The dad and his two small daughters lean over the jellyfish on the edge of the rock pool. It hovers between sand and sea. Its purple core fades out to translucence. The foamy edges of the water lick at their bare toes.
Is it still alive? Jess, the youngest asks. The word ‘alive’ is whispered.
Dad tells them he’s not sure. He knows by now the need for gentle honesty. He tells them not to touch it, just in case. He explains about stings. Tells them how peeing on it neutralises the sting. This makes Jess giggle. At five, she’s still his biggest fan. Her older sister Tilly, at nine, merely raises an eyebrow.
He can do this, he thinks. He can do jokes.
He explains how they must reunite it with the sea. How the sun will dry it out. He doesn’t mention the word ‘die’. None of them are ready to face the gravity of that word, yet.
He notices Jess’s nose starting to turn red and realises he forgot the sun cream.
He wonders, as he looks at their animated faces, gently prodding the jellyfish with the end of their fishing nets, how he will keep them safe. How he will handle their teenage years.
How they will all survive. Without her.
He will start with the small things, he thinks. He will start with the things he’s good at and work outwards. Catching spiders in the bath; checking for monsters under beds; rock pooling.
He will start with saving the jellyfish.