There are days on Waihotahe Beach when the rain never stops falling. It hits the dark sand, which is sometimes the colour of caramel. Though not today. It looks brown and grey, like the rust on the pole that holds up our letterbox.
The rain puts tiny dents in it. The sand, I mean. It fills them from puddles that trickle down from the top part of the beach where all the driftwood ends up. I like driftwood. All the shapes it makes. Twisted and bent. Funny how the wood is all the same pale ghost colour. I think they’re like lollipops a sea monster sucks the barnacles from. It’s why I don’t swim. Also, because my mum doesn’t anymore.
I’m wearing the light-blue-coloured raincoat that Mum bought me. I think Mum bought it, but I’m not sure now. Dad says I’m too big for it, but I don’t care, it’s my favourite. The rain bounces off me like it bounces off the sand, only it doesn’t make dents in my raincoat. The drips stay there like glue until I shake them off. I find a long, smooth, skinny piece of wood with a knobbly part at the top for my hand. I lied before. The wood isn’t all a ghost colour. If you look closer, there are black parts, like burns. I think it’s from where the sea monster spits them out really fast.
The piece of wood helps me make it from one of Dad’s footprints to the next when I follow him. Like Eliza McCartney with the pole vault. Martin’s his name. We walk in the rain most days. He doesn’t say much, but that’s okay. Sometimes I find dead birds or half a fish on the beach. They’re yuck, but Dad says everything dies for a reason. He never says what the reason is. I don’t think he wants to tell me. I like the silence. Just us and the birds. The alive ones, anyway. They float overhead like pieces of paper that have been cut and let go on the breeze. I like the wind. I’ve got long brown hair, so I need to tuck it into my raincoat hood, otherwise it whips my face, which hurts. It helps me to think better. (The wind, not when my face hurts.)
We live in a small house not far from the beach. It’s nice because I can hear the waves when I go to sleep at night. Lucy’s my sister. She’s older than me, and she doesn’t like walking in the rain. She says it’s stupid. I don’t care, I like it. So does my dad. Mostly because when we go, there’s no one else there. We get the whole beach to ourselves. I think he likes it that way.
Sometimes we walk all of the beach, which take ages. Other times, we don’t. Dad always goes to the same spot, where there’s a big log of driftwood we sit on. I get bored. Sometimes he just sits there and looks at the sea. If we see anyone else on the beach, they probably think we’re crazy, sitting in the rain. My dad could be, I’m not sure yet. I’m not sure what he sees, though. But it’s where my mum used to go swimming from. I know that because she used to put her red towel on the log.
She was a good swimmer. She wore a white swimsuit with blue daisies on it, which is stupid because everyone knows daisies are white. She also wore a yellow cap. It helped me to spot her in the waves. She would even swim in the whitecaps. Rachel was her name. I’m not sure why she never made it back. I feel bad because I didn’t watch that day. Really, because it was night. I’m not allowed to come down here at night. I have, though.
That’s my dad, Martin. I think I told you that. This is the part I hate the most. His face and how it looks all rumpled and wrinkly when he can’t find her. He’s got a big forehead that’s growing because his hair is going backwards. Sometimes his hair sticks up like the small pieces of driftwood. Mostly, he flattens it down with the rain. He wears glasses to see further, but he still asks me if I can see anything, so I’m not sure if they work. Dad says he likes to come down here to look at the sea, but I know he’s still looking for her. It’s sad, but I think she drowned. We never found her and we don’t talk about it. I like to think she swam away. She could have, you know. I used to count from when she went in to when she came out, but I had to come up with another system because she took too long, and I ran out of numbers.
He’s been walking, though I stopped ages ago. I’m hiding, lying down below the log so he can’t see me. He gets lost in his head when he walks, so it’s easy to sneak away. Down here, I can look at the sky, see the big grey clouds. It makes me think of those rubber things you squish in your hands when you feel angry. I once had a giant ice cream one. I ruined it, though. I was hungry and started nibbling the sides of it, which were yuck. I gave the rest to our dog, Frankie, but she didn’t like it either. She’s a Cocker Spaniel. A black one. She loves me, but I think she likes Dad more. Mostly because he lets her lie on his bed where my Mum used to sleep.
