• The Air Fix model has been removed and replaced with aeons and aeons of papers. Pages of work and forms and research recline all over the table like it’s a park on a summer day.
• A woman is slumped among the paper. She’s not old but is too exhausted to be young; years have collected in the crinkles of skin around her eyes and mouth like cement into pavement cracks.
• A man has just finished washing the dishes from lunch and he has slung the tea-towel over his left shoulder like a sash of military medals.
• This man is the father of the Boy Called Daniel. He sighs at the sight of the woman and pinches the bridge of his nose as though it needs holding together when his glasses are upstairs and unable to do it for him.
• He touches her shoulder; light, gentle, seamless in its donations of love. It’s a mere token but a token which speaks volumes. It informs her that she is still beautiful without having her face re-stitched and that they have two children in the next room who are as pleasant as a precociously intellectual girl and a boy tortured by his own mind can be.
• The woman barely stirs; if she grasps the sentiment then she does not let on. Perhaps this flattened woman is a master of pretence or perhaps she truly is just drained and empty of any tokens to give in return.
• The man peers around the door to check that his children are still engrossed in their game on the Wii. They are and they are loud with it; their voices swollen, excited, desperate. He smiles at the sight of them; together, happy, normal – playing video games like other kids would. Like kids who aren’t Daniel would.
• He regrets thinking that way and turns back to the woman, believing that Daniel and Jas are too caught up in the squealing and the screen to overhear a conversation.
• He is wrong, of course. He is often wrong when it comes to making judgements about Daniel.
(Jas and Daniel are in the lounge playing a game on the Wii. It is loud and so their parents think that their children will not hear the discussion they hold.)
Dad: (Attempting deepest empathy) How are you doing?
Woman: (Shattered) I’ve finished filling in the tax return – God knows how it managed to take me so long – and I read over the minutes for that church meeting I missed… Just starting on this report for wor-
Dad: (leaning down to stroke his wife’s head) Why don’t you just leave it for today?
Wife: Because it will still be here tomorrow.
Dad: But the weather might not be. Haven’t you ever heard of Carpe Diem? (This is an old saying for both of them; it goes back to being young and free and they both smile.)
Wife: I’ve heard of it, I’m just finding it difficult when I’ve got to get this report finished by tomorrow and-
Dad: Perhaps you’ll find your work easier if you give yourself a break first. You know, sea air, blow away the cobwebs.
Wife: Where do you have in mind?
Dad: Camber. Perhaps. It shouldn’t be too full of tourists at this stage – give them a couple of weeks and then they’ll come. The kids can run around… I don’t know. Just get out of the house.
Wife: They aren’t kids for much longer, Tony. (She rubs her eyes with her palms and proceeds to massage her forehead and then entire face.)
Dad: Exactly, take them to the beach while we still have them.
Wife: The beach? With Daniel? I know he says he likes it but… We always convince ourselves that he’ll be fine and then regret it later. I don’t want him to never challenge himself but I don’t want to have to deal with any sort of episode today.
Dad: (somewhat irked) You don’t have to talk about it like he throws tantrums or something.
Wife: No, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said it like that. But – well – you know what I mean. He’s very good at holding it in but I can see the way that each grain of sand under his finger nail tortures him… (she sighs heavily) I wish someone could tell me what we did wrong.
Dad: There doesn’t have to be anyone doing anything wrong –
Wife: (snapping from exhaustion) Please stop talking like a psychiatrist. You know what, you might not want to allocate faults, but I need someone to blame and if I’m the only candidate for that then I’ll blame myself.
Dad: So we’ll go to the beach?
Wife: (shaking her head) Alright. You win. Every time.
(In the next room Jas has overtaken Daniel and come out on top, she whoops and punches the air. Daniel hardly notices, the controls in his hand have slipped onto the floor – he just stops mid-contest. He doesn’t really know what to do. It is not that he has not heard his parents talking about him before. It is just the way he realises he’s driven them to such exhaustion, and the way he’s now terrified of going to the beach and terrified of revealing this terror.)
Jas: I beat you! I actually beat you!... (she turns to see her brother; statuesque and defeated) Daniel?
Daniel: (blearily) Jas?
Jas: (hastily composing herself) You want to play another game?
• The day is the first properly sunny day they’ve seen for weeks. The sand is hot but a strong wind keeps them from feeling the heat of the sun. They revel in the glow of the beach and the tide as if they have not seen them before.
• Daniel thinks that the crescent moon of the beach seems to be smiling at him, rimmed by the lumpiness of sand-dunes that hang from the grin like lip-piercings.
• He likes the beach and he hates the beach at the same time; today he is so determined that he will like the sand that it is already starting to be hateable. He rubs his thumb self-consciously against his thigh and hums an old love song that he picked up as a child from Dad’s old vinyls. They had to sell all of them when the record player broke. Mum said it was about time that they caught up with everyone else around them but Dad was far fonder of the eighties and, for him, the removal of fingered, dusty records from their hall cupboard had been similar to a funeral service.
• Jas smiles at him awkwardly, wanting to know if he is OK and if he can cope and if he wants to run into the sea like a normal kid would.
• He nods.
• When they run, Jas is running into the tide that licks around her ankles and calls her deep. Daniel on the other hand is gritting his teeth – which feel rough and salty – and running towards an approaching train.