He’d managed to resist the temptation to come until tonight. They’d been at Rough Head Point for nearly a week, and the car was packed ready for the trip back inland. But after a few beers at the pub, he’d wandered down to the jetty. As the weathered boards creaked under his weight, he felt the tang of salt air as the breeze tugged at his clothes, pulling him closer to the edge.

‘Come on, Bazza! There’s a bottle of rum with your name on it!’

He waved a hand, not able to turn away just yet. The jangle of words faded as his mates headed back. Barry was counting the seconds, his eyes searching for the pulse of light. As the beam flickered across the inky waves, he exhaled the breathe he hadn’t realised he’d been holding in.

It had been decades since he’d lived here, and a long time since he’d been able to bear being near the sea. But it was ingrained. The rhythm of the waves settled the beating of his heart.

It was like tracing an old scar and feeling the pain anew. He’d spent weeks at this spot, his eyes roving the sea as the light pulsed through the night. He’d made a deal with God that he’d be good if his Mum would come back. His Gran told him that she’d gone for a swim and had somehow lost her way. Barry had snuck out of the house of a night, keeping a vigil, convincing himself that he’d be the one to find her, and that she’d be looking for a familiar face when she returned. She was a strong swimmer, and he’d watched wave after wave in the flickering light, waiting for her to come home.

When they’d moved out west he’d been devastated. The silence and space and heat was bad enough, but he missed the ocean and its rhythms. Who’d be waiting for his Mum to return now? How would she find them?

With a wrench he turned his back. He knew when he closed his eyes to sleep that he’d see that beam of light, searching without seeing into the depths of the night.

Photo: Kiama Lighthouse, south coast, NSW