In the early morning, the cliffs were silent, and he could hear the waves rush gently to the shore. The birds had yet to take flight, and only a few sailboats had left the dock. It was nice and bright, and it was hours before kayaks would flood the bay with tourists.

He liked to walk each morning at this time of day. The air was still cool, and he liked it when the wind hit is face. It reminded him of a different time in his life, when he lived in a colder climate and the days weren’t so perfect and endless. He liked to think of those days, when the air was crisp and his dreams never left his small neighborhood. That was a long time ago.

When the wind whipped up, he had to be careful not to walk too close to the edge. In the country of his birth, there would likely have been a railing, but here, on the other side of the world, nobody was going to try and save you from your own stupidity. There were no signs and he was careful to keep a safe distance. After all, the wind doesn’t play favorites.

Down below, the wet rocks spread out at the base of the cliffs and lined the small beach. They were smooth and dark from the sea and covered in emerald green moss. The emerald green moss was slippery, and it gleamed in the morning sun. The sand was wet and tight, and there wasn’t a single footprint to be seen. He liked to come here in the mornings, to get close enough to the edge to see the untouched shore before it was trampled by feet.

He walked this route nearly every morning. Every morning he was able anyway. There were some mornings when his back refused to cooperate. Others when the soreness in his knee was too much. But he tried to walk this route every morning. The exact same route, with each step laid out just as it had been the day before. He never tired of the repetition. It did not bore him to take the same route over and over. It provided him with the relative certainty that the next day should be just as the one before.

The man had lived near the cliffs for a long time. He had a small apartment near the coast, and he liked to wake up with the sun. He liked the idea of starting the day as soon as it began, and waking up with the sun made him feel as if he had done that. So, each night before he went to bed, he checked the exact time of the next morning’s sunrise. This way he could set his alarm to synchronize with the start of the day.

His apartment was very small, but he liked it very much. He had a bed, a kitchen table, and a small living area. There were a few paintings on the wall and a small television propped on an old wooden stand. The floor was tile, and the flat had good light. It was important to have good light. Good light was more important than space, he thought. Space by itself was empty but light could fill any room. His apartment had good light and the light filled the space perfectly.

There wasn’t much to the flat. He could see the stove from his bed and the bathroom from the stove. It had enough room to have a guest over, but he spent most of his time alone. He did not mind being alone. It was very comfortable for him, and he liked being in the space when he was the only one there. It made made him feel strong, like he was a young man again.

From the window, he could see the trees. When he first moved into the apartment, the trees were barely visible. At the time, they were, much like him, in the spring of their youth. He could never have imagined they would grow so strong and tall so that he could look out the window and see their great branches flourishing. In the summer, the trees helped keep the apartment cool, and he liked to look at them from the window.

The jagged coastline sat just beyond the trees, and the man was just close enough to smell the sea. He liked to stand at the window and smell the sea. He stood at the window and imagined thousands of fish swimming all night while he slept, discovering while he dreamt. He liked to think of the fish at night, swimming while the world went dark. It made him very happy to think of the fish, and he went to the window every night to think of the fish before he went to sleep. Sometimes he had trouble sleeping, and it helped him to think of the fish. He made sure that they were the last thing he thought about each night.

When the morning arrived, his alarm went off at just the time the sun was beginning to rise. The man would walk from his bed to the window. He thought of the fish and wondered where they had traveled while he slept. Had they discovered a sunken treasure? Swam to greater depths than ever before? Did they reunite with old family members? Were they caught in the merciless gaze of a shark? He didn’t like the think of this, and he would quickly dismiss the possibility. The fish had swum unharmed while he slept. They had swum gloriously, in and out of coral coves, ducking further below the surface. They were illuminated with colors, swimming majestically below an open sky, their gills flapping as they reached their destination safely over and over.

After concluding the fish were as they should be, he walked to the kitchen and made a fresh cup of coffee and a cup of tea. He took both cups to the table and drank the coffee. He drank the coffee as slow as he could without allowing it to get cold. He could remember when he didn’t like coffee in the morning. But now he liked it. He liked it very much, and he poured a cup every morning. He sat in the same seat at the table, and he drank it while it stayed hot. He drank it with the sun coming up and the cup of tea nearby. When he sat down, he removed the tea bag even before taking his first sip of coffee. He pulled the string carefully, lifted the bag, and placed it in the saucer. As he drank his cup of coffee, he watched the steam rise from the cup of tea. The steam rose much like the sun, while the man sat quietly and the fish rested after a long night of swimming while the man slept.

Once he finished his cup of coffee he would set it next to the sink alongside the cup of tea. He grabbed a croissant and bottle of water and walked out of his apartment. He turned right on the steep road and walked up towards the top of the hill. He used to walk the hill without breathing heavily, but now he gulped the air and was out of breath by the time he reached the top. He liked the feeling of breathing hard in the morning and he thought of the fish who swam so effortlessly though the night while he slept. He thought of their nighttime adventures and how they continually avoided the gaze of the great sharks. At the top of the road, he walked out onto the trail.

He felt the sun warming as it rose steadily, while the wind cooled his cheeks as he stood atop the cliffs. It was an invigorating feeling to have risen with the sun and now stand on top of the cliffs. By now, the sun had risen higher than he could ever climb, but each of them had risen for another day together and climbed while the fish slept. On top of the cliffs, he would always turn towards the water and let the sun warm his back. He gazed out over the Atlantic and wondered where the fish had journeyed to the night before. Did they wait for the sun to rise like he did? No. Of course not, he thought. They were waiting for the boats and fishermen to disappear, the kayaks to go home, and the sun to set. They were waiting for the world to go dark, for the old man to stand by the window before bed, so they could swim all night while he dreamed.

The man walked south, meandering along the trail. There was a lighthouse at the point. Once he got to the lighthouse, he would rest. He would rest when he got there. He would sit on the rocks and rest, but he didn’t rush getting there. He was not in a hurry. The sun was barely in the sky, and there was no reason to rush. The wind was nice and cool and the sun on his back was warm. The waves were gentle and the beach was perfect down below as he looked out over the water. He made sure not to get to close to the edge without rails, and he thought of the fish who could never fall so long as they remained in the sea.

His family used to take this walk together. They would wake up in their small flat and set out for the majestic cliffs. The three of them would walk up the steep road with ease and head towards the lighthouse. They would hold hands and stare at the ocean with the sun at their backs and the cool air blowing their hair while the sun rose higher than they could climb.

He would never forget the impulse. He loved her, and he had turned to her and embraced her for what only seemed like a second. He was not a spontaneous man, but the moment had inspired him. He had wanted to squeeze her tight that morning, and so he did so without contemplating the gesture.

The couple had only lost sight of their son for a second. Less than a second it seemed. It couldn’t have been longer than two. But the small boy had walked too close to the edge with no railing and his tiny body had vanished forever by the time they separated from their embrace.

On that morning, all the fish in the sea heard their cries when they looked over the edge towards the rocks with green moss and the sand without a single footprint. The fish swam out to sea, as far as they could, away from the terrible cries on the shore. They swam as if they had been found in the gaze of the great shark with the sun overhead, the lighthouse in the distance, the rocks topped with bright emerald moss, and the cliffs lined all along the shore.

David Joseph’s writing has been published in The Wall Street Journal, The London Magazine, LA Times, Doubletake Magazine, and Rattle. A recipient of the John Henry Hobart Fellowship for Ethics and Social Justice, he spent the past two decades as a nonprofit executive in Los Angeles and has taught at both Pepperdine and Harvard University.