Photographic Memory #3
The day she took him to Seven Mile Stretch to reveal the art of floating, she had yet to make up her mind. Even as she towed him across the bright sand, brittle straw hat perched on her head, her thoughts were at work, making additions here, now subtractions there, all of them soon a stack of clouds junkpiled above the indigo distance. There would be the schooling to consider, the quiet house in the evening and the whispers hissing all day long. And one day there would be the questions. Who would account for those?
The sun pierced her scalp through the weaves of the hat, and she waded in the shallows with her frightened boy. She cradled his tense back with both arms curled, the weight of his young life now balanced in the many ripples. From the shore, a camera lens was pointed, and she flashed a strained smile, uncomfortable. The water already drying atop her shoulders.
Steady, she murmured. Hold still. My boy, don't let go of your breath. And like that he felt her arms dissolve beneath his torso, only a muffled lapping in his ears as he closed his eyes.
It was not until his father and the others rushed into the water that he let the breath leave him. A collection of darkened sunbathers had gathered along the shoreline. They pointed toward him and somewhere beyond, their loud chatter like sea birds roosting. Unseen hands grabbed him around his ribs, lifted him high into the warm air, and he twisted violently against the grip but could not escape. He was raced to the dry sand where more sunbathers encircled him. Red faces stared, and the muted tones they spoke betrayed the first deceptions. The hands around him finally loosened, and he slid between the outstretched legs, ran to the water's edge. In the gentle wake, nothing. Perhaps just a touch of aquamarine. Then he saw his father's head pierce the surface, turning this way and that, only to sink into the water and resurface further along the waterline. Again and again this unusual dance, and over there he saw a straw hat loll lazily in time with the current.
Ma, he said softly, and the crumpled page of his childhood sank into the water, slowly unfurled.
There would be reports of an anomalous undertow on the local news to dispel any rumor. A sign was soon erected. One day a fence. But always, he would wonder if it was he who had bound the stones to her pale wrists. Somehow. A child's fingers hopelessly burrowing into the knots again, still waiting for her to teach him how to tie a shoe.
Years later, when his wife sees the photograph of this afternoon in a yellowing album, she only curls her arm around his waist.
He says nothing. Behind his eyes, other memories unwrinkling as if placed in water.
"Parents," she says, "when you become one, you will know."
is a writer and intellectual property lawyer. He lives in western Massachusetts. His fiction has recently appeared in Bartleby Snopes
and Every Day Fiction