From down here, I can watch the raindrops as they fall from way up. I like that no matter how hard you look, you can’t see them until they almost hit your face. They hurt when they land on it, but I keep doing it. I catch lots in my mouth. I wonder if they can see my mouth below them? Maybe they use the wind or can join other drops to miss it?
I have to stand up. He gets mad when he makes it to three if he can’t find me. I think he counted way past that when he was looking for Mum, and he was really mad. I don’t really remember. My sister tells me, though I don’t believe much she says. She’s a liar. Not like I was before, a real one.
When I do hide, the wrinkly face he comes back with softens after he sees me. That’s why I do it. He looks better with a soft face. It’s going to rain tomorrow and the day after. I know because he’s got an app on his phone that I check. Mostly because I like to see how much rain might fall. It’s a bit sad, though, because every time I check it, I see Mum’s face. He’s put all the other photos of her away, but he keeps this one. Sometimes I don’t enter the password; I just press the round button at the bottom, wait for all the numbers to disappear, then trace the lines over her face and around her eyes until the light blinks out.
It’s late, so he takes my hand. Frankie stands on my left foot. I hate how dogs do that. They do it on purpose because they want to get closer to the person you’re with. Her eyes make it hard not to like her, though. The sun has gone down at the end of the beach. I like how we can see our house lights from above the beach. I can see white smoke against the darkness.
I think my dad will be pleased she’s lit the fire. Sometimes we come home cold, and she hasn’t lit it. My sister’s three years and two months older than me. She always adds on the two months when she tells people, which I hate. She was born in October, which makes her a Scorpio. I think it suits her.
She goes to Whakatane College, and I go to Waihotahe Valley Primary. She wants to move to New York to become an actor. I think I would be a good actor, but I don’t tell her because she’ll say I’m stealing her dream. She can have it; I’ve got other plans anyway. My dad hates going to the city. He says that Whakatane is as big as he likes it, which is why he came here. He was from Auckland, which he says stinks because of all the cars, rubbish and people. That’s also where he met Mum.
My sister’s cooked mince on toast with mashed potato. There are green beans that have been overcooked and big lumps in the potato, but no one says anything. She does a special sauce and grates cheese on it, which she knows I like. My sister talks all the time, just not to us. She has her own phone and spends every night staring at it. My father likes to watch the TV. He watches the COVID-19 cases rise in Auckland and says that he told me so. He tells my sister too, but she’s not listening.
I feel sorry for all those people in Auckland. I don’t know any of them, but I think I have an Aunty there. It’s a bit sad; she was my mother’s sister. I can’t remember her name. She kept calling us, but Dad ended up changing his number, and she went away. I feel bad for those people in Auckland because we can go to the movies and they can’t. We could even go to parties, and they aren’t allowed. We could, but Dad doesn’t. I miss parties.
There’s another lady that comes to see us every four weeks. My dad doesn’t like her. He lets her into our house, but he doesn’t give her anything, like tea, coffee, or even biscuits. She’s always nice to me, and Lucy even talks to her. Frankie just growls, but I think that’s Dad’s fault. I think she does what he wants her to. It’s the only time I see him smoke. He goes out the front while she snoops and leans on the letterbox, which I think is why it’s wobbly.
It’s my fault she’s come back. She used to come every week after Mum died, to check on us, and then she left us alone for ages. We would only see her twice a year. But that stopped when I broke my arm. I was fighting with Lucy when Dad had gone to Whakatane. She pushed me off the couch, and I landed badly. The neighbour had to take us to the hospital because I was yelling so much. The lady who came to our house met us there when no one could get hold of Dad. I think he got in trouble. Now she comes back more often.
I feel really bad for Dad. He used to be funny, though I think Mum swam away with his laughter. Lucy’s got a boyfriend. She won’t say it, but I know because I’ve seen her with him. He’s ugly. He’s got stuff all over his face. I don’t know how she kisses it. She does, though, you know.
