Between the jetty and the headland, eight grey-weathered groynes divide up the beach. We used to clamber over three. The rest we chased around, or scrambled under, searching for crabs when the tide was out. They were our obstacle course. I still come here each morning, though I no longer appreciate the cosseting of the wind and the yielding sugar-soft sand.
Holly doesn’t see me. She is looking down-beach towards the shore fisherman. He is silhouetted against the early sun, a back-lit scene we struggled many times to capture on our phones. I wonder if she is reflecting on those moments.
Before school, we would beat-walk, hammering our heels into the sand, leaving monstrous footprints. We laughed to think it might puzzle the dog walkers or scare other kids. I wish I could make those impressions with her once more. But I’m banned from being near to her again.
She mustn’t see me, and I have been told not to contact her. All I can do is mull over my foolishness and the short temper that took away my rights as a father.
Ray had it coming to him. He was the one that set down the harsh rules. He decided when and where, and for how long we could spend time together. And he enjoyed seeing me squirm until I lost control. I don’t regret pummelling his face and breaking his nose. But pulling a knife on a man half my size again was not a smart move. They tell me I got what I deserved. But I didn’t deserve this.
Staring up at my little girl, I can no longer ignore the punishing ache. Yes, there will be consequences. They might make it the last time I can be near her. But the need to be close again is overwhelming.
The thirty-foot cliff is no challenge, and I am beside Holly once more. She turns her head away from the ocean, and I look straight into her eyes. There is a contented beam of remembrance on her face as she steps through me and back onto the footpath.