There were three of them in the campsite next to ours, two boys and a girl from Tennessee, and our two boys, about the same ages, warmed to them immediately. They played in the grove of gnarled and twisted live oaks between the two sites, setting traps for wild beasts to blunder into, and roamed the adjacent sand dunes in pursuit of escaped convicts and marauding aliens.
Kit, our eight-year-old, would awaken in the grey light of early morning, dress himself, and quietly steal out of the tent as soon as he heard stirring in the next tent. I would hear through the canvas whispers about enemies lurking nearby until they woke up Adrian, and then he, too, would hurry out to join them.
I came upon them once while photographing the dunes. An older boy, Alex, had joined them, and was leaning over the older Tennessee lad, who lay spread-eagled and deathly still on the sand, while the younger one watched, enthralled.
‘Your father is very sick,’ he told the little one. ‘He may die. Only one thing will save him. Give him your tears. Only your tears can save him. He has been shot with a poisoned arrow. He needs your tears.’
Obediently the little boy touched his eyelid and gently applied his finger-tip to his brother’s cheeks. The elixir of life instantly restored the older boy to miraculous health.
At the beach, the children rode the waves on inflatable rafts, laughing and splashing, until the current bore them far enough away for vigilant parents to call them back. They spent hours blissfully searching for jellyfish and small scuttling crabs, building sandcastles and watching the incoming tide breach their walls and fill their moats, and burying one another in the sand, until one morning, without warning, the Tennessee family had to break camp, pack up, and leave. School started a week earlier down south, and our boys were disconsolate. The family came down to the beach for a last swim. Under a sky grown suddenly overcast, they waved a final farewell as they disappeared behind the long grass of the dunes.
For a long time, Kit stood facing the sea, alone with his grief, blinking away the tears that would bring no consolation for his suffering.
When we returned to our campsite, we found four grey seagull feathers lying conspicuously on our cooler. Kit and Adrian showed no surprise. Kit said they had been placed there by the Tennessee children. ‘They said,’ he told us, ‘you can have these feathers to remember us by.’