Little Plains

Written By: Lissy  Bank

Little Plains “Brawk!!!! Brawk! Brawk! Brawk!” I was sitting on a well worn beach towel in the middle of a perfect August summer day on the beach. My eyes were closed and I had my head titled up feeling the sun pour down on my face as warm and tingly as if a bucketful was being dumped directly onto me. I opened my eyes and peeped out looking for the source of the noise. I heard it again, “Brawk!” It was very close to me. As I shifted my eyes sideways to peer out of my sunglasses I realized it was coming from my grandmother-in-law, Bertie. “Why aren’t you getting in the water? Are you chicken?” She flapped her arms up and down, her soft, wrinkled, freckled skin crooked at the elbow. She let out another yelp, “Brwark! Chicken!” she said and pointed an arthritic finger at me. A casual observer might think this was a person to be dismissed. The cuddly and cute elderly type. With her dyed red hair and a coquettish gap between her two front teeth. But in her life she had buried her mother, her husband and worst of all a daughter. She had been a widow for over forty years and at ninety-two although unsteady on her feet the only thing frail about was her appearance. She had a Chablis soaked laugh and while most called her Bertie, the family knew as Mon General. I didn’t really know what say. She was calling me out. Instead of admitting the truth that, I was afraid of the water, I turned it back on her. “Well, I can’t just leave you sitting here!” I said and I pointed to the gently slopping beach scattered here and there with other beach goers; families laden down with umbrellas and picnic baskets and beach balls and kites. Young women in tasteful two-pieces sunning themselves, their hands propped under their chins flipping through gossip magazines, men with large bellies sitting in beach chairs snoozing. It was the picture of respectability and safety. Yet I motioned around as if were on the Gaza Strip instead of Little Plains Beach. Bertie cleared her throat. She struggled to her feet waving off my hand of help. “Let’s go, sister!” she said and tromped off towards the waves. The truth was I wasn’t just afraid, I was terrified. She knew it and so did I. This fearsome old woman was testing me! I wasn’t going to let her get the best of me! And yet . . . I didn’t grow up frolicking in the crisp waters of the Atlantic. I learned to swim in a bathtub. Not a real bathtub of course. My bathtub was called The Gulf of Mexico. More accurately Galveston, Texas. Precisely, Stewart Beach. My parents, my three brothers and I would pack into my dad’s eel green 1975 Cadillac and head out of Houston on those rare Sundays when my dad didn’t work. He and my mom were taneroxics before there was even term for it. Both of them cultivated nut brown tans goaded on by Hawaiian Tropic oils, sun lamps and aluminum sun reflectors. And when the sun called even my father would give up his ledgers for the day and take us to the beach. I would sit happily for hours at the edge of the water building drip castles, covering myself with wet sand. Rolling in and out of the gentle, warm surf. Rinsing myself and then getting sandy all over again. My brothers would play Frisbee and ogle girls and buy Coke in the bottle. My mom and dad would sit in their beach chairs. My mom’s blond hair in the heat giving off an aroma of hairspray and cigarette smoke and coconuts. My dad with his head back the sun reflector propped up on his chest, silent for once. The surf was so calm. I would fall back again and again taking the Nestea Plunge letting the water fill my mouth and nose and ears. It was warmer than the air. Warmer than the shower I would take that night. So much sand building up by the drain that the tub would begin to fill and I had to scoop it out and throw in the trashcan. And certainly warmer than the cold and unforgiving Atlantic. Even in August. Even when the temperature soared to the nineties the water remained cool with icy prickles of salt. This Atlantic wasn’t going to give an inch. It was going to stay just like it was. If the Gulf of Mexico was an indulgent nursemaid then the Atlantic was an uncompromising dominatrix. And now Bertie had singled me out with her gimlet eyed charm and wasn’t going to take no for an answer. We were both going in. I stood up and stalled for time. Wiping non-existent sand from myself and scanning the horizon for something that would save me. A saw a seagull soar through the air and then swoop down and pick-up something that had fallen in the sand. In my panicked state I could have sworn it was a child’s finger. “Did you see that?” I asked my grandmother-in-law. “Cheeto,” she said. She turned her back to me and made her way slowly to the waves. I stumbled behind her trying to focus on pushing my feet forward and not what awaited in front of me. And then we were at the edge of the water. It lapped gently at our feet. She took a few steps forward and looked back at me and raised her eyebrows. She stepped a little further in and the water now splashed around her thin, white ankles. As I walked toward her I felt the first sting of water hit my feet. It made me draw my breath inward. It was as cold as I remembered it. We both looked out into the gray water watching the waves rise and grow and crash down shushing towards us like a giant snowball landing at our feet and then around us and behind us. The cold hit me again but it wasn’t as terrible as the first time. As the wave slinked back the sand beneath my feet began to disappear. “It’s not so bad,” I said to Bertie. With that she looked back at me over her shoulder. It was a look so stark and brilliant it made me shiver with anticipation. With that one look she was no longer ninety-two but a young woman blazing in the sunlight. Before I knew it Bertie had lept into the on-coming wave and disappeared. I am not a heroic sort. Once I made my toddler son climb up on a chair to kill a spider. But this was too much even for me. I dove in after her. After all I had done this many times before in a different place. I felt the water close in around me frigid and salty swallowing me in whole not leaving any part of me out. I popped up out of the water and next to me floated Bertie. She was bobbing up and down in the water like a jaunty, seasoned buoy. I wiped my hair from my face and felt the water push me up underneath. I let the ocean take me. Bertie and I rocked back and forth in the sea like two happy babies being held in the arms of Atlantic. And now as I look out at the sea it is the same. The same cold, salty frothy waves. The same types of people on the beach. What is different is me. Bertie is no longer here to push me into it. I stand on the edge of the water wrapped in an old beach towel looking out on the horizon remembering when someone else made me brave.