Dad has spent most of Easter weekend in bed with one of his heavy colds.
However, on Easter Monday he leaps up from the table as soon as he's finished his tea and shouts, "I'm going to St Clair - to get an ice cream."
Everyone races to get shoes and coats on. Ice creams from the dairy in St Clair are enormous, and cheap, and they have at least twenty flavours. Even Alison comes. She's my biggest - and sometimes grumpiest - sister.
Dad drives. He decides he's going to take every right turn and follow it with a left all the way to St Clair beach. In the dark. Jim keeps saying, "Dad, where are you going?" so I tell him to shut up.
Finally, Dad turns left up a dead-end. After that, we drive straight to the beach.
Even though it's Autumn, the night is mild, and no one feels cold. Mum and Dad have their ice creams dipped in chocolate because it's just past their sixteenth wedding anniversary, but none of us kids are allowed. I want to have gumdrop, but they've run out because it's Easter. I choose Neapolitan instead.
We take our ice creams and stroll along the promenade, where the houses are built straight across the street from the beach. The waves crash right up against the sea-wall. They were doing that last time, too, when Dad and I came by ourselves. Now all the sand has been washed off the rocks, so it doesn't seem like a real beach at all.
Dad says it happens every so often.
Tommy keeps leaping up on to the railing and looking as though he's going to drop his ice cream, or himself, head-first into the water. I nearly have heart failure.
"I've never seen the sea in the dark," he shouts, over and over. On the horizon, a thin streak of light still shimmers.
Mum says the railing's been shifted back from the edge of the wall. Dad says, "No, it hasn't." She says, "Yes, it has, you can see the old foundations." Dad often can't see what's in front of his nose.
Just as well the railing has been moved. At least if Tommy falls over, we might just have time to grab him.
Mum shows Becky and Tommy how to spit into the sea: she throws her head right back, and then, like a catapult, sends the spittle far out into the crashing surf.
Tommy discovers the steps that lead straight down to the waves, and races to the wettest one. Mum says, "Get back," and Dad, who's one step higher, says, more loudly, "Get back," but Tommy doesn't.
An enormous wave thunders round the corner and snatches at our feet. I get such a fright I use Dad as a lever to force myself up the steps. He complains I nearly push him into the sea.
Of course, Tommy doesn't get wet, although he tries hard enough.
Mum and Ali finish their ice creams and wander back to the station wagon. Jim has already walked back a long time before: he's always scared a tidal wave will rush up out of nowhere, and reckons we'd never see it coming soon enough to get away.
Even if there was a tidal wave, it'd do him no good standing behind the car - he'd get squashed flat.
Before we dawdle back to the Falcon, we lean against the new railings to watch the waves for the last time. They're smashing into the wall below us. Every so often a wave leaves it too late to turn over, hits its head on the concrete with a thump and a choking gurgle, and gets so mad it leaps up three metres to take it out on our feet.
Tommy loves the waves and the shingle-sluicing noise, and clings to the fence when we try to drag him away.
Back at the car, three of us kids try to squash in the front seat with Dad. In the end, Mum gets bored waiting for us to decide and sits in the back. Then I can't get the door shut: it's stuck in the footpath.
I clamber out, but that doesn't help. Then Jim tumbles out, and tries to drag the door through the tar-seal - to Dad's horror.
Mum tells everyone in the car to jump at once, and suddenly the door is freed. I grab it before it sticks again.
On the way home, Dad drives up a street we hardly ever use, and Jim asks, "Do you know where you're going, Dad?"
"No," says Dad.
Finally, after not taking left or right turns when we should, and taking them when we shouldn't, we reach Riselaw Road, and everyone knows where we are, even Jim. By the time we drive into Mornington Road, everyone is singing a different song at the tops of their voices - except Dad. I think his ears are hurting from the flu.
At our front door, we stand waiting for Dad, because he has the key. He strolls up at last, and lifts Tommy back out of the way. Then while no one is looking - we're all talking too much - he opens the door quickly and sneaks through the tiniest gap possible - and leaves us all outside. And it's starting to rain.
Mum thrusts all her weight against the door, but even she can't budge Dad. Suddenly he lets go, and we all fall inside, making so much noise, our grandma upstairs probably thinks it's seven burglars.
Course she doesn't. She's used to our racket.
Tommy to bed. Jim in his 'jamas. Becky in front of the TV - where else? Me to read, and Alison to do the dishes with Dad.
Mum asks Dad why he isn't making her a cup of tea.
He says he's only got two pairs of hands.
"Well then," she says, "you should be able to manage."
Outside in the dark, the rain starts to fall, clicking its fingers at the windows, then drumming warmly on the iron roof.
© Mike Crowl 1994
This story first appeared in the New Zealand School Journal Part 4 Number Two, 1994. The two original and delightful illustrations by Sally McAra have not been included here.