Excert from

Leaving, Staying

Two toddlers—twins, perhaps—their hair escaping tidy ponytails and bows, will race into the waves. They will holler and splash, their voices screeching through the water. They will not be gentle. A taller, tired version of the toddlers will high–knee her way through the water when one gets knocked down, when she wails. She will scoop her up and name all of the trees and flowers on the distant bank, she will point to the sailing boat emerging from the left. The little red buoy will bob in the waves, warning the boat away.

The boat keeps away, but she will feel it in front of them. She will remember when she stood on a sailboat, once, on the clearest, purest blue water she could imagine, and how warm and sweet the breeze was, carrying hibiscus and salt and sunscreen. The sun, soft and fading into unimaginable pastels before falling asleep, might just have melted the whole world away.

The other will reach and tap and call uppie, uppie, and the mother will try to hold both, balancing one on each hip. She will sigh and dream of another latte and wonder what it is all for—the pink and purple bows, the matching swimsuits and lake days—just for them to grow up and leave and she wonders when she will call? She will call.

The girl will step too far out, where the sand runs into the mud. She will squeal in surprise when the soft surface turns sticky, when it squishes beneath her feet, she will squeal. It could be anything beneath her feet; she does not know the sand only carries so far. In her world it could be a slimy deceased fish or lake seaweed caught on her foot or perhaps even pitch spread on the stairs to capture her. To prevent her from drifting away.

The squeal will reach the two sitting on the cliff of rocks. They’ll watch the tourist flail beyond the scattered sand. They will be amused; they will be annoyed. They will be the ones to lug the dense sandbag from the rusted shed and spread it further into the planted beach. The younger one will question where the sand came from, imagining it is thieved from a distant beach before displacing the mud and rocks below, the farmed water above. The older one is sure it comes from nowhere natural, believes like everything about this lake, the sand is made from man, and now perpetuated by them.

Right at the edge, where the sand barely brushes the water, the boy will stand and wait for the waves to erase it. He will wish it was cloudy. It is always better when it is cloudy, the way the lake shifts deeper blue in reflection, the way everyone stands, suspended, like the burnt orange leaves at the edge of the branch, hopeful for the sun to emerge. He lives for suspension, for the sharp, piercing moment he completely submits to the chilled water. Today it will be too warm, he will only let the ripples fall from his ankles. Perhaps it will be cloudy tomorrow.

But he will not be there tomorrow.

No, he will not.

Two people will wade until the water just reaches their torsos, just barely touches. The taller one will stand on tiptoes, back arched away from the water, hands, elbows stiff. The shorter one will leap ahead, dip to shoulders and return glistening, then plunge, entirely covered. The taller one will watch hundreds of water droplets burst apart, suspended, for a breath before tumbling, turning back to the lake. A few droplets will cling to the shorter one’s neck, right below the ear, and drip, drip down.

The lake will look almost enchanted, almost rivaling the view of the dock at the edge of the cobblestone streets, the mist hovering over the sea with the first light hovering over dawn. The short one can appreciate it after submerging rather than fluttering in between, half chilled by liquid, half chilled by the breeze. Every shade of azure, lapis lazuli, aquamarine lapping together will seem sharper, will dazzle.

When the shorter one stares at the waves weaving one over the other, the taller one will wonder where the thoughts fall. Perhaps the shorter one thinks of that redhead from the fancy town with the brick cobbled streets, the one where all comparisons fall.

The shorter one will turn and turn, flinging water in an arc, then will stop, waiting for the taller one to follow, to watch the little water droplets hang, suspended, before tumbling, turning back to the lake. Against this scenery, this shade of green water, this ratio of sunlight flickering down, this backdrop of forest and flowers, streaks of red glimmer in the tall ones’ hair previously unnoticed. 

The taller one will step forward, a step deeper, then will wait. They could follow one after the other, could follow the water droplets dripping on collarbones, could brush glistening shoulders and rest heads against eachother. They could wait for the cloud to drift in, could pause in that moment before the percussion. They could rest in the before, that moment where it all hangs, silent.

Katie Catulle is from Oakland, Maryland. She studies English at Harvard and is a member at The Harvard Advocate
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