Bloody Chinese. He dumped his chopsticks down and pushed the half-eaten steamed fish away from him. “I’m sorry, Abigail, I have to leave. I have to go back home.”
“But we haven’t finished, Uncle Frank.”
Lucas swallowed his mouthful. “What’s the matter, Uncle Frank?”
“Nothing. I just have to leave.” He got to his feet.
Abigail patted her mouth with her serviette and placed it on the table. “Do you want me to drive you back?”
“No, no, I’ll take a walk along the beach and meet you back at home.”
“But it’s pitch black outside.”
“I’ll be fine. I’ve got my pocket torch. Thanks for dinner.”
Frank ignored Mrs. Wong’s attentive smile near the front of the Chinese restaurant and departed out into the darkness.
Even though his torch helped to guide the way forward, Frank could barely see anything and had to trudge carefully along the shingle bank. With the faint lights of Eastbourne glimmering in the distance behind him and the homes all darkly quiet along the beachfront, his was the loneliest light against the vast emptiness of the universe high above his head in the cloudless night sky.
He remembered how, shortly after the breakup with Wendy, he’d requested to be transferred home – he couldn’t bear to remain in Hong Kong, catching glimpses of her in the office, being reminded of her wherever he went. And upon returning to these shores Frank had buried himself in a mountain of work, trying to forget her, forget what her parents had said. How dare they call me a foreigner! I’m British, for Christ’s sake. Doesn’t that mean anything at all nowadays? They’re the ones who should’ve felt privileged Frank had chosen their daughter.
In the darkness beside him, waves crashed onto the shingle and rushed back out to sea.
For years, he’d struggled to block her from his mind. But then that visit to Rye Harbour happened, and at the poignant sight of the Enchantress lying forlorn, forgotten in the dry moat, Frank’s deep hidden anguish and sadness swelled up to the surface. The defenceless tower, half-veiled in a chiffon of ivy, vulnerable with its brickwork revealed, had reminded him of Wendy, emerging from behind the screen in his bedroom, the gown hanging loose, her naked shoulder. Even after all this time he still missed her terribly though it pained him to remember. No, I can’t bear it. He’d dismissed the vision from his mind and retreated to another vantage point. Staring at the tendrils spread all over the Enchantress’ wall, Frank grew fearful – he’d realised this same slow creep was inside him, and if he didn’t act soon the decay would consume him. Unable to view the ruins any more, he’d turned away. Now is not the time for weakness. Presenting his best stiff upper lip, he’d called over to his travelling companion and said they should leave.
Up ahead a faint light from the rooftop of his tower appeared in the darkness, and the biting south-westerly nudged him towards it.
The sale of No. 55 had been a godsend. Immediately Frank knew he had to buy it, using his hard-earned savings from years of company service. He was determined to repair and reinforce the brickwork, seal it up, make it strong again.
Edging forward, Frank was guided by his tower’s growing light. It burnt through the night as bright as the resentment and hatred he’d let fester these past thirty-five years. He took longer strides in the shingle.
He’d never forgiven Wendy and her parents for rejecting him. You must respect our ways. He remembered how embarrassed he’d felt in the street leaving her apartment block – the old man disapproving on the stool, the women laughing at him. Undoubtedly they laughed again when our government gave away Hong Kong.
Climbing up his walkway, Frank faced towards the dark bay. Divers had found the wreck of a warship in the seabed a few years ago, some speculating it was the HMS Resolution. He’d always thought that would be a good name for his tower.
I’ll make things right. I’ll show these foreigners that we’re still important in this world, that they’re the ones who should be respecting us.