The Red House
By Halsey Quinn
The sand whispered underneath our feet as we softly stepped along the shore. It was the only sound our ears perceived, besides the murmur of gentle waves and the distant calls of an osprey.
Any evidence of civilization had been temporarily forgotten, as our young minds transformed our everyday world into one where we were shipwrecked children, alone on a stranded island.
As the soft sand transformed into rocky and sharp-shelled terrain beneath us, we stretched our strides, leaping to avoid ominous patches of threatening shell edges and jagged rocks. Our adept toes latched onto the smooth surfaces of large rocks, trained from countless games of “the floor is lava.”
Our footprints trailed behind us from the little red cottage not far away, yet we had already reached our destination; and in our imaginations, we had not arrived from a beach house just a few hundred feet back, but from a shipwreck, miles away somewhere in the vast ocean. We had no longer come straight from a lunch of mom-made sandwiches, but we were ravenous and fatigued, alone on an island, with nothing but each other and an abundance of both benign and menacing native animals.
Our journey’s end was simply a collection of large rocks sporadically spewed out from the shore. To most, they would seem just an immovable mess, but not to us.
Our games of “Stranded Island” could survive forever. Our imaginations laced the game with intriguing details. And when our mothers finally stood on the beach in front of the red house, calling us in for dinner, it was as though we were being pulled out of, rather than back into, reality.
My cousins and I leaped back in our footprints from hours before, eager for another dinner of summer foods; corn on the cob, hamburgers, and macaroni and cheese. We were seated shoulder-to-shoulder on the benches of a wooden picnic table, set in the shadow of an old tree, created with the light of the setting sun. Its golden glow warmed the earth for a final few moments as the first crickets began to chirp and the sun seemed to quicken in its descent towards the horizon.
At bedtime, the cousins stayed awake in the back room, which came to be known as the kids’ room. We were strewn across beds, from the top bunk to a crib mattress tucked into a corner. The parents’ conversation melted throughout the small cottage, but stayed muffled behind closed doors.
Most nights, while the parents conversed over their dinner, we would silently sneak towards the living room, charged by the thrilling thought of being up after bedtime. We only let a few giggles escape until we reached the door leading to the living room, where the parents’ laughter was coming from. Slowly we’d start to file out of the doorway, convinced we were hidden behind the floral-patterned couches. It was clear when someone had seen your pajama-clad body hurriedly pass; their conversations trailed off and you would find yourself looking up at amused and amiable smiles. Usually this resulted in hurried footsteps and laughter, as we made our way back into the safety of the kids’ room.
Fatigue finally set in, beckoning us back to our beds without protest, but heavy eyelids did not stop us from chattering away, about anything, until we talked ourselves to sleep.
Through open windows, a gentle sea breeze passed through the red house. The night was never silent. Our steady breathing melded with the breath of the night: the brush of the sea grass in the slight wind, the crickets’ songs, the stirring of nocturnal creatures and, of course, the endless rhythm of the gentle harbor waves. We were enveloped in a blanket of tranquility.
It’s been a long time since these summer nights of serenity. Everyone is older. The parents are older, the grandparents are older, and the kids are not kids anymore. The family outgrew the limits of the small beach cottage, the red house that was once overflowing with liveliness.
The scattered bunch of rocks is still visible down the beach, but it’s been years since we’ve all ventured there together. The wooden picnic table still leans against the red siding of the house, but I cannot recall the last time we all ate there, packed on the benches like sardines. And the tree that used to cast a long shadow over us as we ate is now nothing but a stump among the grass.