Dalia opened the door to a simple, yet elegant beach house. She placed her bags near the door and continued into the living room.
“Grammy, are you home?” she called looking around her grandmother’s home. It was different than she remembered. The furniture was made of fabric. The walls were a soft sand color. They were illuminated by the sunlight coming through the wall-length window.
“Dalia? Hey honey, you’re early. I wasn’t expecting you for a little while.” Grammy said coming up to greet her.
“Surprise.” Dalia said getting up to give her grandmother a hug.
“Well, come into the kitchen and tell me all about your trip. You must be starved.”
Dalia followed her into the kitchen. She sat on a bar stool next to the marble island and looked around. The kitchen smelled of citrus and the sea. Grammy never had pictures on her fridge. She was too organized for that. She kept two magnets. One was a music note and the other was a woman standing next to the words “ain’t nuthin like a sista” in gold letters. Grammy took out some meats, cheeses and bread from the fridge.
“Grammy, I ate on the plane. You don’t have to make me anything.”
“That’s fine honey, but I’m hungry too,” She laughed and Dalia smiled.
The silence was only broken by the sounds of the ocean just outside.
“So how have you been?” she asked when the silence was unbearable.
“I’ve been fine. I’m going to go put my things away real quick,” Dalia said before getting up.
Her room faced the ocean. She took out a white stuffed bear and put the rest of her belongings in the closet. His name was Charlie. She took him on every trip. She kicked off her sandals and curled up on the bed. Her brother had bought it for her before her first international trip. The sheets were cool against her skin. Charlie was her most prized possession.
“I’m going out for a bit.” She announced, heading towards the door.
“You just got here. Are you sure you don’t want to talk first?” Grammy looked up from the couch.
“I need to be out while the sun is still up. I’ll be back soon,” she said closing the door quickly behind her.
Dalia stepped out of the wooden beach house. It was on Conwell Street and the beach was two miles up the road. Amari wanted to meet and offered to pick her up but said she would meet her there. She preferred the walk. She didn’t return home to relax with Gram, she was back in Hawaii searching for the perfect shot. Her new camera hung around her neck and bounced as she began to walk. She brought her backpack and with it, her tripod, beach towel and her lucky stone. It was amethyst. It was supposed to keep her safe.
She had to go through a residential area before she could reach the beach. The houses were of a sand color, which contrasted nicely with the oceanfront. She passed houses with plumeria and hibiscus that spilled over the fences. She thought about taking a photo of them. She lifted her camera, but something caught her eye. On one of the bushes of the next house, the flowers were brown and wilted from neglect. She put her camera down. It didn’t feel right. She stared at it for a minute and lightly touched one of the petals. She could tell no amount of care would bring it back. She looked up at the house. It was a gated shell colored house. Beautiful and well kept. Yet the hibiscus lay dying right on their doorstep. On the gate where the flowers had peeked out, she saw large blue and green turtles protruded from it. The shell was smooth to the touch. The head of one of the turtles was slightly bumpy and the eyes looked like marbles. They were empty. Her heart beat a little faster. A dog barked from behind the gate, shaking Dalia from her thoughts. She continued walking.
She reached the beach soon enough. It was crowded but she didn’t mind. There were men playing with their sons and daughters in the water while the women sat back on the beach. She could’ve taken a picture. She lifted her camera but paused. A little girl was crying not too far off from her. A boy came to pick her up, cooing at her, telling her things were going to be okay. She suddenly felt anxious so she put her camera down and sat were the concrete met the sand.
Amari pulled into the parking lot in her familiar black Sunfire. Her car reminded Dalia of a flamingo’s beak on wheels. Amari got out and sat in the sand next to Dalia. They were quiet for some time. Amari looked out at the people and the water.
“Do you want to go somewhere?” Amari asked.
“This is fine,”
“Let’s go for a drive,”
Dalia didn’t respond. Instead she stared out at the water without really seeing it. Her hands fiddling with the camera.
“Have you started working again?” Amari said after a moment.
“I’m still on leave. Once I send in my shots and another letter, I’m sure they’ll approve my request to come back,”
“I think you should rest. You could use a break Dalia.”
“I’ve rested enough. I just want to get back to work.”
“Did you come back just to take pictures?”
They were silent again and Dalia pulled her knees close.
“I’m looking for something specific-that’s all.” she admitted after a while. Amari grabbed her hand and gave it a squeeze. They sat until the sun began to set.
