Submitted by Katie Cross
A silent beach waited for the night.
The ocean swallowed the sun on the horizon. A little girl with light hair gazed at the crumbling dock beneath her bare feet, watching a cascade of water swirl around her ankles. It retreated, leaving the wood dark and warm.
Something caught her eye and she cocked her head to the side. Were those words carved into the board along the side? She’d never noticed them before. They were small, like scratches.
When she glanced back to the house, the silhouette of her parents dancing in the window caught her eye. Frank Sinatra’s melodic voice drifted into the cool air, spreading out across the ocean. The lights from the house twinkled against the dark backdrop of the vegetation, spilling into warm puddles on the sand.
Was Mama worried?
No. They never kept track of her. She hadn’t been home since breakfast. She’d built a fort in the trees and hid, waiting for them to find her. When they didn’t come, she combed the beach for odd pieces of wood. She collected shells and waited for lunch. It never came. Now it was past dinnertime and they were still giggling over their wine glasses.
As long as she wasn’t bothering them, they wouldn’t care if she went onto the dock. They didn’t have time for little girls. She looked back to the mysterious writing on the plank in hesitation.
But papa told her to stay away from the old dock.
“It’s deep out there,” he warned one day, extinguishing a cigarette in his palm. She liked the way his deep voice rolled, and the careless way his open shirt flapped in the breeze by his neck. “The boards aren’t safe on the far end. See how they’re sinking out there? You’d fall in and get trapped underneath.”
But she loved the smell of the rotting wood, the slimy feel of the sea water as it rushed through the holes. The dock rocked her, up and down, as she sat on the edge by the beach. It was soothing. She didn’t feel as lonely.
Mama would be angry if she came home wet, so she crouched down, her white dress trailing just above the next set of waves. The ocean covered the words, then left with a soft hiss. She traced the visible letters with her fingertips.
‘In memory of my first-‘
The last word dropped off in the darkness. Forgetting how upset Mama would be, she lowered onto her knees and crawled forward. Another wave rushed towards her in a quiet roar, swirling around her wrists.
‘-love. I will never forget the days we danced near the waves.’
She stopped, up to her elbows in water, and waited for the ocean to back away, pressing her face so close to the surface she could see her own freckles. The sunset was fading into an ebony sky, leaving little light.
‘You died so suddenly, leaving me here.’
A sudden wave splashed onto her cheeks and hair, soaking her dress and arms. She shook the water off her nose and continued forward. The boards groaned beneath her weight, tottering up and down in the loose swells. The wood was fluid and sinking.
‘I didn’t know how much I loved you-‘
Waves splashed her chest as she inched deeper into the water. Foam dripped from the ends of her hair. The words were barely visible now, so she scooted forward again, tipsy. Her shoulders were under water, the ocean lapped at her neck.
The wood shuddered and groaned with a slight pop.
‘-until you never came back.’
The cracking boards and stifled cry faded as the sounds of Frank Sinatra drifted onto the silent, lonely beach.
Twitter: @kcrosswriting or www.twitter.com/kcrosswriting