Edith picked up the album with her hands and set it on her knees, as if the weight grasped onto her shoulders and back. She took out the very first picture on the beginning page, examining it carefully. Her favorite memory splashed in her brain, and she could replay each part one by one.
“Mama, a seahorse is in my pants!” Elijah shrieked, running back up to the sand. “I feel it, I feel it!”
Ruth, her husband, took a picture.
“Are you sure that’s a seahorse?” Edith said, laughing. “We’re only a foot and a half in the water!”
Elijah paused. Ruth snapped picture after picture, smirking behind his sunglasses and his wife’s sun hat. Edith lifted him up as he squealed, hugging onto her tight like a joey. It was a deserted, cloudless Tuesday, and the scintillating sunset rustled like a finished painting. Their silhouettes were dark, but their smiles were clear and seen.
On the next few pages, there was Edith, carrying Elijah in her arms, close to her chest in the middle of the sidewalk. Elijah’s lips and chin were stained with ketchup.
“You want to go to the store?” Edith asked hopefully. They were out of onions.
“Yeah. I want candy!” He licked his lips.
“I gave you a snack today.”
Ruth rubbed the top of Elijah’s hair lightly and turned to face Edith. They were still walking. “Just give him a Skittle or something. He deserves it. I never thought he would have walked this far from home!"
“Oh for goodness sake, Ruth! He’s four, and he didn’t even eat lunch yet. I’ll get him strawberry milk.”
Elijah made a face, and Ruth imitated him. Edith pretended to be annoyed, walking ahead of them, but Elijah ran and jumped into her arms. She finally noticed the ketchup, and laughed, taking out a baby wipe with her free hand.
A palm tree that was oddly shaped and tilted, stood doughtily behind Elijah. He stuck out his tongue, stretching forward as far as he could in the camera with his car seat.
Two years ago, Ruth suggested a trip to Oahu. It seemed like a dream when they got off the plane. Now, looking back, it was a memory. It was just a memory.
Ruth was on the wheel, driving home after getting smoothies from a nearby café. Elijah, who decided strawberry milk wasn’t at all horrible, slurped loudly with his straw. He spilled milk on the ground and all over his seatbelt. Edith groaned.
“I just got a car wash,” Ruth complained. He was smiling.
Elijah pointed out the window. There were small waves and crowded people surfing, swimming, and rolling about in the sand. The sign read Waikiki Beach.
“I wanna go!” he cried, tapping on his window.
Edith turned toward the beach. “It looks fun, doesn’t it Ruth?”
He snorted. “As I mentioned, I just got a car wash. There’s no heck of a way we’re going to come back and drown this car in sand.”
Edith rolled her eyes. “We don’t even have our bathing suits. It’s just a little while. Please?”
“Please?” Elijah added.
Ruth sighed dramatically and turned the car around.
Elijah was six years old when the family moved to Los Angeles. Edith stared at the picture. Everyone was smiling.
Most importantly, Elijah was smiling.
Ruth honked the horn. “The driver isn’t even moving!” he grumbled. He shot a dirty look at the driver next to him, who cranked up the music and rolled his windows down.
“He’s having fun. So should you,” Edith said.
Elijah yawned. He wasn’t used to big cities and traffic. Also, it was seven PM, which meant it was dinnertime.
“We’re almost home, El,” she assured him.
“You didn’t bring any snacks?” Ruth asked.
“I didn’t know we would get home this late.”
“It’s LA, hon.”
Elijah squirmed in his booster seat that had black and blue stripes. He wanted to say something too, but he just let out a yawn. He tried to sleep, but every now and then the car would make a small jump, and his father would complain about the traffic. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but the seatbelt annoyed him in his position. Finally, he decided to lean against the car door while Ruth’s voice dissolved from his ears.
There it was. A picture of a waterfall, surrounded by shamrock shades and lush colors. The family crowded near the leafy vines. Elijah was too heavy to fall in her arms.
“Smile!” Ruth gave the camera to a young woman to take a few pictures. When they were done, she handed the camera back to Ruth. “That young boy over there surely knows how to smile. He ought to have a bright future.”
Edith thanked her and patted Elijah on the shoulder. He was now eleven years old.
Edith stood up with the album facing the wrong way. Two pictures slid out, and she sighed, bending over to grasp them. One of the pictures took her back to the day Elijah was born, when he cried nonstop for an hour before drifting to sleep in a baby blue blanket. He was so smooth and skinny, but at the same time, weak and pale.
She would never have imagined him suggesting going to the military.
The next picture was Elijah in his military uniform. He was grown up. He wasn’t a kid anymore, but he was too young to die in the darkness.
She looked outside the window; the sun was orange and beaming at the clouds. She looked past the sun and looked out the mountains, green and brown, maybe even some white that looked like clouds of salt.
The trees faded and were black silhouettes when the moon arose. Not one star shone in the sky. Not even an airplane.
If Elijah was there, he would have marked every single airplane as a star. He would say they were stars that moved, stars that were free to roam in the indigo sky.
She thought about it for a moment. Who Elijah might have become, where he is now. Maybe he was there, watching. Maybe he was replaying those memories like a movie. Maybe he was there when she mourned on that day, sending her a message that he was okay. She looked at a white wall in the living room. He was there. He was smiling.
He was now twenty-two years old.