The moon disappeared behind dark clouds and the silver path that had stretched from the horizon to Ian’s feet, went with it. The night sky remained backlit by the moon but his view of the bay and the black rocks jutting out of the sea, faded. His eyes adjusted. The white ripples lapping at his feet marked the shoreline. He turned, walking back to the bonfire.
Following a New Year’s Eve tradition he’d lit it, his heart filled with foolish hope, trying to recapture the past. A way to remember the times they’d welcomed in the New Year; he, Phyllis and their three boys. Now all gone. Phyllis dead, the boys chasing careers overseas. He remained a silly old fool, stoking a bonfire and instead of being happy each log he threw on seemed to represent another lonely year stretching ahead.
e walked up the sand to the beach house, crossing the lawn, springy and coarse underfoot. Only kikuyu grass survived the salt wind and hot summer. His reflection in the glassed French doors showed he’d lost weight and his legs were beginning to bow. He smiled at his reflection, now the image of his father. Only his white hair, stiff, ridden with salt from his afternoon swim, was different.
From the old sideboard he poured a nip of whisky in a good sized glass. A relic of his marriage the cabinet was being held together by umpteen layers of paint. Underneath was probably an oak treasure but it would remain undiscovered until his children disposed of the family Bach. Any time it rained, usually in the August holidays, he and Phyllis would get the boys to paint the sideboard as an indoor activity. The present coat of apple green, now chipped on the corners, revealed the many layers. He ran his hand over the smooth top picturing the boys wielding paint brushes; the newspapers spread over the linoleum to catch the drips; and he and Phyllis on the verandah, out of the rain, sipping iced tea.
He shook his head, sniffed and wiped the tip of his nose with the back of his hand. Clutching the glass and bottle he walked back to the bonfire and sat on the log, left by the last storm. He’d collected enough driftwood to keep the fire burning until well after midnight.
The moon rose above the cloudbank and its silver path returned, kissing wave tops across the bay. A sense of peace, like a warm blanket, settled over him. He sipped his whisky straight, like a true Scot. A lifetime ago he’d left those shores and his family. He’d never had a day of regret – until today. Loneliness was awful.
His neighbor Jonathan arrived carrying a drink, a silly hat perched sideways on his head and a wide smile of greeting. “Happy New Year, Ian. Can I share your bonfire?”
“My pleasure.” Ian patted the log. “Take a seat. Is the family coming down?”
“Later.” The young man sipped his drink. “Emma’s putting the littlies to bed. I thought I’d keep you company for a while. Nice night isn’t it? No wind, moon out.” The neighbor gestured to the west. “There’s a lot of bonfires further round the bay.”
That’ll be the tourists.”
“How’s your year been, Ian? We haven’t seen you here during the holidays. Do you come here when we’re all at home?”
“No.” He had to look away. He eyes filled. “I love Tata Beach but I’m getting older. Driving over the Takaka hills isn’t for sissies. Phyllis used to whip the car around the corners as if it was a casual drive on a country road. I’m more cautious.” A cloud blocked the moonlight again. Jono’ wouldn’t see his tears.
“Any family coming for the holidays,” Jonathan asked?
“No, they’re all overseas, doing things.” He wiped his cheek and took a mouthful of whisky. It left a smoky after taste and warmed his gullet. The fire sparked as a breeze stirred the base. He shivered. Flames climbed the logs, crackling the salt. Smoke swirled and smelt of the sea. The heat toasted his front and face. The whisky warmed him inside.
“Hey up! I can hear a car. Are you expecting visitors, Ian?”
“Nah. It’ll be someone lost and turning around in my driveway.” He didn’t bother to look.
Moments later a shout sounded from the bank and he turned to see the lights on in his house. Cheeky buggers. Wandering tourists had no shame. They’d walk into anyone’s home to ask directions.
He balanced his glass on the log and stood, facing his Bach. “Get out of my house you cheeky buggers. If you’re lost just go back the way you came.” His voice cracked. He wasn’t used to shouting, or talking much for that matter. “And don’t pinch anything either.” It was all old but it was his - and Phyllis’. The memories were worth more than the value of the furnishings.
The intruder, features shadowed by the house lights behind, stepped off the grass onto the soft sand. Persistent blighter. “Go back the way you came. This is a dead end.” He pointed toward the distance bonfires. “That way - is the way out.” Jono moved to stand by his side. The approaching figure stopped. Ian’s pulse increased. Perhaps he should be afraid? He looked around for a piece of driftwood to pick up.
There was something familiar in the man’s stance.
“You silly old bugger,” the man said, approaching. ”I’ve come halfway around the world to spend New Year with you and you’re waving your arms about, telling me to go to another bonfire.”
The voice broke the spell. The moon came out from behind a cloud and lit his son’s face. The New Year suddenly promised hope and company. His eldest pointed to the clouds. “I’ve brought a tin of paint in case the weather breaks. I thought it was about time we gave the old sideboard another coat. Sam and Josh will be here tomorrow.”
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