The sky was grey, the choppy ocean waves a mirror. The man sat, staring longingly out at that blanket of chaos wishing with all his heart to be feeling the salt on his skin, the caress of the foam and the sand between his toes. Beside him the boy fidgeted, unimpressed by the scene and eager to move on. Two pairs of eyes, grey as the stormy sky and crashing waves glimpsed the magnificence of nature for a shared instant before the younger’s pair dropped to his phone screen.
“Why have you dragged us down here dad?” asked the boy. The sigh that came from the child was heartfelt and heart shriveling in equal measure.
The man wanted to scream. To show his child even just a glimpse of what life was like before. This was his childhood, his playground where growing up had meant sandcastles, bodysurfing, learning to respect Mother Nature and her mood swings, so many great memories with family and friends. It was this beach where the man had first noticed the boy’s mother, not that much older than the boy who stood agitated beside him. Here at this beach was fifteen years of pure, wholesome joy. This very foreshore was the place where everything was balanced perfection before it all seemed to go so wrong. He wondered why was it that his son was just unable to see that same potential, the same cauldron of exciting experiences just waiting for a young man to take the risk and leap.
Staring out across the choppiness the father cast his mind back. All those years ago before the boy had even been a joyous possibility the height of summer had brought out even the teens in board shorts or bikinis and not much else. The man, almost an adult at seventeen summers had arrived for the day with his mates but by midday he was buying lunch for the raven haired girl in the sky-blue bathers. The memory of spilling a chilly, creamy vanilla cone down his front still made the man smile. The girl had raced him across the stinging, hot sand down to the ocean to wash it all off. In the crashing surf they had shared their first kiss.
“Dad! Seriously! No Wi-Fi! My phone is going flat…” the boy whined.
“Go for a swim!” encouraged the man, under his breath.
The boy just looked at him, a second of stunned silence before the phone was brought to life. The phone’s ringtone was some pop song that the man did not recognize.
“Tommy! Thank goodness! Thought I’d get no reception out here in this wasteland…”
The man pretended to ignore the call, his eyes still taking in the ferocity of the mighty ocean.
“It’s like the old man has finally lost it… Yeah… Road trip sounded awesome… We’ve always been city folk but… Nah, I don’t get it either…”
“Turn it off,” murmured the father.
The phone continued to garble. Ignoring his dad the son made the screen his whole world.
“I said to turn the bloody thing off,” the old man growled.
“Only if you promise we can go now,” bit back the boy.
With a speed that surprised his son the man snatched the phone from the boy’s hand.
Staring at the screen and channeling his youthful memory the man poked his tongue out at his son’s friend.
“Hang up now Tommy!”
“Huh?” stated the face that filled the screen.
“Guess you’re finding out how the world looks to a seagull!”
Drawing back his right arm the man launched the technology as far as he could throw.
“What the hell dad!” yelled the boy, immediately racing down toward the shore after his device, his life, his whole world.
“That got you moving,” laughed the father dryly, but there was no humour in his eyes. “Now go splash, enjoy, live…”
“You splash!” shouted back the boy, eyes searching the sand, hoping to discover his device unscathed.
“With what?!” cried the man, angry. He slapped the stumps where his legs once existed and rattled the wheels on his chair. “I would give anything, no I would give away everything to be able to walk down there and splash amongst that beautiful chaos.”
“Dad… Please… Talk some sense, at least let me take you back to the car.”
All thoughts of his phone were suddenly gone as the boy truly focused on the man in the chair for the first time in a very long time. He could see the longing, the passion and the pure melancholy.
“This isn’t just a trip to the beach, is it dad?” stated the son, slowly.
The man looked far out across the ocean and thought he could just make out the sun through the dark storm clouds.
“This…” began the man, trying to find the words to explain what he himself didn’t understand. In frustration the man shook and the chair shifted.
“Dad!” cried the boy as the chair tipped forward. The distance between the two generations closed swiftly. With a youthful strength the boy steadied his father, all four wheels resting on the wooden slats again safe.
The man continued to shake, head in hands as tears slowly and silently dribbled down his cheeks.
“I thought this would be our magic place… My place for miracles… This was where that gorgeous girl, my angel, your mother… This was the very beach where she first caught my eye,” the man tried to explain.
“Dad, there is no fountain here where you throw in your memories and mum will appear like a genie,” cried the son, emotionally taut. “That’s just fairytale talk.”
“Life with your mum was a fairytale… To me anyway…” replied the boy’s dad as he finally looked up.
“And now she’s gone and the fairytale is over,” stated the boy with understanding.
“Just take me home,” the man murmured, finally defeated.
As the van drew away from the shoreline the father stared silently into the rearview mirror. As the ocean chaos faded from sight his shoulders slumped. As country towns became urban sprawl the elder seemed to draw deeper and deeper into himself. As the car pulled in to the home drive his son looked across and realized although there was a man in the car beside him it was his father no more. That man was still down by the shore arm in arm with the love of his life.