Today was the day. Cal knew that there would be no other chance to ask about the woman in the picture in Pa’s room. Ever since Cal found the picture in the back of Pa’s ancient wardrobe, the woman frequently arose in her dreams, with scents of lavender and softness wrapping around Cal’s frail body. The woman fried eggs for Cal in the morning, pedaled a teal bike with her into town, and rested under the sunset with her at the end of the day. Although she only slept on a twin bed, Cal became startled by the space around her, the absence of what she felt and began to recognize as “Ma.”
Cal woke up before the hues in the sky swirled together; the canvas hanging in the air was a rich blue that was still thick and deep in its slumber. Cal pressed her palms into her blue covers, and pushed herself up, wriggling the sand between her musky toes. Cal slid herself off the bed, with her flannel pants hanging at her ankles, danging to the floor. As she pulsed her toes across the floorboards, the floor popped and squeaked; Cal tensed up in her shoulders. She gently brought herself to her dresser, slipping a crumb of Jim’s Nana’s red-velvet cookie into the slit of her mouth. She felt herself close her eyes, her tongue falling into a trance, a spell under the magical concoction of flavors baked by Nana.
Cal gently nudged her door and positioned herself in front of Pa’s room. She stood there, swaying back and forth, and sucking in her breath. She clenched and released her frigid fingers, stole a shallow breath, and tapped her knuckles gently on Pa’s door. After no reply, Cal rapped harder against the hollow, wooden door. She tucked her jet black curl behind her ear, and stood up straight, making sure not to slunch over, as Pa had taught her. As Cal leaned closer to the door, she heard a faint grown rumbling from inside Pa’s room.
After she heard him banging and rustling through his drawers, Pa hobbled over to his door and twisted it open. He stood there, staring at Cal, with his chin covered with speckly stubs of gray, and his eyes, lines with droops of skin.
“Cal, what is it?” he grunted.
“Today’s my birthday, Pa,” she stated. Pa sighed and rubbed the dust off his glasses.
“I’ll make you something in a few, I am going back to bed, Calluna.” Before he turned around, Cal’s fingers gripped his fleeing hands, grabbing the hook of Pa’s firm, warm hands. Her cold hands took him by surprise, as she immediately released it.
“Will you please watch the sunset with me?” The question was frankly rhetorical because Calluna knew Pa would watch the sunset with her. His passion for the awakening of the morning, caused him to follow Calluna onto their rickety porch, down the wooden steps, past the obstacles of dune grass and torn fence, and onto the Jersey shore. Their toes drove divots into the pale sand, as their feet twinged every so often at a stubborn sea shell that stuck out. They were one with the sanguine breeze of the ocean, as the wind whipped their hair and clothes this way and that. The rolling waves crashed against the velvety shore, while faint streaks of fluorescent orange tinted the sky. Cal breathed in the air around her, eyes closed, leaning into the sea, the sky, and the brilliant colors arising around her. From the tumbling, foaming furls of water, to the slippy soil beneath her toes, Cal could feel Pa next to her, his warmth blending into the morning.
Pa never spoke during sunsets. When Cal was seven, her father woke her up early and asked her to watch the sunrise with him on Thanksgiving day. She rambled on and on about how beautiful the sunrise was when her father told her quiet. Cal only stared at her father, while her father stared at the sun. Or rather, the sky around the sun.
Now, Pa comes home late. He works extra shifts, that drag into the night, smearing over his cheeriness in the morning. Today, was Pa’s first time, in more than six months, seeing the sun rise above the sea.
Pa and Cal sat in the sand, a rutty hut distance away from the sea. Cal froze in awe as she viewed the first peek of the golden yolky sun. The sun was a tiny blotch of orange, with raging shades of yellow and brazen red streaks around it. The golden beast hiding beneath the edge of the waves crept out of its watery underworld, like honey out of a bottle. The deep, mysteriousness of the morning evaporated into clean, harmonious shades of blue, decorated by luscious wisps of white. The aura of the morning sprinkled itself like glitter over the sparkling waves, pummeling into the shore.
