it was to take photos underwater and how he enjoyed doing that for a living.

A heavy swell developed and the dive was put off until it eased which didn’t seem like any time soon. It started to get darker and Stella was reconciled to not diving again that day. She looked at the photos and tried to edit some. She noticed the one she had taken with her own little camera from the wharf. As she played around with it and tried to enhance it she could see a person standing on the wharf. Looking out longingly towards the yacht; it was her mother. What was she doing there? She always seemed jealous of her and dad spending time together. Her mother never understood her.

Aidan spent time reading the important letter handed to him before setting sale. It was from his ex-wife’s lawyer. That was one of the reasons he didn’t want to open it. However curiosity got the better of him and he opened.

‘Hey Stella, get an early night and we’ll try and get some early diving in tomorrow. OK?’

‘Yeah OK Dad. Night.’

He always liked to end the day on a happy note. So why open the letter? He had to know what was inside would not be happy, but she had been so content for some time. Why now?

As he read the letter he started to cry. It was not what he had thought. It was not what should have been.  It was not right. Why didn’t someone just tell him? May be Stella knew the answer. Perhaps wait until the morning, but then it may be too late. He would have to wake her.

‘Stella wake up we need to talk.’

‘What’s up dad? I’m not even asleep.’

‘Stella, it’s your mum. You said she has been cranky lately and not very happy.’

‘So? What’s new? She’s always like that.’

Stella we have to turn around. Head back home. Your mum she is very ill.’

‘See this photo she doesn’t look ill there?

He looks at the photo and compares it with one a year earlier mother and daughter that he keeps in his wallet.

‘Still think she isn’t well. Stella darling, she has been trying to protect you. She is very ill. She is going into a hospice.’

He reads the letter out loud. Tears roll down his face again and then Stella looks out at the night sky. The beautiful night sky was tainted with disbelief of human feelings disturbed by the silence. She screamed into the night.

For the first time in a very long time she wanted to see her mum. She wanted to say sorry.

It was too late to say that to her mother. They didn’t get back in time.  

Now she hears the sound of a teenage girl whining at her. She wants to tell her the truth. She wants to tell her that every day is precious. It has taken her a long time to come to this realisation and to grow as a person. The only one who stood by her as she broke down was her dad.

‘What happened then granddad?’

‘For the first time in my life I became a full time dad to your mum. Stella and I always were close and I always loved your grandma.  Time is precious Leanne. Very precious and no one knows that better than your mum


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