Denise Marois-Wolf and
Linda M. Rhinehart Neas

Linda M. Rinehart Neas
Early Spring”

Inspiration Piece

The Outing
By Denise Marois-Wolf
Response

March at the beach.  Shoe prints where other families have come in this off-season to enjoy what perhaps they cannot afford to enjoy in the summer. Behind the beach-front condos with their balconies and turrets, are the cottages off-season families rent cheap, crowded into one or two unheated rooms. The cottages have no insulation, no protection from the wind that comes off the ocean, but at night they can hear the sound of waves and it lulls them to sleep.

“I want to get up early, to walk on the beach,” my sister says as we snuggle into sleeping bags on the cabin floor. The floor is raised off the ground, which is no defense against cold. Our breath rises like smoke. Her back is to me, an arm’s length away, but it is too cold to reach out of the bag and touch her. Her hair is spread across the pillow, parts of her scalp visible in the dim light. The street light cuts through the dark of the cabin, lends the room an eerie feel, as though we have one foot in day and one in night.

Tomorrow, I sigh. It is cold on the beach.  Too cold to swim.  The water is mind-numbing, freezing, and you could drown with the ease of a trapeze artist slipping off the rope. Drowning in the cold is, I hear, better because your limbs go numb so quickly, and you’re too tired to feel the life drain out of you.

It’s too cold this time of year. The wind is too strong. When she called and said, “Can we meet at the beach,” I knew what she meant. I knew the beach, the cabin, the memory, time like a wheel.

We came here as children, but that was more than 40 years ago. We came one weekend in early spring, because, we thought, my father could not afford to rent this cabin in summer. He wanted us to see the beach, this beach, where he vacationed as a child. It was different in spring, he said. His family came in summer, but back then his family had a business, dined on china and poured tea from real silver pots. We were poor, not hand-me-down shoes and clothing poor, not shop at the thrift store poor, but we could not afford a beach-front condo. We protested the beach in early spring, but my father brought us anyway.

He guided us along the sand, a wide stretch of white. A wooden fence separated the beach from the expensive year-round condos that overlooked the ocean. He wore his blue woolen overcoat, the one with a pocket hidden inside the lining; my mother wrapped herself in a fur coat with holes in the lining and a tag that read “G Fox” sewn in the side.

We plodded along beside them, complaining of the wind, pulled our jackets close, buried our noses in the warm fleece of our sweatshirts. But as the day wore on, the sun came out bright, strong, the temperature rose, as did our hopes for the swim that did not materialize. We took off our jackets, tossed them on the sand. My father removed his coat and draped it over his arm, my mother lay her fur, lining side down, near his coat. We gathered shells, and I found one pink rock barely larger than a pebble, with tiny veins the color of a baby’s cheek running throughout. I tucked it into my father’s secret pocket, and he kissed the top of my head and said, “Merci, Marie-Louise.”

We stood at the water’s edge and watched the waves come in. There were tears on my mother’s face, and I was suddenly afraid. I gripped her hand, but it felt cold and limp in mine. My father looked out over the ocean, his jaw clenched. And in the summer, he was gone. Later, I retrieved the stone from his pocket and kept it in a drawer until one day, in anger, I threw it into the river.

My sister wanted to come in March, “just like when we were kids,” she said over the phone from her house in Miami.

She wants to experience her childhood once more, but she has forgotten the piles of blankets, walking the beach in thick socks and heavy boots, noses tucked into fleece, the tears on my mother’s face. She does not remember the faces looking at us from the bay windows, the sympathetic smiles that said, we’d offer you a room, if we could. If we weren’t afraid of you, with your wind-chapped cheeks and your hunger, your longing for the warmth of a fire.

In the morning, we go to the beach, our footprints lead to the to the water’s edge. Our toes point toward the ocean. My sister does not look at me, does not speak. “It’s too damn cold out here. I want to go inside,” I say. “Come on, Jeanine. Let’s go get coffee.” My sister doesn’t seem to hear. She stares out at the skyline, the dark blue ocean where the wind churns up white caps.

Finally, she looks at me from the corner of her eye, and smiles. I have that fear again, and it’s as though my mother has slipped her hand into mine, cold and limp. But we do not talk about that time, about our father, do not mention it out loud. It is a taboo subject, she has said as much. I hate that word, taboo. It shuts me out, leaves me on the edge of the water, waiting, afraid. My sister is not a brave person, but today she wears her brave face, her brave, pleading face, and she breaths deeply of the ocean air, as though it carries some mystical healing properties and if she can only take in enough, this will all go away.

They come running along the sand, a family with children, dressed in sneakers, hooded sweatshirts pulled up to cover their hair, their ears, jackets zipped to their chins. There is a woman in a thick sweater and ear muffs carrying a basket, a man in a ski parka carrying a blanket, and three children. They smile at us and the man spreads a blanket while the woman pulls sandwiches and fruit from the basket, cans of Pepsi, a hunk of cheese in cellophane. The children set to work building a sand castle, laughing and giggling, taunting. The children are snuggled in their cold spring clothes. One of them, a teenager, races to the edge of the water, a younger child close behind. “I dare you,” the girl says, laughs, points to the whitecaps. “I dare you to swim. I dare you to stick your toe in.”

The younger child, a boy, shakes his head. “You’re crazy,” he frowns. “You’ll die in there. Pop says it’s too cold.”

The girl takes off her shoe, her sock, and sticks one toe in the water. She screams, jumps back, laughs as she hops on one foot back to her family. “Told you,” the little boy chases after her, waves his arms. “Told you, dummy.”

My sister watches from the edge of the water while the children build a sand fortress, as though to ward off the ocean.

“Beautiful,” she whispers.

The cold seeps through my jacket. My thin gloves do not stop the wind. I want to go where it’s warm, someplace safe, away from the water. But my sister does not feel the wind, just watches, her face sand and tear-stained, her jaw clenched. I see how her cheeks sink under the bones, the taut, parchment skin, the tiny lines around her mouth. I grab her image and hold it tight, so it will not slip away, so I won’t forget, though I know I will. The most familiar face fades with time.

I am alone, and cold with the ocean raging at my feet.

“I know a place where we can get breakfast. It’s warm there,” I say, pulling her from the edge with my words. They sound hollow, fall upon the wind, useless.

She contemplates the ocean, and after a while, she says, “Yes, that would be nice.”

We move away from the water’s edge, our toes pointing toward higher ground, and I wonder if the family building their sand fortress will take note of our passing.

 

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One Comment

  1. emilie
    Posted June 6, 2012 at 9:42 am | #

    i don’t know how to describe how this story hit me. beautiful, sad, lonely, and another masterpiece in short story writing. why don’t you publish your stuff???? you are sooooo good! love, your seester.

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