Her father’s disappearance fed public gossip for years. The townsfolk could poke a finger at the why of it but not the how. The how was chewed over and spat out into sour, bite-sized theories.
Black and white photographs showed he’d been in her life till she was six, yet Cathy possessed only two colour-clear memories of him. In the first, he stood chest-deep in the council swimming baths while she balanced on the pool edge, elbows to ears.
‘Dive, Cathy. I’ll catch you,’ he promised.
And he did, scooping her up after she plunged like a boulder into the water. He swung her high, laughing, ‘My brave girl.’
After he was gone, Cathy was shunted to live with Aunt Sue, a scissor-tongued woman who snipped away any talk of him: ‘He left. End of. Eat your fish.’
Cathy didn’t like fish. Who knew what they ate, what they nibbled on, what they heard as they flexed their way through ocean murk, past all the objects that had sunk into the sea: shattered boats, drowned sailors, plummeted planes, corked SOS bottles and a million, million sunsets.
‘Was it like everyone says,’ she chanced one day, picking a herring bone from her teeth, ‘that he couldn’t live without Ma?’
‘He’ll be holed up in some city or other. Turning gutter drunk. Cheat’s way to deal with grief.’ Snip, snip. ‘A man with moods as changeable as the weather.’
The second memory was of him leaning against the jamb of the front door, dragging on a cigarette, gazing through the sheeting rain. As the last plume whorled from his mouth he flicked away the butt and pitched forward as if a starter’s pistol had been fired.
Because he stumbled and skittered over the shingle then the long, knotted grass of the common land, it was possible for Cathy to track him the half mile up the hill where the cliffs jutted into the North Atlantic. When he reached the edge he lunged on, silhouetted by a fat moon, his arms held in an empty embrace.
Cathy never told Aunt Sue about that night, knowing it would be cut into a meaner story. The why of her daddy’s death may be assumed, but the how would stay locked in her memory – the fact that he’d been brave enough to dive when there was no-one around to catch him.
Sharon lives in East Lothian, Scotland and writes around her family and part-time job. Her short stories and flash pieces have been published on-line and in anthologies, including Ellipsis Zine, Retreat West, Reflex Fiction and Bath Anthology. She tweets as @SharonBoyle50 and has a luddite-basic blog at https://boyleblethers.wordpress.com/ Her dream is to have a writing shed so she can potter and procrastinate in total peace.