August again. The water is warm. My children swim in a sea that is glass bottle green, their bodies sleek and strong as seals. The lifeguards, bored, do pushups in the sand. My son jumps off the highest board — a plank that juts out into the air thirty feet above the ocean — for the very first time. My husband’s jump is probably his hundredth; my cousins’ must be many times that.
I don’t jump. I’ll never jump again. Instead, I wade in the shallows at the base of the massive stone formation, deposited here eons ago by glaciers. Sunlight skirts across the surface of the ocean, and the golden granite is warm to the touch. Ice seems fantastical.
A small girl I hadn’t noticed jumps from a low boulder nearby. Then she stretches her arms out in front of her and flops into a shallow dive. Really she is a mermaid; I know, because I used to be a mermaid, too.
In the mornings, evenings, and between trips to the beach, my children and their cousins roam back and forth between the small shingled houses, five in total, that belong to my extended family. Barefoot, they run through paths cut from rosehip and blackberry thickets, Russian olive trees and honeysuckle vines. My cousins and I did the exact same thing, except that then the degrees of relation were first, second, and third: now they are second, third, and fourth.
My cousin’s seventeen-year-old daughter drives my fourteen-year-old daughter to get ice cream, and I remember her mother driving me.
Every night the fog rolls in, every morning the fog rolls out.
I think about time.
I try to remember what it was like to not think about time, to not calculate in my mind how many more years I need to live until my son, my younger child, is x years old — or maybe x is too much to hope for, maybe I should set my sights on y.
I try to remember what it was like to assume, in some vague, unconscious way, that there was plenty of time to be had, that it was a resource, rather like air, that might vary in its particulars — better on some days, worse on others — but would not run out, or at least, would not run out until I had had enough. What was it like, I wonder, to assume in an uncomplicated way that next winter will come, the next holiday, the next warm summer day?
I cannot remember. I try, I really try. I sit very still, and think of nothing else, and I try.
I have no idea.
The youngest cousin is six, and he spends one afternoon pretending to die. He stage falls out of trees, out of hammocks, off porch stairs, off nothing at all. “I died,” he says, lying on the ground, his little arms and legs askew. He sounds astonished every time.
It didn’t used to feel any more real to me. Not really. But I’ve left that world, and there’s no going back.
The bottom third of the huge rock cliffs are colored black instead of yellow: I always thought it was just the high tide mark, until one of my uncles told me when I was a teenager that it’s because of an oil slick from long ago. All the high tides after couldn’t wash that stain away: golden stone marked for what any of us will know of forever.
One early morning, I sit on the porch in the gentle sun. I listen to crickets humming, birds chirping, waves crashing, and the fog buoy ringing its warning chime. “I see the first swallows,” my cousin’s husband says. He points at the sky, at their eternal wings, harbingers of fall.
The cousins begin packing up their things and returning to their winter homes. “Au Revoir!” we all say, because we were taught that at this place, we never say goodbye.
And then one day we are the only ones left. But I still see their figures, flitting through the trees.
Annie Cook received a PhD in English Literature from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her family.