We were off to the beach again, a trip we took several times each summer. Mother loved the ocean. It was she who would decide when it was time for the beach, and the rest of us simply accepted her decision and got our things.
Father drove, of course. He drove everywhere. Mother had a license, but hated driving. Instead, she nervously sifted through the pile of women’s magazines she would pack for herself—although, like the license, I cannot recall her ever using them—or stared out the window rubbing her temples with her thumbs. My sister and I sat in the back seat pushing and prodding, licking, jabbing, and kicking in bare feet, halfway between our summer clothes and our bathing suits. We spent those rides hyperactively squirming in and out of each set of clothes at least four times during the three hours it took to get there. At irregular intervals, Mother would turn away from the magazines or window and yell to Father to just do something already!, and Father would silently hover a threatening hand above our heads until we calmed ourselves down, my sister and I trapped in whatever state of dress or undress we happened to be at the moment. We would sit like that until we regained the courage to plug up an empty arm-hole. On this particular trip, I recall having an action figure of some name-brand, the hand of which I was putting up my sister’s nose. Mother deftly grabbed it from my fist while I was going in for another jab and hid it beneath her seat until I could learn how to treat a lady, so I stuck my lips to the window and practiced my blowfish impersonation, while my sister put the soles of her feet on the back of my neck.
Once at the beach, Mother disappeared immediately, as she usually did on those trips, into the ocean, leaving the rest us to take care of ourselves. We would not see her again for some time, not on land anyway. My sister and I would point out to where Mother, visible only by her red or yellow one-piece bathing suit, floated effortlessly on the water's surface, far beyond the breaking waves. To us, she seemed liked a brightly-colored island, her stomach and breasts making up the topography, visible now and then lost behind a foamy swell. Father, sipping beers on his beach chair, acted as Mother for the day and, though less accustomed and gentle, tended to our skinned knees or toes cut on hidden pop-tops in the sand. He broke up our fights and fed us and gave us quarters for ice cream, while Mother was left alone on her quiet horizon.
That day, I had decided early that I would not speak to my sister ever again. She had poured sand into my mouth while I was pretending to be a volcano with a can of cola. Father was asleep with his newspaper over his knee—my sister and I had learned long before that we were not to wake Father—so there was nothing to do but tell Mother. She was farther beyond the waves than usual, but I thought that I could make it to her. I ran in, pushed my way past the waves to the point where my feet could no longer touch the bottom. My manner of swimming at the time was to slap violently at the water with my arms and feet, splashing saltwater into my own face, so I was having trouble seeing. I spit out mouthfuls of water, gasped for air, but continued toward her blurry red beacon. It was harder than I'd thought it would be, and, even after several minutes of that arduous swimming, she was still quite far off. I considered swimming back in, but, by that point, the shore was farther away than Mother was. I had difficulty keeping my head above water and the muscles in my arms ached. When I was finally within twenty feet of her, I called out for help but she couldn't hear me. She was drifting easily, halfway above the water-level, with her face in the sky and her ears beneath the surface—she seemed immaculately peaceful, unlike herself. The thought came to me then that, even if I did reach her, I would still have no place to rest. I was suddenly and overwhelmingly exhausted. I panicked. My muscles would not pump anymore. I flailed and yelled frantically to her, but she didn't respond. I went under several times and came back up each time choking on the salty water. And then I saw Mother turn her face from the sky to me and then calmly back to the sky. I gave up fighting and went under for the last time.
They were Father's hands that I felt grab at me down there. He lifted me up, hoisted me onto back and swam us both back to shore where my sister was waiting for us crying. Father bought us both ice cream cones and watched us eat them. When Mother came back from the ocean several hours later, smiling, she seemed as though nothing had happened. She dabbed at her wet hair with a towel and then helped my sister and I change into our regular clothes.
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/diclaudio.html]
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