The Beach

by Alan Harris

Barb Ver SluisThe first Saturday of the summer always finds us at the lake.  Mom, Dad, annoying sister, Grandpa and me stake out our spots along the beach, soaking up the sun and people-watching.

“Who does he think he’s talking to?” Dad asked.

“Why don’t you get off your beach towel and ask him?” Mom replied.

We drove an hour to get to the lake—not just any pond or puddle. No sir.  Lake Michigan surrounds you like the horizon at sundown; tempting you like books in a library when you know you could never read them all.  I hear Lake Michigan and its endless waves remind some people of the ocean, some people like Grandpa.

“I’m not asking my father anything,” Dad said.  “He hasn’t started a conversation with me since the day I was born.  Why should I even try anymore?”

I also heard the ocean’s cleaner than any lake.  I don’t know.  I’m probably the only 11-year-old boy in the world who’s never seen the sea. But Grandpa’s been to shores all over the world, places with funny names like Iwo Jima and Ford Island.

“Oh, that’s right, talking to fathers doesn’t run in your family,” Mom said.

Lake Michigan was cold but the sun kept us warm.  We may have all looked different, sounded different, but we all smelled the same thanks to Coppertone.

“He started that tradition,” Dad replied.

Mom looked around the beach like she was searching for someone.  “So that explains it.”

As a ladybug landed on my nose, a sea gull swooped over my head trying to grab a Kit Kat right out of my hand.  As Mom and Dad talked I thought to myself, Explains what?

“Explains what?” Dad asked.

Mom smiled, put her big sunglasses on and stretched out on her towel.  Grandpa kept a careful watch on the water, mumbling to himself.  My little sister was showing off her stupid gymnastics as she walked by him—on her hands.  Grandpa and I ignored her.

“Stop ignoring me,” Dad said to Mom.  “Explains what?”

Mom answered as the sunshine lit up her face.  “It explains why your oldest son isn’t here to enjoy the beach—with his father.”

My older brother stayed at home again this year.  He never goes with us to the beach.  He pretty much never goes on any family outings—especially if Dad’s there. Grandpa kept mumbling to himself as he searched the water.  He stood at the shoreline for a good hour allowing the waves to gain ground on his toes, only to watch the water retreat again and again.  When his conversation with the wind finally wrapped up, Grandpa started walking up and down the beach like he was patrolling a perimeter. He marched back and forth as though waiting for orders to stand down.  While Grandpa walked my sister decided to prove just how annoying she could be at the beach.  Shelby kicked sand all over my towel. Sand even got on my Kit Kat.  At Lake Michigan cartwheels are just a messy way to show off.

But with or without little sisters, with or without my family talking to and about each other, I love the beach at Lake Michigan—and I’m not the only one.  I’ve noticed how Ladybugs love the beach. Sea gulls, who have never seen the sea, they love the beach too.  It’s even possible that Grandpa loves the beach as much or more than any of us, despite his silence.  The look in his glass eye, as it reflected Lake Michigan, looked to me like love.  But still there was something in his good eye that made me cautious. Eleven year olds might not be right all the time.  What I saw in that good eye of his could have gone either way. If not love it might have been something closer to fear.  Either way, I’ve never seen love or fear that deep in a good eye.

Maybe he was looking for something that was supposed to wash up on shore.  Or he might just of been remembering something or someone just beyond the horizon—maybe both.  But nothing floated to shore this year.  Nothing ever does. The only shadows upon the waves belonged to sea gulls swooping towards us like fighter planes.

“Ooooh, look at the birdie,” my sister pointed out with her toes as she stood on her head.

A sea gull swooped in low from the water right at her.

“That’s a sea gull, Stupid,” I said, as politely as a big brother could.

Grandpa squinted with his good eye as though he had recognized something—something he’d been waiting for.  Standing bravely before the sea gull’s descent, Grandpa finally spoke up.

“That’s a strafing pattern,” he said softly.

“What’s a chafing pattern?” my sister asked. But Grandpa didn’t answer.  He looked over at Dad, then at the rest of us.  He looked around at the ladybugs, the sea gulls and once again at the waves crawling across the peaceful sand—advancing on our position.He saw all he wanted to see of Lake Michigan, finally turning his back to the beach.   Grandpa surveyed the sky in all directions before cautiously retreating to the safety of the parking lot.


Category: Short Story