It had been just over three weeks. Three weeks of Sam crumpled into an emotional ball. A tense ball. One that was numb, and had chosen to be numb. To everything. To everyone. For as long as it could be.
It had always just been Sam and his dad. People like to tell cautionary tales about the problems of being a single dad, or how being raised by a single father might effect a young boy. Where was the boy’s mother? The boy needed a mother! Sam had heard this a lot growing up. But the thing was, all he ever needed was his dad. His warm, kind-hearted, bright and adventurous dad was all he needed and all he wanted.
Of course, over the years, he’d thought about his mother. The mother who’d left him, the mother who had decided she didn’t want to be a mother. He occasionally came up with some vague notion of finding her, but always stopped short. If she didn’t want him why bother looking for her? He was happy. As it was, at the very moment he certainly didn’t want to see her, she had returned.
His father had died of a heart attack. Not even the kind of heart attack that anyone could understand. His father wasn’t overweight, his father hadn’t smoked. But like so many diseases these days his father’s had lay hidden, hidden but fixable. His father hadn’t sought out explanations for his problems, and when the occasion arose to test his heart’s strength he was too far away from help for fixing to be an option anymore. This had made Sam furious. He blamed everyone from his dad, to the doctors, to the emergency services, then back to his dad again. Round and round in circles until the day his mother had showed up at his father’s funeral, then he decided to be mad at her instead. Why not? She was as much an instigator of all his life’s woes as anyone else.
The gall she had to suddenly want to look after him. She seriously didn’t care, he knew that. It was as though she wanted to save face, redeem herself. What a cow! The scared little boy he had regressed into almost considered this olive branch, but he was too angry to consider it. Too angry to care. And he had not regretted turning her away. Or maybe he had, for a moment, simply because everyone would not stop talking about how he should build some bridges now that his dad was gone. As though losing the parent who had loved you and cared for you most of all was not entirely hurtful and life destroying as long as the parent who had left you had now returned. Why were mothers always given more credit than fathers?
For the two weeks after the funeral he would visit his father’s house, walking around his half-fixed vintage cars, drinking from his coffee mug, soaking in the warm and melancholic feeling of home. But every time, when the shadows of the day appeared, and his father did not, he would hurt all over again, and return to his own now dismal flat. He went on like this almost every day. Until the day he had to pick up his father’s ashes. Then he just crumpled on to the floor of his living room, and had moved little since. If he thought back he could remember going to bed, turning on the radio, eating soup perhaps. That was about it.
It was four, or maybe five days later that his head started to clear. His strange, tense state, something he later believed was shock or something like it, began to lessen. Then the real world came seeping in. The job he wasn’t at, the mail piling up, the flat he hadn’t cleaned, the well meaning friends he hadn’t responded to. Then there was his father’s things. His father’s financial affairs. His father’s home. Millie and Moggie, their cats. Their cats! He sat up in a terrible panic. How could he have forgotten them? Before he was reminded of the neighbour who had been feeding them, ’till he felt better’ they’d said. But still, how could he have left them? They must have missed his father terribly. And he’d abandoned them. His heart, his stomach began to ache.
In a fury he had whipped himself out of bed, into a shower, and out into the village where his childhood home lay. There he collapsed into a chair and pressed the ever affectionate cats to his chest. The pain in his heart, his chest, made worse. He had never been in denial about his father’s death, but now the reality of his loss was beginning to feel more real, more tangible.
He surveyed the scene around him. His home, without his father. Just a house now. A house of odd things. An empty shell now that there was no presence to tie together all the memories of antiques bought and walls decorated. He was struck by a thought. What would he do with all his father’s oddities? Some of them he himself had never liked, and had no sentimental attachment to. Who would want them? Bicycle frames? Old ornaments? Vintage kitchenware? His father had been no hoarder, he had bought things and changed them or fixed them. Always finding a use for them, or selling them on. But without his father to imbue them with his skill and ideas, they were just bits of rubbish. Except for this one thing.
His father’s taxidermy collection had been a joke. A proper one. Bad taxidermy amused him greatly and he had picked up, cheaply mind you, a good deal of sinister looking rodents and misshapen woodland animals. But Terrance, he was a special case. His father had bought Terrance at Sam’s insistence. Terrance was a beaver. And one which was stuffed so as to give him an air of humour. A raised eyebrow, a sly smile. Terrance had become their pet. He was what defined their relationship, Sam had always thought. The warmth and affection they felt for one another was amply reflected in their pet. He was dressed for formal occasions, he held a drink at Christmas, and he oversaw everything that went on in that house. In Sam’s younger years Terrance had also had the final word in the house. His father, not wanting to seem too strict always told Sam ‘I’m not mad, but I just think Terrance will be very disappointed in you’. So young Sam had always gone in earnest to apologise to the beaver. Knowing this was his dad’s way of saying ‘I’m a bit mad, but I don’t want you to feel bad, so why not just apologise to the beaver instead?’. Terrance was symbolic of a bond that was built on love, trust and understanding. Sam would keep Terrance.
As he thought of Terrance he thought of his dad and the feelings sweeping through him were not unpleasant, but they were also difficult to deal with. The more he thought about his dad the more he missed him. His eyes wandered until they fell on the large plastic jar next to Terrance. His father’s ashes. The morning he had picked them up he had placed them there, before panic had set in and he’d made his exit. His father had wanted them scattered on a beach down south. After the funeral, when people had asked, Sam had told them he would hold onto the ashes for a while, until the right moment. He didn’t tell them he didn’t want to part with them, with him, and intended on keeping that plastic jar. Then came the day he’d placed his hands on it. The thought of this, like the day he’d ran, made him feel guilty. It made him feel awful. The very idea that he would disregard his father’s wishes like that. Sam sank forward.
