A Short Story by Kayla Davis
I climb down the side of the mountain. Although my flimsy flip flops are no match for the crumbling rocks, my mother helps me down, supporting me as I slowly slide. I tumble into her, spraying her jet-black bathing suit with bits of grime from the mountain. She laughs, then points towards the ocean and tells my grandparents where to set up their umbrellas. I throw off my shoes and toss them to the side, knowing that my dad will pick them up.
I run toward the water. The sand is warm under my feet, stinging my toes with its sharp heat. I ignore the rocks and bits of shells jutting into my heels while I dash across the shore. I cross the line that separates the land from the sea, and the sand isn’t hot anymore. It’s gooey, almost gelatinous. I spot sand crabs digging into the divide, and I grab my grandmother’s pail, digging where I see bubbles. I spend the next half-hour making a habitat within my bucket. The sand crabs will be safe within this little world, able to paddle around without fear of a seagull or whatever else invades their soft crustacean shells.
I make drip sandcastles, using the wet sand to my advantage as I build towers spiraling high into the crisp air. My grandmother sits next to me, laughing, then gasping as my favorite tower falls. I finally release the sand crabs and watch them burrow into the beach/ocean mixture. I eat lunch, crunching on the sand that has infiltrated my peanut butter-banana sandwich and my strawberries, prepared by my grandmother, who cut the tops off just for me. I run my tongue along my teeth, trying to pry the grit off, but the little bits and pieces of beach won’t budge. I ask my grandfather about his book and why he won’t come into the water. He grunts and returns to reading. I look over at my dad, who winks and makes a joke that I’m too young to understand. My grandpa chuckles, and I hug him, then run towards the water.
This time, my mother jogs after me as we both cackle along the shore. Just as the water reaches chest level, she snatches me up in a hug, then dunks my dry head into the water, explaining that it’s the best way for me to get used to the temperature. She says that she’ll teach me how to body surf. She teaches me to ride the waves, throwing her head back to laugh when seawater gets in my mouth, and I spit out the salt. Finally, I am ready. I pull my goggles tight and begin.
We both swim out, avoiding other divers and the seaweed floating in the water. She drifts in and out of my vision. After going out just a little too far for my liking, we meet up at what seems like miles from any sign of civilization. I bob up and down, barely keeping my head afloat as the waves begin to engulf the bottom half of my face. The only thing my toes touch are particles of dust in the otherwise crystalline water. I do my best to face the shore, scanning the beach for any sign of my dad, any glimmer of sun on my grandpa’s glasses, any glimpse of the multicolored umbrellas. My mom looks out to the seemingly empty skyline, surveying the thinning clouds and, with a wink, she asks if I’m ready. With a sour gulp, I tell her, yes. I’m ready.
Suddenly, a wave approaches behind us. I swim as fast as I can, trying to catch the break. I search but don’t see my mom anymore and, figuring that I’ll find her on the shore, I dive under the wave, praying that the current pushes me forward, towards the shore, towards the drip castles, towards the sandy strawberries, towards my family.
I forgot to take a breath.
I didn’t breathe.
It’s too late. The undertow pushes me down. I flip onto my back, looking up at the surface of the water, giving thanks that I can tell which way to go, but suddenly, a dark figure floats over me. At first, I think it’s a shark. I begin to panic, but then I realize that it’s my mother. I try to scream, but the sound doesn’t travel well underwater. My attempt at a squeak only squeezes what’s left of my air out from my aching lungs.
My mother’s pass over me seems to take forever. I feel trapped, under the waves, under the current, frozen in the icy water. I’m sinking. My eyes are slowly closing, trying to protect themselves from the salt. It’s as if a tentacle is wrapped around my leg, pulling me deeper, dragging me down. Somehow, I can still see, but my perspective has shifted. It’s like watching a horror movie. I can see myself sinking and crying — I’ve been on the verge of sobbing for weeks, and it’s finally here. More sinking. Where am I going? What am I doing? It’s too cold. Deafening silence. An inferno of tranquility.
A muffled whisper echoes through the water, pleading with me to swim. I look to see where the whisper is coming from. Nothing. Is it my voice? I can barely hear it. But I notice a small coin at the bottom of the sea that catches my eye. It’s flickering, reflecting safety. I lift my head and see the light shining through the depths. I start kicking.
I’m doing the best I can. But it doesn’t feel like I’m moving at all. I kick faster, and I can feel myself warming up ever so slightly. It’s not much, but it’s giving me just enough to continue. Slowly but steadily, I kick my way closer and closer to the surface. The whisper is now a yell.
There’s so much running through my head. Am I going to make it? This isn’t fair. This isn’t right. For a moment, everything goes dark. And then — I break the surface.
I take a deep breath, looking around my surroundings.
Finally, it is over.
I pull myself back to the shore, back to earth from my foamy prison. I spit salt onto the sand. There is seaweed wrapped around my right foot. I no longer have my goggles. I gasp for air.
My dad hurries over to me with a water bottle. He unscrews the cap, then hands it to me, watching as I take a few sips. Are you okay? I’m fine, I say. I’m fine. I made it out. He looks me over, then takes my hand. With a tight squeeze and a soft blessing tingling across his lips, he walks me back over to our setup. My mom is waiting for me, unscathed under the umbrella, blissfully unaware of the terror I had gone through. Ready to go again? It’s time to go again. She smiles, hoping I enjoyed it. It was her favorite pastime as a child, after all, and she was passing it down to me. Might as well make an effort.
I force a weary grin, and nod.
And I run towards the water.
Kayla Davis is a high school junior from Menlo Park, California, although she often says that she’s based “40 minutes south of San Francisco” to simplify things. When she’s not stressing about college applications, she can be found spending time with her friends and playing saxophone.