He could still remember visiting the lake as a boy. Back then, the jacaranda tree had been small enough for him to reach the topmost branches, and the water was so clear that he could count the bass swimming below the surface. Every fortnight, Jason Page and his father would walk from the small town of Balwyn to the lakeside, and spend hours playing one-on-one games of soccer or frisbee. It was the only time he truly saw his father; his job in the city kept him busy most days, and when he had been promoted, his days off had become even less frequent. Eventually, trips to the lake had ceased, with his father returning home late exhausted every evening. Despite this, Jason continued to visit the lake – on summer afternoons, he and his friends would wear swimmers under their stuffy school uniforms and race each other to the water’s edge, playing games until dusk.
Years later, Jason returned to the lake with his wife, Serenity, and his three-year-old daughter, Lucy. It had been a long time since his last visit, and he was pleasantly surprised to find the area had been converted into a park. The lake was now home to a flock of Mallard ducks and the jacaranda tree had grown considerably, its bare branches stretching up to touch the sky. Several wooden picnic tables now littered the freshly clipped grass. The air filled with the chatter of families enjoying lunch and the excited shrieks of children playing their games. Lucy, the spitting image of her mother, had looked to her parents for reassurance. Her gaze was met with kind smiles.
“Go on then,” said Serenity.
Lucy beamed at them and immediately took off, blonde pigtails bobbing in her wake, the skirt of her favourite green dress flapping around her in the autumn breeze.
Lucy had loved the park. She spent the day chasing her parents around the lakeside, leaving the two adults exhausted by lunchtime, when they gave her a loaf of bread to feed the ducks, which had occupied her for long enough to let them rest.
“Can we come back tomorrow?” she asked at the end of their visit.
Serenity laughed. “I don’t know about tomorrow, but I’m sure you and your father could come back another day,” she said.
Lucy had liked that idea, and so she and Jason began to visit the park frequently, spending hours by lake, playing games until the sun had dipped below the horizon and he’d carry her home on his shoulders, Lucy squealing with laughter all the way.
As years went on, however, Lucy’s requests to visit the lakeside became less common. Instead, she’d spend her weekends out with friends, or working on assignments for school. Her trademark pigtails were exchanged for messy buns and French braids, her dresses and stockings swapped for jeans and tank tops. The close relationship she and Jason once shared began to fade as Lucy became more and more distant with every year, spending increasing amounts of time at home alone in her room.
On one occasion, Jason attempted to organise a family picnic at the lakeside, in the hopes that he and his wife would be able to spend some quality time with their daughter, but to his dismay, Lucy declared the night before that she wouldn’t be attending.
“I’m meeting up with a few friends to see a movie,” she explained. “Besides, Dad… Visiting the park isn’t really that much fun anymore.” She smiled apologetically. “Don’t let that stop you from going, though – I’m sure you and Mum will have a great time.”
Despite being tremendously disheartened by his daughter’s decline, Serenity managed to convince Jason that the picnic would be wasted if they didn’t go, and so the two parents trekked to the park anyway. He tried his best to enjoy the outing, but one could say his heart simply wasn’t in it. When Lucy had been born, he’d sworn that he wouldn’t be like his father, that he wouldn’t neglect spending time with his daughter. What he hadn’t prepared for was Lucy suddenly neglecting to spend time with him.
He sighed, watching the wind tug at the flowers on the jacaranda tree, sending them spiralling down in a shower of purple to land in the water below. In recent years, the park had become less popular – with the invention of smart phones and other such devices a few years ago, many children preferred to spend their time with eyes glued to a screen rather than playing games outdoors. As a result, the council no longer saw the upkeep of the park a priority; the grass had grown tall enough to tickle Jason’s ankles anytime he moved his legs under the graffitied picnic table, and the lake itself was glazed with patches of red algae, obscuring most of the murky water from view, mixing with the jacaranda blossoms in a blanket of red and purple. It almost seemed as if everything around Jason was changing, growing into something unknown and frightening that he wasn’t prepared for. Serenity, sensing his distress, had smiled reassuringly and placed her hand over his.
“She’s growing up,” she said. “It may be difficult for us to comprehend, but we have to give her space. She still loves us, even if she isn’t around as often anymore.”
“It’s just… Hard.” he said. “I miss her.”
His wife smiled sadly. “I know.”
It was late evening when Jason heard the front door creak open and Lucy announced her return. A few minutes later, she appeared in the doorway of the living room.
“What’re you watching?”
“Just the Saturday night movie,” he told her.
“Oh, I see.”
Lucy shifted awkwardly. “Hey… Dad?”
“Are you mad at me? For missing the picnic today?”
Surprised, Jason muted the TV. “Of course not,” he said. “Your Mum and I…” He sighed. “We know your growing up, and we can’t expect you to spend all your time with us anymore.” He smiled weakly. “We do miss you, though.”
Lucy joined him on the couch, sinking into the cushions. “I miss you too, Dad,” she said, wrapping her arms around him.
She was smiling when she pulled away, a smile that reminded Jason of the excited five-year-old that he’d chased down the hill once, her small arms raised high as she held the corners of a picnic blanket in her hands, the colourful cloth billowing out behind her like a parachute as she ran down, down to the lakeside that held so many memories for him, but he knew those days were gone. Lucy was sixteen now. She was growing up.
It was a revelation Jason knew had been a long time coming, one he hadn’t wanted to accept, but the truth was, it didn’t matter if he liked the fact or not – it was happening, regardless of his opinion. Lucy was growing up, and whilst that meant that their weekly trips to the park may become a distant memory, it didn’t mean his bond with her had to fade.
As Jason sat in his worn leather recliner his mind drifted back to the lake where he imagined the warm summer breeze was blowing, freeing the last of the jacaranda blossoms from their stems, leaving the tree bare once more.