“You didn’t take any pictures,” Amari said gently.
“I didn’t see anything that inspired me.”
“Do you want me to drive you home?”
“I’d rather walk,” Dalia stood up.
“I’ll walk with you” Amari got up as well.
“I’ll be fine, you should go home,”
The two of them walked towards Grammy’s house. Amari tried to talk about lighter things, but Dalia wasn’t there. Her eyes were cast down, avoiding the fallen hibiscus petals strewn on the sidewalk. They stopped outside the door and Amari pulled her arm gently.
“I’ll see you tomorrow...okay?” Amari said gently.
Dalia nodded quietly. Amari kissed her forehead and let her go.
When she got inside, Grammy called her into the kitchen. They sat at the island and ate salty fish and overcooked vegetables. After a quiet dinner she went straight to her room. She locked the door behind her and got under the covers. Exhaustion pressed her body deeper into the mattress. She wanted to go back to work; six months was too long. She wanted to get back to her normal life; she couldn’t go another 6 months like this. The crickets outside started to sing. She was tired of suspension. She was sure they’d approve her request to come back early if she could take the right photo. The moonlight danced on the water outside. They’d take her back. She knew it. She held Charlie and dozed off.
Amari came around eleven. They walked to the same beach up the road. Amari held her hand but didn’t speak. The beach wasn’t as crowded this time so they laid out their towels and watched the water. Amari pulled Dalia down beside her. They looked into each other’s eyes.
“I’m here for you.”
“I don’t want to talk”
She looked up towards the sky. She was quiet for a long time. Amari watched her, letting her think.
“He was important to me. He was the only one who was there for me growing up.” Dalia whispered. Amari pulled a strand of hair from Dalia’s face.
“Grieving a person is like honoring them…not forgetting them.”
“You don’t understand.”
“You know I do.” She said pulling Dalia close. Dalia buried her face in her chest and hugged her tightly.
“It hurts Amari.” She said after a while.
“I know love. It’s okay to grieve,”
“I don’t know how to grieve…”
“You have to think about him. The good and the bad, and celebrate the person he was. You have to tell yourself it’s not the end of the world that he’s gone. It’s going to hurt but know it’s going to be okay.”
“It hurts to even think about him. I just want to work and be okay again.”
“If you keep putting this off, you’re not going to get better. It’s okay to feel hurt.”
They stayed silent. Amari petted her head softly, letting Dalia hold her as long as she needed. When she did finally look up, she gave Dalia a soft kiss.
“Look…let’s go somewhere. Okay? It’ll be fun,” Amari smiled but Dalia remained somber.
“Sure,” Dalia said quietly.
“I hate seeing you like this. Let’s go somewhere please?”
“Okay. We can go somewhere.” Dalia said.
Dalia woke up a little after ten. She could hear the birds bellowing to one another. She got up and went to the kitchen. There were already two pots on the stove with a sticky note on the counter that read, “Made you breakfast. See you tonight. Let’s talk.” in bold black letters. She made herself a plate of oatmeal and bacon and heated it up in the microwave.
Dalia went to the living room. On the coffee table was a vase of fresh flowers. They were vibrant reds, yellows and pinks. Against it sat a DVD with another sticky note. “Watch this please.”
She played the video. She saw herself as a teenager. It was her 15th birthday. Markus was beside her, punching her while she laughed and tried to run. She wanted to turn it off, but she was frozen. She saw the two of them sitting in their parents living room, playing a video game. Markus was winning and she was laughing and yelling out insults. She reached for the remote-she couldn’t take it. There were scenes from their early childhood: Markus helping her ride her first two-wheeler. Markus and her jumping on a trampoline. Her playing the piano while Markus played the flute. The video melted into another time. It was when Dalia got her first camera and interviewed him.
“So, Markus Grant Tyson. What are your plans now that your team is going to the playoffs?” a younger version of her asked in an announcer’s voice through a fit of giggles.
“I’m going to Disneyland.” he said, making them both laughed.
“What are your dreams for the future?”
“Well, I mean obviously I’m going to be rich. Other than that, I want to become a musician. Don’t tell dad though. I want to make beautiful music and you are going to be my photographer,” he said in a whisper.
“Oh stop. I’m so flattered,” she said with mock shyness.
“Naw, I’m serious. It’s going to be you and me. I’m going to make a demo CD, and we’ll both be famous. I’ll be a famous musician and you’ll be my famous photographer.”
