When my son was small we went on a glorious beach holiday. The weather was perfect, the sands golden and the water a shimmering blue. Everything was just the right temperature. Things were so good we bought a kite on a whim from the shop on the main strip. It was bright with a rainbow pattern and he loved it.
We flew it all the next day on the white sand beach with the outlines of seals out on the rocks. My son was getting the hang of flying the kite, harnessing the strong wind and shaking with joy as the gusts pulled it in zig-zag patterns all over the sky.
I lay down to watch the scene and pulled up my shirt to soak up some sun. As he danced around it was like something from a grainy family video or etching of an aching memory that I wanted to keep amongst those wafts of sunscreen and raspberry ice blocks and the distinct scent of the small boy’s hair sweaty and sweet after a long day outside.
There was a scream. I opened my eyes to my son crying and the kite was gone. We watched helplessly as it flew quickly over past the beach into the scrabbly bush beyond the dunes. He cried for a while and I consoled him, kneeling on some scratchy sand that gnawed at my skin. When he was settled I took his hand and went over to the dune and tried to look over to see the if I could find the kite.
I couldn’t see it through the scrub, so eventually we went home. We had fish and chips for dinner again and all I could think about was the kite. Meanwhile my son seemed to have forgotten about it and moved on to another toy but after I got him to sleep and he lay with a thin sliver of dribble on my arm I stayed there lying in the dark and thought of the kite, feeling grains of sand under my calf muscles.
The next day we went down to the same beach and he ran in and out of the ocean having fun. I went for a walk up to the bushy area and scanned for the kite but still couldn’t see anything. While my wife watched my son I took some tentative steps into the area, ducked under the tree branches and stumbled along the uneven ground about fifty metres. I couldn’t see anything so I worked my way back, the plants leaving small cuts on my legs which I washed off in the ocean.
I sat and tried to enjoy the sight of him enjoying the beach, enjoying the holiday, but I couldn’t get the kite out of my mind.
That evening, and the evening after I made and excuse and walked back down to the scrub and worked my way through the bushes with my torch, waiting to see the shiny rainbow plastic of the kite.
After a few nights down there it suddenly felt more dense, but I kept walking around looking and looking and after a while the trees seemed to have grown from small bush scrubs to huge lumbering sprawling fig trees.
The sun came up and I knew I should have gone home but I kept walking.
I grew a beard and my hair dragged around my hips.
I learnt to carve my path through the forest with a big stick I found.
I learnt to live off the berries and fruits from the forest and the water after the rain.
After a while it was hard to know how many years I’d spent out there, the skin on my hand appeared wrinkled but I didn’t know if it was from the sun exposure or age. Every so often I thought I saw the kite and ran up to the object but it was usually just a plastic chip packet or an old paper bag. I kept putting one foot in front of the other, kept moving forward and watching.
I thought about my son sometimes, how he looked as a teenager or if his shoulders had by then stiffened into a young man’s frame and if he looked like me.
Sometimes I’d remember what it could be like to have a clean bed, or a full meal, but there was no time for distraction. I kept walking out to try to find it again — whatever it was on the beach that day, before he let go.
Fiona Murray lives in Sydney where she is a writer, mother and social worker.