“Where the Waves Were Breaking” by Betsy Finesilver Haberl

27 March 2020 on Fiction   Tags: , ,

I flipped through the channels. In the half-second pauses between each station, a moth fluttered against the screen door. The porch light flickered and made an electric snap. It had been broken for weeks. “What should we watch?” I asked Daniel.

But my little brother was quiet.


He rocked back and forth a little bit. He did that sometimes.

A hot wind blew and the stench of dried and rotting fish moved in a current through the room. “That smells awful, right?” I said.

We only lived a block from Lake Michigan, and the alewives were dying off that summer. The die-offs happened every few years, when summer would come too quickly. Their fragile bodies couldn’t handle the rapid change in water temperature, and they would die and wash ashore in droves. The smell would stick to our clothes and hair. It would follow us around. Because of the alewives, Daniel and I had mostly avoided the beach that summer. It was just the two of us while my parents were at work.

“Should we watch birds? Remember how we got another bird movie from the library?” I held up the video box. A plump little brown bird with a long beak was on the cover.

“Kiwi bird?” Daniel said. He stopped rocking. He had a thing for bird documentaries. We watched a lot of them, and I knew all sorts of things about birds. Kiwi birds, for example. They’re the shyest birds. They live in New Zealand and eat at night, in the dark. You’d think they’d be small, like kiwi fruit, but they’re as big as chickens.

I put the movie into the VCR and settled next to Daniel on the couch. On the TV screen, a kiwi bird skittered in the grass and pecked at the ground. The kiwi looks for grubs, said the film’s British narrator. Food has been scarce because of the drought.

Daniel watched the TV intently with wide eyes. He was six, but the three-year-old boy who lived next door talked more than he did. I was only fourteen and didn’t really understand what was happening inside his mind. He seemed to understand what I said to him, but it was like his head only had one-way streets that all went towards the center of his brain. The words could drive in through his ears, but they could never find their way out through his mouth. There must have been so many words circling around in his mind, all the things anyone had ever said to him. I guess it must have been too hard for him to pick out individual words from the clutter in his brain.

“Draw? Ra-ose?” he said, turning to me. I loved it when he talked, especially when he said my name. He was so careful about it. His voice was airy and sweet, like powdered sugar.

“Good idea.” I reached for his notebook and black marker on the coffee table. The paper was thick and glossy. His therapist had suggested we draw and write stories about Daniel’s life. She’d told our mom it would help him process his world. The book had started like that. I’d help him narrate his life. I’d write the words before we started the next picture. The first page of the book was Mommy and Daddy are talking in the kitchen. They are being loud but it will be okay. Daniel and Rose are drawing.

But now, Daniel liked to draw birds instead. He looked at the kiwi bird on the television and started to draw. He pressed the marker to the paper and made a sound in the back of his throat, like there was a little engine there. It was something he did when he concentrated hard.

He held the book up to show me. Daniel’s kiwi bird was a cross between a hedgehog and a hummingbird. “Nice,” I said.

He returned to drawing and nestled next to me. His little shoulders were narrow and my arm could fold all the way around him. I didn’t want to think there would be a time when he would be too big to fit next to me like that. I couldn’t imagine he would eventually be taller than me. It was hard to picture him older.

“Hello, kiddos.” Our mom hovered in the doorway between the family room and the hallway. She had pink cream on her face and wore a long pink bathrobe.

“You look like you’re having a big night,” I said.

“This is a new face mask I’m trying,” she said.

“Yeah?” I asked. Daniel stopped drawing and looked at our mom. Her hair fell to her shoulders. It was gray in the dim light.

“Julia Roberts uses it.” She held out a magazine. Julia Roberts smiled broadly on the cover.

“Exciting,” I said.

“It’s supposed to take ten years off your skin, if you use it long enough. You know, there’s a lot out there for girls your age, too. You should be taking care of yourself now. I wish I had. I noticed how your freckles are popping out today. I think I read somewhere about a cream for that.” She opened her magazine and rifled through the pages.

