She walked slowly among the waves, the thin cashmere fabric of her skirt flailing languidly about her pale white ankles. The air was silent, save for the quiet splash of sea foam as it breathed in and out on the shore. Not far off, a small brown crab scuttled out from where it had been hiding, racing off into the early evening shadows.
She reached behind her head and freed her hair of its messy ponytail, letting her endless auburn locks spill over her flowing white blouse. She walked with a dancer’s grace, swaying on her thin bare feet as she balanced on smooth branches of driftwood.
She stumbled over a patch of wispy sea grass sprouting up near the shore. The disturbance awoke a sleeping sandpiper, which leapt away from the girl, its light brown wings fluttering.
Her name was Marcela, and today was her fourteenth birthday. She’d come to this place on the beach, this garden of trees and sea grass, because she loved it more than any other spot on the whole shore, where she’d lived all her life. A salamander scurried over her toes as she walked towards a row of spiny trees with tall, broad leaves.
She looked up suddenly, her placid blue eyes darting this way and that. Voices echoed from the shoreline, young voices, high and bubbly. Her fingers found a blossom from the coneflower bush to her left, and she pulled it from the light green stem, lifting it to her nose. Its sweet perfume flowed through her veins, giving her strength.
She pushed through the garden, back onto the open sand.
The voices came from a group of teenagers lounging by the water. They’d spread brightly colored beach towels to shield their tan, clear skin from the damp dirt beneath. Music pumped from a black radio, and laughter ran high on the wind. The boys flipped their long hair and bounced a beach ball back and forth.
She peeked from behind an ancient divi divi tree, cradling the flower in one hand and clinging to the worn brown trunk with her other. Her lips pressed tightly together, but her eyes stayed open, calm and tranquil as always. The tree’s gnarled trunk leaned slightly to the right, supporting its lush branches. The blue sky shone in patches through its thick green leaves.
She walked forward, slowly, holding the flower and trying to stop her hands from shaking. In that second she wished she could join the others, dance to the pulsating music, and flash stunning smiles at the boys. But, somehow, she could not.
“You have always danced to a different music, mi narciso, my blossom, my Marcela,” her mother had said in her rich island accent, sitting on the porch and knitting a brightly colored Spanish quilt. Her mother’s kind, creased eyes seemed distant now, and the others’ laughing, confident voices impossibly loud. The girl’s heart pounded, but she stepped forward.
The instant the others saw her, the smiles left their faces. “It’s the gypsy again!” one of the girls said in a brittle, nasal voice.
She used the edge of her shirt to wipe the perspiration from her forehead, but could not shake the trembling from her hands.
She looked down to see that she had crushed the pink flower in her tight grasp. Petals leaked through the spaces between her fingers, spiraling down like perfect ballet dancers, where they landed silently on the earth.
Before the tears could start to rain from her eyes, she took a step forward, letting what remained of the flower fall from her clutches. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she fixed her eyes on the pink facade of a summer house perched by the outcropping which marked the end of the beach. She licked her lips which tasted like salt, and sweet lemonade from the fair.
“This is my beach just as well as yours,” she said, whirling around, finally letting the accent tint her words. The others just stared; only silence spoke amidst the sound of sea waves crashing against the shore.
The twilight felt almost alive. Stars began to poke out of the velvety sky, and she could have sworn she saw a shooting star streak across the glittering darkness for a fraction of a second, leaving a fleeting trail of golden sparks behind.
She continued to walk, letting the wind swirl her hair around her, until they disappeared from view.
Then it was just her and the beach once more. A sunfish leapt above the water in the distance, sparkles reflecting off the many facets that decorated its transparent fins. Lights flickered on inside every house. The moon’s candescence seemed to set the sea on fire, sprinkling radiant gold sparks upon some other distant shore.
She walked slowly, letting her hands swing loosely by her sides. As she knelt down to run her hands through the water, the sea spray seeped into her skin, and she allowed it to wash away all the memories of the day, stilling her frenzied heart.
Her mother called from the house at the edge of the sea. She appeared on the porch, holding a glass of cool yellow lemonade, dressed in a skirt sewn from patches of beach towel. The wind chased her brown hair all about her shoulders.
Marcela turned away. Her fingers smelled of sand and salt, but her eyes reflected the moth-eaten porch light instead of the moon.
