Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Beach House by Chris Somerville


Dad called me over to the window to watch the fireworks, telling me to turn the light off so we’d all be able to see better. He was standing with Mrs Laylor who, for the last couple of weeks, I was always being told to call Mary. Her name still felt odd in my mouth. She lived a couple of streets over, down beside the beach.

She was standing with her arms crossed over her chest and a hand casually holding a glass of wine. Both of her and dad’s reflections were on the window, staring back at them. When I clicked off the light they vanished.

‘They’re gonna be starting again,’ dad said. ‘Hurry up.’

‘He’s still got a minute,’ Mrs Laylor said.

When my parents divorced dad had moved into our beach house, so it was just mum and me left. At first living in the beach house had just been something temporary, until he could find a better place to live in by himself, but he kept putting it off again and again until he started saying that it really was an alright place to live, considering. The beach house was about an hour away from where we lived, but he said he didn’t mind commuting to work.

Usually when school finished for the summer holidays we had all gone to the beach house together. This time it was just dad and me. Mum had dropped me off on the street with my suitcase and hadn’t come inside. There was sand between the blades of grass on the front lawn.

‘See them?’ dad said at the window. ‘Are you missing it?’

‘No,’ I said.

‘You’re missing it.’

‘I’m not.’

I stood beside them and looked out the window. Halfway around the bay there were fireworks exploding in clean circles. We were too far away to hear them properly, just dull thuds a few seconds behind each explosion. At first the sound delay was obvious, then more and more fireworks went off and I lost track.

‘It’s really kind of, you know, beautiful,’ dad said.

He’d been drinking since the late afternoon, when Mrs. Laylor had come over. She lived down the street, two houses away.

‘It’s beautiful,’ Mrs Laylor said. ‘It really is beautiful.’

She leaned into dad slightly, until their arms were touching. I looked away.

Sometimes when we’d watch television together dad would nod at the woman on screen and say, ‘What do you think?’ and I’d nod along, though I always felt like I was out of my depth. Other times I’d notice him walking from the bathroom, after just having a shower, with a towel wrapped around his waist and his eyes smudged red from crying. These were things that I never mentioned to anyone.

The fireworks stopped. We stood there in the dark for a second, and dad whispered something to Mrs Laylor and she laughed. She was a small woman, surprisingly tanned, blonde haired and in her mid-forties. When she smoked she always let the smoke from her nostrils in a sigh. I had never heard anyone mention even the existence of a Mr Laylor.

When the fireworks had started we had been sitting at the table, eating dinner. When he’d heard the noise he’d paused to listen then jumped up excitedly and called us over. The fireworks finished and I went back and to the table and looked at the three half-eaten meals on the table. Mrs Laylor and dad sat on the couch.

‘More wine?’ dad said.

‘Do you need a hand washing up?’ Mrs Laylor said.

‘No, Michael’s got it, don’t you Mike?’

Dad’s face was flushed red and he had turned and was looking at me from over the back of the couch. It was a warm night and the breeze that had been blowing up the beach all day had dropped off as soon as night had fallen. I was wearing a t-shirt and board shorts and was barefoot.

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