“Sure,” I said. “We’re busy learning about kiwi birds right now. But it’s bedtime for Daniel, anyway. Are you going to help him tonight?”

But she was already backing away. She hadn’t put Daniel to bed in weeks. “I’m kind of in the middle of things here. I’ll find out about that freckle cream for you,” she said. “Remember to put vinegar on the towels again.”

 “Why do I have to do it?”

“Come on, Rosie, just do this one thing for me. I’ve been at work all day. And where’s your father?” she said from the dark hallway.

“Where do you think?” I said. The porch light flickered and snapped again.

“God. He’s always in the garage. He said he would fix that light.” She shook her head, turned, and padded softly down the hall. The door to her bedroom clicked shut. I took a deep breath and patted the back of Daniel’s hand. I had felt him stiffen when she was in the room. It was easier on him when my parents weren’t around. This was an unspoken truth in my family. All the normal summer things other girls were doing, like riding bikes for ice cream or going to summer camp, seemed unnecessary in light of the responsibility I had for Daniel.

A few months earlier, Daniel’s speech therapist told our parents not to hope Daniel would ever be “normal.” Then, our parents started to occupy their own little territories in the house. My mom’s territory was an armchair in the corner of her and our father’s bedroom. She subscribed to at least five weekly magazines dedicated to documenting celebrities doing normal things. There’d be a full page about an actress taking her kid to school, or an article speculating about the type of jeans a pop singer might have bought at a department store. My mom had stacked the magazines in a waist-high half circle around the chair, like a nest of bright and shiny paper.

I helped Daniel brush his teeth and get into pajamas. I tucked him into bed, and he fell asleep while I was reading to him. He looked so small and still under the covers.

I went onto the front porch and draped our beach towels over the railing. The next day was the Fourth of July. We would be going to the beach, like we always did. I used a bottle to spray the towels with vinegar mixed with water. My mom was convinced that vinegar could shield against the dead alewife stench. The sharp and sour mist surrounded me. It momentarily blocked the smell of fish, but I don’t know it was any better.

Across the street, Lucy Peterson sat on her porch steps with a cordless phone. “Hey,” she said into the phone. “You’re coming with Tyler tonight?”

I spritzed vinegar in the pause of her conversation.

“Yeah, he’s picking me up. He’s a dummy, but whatever,” she said. “See you.” She hung up.

Lucy was two years older than me. When we were younger, we used to play together, hopscotch and stuff like that. But in high school, she joined up with the popular girls who crimped their hair, wore dark eyeliner, and dated more than one boy at a time. I spent my free periods in the library with a handful of other bookish kids. We didn’t exactly fit with each other, but we didn’t exactly fit in anywhere else. I suppose they were my friends, but I hardly ever saw them outside of school. I never invited them to my house. People didn’t understand about Daniel, or maybe I didn’t know how to explain him. It was easier if I kept my world—and Daniel’s world—narrow and quiet.

I would have waved, but Lucy didn’t look up. She started fiddling with a portable boom box. Music started playing, something with a slow, echoing drum, like a heartbeat. The sound built and built with every beat. Lucy bobbed her head a little bit, and then a shrill violin came in with a fast string of notes that fell over each other like a waterfall. Lucy nodded along, and I could see her fingers moving in time with the music. In the afternoons, I could hear her practicing that same song over and over again on her violin. The sound traveled through our open windows.

A rusty Volkswagen pulled up in front of her house. She turned to look at her reflection in the front door. She tilted her head left and right, then pressed a tube of lipstick to her lips.

“Hey, let’s go.” A boy stuck his arm out of the driver’s side window and pounded on the roof of the car.

“Give me a minute,” she said. Her voice carried coolly. She waited until the violin finished its sequence before clicking off the tape player. The space between our houses felt very empty in the sudden quiet. She walked slowly towards the boy’s car with her hands on her hips.

“What the hell, Lucy?” he said.

