Frank made his excuses and escaped for a walk along the beach after being overwhelmed by another barrage of questions.
Braving the cold south-westerly, he crunched his way over the pebbles alongside the wire fencing of the neighbouring holiday homes, each with upturned dinghies and kayaks dumped on the shingle outside their back doors.
Why couldn’t his relatives understand that he preferred his own company? That he was content to live in this remote and isolated place, wedged in between the sea and the flat marshland? During the summer months the nearby caravan park would fill up with holidaymakers who’d make use of the beach, but for the rest of the year, like today, there was hardly anybody about except the occasional windsurfer. Frank viewed the bay. He was surprised no one was out there taking advantage of the strong wind.
Passing by some weathered groyne poles protruding out of the shingle, Frank walked up along the raised sea defence until he reached a flotilla of little boats resting on the pebbles outside the next coastal settlement. Amongst the vessels one of the local fishermen was mending his nets.
“Hello, Tom. Good catch this morning?”
“Not bad. A few bass.”
“I see you’ve moved the boats further up the bank.”
“Had to. Tide’s been reaching up higher these past few months. They say the sea level’s rising.”
“Must be this global warming.”
“Well, whatever it is, at this rate you’ll have to shift your Martello too.” The fisherman chuckled.
Frank watched him at work for a while. Shortly after setting off again, he turned round to survey his tower.
Waves rolled in and washed up between the groynes all the way along the shoreline up to his home. He couldn’t see from this distance but wondered if Lucas was still on the rooftop. Frank had forgotten to tell the boy to finish his shift when he left for his walk.
He buried the tip of his boot into the shingle.
The last time he talked to his sister she’d called him a mad old fool hiding away in his ivory tower. “Sell up, Frank. Come and live near me in Surrey.” He didn’t bother to argue with her – he’d given up trying to make her understand why he was so passionate about the Napoleonic fort. Why not be proud of our past, our traditions and way of life? Like other countries.
He kicked up a pebble.
The decision had been easy to make when he’d discovered the building was for sale. No way in hell was Frank going to let this tower end up in ruins like No. 28, or worse still, bought by some foreigner.