Kath gazed at the white-whiskered old man trudging along the curve of beach and tried to recognise him as the dad she’d grown up with. Each gust of salty air seemed to make him hesitate, as if searching momentarily for his sense of balance. He wasn’t dressed appropriately for an outing to the sea – heavy boots and jeans keeping every crumb of sand away.
“Why don’t you take your shoes off, Granddad?” Milly asked, scampering at him like a spaniel, her hair divided by the wind into two rust-coloured ears.
“Don’t fancy stepping on any slimy sea weed, ta!” he retorted, pulling a face that made Kath’s youngest squeal with laughter before dashing ahead again.
Kath watched her children jostling towards the far edge of Gyllyngvase beach, and wished for a second that she could join them. But her dad was trailing a bit, breathing hard.
“All right, Dad?” she asked. “Shall we sit a moment? Take in the view?”
“If you like,” he agreed, as though he was doing her a favour, and waited while she unfolded a couple of picnic chairs for them to plonk themselves into. The vivid stripes reminded her of the windbreaker that was their only nod towards comfort on her own childhood excursions, when they’d stayed out at the beach regardless of wind or rain and still had the best time ever.
That had been a different era, though, and her dad had been a different man, younger, of course, but less fearful too. Now she saw him flinch if a seagull swooped too close, or a dog careered past in pursuit of some stick or stone. In the past he’d have raced that dog and wrestled it in the shallows if the owner didn’t mind. He used to demand they climb up the rocks for the best view possible, sitting Kath on his knee and saying: “Look! You can see all the way to the horizon and back!”
“What are your children up to?” he asked suddenly, and she glanced up to see Milly rushing after the boys towards the sea.
“She’s not as good a swimmer as she thinks,” Kath said, shooting to her feet. “I’m not sure I trust her brothers to look after her.”
“Why don’t you go in with them, have a splash?” he suggested mildly. “I’ll watch the stuff.”
“If you’re sure you don’t mind.” She smiled at him gratefully and hurried after her offspring.
It was cold out there, but wonderful – the waves were spackled with sunlight that tasted of salt. She scooped Milly up into the air, shrieking and laughing along with her as the older two swam and ducked and burst through the surface like a pair of sea otters.
At last they were all exhausted and dripped back up the shore to where she’d left her dad. But he was nowhere in sight.
“Granddad!” shouted Milly.
“Over here!” He suddenly appeared, waving, just his head and shoulders showing above the sand. “I’ve been digging!”
The boys reached him first, gazing down into the darkness of the hole with some awe. Milly ran straight up onto the heap of sand he’d created.
“Granddad!” she called. “You can see forever from here!”
He clambered from his hole and up beside her, shading his eyes with one hand as though searching for ships.
“She’s right, you know,” he told Kath. “Come and join us – you can see all the way to the horizon and back!”