“You know I can’t cut off Tchaikovsky in the middle of a run.” She tossed her long, curly hair and climbed in the passenger seat. The boy leaned over to kiss her, but she held up her hands and said, “Come on, I just put on lipstick.”

He swore and said, “You’re such a snob.”

She said, “You’re so uncultured. But you’re here, at least.”

“Tchaikovsky, Jesus,” he said. “Why can’t you be normal?”

She laughed, and they sped away to their bonfire or barn party or wherever they’d be drinking that night. Neither of them had noticed me standing there brandishing a bottle of vinegar. I blended in with the shadows, with the background of our neighborhood. I was just beginning to long for something like what she had.

The tinny crack of a gunshot on television came from the garage. That was my dad’s space. He hated the heat, and we didn’t have air conditioning. All summer, the heat had been his excuse to sit in the cool garage. He carried an old television in there and watched Westerns for hours on end. Tonight, he had only come into the house for a few minutes after work before returning to the garage. We ate dinner without him, would all go to bed without him. Sometimes I wouldn’t talk to my dad for days.

In the family room behind me, the kiwi bird documentary ended. The VCR stopped whirring and the TV screen went silent and dark. The moth was no longer fluttering against the screen door. The porch light flickered, popped, and didn’t come back on. I stood in the dark doorway. The glow of the light on Lucy’s porch was the only bright thing on the whole street.

The next afternoon we walked to the beach as a family. My dad, red and angry, charged towards the water. Somehow, he always had a sunburn. He dragged the cooler behind him. It scraped a path in the sand the rest of us followed like ducklings.

I carried my shoes. The hot sand stung my feet. My mom carried the beach chairs. She set her face in a determined wide smile against the hot sun. Daniel followed us silently. Halfway down the beach, he crouched to examine something I couldn’t see. He stared hard at the sand.

“Daniel, come on,” my dad said.

Daniel didn’t move.

I went back and gently touched Daniel’s shoulder. He pointed at a small pink shell lying in the sand. “You can take it,” I said. He slipped it into his pocket.

My dad stopped in an open spot and cracked his knuckles. “Here,” he said.

I spread my towel on the sand, lay on my stomach, and squinted at Lake Michigan. Out there, dead alewives striped the water with thin silver lines. The fish moved closer to the shore with each roll of the water. It was kind of pretty. There were a few swimmers farther out. Their paths crisscrossed. The way they zigzagged behind the waves and lines of dead fish looked graceful.

Next to me, Daniel was quiet. But there was noise everywhere. The waves splashed with a varying rhythm. A chorus of shouting children was punctuated by the snappy tones of parents scolding.

“It’s crowded today,” my mom said. There were people filling up the space between the water and us. Two parents had even placed their beach chairs right in the shallow part at the very edge of the lake. Their kids rolled and crawled in the water at their feet. “Don’t you think?” she finished.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” my dad said. “We can all see the people. Now, why don’t we talk about if we think it’s hot or not?” He shifted his weight and his chair squeaked.

“I was just making conversation,” my mom said. “At least we have our spot staked out for the fireworks.” She stood and readjusted her chair. She turned it slightly away from all of us.

My dad didn’t say anything else. He opened his Clive Cussler paperback.

But my mom continued, “God, I just love the Fourth of July. I’m always so ready for the day off when it comes around.” There was a little fwap as she flipped the pages of Us Weekly.

“It’s always hot in July. We should have a day off on the fourth of March,” my dad said.

“Then it’d be the Fourth of March,” I said. “Not July.”

“Don’t be so smart,” he said.

My mom tapped the bottom of my left foot with one of her feet. “You shouldn’t lie there with your legs splayed out like that, Rosie,” she said. “You’re too old for that.”

I sat up and pulled on a t-shirt and shorts over my swimsuit. “Other girls are lying like that,” I said.

“Other girls are doing it to get sun,” she said.

“If I’m in the sun, lying like that, aren’t I getting sun?”

“If you’re going to do it, don’t lie there like you’re not even aware—” she dropped her voice to a whisper, “—of your womanhood. Keep your legs together, at least.”

