The window is smaller than his television screen and he watches it now as he once watched Dr. Who with me, eating Scotch Finger biscuits and sipping scalding coffee. We see the trees blur by; exotic pines and elderly eucalypts. The beach appears on our small screen. Stockton.
“During the war, I was a lifeguard down here,” his voice is still strong. I didn’t know this. “Bloody dangerous. I was in the Home Guard too. We put all these floating contact mines in the water. In case the Japs got their subs in here. So when we went surfing you had to hope to God you didn’t come off your board, cos if you hit one of those things, you’d be black and blue for days. One bloke cracked his head open. I cracked my board.”
We pass the surf club. And an old terrace house, now a convenience shop. “My father owned that building for a while. Was a pub and boarding house. When the Adolphe sank, he was part of the rescue team. Put a couple of sailors up in that place for night.” Another thing he hasn’t mentioned in the thirty years I have known him. “He was in a wreck himself once, off Cape Horn. Swam to shore with the ship’s cat.” He is proud of this. Rightly so. Who would want to swim anywhere with a cat?
He wants to buy us fish and chips. My aunts and I help him walk up the three stone stairs to the nearby restaurant and they threaten to undo him. It tightens my throat so see his feet, in his Hugh Hefner, velvet slippers, catch on the edge of each step. They are very good fish and chips. My aunt smirks, “Your appetite seems to be doing well, Dad.”
He smacks his lips. As only someone with very loose false teeth can. “It’s only a brain tumour.” It is funny. And not funny. He has three beers and finds it easier to get back down the stairs.
We drive back by the beach. The waves are timid, barely touching the shore before they retreat.
“Your brother still got that girlfriend?”
“Yes.” This is not true.
“He’ll probably marry her, won’t he?”
“Good.” He grins. “Since you went and married a damned Yankee, we need someone to carry on the name.”
His hand is by mine on the car-seat. Sun damaged, chunks missing. It is a well-used hand. “Bloody life saving again. We used to see who would get the most sunburned. Burned till we bled. Wasn’t any skin cancer in the 30’s.” He looks out the window. “That’s the last time I’ll ever see the beach.”
We head back into the city and our window screen has no more beach. Red roofs and red traffic lights. We take him back to the hospice and he pauses in the bleach-scented doorway. Pragmatic and a little drunk. He looks over his shoulder. And then trips gently through the door.