The End of Summer

Sand castle on rainy beach

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

It was night-time when we set off. I awoke as Dad carried me, blanket and all down the stairs. I heard the familiar creak of the floorboard as we reached the hallway, saw my suitcase still waiting by the door, snuggled into him as he stepped out into the cool night air.

I fought the idea of sleep the night before, staying awake for hours after Mum tucked me in and kissed me goodnight.

"The sooner you go to sleep, the sooner we’ll be there," Mum said when she came to check on me. It didn’t help sleep come any faster.

"Hurry, Daniel," she whispered now as Dad bundled me into the car. I blinked my eyes open at the worry in her voice but Dad stroked my hair as he fastened the seat belt and my eyelids slowly closed again.

I heard the slam of the doors, the rattle of seat belts, the patter of rain on the windscreen and the cough of the engine as it finally burst into life. Then we were rolling, the tyres hissing against wet tarmac, the car gently rocking, sending me back to sleep.

I dreamt of nights spent in Aunt Maria and Uncle Peter’s old VW camper, looking up through the rooflight at the stars shining above.

I dreamt of the beach, of building sandcastles with my cousin, Lizzie, while her brother David flew his kite overhead, its long tail flapping in the breeze.

I dreamt of Ludo running after him, crashing through the castle wall I was building, sending the sand crumbling into the moat. I didn’t care. I was just glad to be with them again, to run my fingers through Ludo’s dark fur and feel the warmth of his breath against my face.

I awoke with a warm, tingling feeling. The sun was rising. We’d soon be there, Lizzie and David too.

Then I heard her crying. "Mum?" I said, my voice thick with sleep and fear.

She turned around in her seat, red-rimmed eyes gazing at me mournfully. "Oh," she sobbed before turning away. "We shouldn’t have brought her," she said.

My stomach dropped and tears bit at my eyes. Shouldn’t have brought me?

"Shhh, Monica," Dad said, glancing at me in the rear-view mirror. "Morning, munchkin." He tried to smile; I could see the top of his cheeks rise, but his eyes didn’t follow.

I stared out the window, watching the fast-moving traffic on the long, straight road ahead. Where were the narrow country lanes, the high hedges and dramatic views over the bay? "This isn’t the way to the beach," I said.

"No," Dad said quietly.

Mum said nothing but I could see by the way her shoulders shook that she was crying again. I felt the urge to do the same.


"Just hang in there, munchkin," Dad said, wearing his sad-eyed smile again. "We’re nearly there."

"Nearly where?" I asked, bunching my fists. "Why aren’t we going-"

"At the hospital," Mum wailed.

"Hospital?" An icy shiver went through me. Grandpa went to hospital when he was ill and I never saw him again.

"Monica!" Dad’s voice was stern. He flicked the indicator and pulled off the motorway, braking hard. The seat belt cut into my chest, then sent me thudding back into my seat.

Mum gasped but said nothing.

We drove the last few miles in silence, me swallowing back the fear that was eating away at my stomach, Dad’s hands gripping tightly at the wheel.

We arrived and Dad pulled into a parking space outside a tall, white building with lots of large, streaky windows. Before the car had come to a halt, Mum was out and running, her arms and legs flapping like a giant bird.

Dad sighed and scrabbled around for some coins.

"What-?" My voice came out as little more than a squeak.

"One more minute, munchkin," Dad said, pushing the door closed behind him.

I watched as the coins disappeared into the slot of the machine, waited as it printed the ticket, watched Dad come back to the car and lean over to place it on the dashboard. Then he opened the back door and climbed in beside me.

"Now?" I asked, and he nodded but it was a few moments longer before he spoke.

"There’s been an accident. A tyre on the camper van blew and your Aunt Maria..." He puffed out his cheeks.

"They’re operating on her now."

I swallowed, hard. "Will she be ok?"

"I hope so, munchkin."

"Lizzie and David?" I asked.

"They’re fine," he said, pulling me into a great big hug. "Just a few bruises. And Uncle Peter’s okay, too."

I nodded, relieved.

"Do you want to go in?" he asked.

I shook my head and picked at an old scab on my knee. "So, what about our holiday?" I asked.

Ahh. I He looked serious. "About that, munchkin. Well, Lizzie and David are going to want to be near their mum. Your mother, too."

My heart sank, but I knew he was right. I had to be brave. "Just you and me, then," I said.

"We’ll see, munchkin." He smiled and ruffled my hair. "Maybe we can do something. Once we know-"

"We could take Ludo," I said, hope blossoming in my chest.

"Ahh," Dad said, clearing his throat. "I’m sorry, munchkin." For the briefest of moments, I wondered what he was sorry for. But then I looked into his big, sad eyes and before he said it, I knew. "He didn’t make it."

Then the tears came. Aunt Maria would be fine. Dad had said so and he was never wrong. But Ludo… Ludo was gone.

Dad opened his arms to me and I snuggled into them, letting him rock me as the tears rolled down my cheeks and the memories of Ludo ran through my mind.


Julia Graves

Writer and teacher living in Valencia, Spain. Author of It’s Complicated, a collection of short stories about women, life and loss