“No one’s paying attention to me,” I said.

“Be a little more ladylike, please, out in public. You’re not sprawled on the couch at home.” She turned back to Us Weekly. “Let’s just have a nice day as a family.” She shook her magazine at my dad’s face and said, “These girls in Hollywood keep wearing the most bizarre outfits. Look at this one. Is that a belt around her—” she whispered again, “—breasts?”

“Ridiculous,” he said without glancing at the picture.

“Well, that can’t be comfortable. It certainly isn’t very attractive.”

Daniel sat cross-legged on the edge of the towel. He pushed off the top layer of hot sand in front of him. There was damp, darker sand underneath. He made his sound in the back of his throat as he worked with his hands.

My dad asked, “What’s he doing?”

My mom looked up. She shielded her eyes from the sun. “Why don’t you just look?” she said. “Your eyes work, don’t they?”

My dad frowned at her but didn’t say anything. He gripped his book with his thick fingers.

“You never look,” she said.

That was the most I had heard my parents say to each other all summer. When they were in the same room, the strain between them was practically physical. It permeated everything—just like the smell of the alewives. To protect Daniel, I tried to soak up the worry and tension like a sponge. I knew something critical in our family was changing. I would only let the emotions out at night when I was alone in my room. I might cry or desperately listen for bird calls Daniel and I had learned about, just to occupy my mind. Sometimes, I’d hear Lucy come home and start playing her violin. The melodies were always quieter and faster when she played at night. It made me feel both worried and hopeful. I couldn’t decide if it would be good or bad for our family to split in two, as I thought it probably would.

I scooted to the end of my towel, next to Daniel. I used my finger to write “Daniel” in the wet sand he’d revealed. “Daniel,” I said quietly and pointed at my writing. He looked at it and smiled, then wiped away the word.

Then I wrote, “Rose,” and said it, slowly.

“Ra-ose.” He said my name like it was two syllables. He looked at me, his eyes open.

“Very, very good.” I nodded.

“Good job, kiddo,” my mom said. She closed her eyes and yawned.

Daniel wiped my name away. He began drawing in the sand with his finger. He scraped the outline of a house with a triangular roof, then a rectangular front door. He made a line for the ground and a crooked tree. He looked up at the sky. I guessed he was trying to decide how to draw it. There were seagulls above us, but no clouds. I drew a flattened-out V. Daniel copied the shape and started to fill his sky with them. He made his concentrating noise again.

“I wish he wouldn’t do that,” said my dad.

My mom sighed. “Did you get to that light on the porch this morning? You said you’d take care of it.”

Daniel kept drawing his birds.

“I’ll do it,” my dad said.


“Must you micromanage everything?”

“Someone has to,” she said.

“Why’d we come so early?” I asked my parents. The sun was still suspended well above the horizon. It was round-shaped and yellow, just like Daniel would have drawn it. It would still be hours until the fireworks.

 “Are you bored already?” my dad said.

“I didn’t say that.”

“Don’t you like the beach?” he said.

“I like the beach fine,” I said. “But I like the beach best in the fall. It’s quieter then.”

“Since when do you need more quiet in your life?” my dad said.

Daniel stopped drawing his birds. His finger hovered above the sand, like he was trying to find just the right spot to draw his next bird. When Daniel was smaller, my mom would take us to the beach even after it got too cold to swim. The beach would be ours only, except for the seagulls that clustered together. They’d fold their feet and wings neatly into themselves. I would run straight towards them because I knew it would make Daniel laugh. Even then, he liked birds. He liked the way they would scatter and fly up in the air at the same time, squawking. He would clap his chubby toddler hands. I would scoop him into a hug. Behind us, our mom would lean against the car and examine her hands. She would rub cream on them over and over while we played.

I stood and shook the sand out of my towel. I snapped it in the air and released the tang of hot vinegar.

“That smells terrible,” my dad said. “Like feet.”