I like to draw. Mostly birds, driftwood and fish. Also mermaids, because I think that was what Mum was. They’ve got special powers. They can swim really fast and stay under the water for ages. That’s why I think she could come back. I hope she does; Dad does his best, though he’s not how he used to be. Even my sister’s changed. She used to be nice, but now she’s not.
My dad and I do the dishes because Lucy cooked. She hides in our room while Dad and I watch the end of the news. The news is boring. It’s just people talking about things that bad people have done. Mostly to others, though to the planet as well. Dad likes the Sport, but my favourite is the Weather. I get to see where we live and other places I might go to when I’m older. I compare the rain that’s coming on the TV to the rain on Dad’s phone. They hardly ever match. Auckland’s weather is always last. Poor Auckland.
My dad used to work for the Whakatane District Council, mostly for Tourism. But when Whakaari — that’s White Island, if you didn’t know — blew up, he lost his job. Now he does odd jobs. It’s a strange way to describe something you do, but it keeps him happy, almost. My mum was a school teacher here. It’s a bit sad because the year after she went away, would have been the year I would have been in her class. She taught Art and English, which suits me.
I share a bedroom with my sister. She hates it, but secretly I don’t. It’s nice to know she’s there even when she won’t talk to me. My bed is by the window. I can just hear the music from her earphones when she sleeps. She won’t say, but sometimes I hear our mother’s voice. Lucy has saved messages from her that she plays over and over. That’s why I like the sound of the waves, so I don’t have to hear them.
I dreamt of mermaids and silver fish swimming in the rain. I made a ghost boat of all the driftwood and sailed past the edge of what I could see from Waihotahe Beach. I found Mum on an island, and I brought her back.
My legs are getting tired. We’ve had three days of solid rain, and we have walked on all of them. I think further than we’ve ever been before. My calf muscles feel tight. I think about my mum all the time. My sister was talking in her sleep last night; she was asking my parents to stop fighting. I didn’t like hearing that. She was crying from her dreams. It made me remember their loud voices from before, when I was younger.
It’s got me thinking about what happened. Most times, when someone dies, you have a funeral. People dress up in black clothes because it’s sad. It’s better if it’s raining, like it always does on TV. I can help with that because I know when the rain is coming. But I don’t remember Mum’s funeral. I’ve seen shows where people go to the cemetery to lay flowers, and I think we haven’t done that. I tried to ask my sister, but she just told me to shut up.
I drew a picture of my mum the other day. She has long brown hair like me. She might be taller now she’s been away. It’s been ages — years, even. I take my shoes off and use my toes to dig up pipi in the low tide by the river mouth. There’s some fat ones with dark green stripes on their sides. I think they’re mostly fat because the news told us that they couldn’t be eaten because they were contaminated, which is a bummer. My dad likes to boil them up. Just don’t forget to put them in seawater first, otherwise you get lots of sand inside, which makes them yuck.
We walk back towards the house. The rain turns golden like sparks as the sun makes it through the clouds. I love it when it does that. There’s a rainbow that goes from the entrance of Opotoki out to sea; it looks like a bridge. I wonder where it goes and if things are different over there. I know you can’t cross it. This is the last of the rain for a while. We’ve got blue skies for a few days. I can’t wait to sit down. I couldn’t find a stick today, so it’s just my legs complaining. I’m not, though.
Dad stops walking beside me. It’s strange because he never stops walking unless he wants to stare at the ocean. It’s always me that stops. The sun hits his face, which is wrinkly even though he can see me right here. He’s older now, his wrinkles have gotten deeper, and his cheeks are more hollow. I think his forehead keeps taking skin from his face to fight with his hair. His eyes are locked on something. I can see a tear running from beneath his glasses. It glistens in the sunlight and trickles into the lines on his face. I turn around. There’s a red towel on our log. I follow his eyes to the ocean, then I see her too. A yellow cap and white swimsuit. I can’t see if there are blue daisies on it because we’re too far away, but my heart stops.
Dad starts running.