I clamber out of the faded blue Toyota on stiff legs and trip almost immediately. My swan dive plunges me dangerously close to the sizzling-hot asphalt, but I'm laughing despite nearly faceplanting to my demise. I'm clumsy under normal circumstances, but, intoxicated by my lack of sleep and a surplus of giggles, I'm a threat to national safety. Watch out, Americans, or I might trip on you!

I hear Landen slam the passenger door shut, scowling. He folds his arms across his chest and stares at me chidingly. "Rose, get a grip. We can't have you crippled before we hit the beach! I did not drive six hours to take you to the hospital!"

I mimic Landen's stance, ready to inform him that I drove for six hours, not him, but first I sigh sharply, fully breathing in the salty sea air for the first time.

Like diving beneath ocean waves, I become submerged in memories.

“Be careful, Rose,” my grandmother chided me. “Or a Sirena might eat up a little girl like you.”

I pouted petulantly, my tiny toes only brushing the edge of the surf. “Lola,” I complained, “I’m ten years old. I’m not a little kid anymore!”

But as I stomped deeper into the water, I could feel Lola’s knowing expression boring holes into me. I paused, chewing my lip thoughtfully. If I inquired now, it would be giving in, but then again… “Lola?” I could hear my voice tremble slightly. It felt stupid to be afraid of the crashing waves and rumbling sound and the blue expanse ready to swallow me whole...

“Yes, Rose?” The elderly woman replied patiently.

“What’s a Sirena?” I hung my head, ashamed of asking such a silly question and expecting her to laugh at me, but instead, Lola’s words were grave and mysterious.

“The Sirenas are viscous sea monsters, luring sailors away from their ships and babes from their nanay with their melodic songs. They pull them deep underwater, where they watch their victims drown. Beware, Rose, for they wait patiently for a stray child to wander near.”

I gave up all pretense of appearing unconcerned, sloshing back into the shore where Lola waited. I hovered by where she sat on a blanket, dripping all over the pattern.

Lola didn’t complain, though. Instead, she stroked my hair gently, whispering reassurance to me. “The Sirenas are not from here, instead they reside in the Pacific ocean near Pilipinas, your homeland. Thus, on this Californian beach, you will probably be safe from those monsters.”

I warily edged back into the water, acting like nothing had happened, but it felt like I was miles away from Lola even if she was only a few yards away. “So I can go deeper?” My tinny voice quavered.

Lola paused, as if she was unsure of how to respond. “I did not say that, Rose. There are other things to be wary of, like the-”

“Why are you scaring Rose like this?” Mom scolded Lola, hustling across the beach with her arms full of plastic toys and sun umbrellas. She turned to face me, breathing hard from her trek across the scalding white sand. “Rose,” she murmured, her voice soft as silk. “There’s no such thing as Sirena or any other monsters. The ocean is perfectly safe, as long as you stay close to the shore.”

I did my best imitation of a calm ten year old, dipping my chin firmly, yet I slipped up immeadiately. “But, Mom, why would Lola say something that isn’t true?”

Mom shot Lola an exasperated look, to which the old woman only frowned slightly. Mom waited a moment in vain hopes that my grandmother would answer me before sighing. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, baby girl. Why don’t you go say hi to your cousin, Landen? I’m sure he’ll be happy to have a diving buddy.” She started setting up beach chairs.

I whined, pouting. “But what about the-”

“Rose Maia Schiochi Abella,” Mom warned me sternly, and I gulped in alarm. “Run along and play with Landen. We didn’t come all the way from Henderson for you to sit in time-out.”

My head bounced up and down like a bobblehead. “Yes, ma’am.” I hurriedly walked away on short legs, but I caught some of Mom and Lola’s conversation and slowed to a crawl.

“Why did you lie to Rose?” Mom demanded. I slowed my stride until I was completely stopped; this I had to know.

Lola merely replied steadily, “I didn’t.”

“Rose?” Landen calls back to me with a beach chair slung over his shoulder, already halfway to the water from the parking lot.

I shake my head to free myself from the vision. I was a little kid then, and Lola had dementia and a healthy imagination. So why do I feel such dread? “Coming!”

I snatch up a chair for myself and skid across the pristine sand to Landen. “Sorry!”

He chuckles softly. “Honestly, I didn’t want to disturb you. You looked like you’d seen a ghost.”

I laugh nervously. In a way, I had seen a ghost; Lola died a few years ago, and it was hard on everyone.

Landen fixes a hard stare on me. “Are you all right?”

“Yep.” I flash a false grin at him. “Race you to the water!” I throw down my bags, sprinting through the blinding white sand and kicking up the particulates with every stride. Landen easily matches my pace before lengthening his lead until any hope of my winning snaps altogether. I don’t mind, though, because I’m too busy working up fake enthusiasm.

With a great leap, Landen tumbles into the shallow water. “Beat you!”

This time, my smile is at least partially truthful. Being immature never felt better. So I splash into the surf against every gut feeling, pushing aside thoughts of the Sirena and other mythical creatures lurking in the idyllic turquoise waters.

Landen and I continue with this delightfully puerile behavior until the sun is low over the horizon, like a ball of yarn spun of pure golden light suspended by an invisible thread.

He is asleep in one of the beach chairs, snoring softly, but I let him slumber. I’m not going to be the one driving home, so he needs the rest. I wade into the low tide with a surfboard, but I’m not coordinated enough to actually surf, so I just sit.

The ocean glows with an otherworldly light, and at this moment time seems to stop. Nothing exists except now, and I think I like it that way.

October 03, 2020 01:16

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