Northwords Now Issue 38

The FREE literary magazine of the North

The Sand Pit

by Catriona Yule

The sun sears the flesh on his back. It is mid-day. The flowers droop, aching for water, but Gary will not be beaten. The grass is turning to rust, coarse and prickly under foot and he does not want his daughter to jab her bare feet. His fingers ruffle the back of his closely shaven hair. He looks at the spiky lawn and sighs. Sweat is clinging to the back of his neck. The tops of his shoulders are beginning to redden. He stops the lawnmower and marches across the garden.

    “Millie, let’s get something to drink.” The little girl is filling a cracked bucket with sand and looks up at him with a look of disdain.

    “I’m playing, Daddy.”

    “I know, but it’s hot. Let’s get a drink and then you can play after.”

    “I don’t want to.”

    “I’m going in then and I’ll bring you some water. Did you put some cream on your shoulders?”

    “Yes!”

   In the kitchen, he pours himself water from the jug and pulls out a chair from the wooden table scraping the leg along the tiled floor. The garden is beginning to consume him. Every day he winces at the dry soil and the gladioli that refuse to budge from it. What would Emily be thinking? Sometimes when he’s out there he can sense her beside him, prodding him on. Watching Millie. How would she ever grow without a mother? He sighs and hauls himself up from the chair. He can’t leave the garden to abandonment.

    Outside the sun beats down. He strides over to the sand pit. The bucket is upside down and his daughter is gone. He shouts “Millie!” as loud as he can but the garden remains silent. He starts to scour under the shrubs at the side of the house.  He shouts again. Louder. Silence envelops him. He hunts in the old cupboard at the back of the shed and behind the bikes in the garage, yelling in each spot. He searches in the dirty outhouse buildings and down the lane. He can hardly breathe.

    He turns and starts to walk back the way he came. He doesn’t know why. It is an action without thought. His feet no longer belong to his body. Everything is disconnected. It occurs to him that he is drenched in sweat and oddly the heat is no longer an enemy.

    He passes a few cottages, shouting “Millie!” though his voice is getting hoarse. The sweat drips from his forehead. The sun continues to beat down but the rage in it has died.

    As he walks past the Moir’s house, a man bent over in the garden, suddenly springs up and waves. He shouts a greeting then continues to tend to his border of pansies. Gary is already on his way. He neither sees Rob Moir or acknowledges him. He thinks he will have to turn back and fetch the car. He can cover more ground that way. Realising it’s the most positive thought he’s had, he heads back, almost at a sprint. Trees arch themselves overhead and cars start to pass him.

    A hand emerges from a passenger window in a passing vehicle. For a minute he swears he has heard Emily’s voice. That high-pitched ring of warmth. It stops him. He stands in the road and surveys the landscape, 360 degrees of countryside. His mind flits. He is at the side of a road. A ford fiesta is being towed on to the back of a recovery vehicle: its front a mashed-up bonnet with holes where the headlights had been. A child seat just visible. They’d been on their way back from the garden centre, grains of sand still hidden in the creases of the back cushions.

    He shakes himself. He has to get back to the house in case she’s there. The sun begins to weaken. He continues to shout her name as loudly as he can.

    He expects her to be in the garden when he reaches the driveway. He imagines her saying “daddy, I was bored so I went on an adventure but I’m back now” but she isn’t there. He looks closer now and realises there isn’t a sandpit.

    The front door is slightly open and he walks in as though he has never lived in his own house. On the mantelpiece, he reaches for a piece of card that is propped up by a clock which has stopped. In the middle of the card is a photo of a woman and child. One word written in script font at the top: Remembered.