As every moment that day had led to something worse, so did this one. He felt bad, worse than bad. His father was somewhere, he knew, watching him. And sad because he was so sad. Sad because his son had given in and up so easily. Sad because his son had fallen apart and there was nothing that could be done. Sam was overcome with anger and guilt and every other emotion he’d never felt before, because his dad had been there to protect him. His dad. Sam drove himself off the sofa, took up the large plastic jar, opened it and eyed the contents.
It didn’t look like dad, it looked like the bonemeal his dad used to put on the garden. This wasn’t dad, he thought, this was just stuff. His dad was in his memory. He pulled himself, temporarily, away from the moment, to contemplate how the people who talked about death in that clichéd way were actually sort of right. His dad was in his thoughts, his memories, inbuilt in the way he himself moved, the way he talked, the way he would live his life even though the father who guided him was no longer there. Unfortunately, although this gave Sam a momentary respite, knowing his dad would always be with him, it also had the counteracting thought that he was also no longer there. The sadness welled up again in Sam’s chest, and for the umpteenth time since he’d learnt of his father’s death he fought back the tears that he knew would eventually come.
It was a sunny day and as the bright light shone across the living room floor Sam contemplated what a nice day it was. What a nice day, his dad would have thought, to go down to the beach.
Sam swayed back and forth in the train seat. With one arm around his father’s ashes and the other around Terrance he stared off into space as the buildings drifted away and countryside took over. Just over an hour later he recognised a train station and jolted from his seat suddenly. The time on the train had been a blur. He raced out of his seat and on to the platform rather too hurriedly, and the railway station staff eyed him suspiciously. Although, perhaps they were just looking at Terrance? Sam looked about himself and made for the station entrance. As he walked out into the sunlit street, his eyes suddenly acutely aware of the brightness of the day, he gathered up his memories of this place. In recent years he had driven his father down here, for convenience, but also because of his father’s fascination with collecting drift wood. Another thing in his father’s house he didn’t know what to do with. But he remembered the walk he and his father would take down to the beach and allowed his physical memory to take over and guide him.
Disconnected as he felt from everything, this regression into his past, many moments with his father, suddenly felt all to real. Though the urge to not get lost and stay out of the way of cars grounded him so that he could revel in the presence of his father and not, for now, miss him.
When Sam reached the beach side he automatically took off his shoes and socks. Only then was it that he looked down at what he had decided to wear that day. Work clothes, casual work clothes. A plaid shirt and trousers, not jeans. Had he been planning to go to work? These were his work trousers. He touched his chin suspiciously and discovered the beginnings of a beard, the hand moved to his hair and he felt something overgrown and greasy. Hadn’t he got a haircut before the funeral? He couldn’t remember now. He pushed down the hair, pleased that it wasn’t as greasy as it could be. Maybe he’d washed it at some point. But when?
Sam wandered on to the beach. He pulled off the jacket he’d been wearing. Why had he been wearing such a warm jacket on a day like today? Wait! Where was his wallet? No, it was in his back pocket. Why was it there? Sam made his way, confused, across the beach. As he began to drag up the past month of his life the feelings in his body began to register. He felt hungover, he felt like a man trying to piece together the night before. He probably looked like a man who was trying to piece together the night before. Where did he get that beaver? Passers-by would be thinking. Or at least they would, if there was anyone else on the beach. Apart from a family and a dog walker in the distance Sam was completely alone.
Sam was alone on a beach where the blue skies stretched out forever and the sun beat warmth into his exhausted body.
Sam had been so keen on getting here, he hadn’t stopped to think what he might do when he actually got here. He had no idea. Not the slightest. Maybe he shouldn’t have done this. He should have gotten his dad’s friends together, he should have had a party or something. His dad would have liked that. Maybe he should leave this for another day? Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. So many maybes went through his head. He saw his future, a long drawn out future, where he would never be able to think of the perfect way to say goodbye.
Sam placed Terrance down carefully beside him, on his hastly folded jacket, and, moving quickly, unscrewed the lid from the jar. He marched forward to the water’s edge and as he did he flung the contents of the jar out into it, yelling out a noise that sounded like the beginning of laugh. A noise he repeated while throwing the jar far out into the sea. Like he was laughing at the stupidity of it all, at the strange joy of the moment. Then, just as quickly as the energy and joy and come, it all ended. And he staggered back under the weight of a future he saw awaiting him, a future without his father.
It was more than that though. It was a future without all the things, the people, he’d thought to have. He was continuing on without his father, but also without a mother, siblings, a wife, children, any close friends. It was a sad future and he howled with grief at its loss.
Sam crumpled himself up on the sand, pulling Terrance close to him. He howled and he cried, shaking with the impact of his emotion. Until there were no noises left.
As the sun began to set on the cooling sand Sam pulled himself up. He put away his thoughts about what he had done with his father’s ashes, all the guilt, and all the sadness. For now, he just had to get up, go home. He had to shower. He had to eat. He had to bring Millie and Moggie to his flat. He would find a house for them all soon. He had to look through his father’s things. He had to consider selling his father’s house. He had to accept the help offered to him by his father’s friends. He had to do all of this. He had to go through the motions. Because his father was watching, and he would not let him down. The sadness would last a long time, but he would have to learn to live with it. He would have to go it alone.
With that Sam sat up. He put on his socks. He put on his shoes. He stood up. He put on his jacket. He slid his wallet back into its usual pocket. He put an arm around Terrance. He looked one last time out to the horizon. He turned. He left the beach.
Keywords: Sand, beaver, train.