Pa stood up, stretched his arms out, and clenched and unclenched his hands as if he were trying to absorb the crystalline air. The sun had already floated to the sky, and Calluna felt the hues dry up within her.
“Pa, can I ask you a question?” He hung his head, dropping his gaze from the sky.
“What happened to her?” Cal presses.
“Ma. What happened to her?”
“She’s dead,” he said flatly.
“Not now, Calluna,” he spoke to the waves. They could no longer look at the sun because the brilliant star in the sky had become blinding. Cal panicked. She did not want to wait until next year, for another special day to deliver the same question again.
“Then when Pa?” Her voice cracked a bit, as Pa shook his head, and turned towards their house. Cal wanted to grab his hand again, but he was already at the grass dunes in front of their house.
“Pa, why won’t you tell me!” Pa turned around his body square to Cal’s.
“Calluna, go home now,” he pushed the words out like a harsh whisper.
“NO!” Cal’s brain became blurry, as she felt herself crashing down to the ground. She rested her stomach and her head, as wet hot streaks of snot and tears tumbled down her cheek. She hunched over herself, her hair brushing over her face, as she gently rocked herself, back and forth. When she calmed down, she saw Pa, who was gasping for air, kneeling on the sand, pulsing his upper body up and down, rambling on and on under his breath. His eyes were rimmed with a fleshy, pernicious red. Pa saw Cal and sat up. The sun shone over his face, lighting up the cavernous features etched into his cheeks, chin, and under his eyes.
“Aza loved sunrises.”
“Yes.” Pa glances at Cal and continues.
“Aza wanted us to move here to leave her parents and she left all her friends and family behind. We moved to the Jersey shore by ourselves, but we were together, so it was okay.” Pa bit the inside of his cheek.
“Over time, I had to work more shifts and Aza became quiet. When she heard from her best friend Kaylee that her sister died in a car crash, she was devastated that her family had not even told her and that she had not been there for the funeral. Aza begged me for weeks to go back home to Oregon, and I told her no because I wasn’t willing to leave my job and the shore.”
“She then had you. But by then, Aza barely got out of bed every day, and could not take care of herself. I found out one afternoon, that she had not been feeding you in the mornings and afternoons, and she cried. She was crying so hard, and I did not know how to make it stop. I…”
“What did you do, Pa?” Cal whispered.
“I held her in my arms, and I said I was sorry over and over again. The next morning, your mother- I can’t Cal. Calluna, I can’t.”
“Pa, I am listening.”
“Aza drowned herself,” he cradled his forehead in his hands, sucking in the air that left his lungs. “She did it at sunrise. Aza swam towards the sun. I saw her out my window, but by then, she was too far. Too deep.”
Cal felt a fuzzy, shock feeling surge through her, and afterward, felt pale and grim. Her face was etched out of cool granite, as she pressed her icy fingered against her neck and collarbone. Cal walked past Pa, through the grassy dunes, up the porch steps, and into the kitchen. She did not wait for Pa to walk in behind her and began to prepare the lunch, banging and clanging cabinets and drawers. Pa simply followed and helped her.
Cal felt her feet sink into the strip of the beach that smooths over itself, as waves and waves of foam glide over it. Cal felt the night like a thick cloak across her back, while her heart and brain tackled one another. Pa. How Could he? She knew Pa didn’t kill her mother, but how could he not notice anything. Not notice that Aza was dying?
Pa broke Ma, by not doing anything. He broke her by sitting there and pretending she was okay. Pa did nothing. And nothing is what drove Ma to her decision. At sunrise. Alone.
Today, Pa could've broken Cal. But, he spoke. And Cal listened. Cal sighed. She traced the pits in her knee and stared at the hanging orb in the sky. The brilliant sphere reflected itself upon ruffles of water. Cal stared at the full moon, waiting alone, for the sun to rise again.