“Like vinegar,” my mom said. “It’s better than the alewives.”

“Debatable,” he said.

I pulled Daniel’s book and black marker out of my backpack. The glossy pages felt cool and smooth resting on my legs. He leaned forward and pointed to one of his birds. I wrote: The bird is flying, and said it out loud. He pointed to another bird. The bird hides in the tree and says hello to the leaves. Another bird, with a stick figure boy next to it. The bird says hello to Daniel. He smiled. He inspected what I wrote, pointed to each word, and waited for me to repeat them out loud again.

“Shirley! Tom!” A woman called my parents’ names from behind us.

My mom twisted around in her chair. Lucy and her parents picked their way to us through beach towels and chairs. My mom stood and waved to them, then pointed to the sand next to us. “Hello—Bill, Mary!” A red line of sunburn ran along her swimsuit’s shoulder strap.

Mr. and Mrs. Peterson set up their chairs next to ours. Lucy set down her beach towel but stood next to me with her lips pressed together. Her eyes darted to the left and right, like she was looking for someone.

“Imagine running into you here,” Mr. Peterson said with a fake chuckle. He had already taken his shirt off. His gut swayed over the waistband of his swimsuit when he dropped into his chair.

“I know, it’s shocking—us and everyone else in town. Out sweltering together,” my dad said. “At least we have these.” He reached into the cooler and took out two cans of beer. He passed one to Mr. Peterson. The cans hissed sharply when they popped the tabs.

Mrs. Peterson put her chair next to my mother’s and said, “It is a hot one.” Her swimming suit had shorts built into it—the kind of bathing suit you see in catalogs sent to middle-aged women, promising to make them two sizes smaller. But her thighs squeezed out of the shorts in little rolls. “Oh, who is that on the cover?” She pointed to the actress on the cover my mother’s magazine. “She looks terrible.”

“Yes, I know,” my mother said happily.

Lucy sat down but stared straight ahead at the water. She scowled, and said, “It smells like something died.”

“It’s the vinegar on our towels,” I said.

Lucy rolled her eyes. “Why are all these people sitting on the beach, when it smells like dead fish?” She dramatically waved her hand in a circle, indicating the air all around us. “What is with the people in this town?”

“Very funny, honey,” Mrs. Peterson said brightly while Mr. Peterson quietly hissed, “Lucy.”

“I’ve got other things I could be doing.” She plopped down onto a towel next to me. “I have an audition in Milwaukee next week, for the ballet orchestra.”

“You kids work too hard,” Mrs. Peterson said. “I used to spend my entire summer at the beach working on my tan.”

“I always say it’s good to take some time off. Especially if you’re young,” my mom said.

“If I don’t get the part in Milwaukee, I’m never going to a forced family fun day event again,” Lucy said. She uncapped a bottle of suntan oil and started rubbing it on her legs. “You might as well do something while you’re stuck here, you know? Like at least we can get a tan.”

“Yeah,” I said.

She looked at my legs. “How’d you get so tan?”

“Just happened, I guess.” Next to Lucy’s, my legs looked thin and childlike, even if they were brown from spending my days outside with Daniel. My feet were callused and dirty from being barefoot and playing in the backyard. I pushed them under the sand.

Daniel shifted his weight away from me. I said to him, “I’m sorry. We can finish the stories.” But he scooted to the end of the towel and started drawing in the sand again. He was adding more birds to his sky.

Lucy carefully rubbed oil on her arms. “What’s with him?” she asked, frowning at Daniel’s noises.

“Lucy, don’t be rude,” said Mrs. Peterson. Then she said in a quieter tone to my mother, “How is Daniel doing?”

“He’s fine,” my dad said. “He’s just a little bit of a late talker.”

“Yes,” my mother said quickly, “He’s really coming along. And for now Rosie talks enough for the both of them!”

“Right,” my dad said.

“Ha!” Mr. Peterson said, as if it were a funny or true statement. “I bet you do, Rosie. If you’re anything like the women in my family!”

