The beach seemed to stretch for miles into the distance. Ruffled waves edged the sea and the sand reflected a golden colour in the fading evening light.
Eve skipped along, just in front of her parents, chattering away.
“Robert is really pleased we’ve come,” she called over her shoulder. “He’s going to spend some time with us.”
Sam and Aileen looked at each other sadly. It was almost a year to the day since Robert had been killed by a car. Their daughter hadn’t seemed to grieve. She hadn’t cried or even once claimed to miss him.
They’d consulted the doctor, who had told them that everyone deals with the loss in their own way. Doctor Allen had told them that Eve would let Robert go when she was ready. He’d suggested that they didn’t make a big thing about her conversations with Robert.
The days and weeks passed and while they painfully grieved, Eve included Robert in everything. She shared her sweets, showed him her paintings and talked to him incessantly.
“We’re just going off for a paddle,” she called as she stuffed her socks into the sandals and ran towards the sea.
Aileen turned towards Sam, “This has got to stop. Maybe we need to take her to see another doctor. Eve can’t go through life talking to Robert. People will think her strange.”
Sam hugged his wife as they both stopped walking to look at their daughter, paddling in the sea. She seemed so happy. “Maybe you’re right my love, but just for this week, let her be. Next week we’ll think what we have to do.”
As the weather was fine there were many other families on the beach. Abersoch had always been a favourite family place. They had come last year. Robert had played on the beach. He’d even made friends with an old sheep dog from the Beach Hotel. It had spent many hours in their company; seemingly free to roam wherever it wanted. In fact the young man who owned him worked on the beach teaching people how to surf.
It should have rained on Wednesday. It should have been a dark, cold day with winds as strong as a hurricane. It was the anniversary of Robert’s accident. Perversely the sun came out, as it had every day so far on their holiday and the sky was blue. Aileen and Sam decided to make the day as normal as possible, so they set off down to the sea.
They sat in their usual spot and watched as Eve started building a massive sandcastle. As they watched they noticed that Eve was so engrossed with what she was doing she’d stopped chattering to Robert.
Later during the day the sheep dog from the hotel trotted over and sat beside Eve in the middle of the sandcastle. They sat together in companionable silence. Sam went over to ask how the sandcastle was coming along.
“Robert is leaving tonight. He said it would be nice to take a walk along the beach to say goodbye. We can do that can’t we dad?” asked Eve.
“He says he has to go and that we know that he loves us and his love will stay with us. Apparently you can only stay for so long and then you have to go onwards.”
Sam promised that they’d walk on the beach, not knowing if his daughter was going mad or if it was just a child’s way of saying good-bye. He helped to fill the moat up with water and then they stood for a moment and admired their handiwork.
After they’d eaten their evening meal they all trooped down to the sea again. It was still light but the sun was much lower in the sky. They walked peacefully along the beach; each with their own thoughts but the warmth of the day made them feel content.
Eve said her good-byes to Robert and then she turned to her parents. “Robert knows you can’t see him but he says he’ll love you always and he must be going.”
Aileen and Sam said, “We’ll always love you too, Robert and you’re always in our thoughts.” The sheepdog bounded down the beach to join them and stood with them. Suddenly the light changed. It went darker and the sun went very orange. Robert appeared fleetingly before them. He kissed his sister and blew them both kisses and then his image faded and he was gone. The sheep dog started barking into the quiet of the night.
There were no words to say. Robert had looked after Eve as he had always done and stayed with her until she could cope on her own.
“Come on mum and dad,” said Eve, “don’t be sad. Robert gave me a present.” Eve unfolded her hand and there lay a beautiful conche shell. “If we want Robert to hear us, well he can anyway, but if we hold the shell it will help us to contact him and he’ll listen. Of course he can’t reply but he said we’ll know his reply.”
Sam put his arm round Aileen and took his daughter’s hand as they walked back along the now quiet beach. The golden glow stayed with them as they retraced their footsteps. It was time to go home.