Finally, the time machine was finished, and I could go back.

 

I start on your third birthday at the beach. The tide folds back on itself, sandcastles shifting and unbuilding. I taste salt, hear sky. I dig deep to find the best sand, compact it into every turret. You search for shells like gems, blonde curls dancing. We play until sunset, until orange darkness turns the world sepia. We wander closer to the ocean, watch as tiny, silver fish jump luminescent rays from the upside-down moon.

As the months and years unfurl, I am kinder, softer. I read longer at bedtime, listen harder when you laugh, never say I’m busy or tired or things can wait.

But at eighteen, pills pull you under and the world falls silent.

 

I start on your third birthday at the beach. The tide folds back on itself, sandcastles shifting and unbuilding. We shape high walls of sand, dig a moat so deep that water seeps through sediment, so deep that your arm can’t reach the bottom, so deep that nothing will pass.

Over months and years, I watch closer, care deeper. I hold your mittened hand through every storm, steady the shakes from every fever, balance every disappointment.

But at eighteen, you swallow silence and the world fragments.

 

I start on your third birthday at the beach. The tide folds back on itself, sandcastles shifting and unbuilding. You bob clumsily through silk-soft sand towards the foaming ocean, longing to feel its gossamer froth caress your toes. I catch your hand and hold you close, noticing the speckled pebbles beneath the tidal foam, the thousands of tiny pointed edges.

I bend low, begin to collect them one by one.

***

Jo Withers writes micros, flash and poetry from her home in South Australia. Recent work has featured in FlashBack Fiction, Molotov Cocktail, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine and Mythic Picnic.