I lay down on my stomach so that my head was by Daniel’s drawing. “Very nice,” I whispered to him. “I really like all the birds.”

“Rosie,” my mom said. She tapped my feet. “It’s rude to leave a conversation without excusing yourself.” I remembered my feet were dirty on the bottom and quickly sat up. I hoped Lucy hadn’t noticed.

“Have you ever tried that no-chip polish? I want to know if it works. I always wreck my nails.” She sighed. “Because of my violin.”

“No, not yet,” I said. I balled up my hands so Lucy couldn’t see the dirty edges around my fingernails. Her eyes flicked to them anyway.

Daniel went to our mom and touched her magazine. It was how he asked people to read to him. She had her eyes closed and didn’t notice.

“I’m going for a walk,” Lucy announced. She stood up.

“How refreshing,” said my mom. She fanned herself with her hand. “Rosie why don’t you go, too? You can have some girl talk.”

“Good idea!” Mrs. Peterson said. “You don’t want to hang around here!”

I said, “There’s nowhere to go,” at the same time that Lucy said, “You’re right.”

Lucy walked down the beach looking straight ahead with her eyebrows slightly raised. I trudged beside her. She moved like she knew boys should be looking at her and said, “Thank god. I thought I was going to have to spend the whole day with them. My parents are so embarrassing.”

“Yeah. Mine too, I guess.” I looked back to see Daniel drawing in the sand again. The back of my neck prickled, seeing him there without me.

“They just wanted us to leave so they could complain. Probably about us. Or gossip. They’re so nosy. This town is basically unlivable.” She waved her hand again in a circle. “Andthis smell.” Her eyes darted again.

“Totally,” I said. “You’re right. These fish are gross.” Her neck and back were perfectly straight, her chin tilted slightly to the left. I imagined she was trained to hold her body like that from playing the violin. It made her appear more graceful and beautiful than she actually was. Still, I tried to match her steps and look around in the same way.

The beach was combed every morning, but the fish kept drifting in throughout the day. The unlucky teenagers who worked for the park district had to come in every few hours to drag a rake along the water’s edge. They pulled each new batch of alewives into a pile that snaked along the far edge of the beach. The day’s accumulation of dead fish had baked to a crisp in the sun. They coiled in on themselves, the way leaves do in fall, like if they huddled that way they could keep themselves alive.

“You like classical music?” I asked.

“Obviously,” she said. “Why, do you?”

“I don’t know. Some of it, maybe.”

“Most people don’t appreciate it, especially around here. Hence, I’m just biding my time in this hellhole,” she said. “Oh god—it’s Kyle.” I followed her gaze and saw two thick, solid-looking boys standing with their feet in the water. “He’s hot, and a senior. Don’t make it obvious,” she whispered, “but let’s go down there. Like we were going to the water anyway.”

I didn’t point out that we were already walking towards the water. I looked back, just for a moment. Daniel had followed us. He was walking where the sand met the water, clutching his storybook and a marker. I didn’t say anything to him but let him follow. My mom should have been watching him. I glanced back again, but I couldn’t pick her out of the crowd of mothers.

“Hey, Lucy,” one of the boys yelled.

“Hey,” Lucy called back breathily, like she’d been running.

“What’s up?” Kyle said when we got near them.

“Nothing much,” said Lucy. She tossed her hair. “Just avoiding the parents.”

“For real,” he said. “Us too.” He gestured to the boy beside him. I could see a ring of acne peppered around his shirt collar, but he was cute. I recognized him from the baseball games Daniel and I go to at the park near our house. He played on the team sponsored by the Pick n’ Save grocery store. He stood stiffly at Kyle’s side. Every few seconds he looked at me then glared at the sun. I thought about the freckles polka-dotted across my nose, how they were the same as those on Daniel’s nose.I wished I were wearing something cute, like Lucy’s sundress. Even with the heat rising off the sand, her dress had the crisp, stiff look of something that hadn’t been worn before. She tilted one of her hips. Her dress’s skirt caught the breeze. “Oops,” she said. “Don’t mean to expose myself.”    