“What if I don’t want to be a photographer?” she asked.
“That’s too bad. I’m older, so you have to do what I tell you. You’re going to be the best photographer ever.” He crossed his arms before breaking into a smile and they both laughed.
Her tears were hot on her face but before she could turn it off, the scene shifted. It was the funeral. There were hibiscus and plumerias around the church. They adorned the coffin. Family and friends sang and cried together. Their mother was there, she was crying and Grammy held her tight. She wasn’t in the video.
Amari spoke at the podium. She talked about his accomplishments. How he’d been a star basketball player. How he had been a beautiful musician. How he’d been a wonderful brother and friend. Even though hearts were broke, she said Markus would always be with them all.
The stream ended and Dalia was on the floor. She held her face in her hands and her sobs filled the silence. She cried until the tears wouldn’t come anymore.
Amari pulled up to the house around 2pm. Dalia rushed outside and climbed in the passenger’s seat.
“Sorry it took me so long. My parents really like for the family to eat meals together. Alright, where do you want to go today?” Amari said.
“It’s alright. We don’t have to go anywhere.”
“Dalia…what did I tell you last time?” She sounded a little peeved.
“Sorry. I don’t know-wherever you think is best,”
Amari’s eyebrows furrowed together and then they rose. She sped out of the cul de sac and quickly found the main street. It’d been a few years since she’d been home. She lived a good portion of her life on the island but moved to the mainland in highschool. Dalia looked out of the window. People, trees, and a concerning amount of strays streamed past. Amari glanced over and laughed.
“There’s a stray cat problem,”
“I don’t remember that,”
“It’s been an increasing problem the last few years. They kind of just gather in parking lots now.”
“And soon the island will be overrun and ruled by felines.” They laughed but their happiness melted into a dark silence. They got on the highway and arrived in another residential area. Amari parked on the hill and they got their things. This street was decorated with blue and grey houses. Bushes of flowers littered the lawns and the road itself was paved with fallen petals. Hidden between two houses at the end of the street was a set of steps that led downward. To Dalia’s surprise, at the bottom of the stairs were rocks. Children were sitting on them with makeshift fishing poles, while their fathers stood with their casts in the sea.
“We have to walk past the rocks and there’s more sand to lie on.” Amari pointed away from the sun but Dalia couldn’t see where their destination was.
“Is there another way over there? Like another set of stairs further down?”
“No, this is the only way. It’s really secluded because only the residents come to this side. Do you want to go somewhere else?”
“No, no…it’s okay. I mean is it okay to be here?”
“Yea, it’ll be fine. People do this all the time.” Amari smiled and reached for Dalia’s hand.
Dalia put her camera and sandals in her backpack and took her hand. They walked along the rocks. They went past a few families and soon, they were the only people around. Amari was moved with much more finesse but Dalia had to go slow. The water came up and covered her feet. The rocks were cool and had cracks in them. They were flat and sand was getting trapped in the cracks. Dalia spread her free arm to balance herself and clutched Amari’s hand.
When they reached the sand, Dalia looked up. She could see the backs of houses as well as a wall full of the flower bushes she say from the main street. They found a sunny secluded spot. Dalia sat in the sand. She looked out to the ocean and really saw it. For the first time in months, a sense of calm washed over here. Amari tanned on her towel quietly. The whoosh of the water was all they could hear.
“Thanks for bringing us out here,” she said. She was present. She was in tune with the soft lapping of waves against the shore.
“No problem, I’m just glad you came,”
“I saw the video,” she said after a while.
“What did you think?”
“I wish...I had gone to the funeral...I’m glad you made it,” she said softly.
“Who said I made it?”
Dalia looked at her and laughed. She turned to the ocean and her gaze was fixed on the sea. She reached into her bag and pulled out her camera. She took a few shots and then stood up. She walked towards the water. She took more shots before stepping in. The water was cool against her skin. With each step, her camera clicked relentlessly. The water splashed against her legs. Soon the water was to her knees. Some of the petals had drifted from the cliffs into the water.
“It’s beautiful,” she started to cry.
Dalia looked down as she scrolled through her shots. She could see her feet. The water made them look like they were shattered. Click. A red hibiscus touched her leg. Click. The camera strap dipped in the water. Click. Click. Click. She continued until she nearly had to tread water. She looked up and took a picture of the sky. Water splashed on her belly and petals stuck to her body. Click.