The Walrus and The Rose
Joshua raised a stick of driftwood above his head. He let out a battle cry as only a ten year old on the brink of puberty could sound. aaaaAAAAAaaaaa. The ocean beat the war drum. The seagulls sounded the trumpet. He attacked. A ten-year-old Rafiki defending the pride.
We charged onto the battlefield. Carly the right flank, Julie the left. A bloodthirsty battalion weighing in at 300 pounds or less. We clenched our tiny hands into tinier fists and kicked up a puff of sand in our wake.
“Remember, the enemy’s gate is down,” I yelled out.
“Arrrrrr!” Carly yelled back.
I laughed and kept running. Blinded by my literary allusions and the twelve o’clock sun, I didn’t realize we’d been surrounded by the enemy: Thomas the Tank Engine, Lilly the English Rose, and Randolph.
Only then did I realize that Carly was no longer by my side. I spun frantically, my ponytail whipping me in the mouth, the taste of seawater and Coppertone and pert plus. I found Carly crumpled into a sunburnt heap. Her mouth was stuffed with sand, her eyes with tears. Man down and the fight hadn’t even begun.
Only a day before, the beach was a peaceful place. Tuesday night’s storm had given way to Wednesday morning’s tide pools. Pebbles glistened in ankle-deep puddles; curlicue-ing snail shells clinked with marbled oyster shells; and the browns and greens of sea glass dotted nature’s finest mosaic.
Julie and Carly were collecting seashells while Joshua was filling plastic cups with specimens. I was singing I Am the Walrus and running from waves. The sisters were our interior designers; my brother was the chemist; and I was the scribe.
Arms filled with Atlantic Cockle coaster sets, seaweed iodine extractions, and fantastical stories, we prepared to enter our hideout—hidden to all but the purest of heart—or to all but those under twelve years and hobbit height. Hopefully, more often than not, the same thing.
The hideout was in a jetty. The rocks stood like Stonehenge. They measured at least five feet in height, four feet in width, and more feet than I could count in length. Mythic proportions to a slight girl of nine. Each jetty was different, but as luck (,or fate, or magic, or God) would have it, our jetty—the jetty we’d colonized years upon years before—the jetty closest to High Dune—to my grandmother’s condo—to the place my mother had been coming since she was in high school—to the place that, by virtue of our shared DNA, I’d been coming to since before God (,or Gaia, or the Watchmaker) knows when—had the best dimensions of all. The rocks were positioned just so, at just such an angle, that they kept out the heat, let in the light, and created a secret cave made for exactly four children. No more, no less.
For every summer of my life, the rocks kept our hideout secret—as did our parents, who learned not to know where we were. It seemed the universe had our back, and all of nature was at peace.
We entered the hideout as we always did, one by one, squeezing and contorting our way between the boulders. We assembled and waited for our eyes to adjust, hoping that the thing we all thought we saw before us was only a trick of the changing light.
“Would you like to try my seaweed soup?”
We flattened ourselves against the walls fighting for air as our jaws and shells dropped soundlessly to the carpet of sand. She must have come through from the other side.
We stared. The Alien was taller than the rest of us. Sheathed in a helmet of blonde bobbed hair. Straight and shining. Bright white skin and little pink roses in her cheeks.
“I’m Lilly, my brother Thomas is on his way.” She held out the cup of seaweed and saltwater as an offering.
I stepped forward, took the cup, dumped it in the sand, looked at Joshua, and ran out. Or, rather, I tried to run out, hit my head against a rock, fell down, stood up gummy with wet sand, and wriggled out, taking much longer than I’d intended and wholly diminishing the gravity of my insult. I scrambled on top of the rocks, a dazed and dizzy sand mummy, pressing my ears to the cracks, eyes to the crevices, waiting.
“This is our hideout. We found it. You’ll have to find another,” Julie said.
“I found it this morning. No one was here. This is my hideout, and you’ll have to find another.”
With that, Lilly squeezed out the other side, back onto the other beach. I watched her from atop the rocks as she walked towards her brother Thomas, who was walking towards her wearing a t-shirt with a train. He looked nice. Too bad.
Julie squeezed out, followed by Carly and Joshua. We knew what we had to do. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Land. We had 24 hours to prepare.
Joshua got a splinter in his palm and dropped the stick. Carly got enough sand out of her mouth to start bawling loud and clear. Julie ran over to her sister, and I ran over to my brother. Lilly and Thomas split up to administer aid.
“Randolph!” Lilly called. “Tell my mom we’ll be late for lunch.” And the small brown haired boy ran ran off.
Of course my mother and Carly’s mother arrived within minutes. They were alerted through a complex system of maternal ESP and porch look-outs. A quick assessment led them to believe that everyone was alive and unbroken and in need of grounding. We were forced to apologize to our new friends, and we were marched straight up to the condos—or marched as thoroughly as one can be marched through the sand.
We were on house arrest for a full day. No television, no video games, no beach, no pool, no Julie, no Carly. Joshua and I climbed into our bunk beds and relived the Great Adventure. Then he fell asleep and I took out a book I’d found on the shelf, Angela’s Ashes. After a couple hours, my mother came in and told us we were getting time off for good behavior. Joshua ran off, but I was stuck in Ireland in the 1930s learning about real displacement.
The next day we went out to the jetty to look for Lilly and Thomas. They weren’t there. They weren’t there the next day or the next, the next week or the next year. In fact, they were never there again. They disappeared from my life and moved into another. I don’t know what happened to them.
Sixteen years later, I still go back to my grandmother’s condo. The jetties are covered in sand. It’s hard to believe that they were once there. It’s impossible to imagine what else has been buried.
Joshua is now an analyst at a hedge fund. He’s going to be married in October. I try to get him to come out to the beach every summer, but he lives in San Francisco, and it’s tough.
Julie is married to a man who works in real estate. She has a house of her own in Boston. She’s lovely and caring and always says hello when we pass each other on the walkway.
Carly’s grown up into one of the most beautiful people you’ll ever see. She looks like a model would hope to look after photoshop. She’s an actress, and a sweetheart, and is one of the only people I know who’s actually living her childhood dream.
My childhood dream was to become a babysitter. I guess it’s okay for dreams to change, as long as some things stay the same. My grandmother’s condo on the beach. The seagulls. The sun. The ocean, the sea glass, the Coppertone. Thank goodness, thank nature, thank whatever God you’d like.
By the way, I finished Angela’s Ashes that summer and immediately resolved that it was fully inappropriate for a fifth grader.