“Yeah, right,” Kyle said. “You don’t fool me with all your classy behavior.” He raised his eyebrows.

“Shut up,” Lucy said. She punched him in the arm. She twisted her fingers in the hem of her skirt, in her hair, smiled out of the side of her mouth. I stood awkwardly. I didn’t know where to look. My shirt stuck to my back. I picked at the fabric and pulled it away from my skin, like plastic from a cheese slice. I tried not to think about Daniel.

“So, who’s your friend?” asked Kyle. “Another violin player?”

“It’s ‘violinist,” Lucy said. She narrowed her eyes at me. “But no. This is my neighbor, Rosie.”

“Hey.” I fluffed my hair and let the fishy breeze blow through it.

“Ra-ose,” I heard and turned around. Daniel crouched on the sand behind us. His back and shoulders were turning a slightly angry pink. He gripped the black marker in one hand and held open his book against the sand with the other. The pages flapped in the wind. He was drawing more birds. There was no house or tree in this picture, no ground, just sky and birds. He began making his sound, like a soft build-up to a cough, a tiny engine that never turns over. Heat rose on my cheeks.

“What’s that about?” Kyle asked.

“That’s a freaky noise,” his friend said.

“God, I know,” said Lucy.

“Daniel!” I said. I leaned over and grabbed at his wrist. “Can’t you be quiet?” I pulled his hand away, and the book, caught in a gust of wind, flew into the air. Daniel reached out for it. But it was already too far above him. It blew towards the lake. The cover flapped open and shut like a rectangular bird. It spun in a circle as it arced up, then landed in the water, almost to where the waves were breaking. It didn’t sink, but floated, unevenly rocking back and forth every time a wave foamed around it. Daniel was still holding the marker, his lips pressed tight. He stared at the water.

As I waded out to get it, the book bobbed up and down in the waves like a small tombstone. Something like a cloud, but dark grey, billowed out from under the book. It spread a little wider with each wave that passed under it. When I brought it back to shore, the pages were still intact. But when I opened it, black ink spread from the pages, the way blood seeps from a freshly scraped knee. Our words and drawings were running down my hands, on the sand over my feet, trickling back into the lake as the waves lapped around me. I clutched the book and wanted desperately to siphon the ink from the sand and lake and return it to the page.

“Daniel,” I said. “I’m sorry.” I touched his shoulder. “I’m sorry.” But he didn’t look up at me. Daniel knelt and started drawing birds in the wet sand at the edge of the water. I crouched next to him and wrote, “Rose.” I said it out loud the way he would. “Ra-ose,” I said. “Ra-ose, Ra-ose,” I whispered. He kept drawing, right over my name. Except now his birds were flying upside down, like they were supposed to be his book flying towards the water. Some of the bigger waves washed away his drawing. He didn’t seem to notice.

“Ra-ose,” I said again.

But he was still quiet.

To the left, Kyle and his friend beat and swiped at the pile of alewives with pieces of driftwood. Their laughter was deep and jagged. The dead fish flung into the air with each hit. Lucy jumped and twisted the hem of her skirt in a fist. She squealed. The boys jerked their arms around in a way that made it clear they prided themselves on the brute force that would make them men in this place.

Betsy Finesilver Haberl's recent fiction has appeared in Hypertext Review and is forthcoming in Jet Fuel Review. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University. She is also a curator for Sunday Salon Chicago, one of the city's longest-running literary reading series. She was born and raised in northeastern Wisconsin, but now lives in Evanston, Illinois, with her family.

Water Glaze is an XXX by Joshua H. Baker. Joshua lives in Oregon, where he works for the U.S. Postal Service.  His writing has appeared in Cirque, The Opiate, Madswirl, and Foliate Oak, while his photography has been featured in literary journals, calendars, and on gallery walls. In his spare time he enjoys hiking and meditating at the beauty-and-refuse-rich seams between civilization and nature.  

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