Behind her, a solitary person, one of the boys from the beach, walked along the line of her footsteps. He was holding the flower she’d dropped earlier that day. Pale shafts of moonlight illuminated his form.
She looked behind her for a second, for one last glimpse of the deep ink-blue sky, spinning with shimmering grey clouds, but instead her eyes fell upon the boy, his skin washed in the foggy grey hue that spilled from the moon’s halo down to the quiet earth beach.
He looked towards her, and saw that her eyes were light brown, piercing through the hazy darkness. Slowly he walked towards her; she was bathed in the yellow lantern-light spilling from her beach house, and he was shrouded in darkness. When he stood only a few feet away, he held up the pink coneflower, reached out and let it fall upon her open palm. The wind blew her long, wavy hair around her face; his eyes were lucid and green, like an open, tropical sea. His toes curled in the spongy sand.
“I’m Marcela,” she said. A simple sentence, but carrying with it a thousand diamonds of apprehension and hope.
“My name is Remigio,” he replied. “Your name. It means… sea, and sky, does it not?”
“And yours, oarsman,” Marcela said. Pale shafts of moonlight danced along the sand. The sky grew darker with every passing second. Her eyes flickered along the waves, crested with hues of inky blue and indigo.
“I meant to give you this, Marcela sea and sky,” he said, touching the flower in her hands. “And an apology, for my friends, earlier today.”
“It is fine, buena. No me importa,” she said with a smile.
“I’m sorry. I don’t speak.” He stared at the light, pooling around his feet.
“Oh. But your name… and you knew the meaning of mine. How is that so? Where do you come from, oarsman who does not speak the tongue of his origin?”
“I’m from the far-off land of New York City,” he said, “a place of shining lights… of course, you can’t see the moon very well, there.”
They both looked up towards the ball of light, hanging from the sky, just like a lantern had suddenly floated away from the little house, until it hit the velvet domed roof of sky, where it lingered, dripping luminescence down onto the quiet shore.
“This is our last destination. My friends and I have been traveling Central America for the whole summer… we thought we might end our adventure here, on the edge of California. It’s a beautiful beach. But I’m leaving tomorrow.” His eyes flickered from the moon, to her, and then back up at the sky. “Back to the daily grind… school, tests, stupid parties where everyone gets drunk and then busted, over and over again.”
“You’re lucky,” Marcela said. “My mother cleans the houses here. I go to school when I can; the nearest one is ten miles away, and we have no car. And parties?” She raised her eyebrows. “My friends are the little birds that come to this beach, my love the fields of green sea grass.”
“Look, I really am sorry. For everything. I mean, I can’t believe how beautiful…” His voice trailed off.
“That is past – it doesn’t matter anymore. And I know. The beach is lovely,” she sighed, running her hand through the air, as if she was stroking the stars. Her eyes were bright.
“Do you have a phone?” he said suddenly, a deep intake of breath. “If I could call you, possibly…”
“A telephone? No… we would have no way to pay the bills.” Her eyes filled with emotion. “Oh, go, if you must, lonely oarsman. But when you return, I will be here. The beach is me – the sand, my flesh, the grass, my hair, and the sky, my mind. The moon is my eyes, and the sea is my blood. I will always be here, like moss on a stone. Return years from now, oarsmen… whether by plane, or boat, or foot, whether you are lost or found… and I know I will still be here.”
Remigio looked at her as the sea inhaled and exhaled, rhythmically as lungs. “I will,” he said, simple, but carrying with it a thousand crystal wishes. “I swear. I will.”
The girl turned around, disappearing into the blurry yellow light of her little wooden house. After a long while, the boy began the walk back to his room at the inn.
Now, only silence lingered at the shore. The moon slowly drew the tide forward until waves covered the entire beach, and their footprints were washed away. The sun buried itself deep behind the craggy mountains and the sea’s cycle resumed its course. A girl slept alone, holding on to a promise that she knew she would cling to for all of her life, even if the years ticked by as slowly as a universe being formed. A boy dreamed of hazel eyes.
All was silent on the beach—all except for the quiet rippling of a thin grey fish drifting through the waters, the
muted singing of a marooned conch shell, and the sounds of the ocean’s lungs, perpetually breathing in and out.
Age 14, Grade 9,