Saltwater

by Rachael Cudlitz

Last winter, in a moment of weakness, I promised the children a holiday at the beach. The trip wasn’t mentioned all spring, and I’d foolishly assumed it’d slipped the boys’ minds. We’d all been so consumed with baseball and hating school, I’d forgotten the promise myself, content to plan a summer filled with lifeguarded days at the public pool and the low-rent summer camp run by the city. But not two days after they’d been released from the clutches of Jefferson Elementary, my young boys engaged in a relentless campaign of whining and badgering until I showed them proof of lodging and pinkie promised styrofoam boogie-boards upon arrival.

There were times in preparing for this trip I seriously thought about walking into the street with the intention of being hit by a bus. Not fatally mind you – just whacked hard enough to land myself in traction for a fortnight. Long enough to avoid the ridiculousness of my current situation: massive bum displayed to the world on Mission Beach, sweat prickling across my brow like beetles. Instead, I’d be surrounded by the ping and pull of various medical machines, lulled in to a desperate dream my actual life was different than the one I seem to be living. I’d dream myself living the life promised years ago. The life shattered when my husband died and I was left alone. What keeps me from desperation is practicality. Who would care for my children? I’ve no family to speak of. A neighbor, perhaps? The state? No, better to walk through the door of my misery and let the children have their fun. No one will suffer but me.

Now sitting under a battered, oversized umbrella, watching the boys as they splash at the water’s edge and dig large pits in the sand, I know I’ve made the right decision to live up to my promise. I don’t even scold them when they beat each other about with the boards. Boys will be boys after all.

Close to the water’s edge a cluster of teenagers gather and claim territory. They’ve come in twos and threes, each group dragging long boards and coolers. Every one of them birthed by Gods. Boys tall and toned, covered in long lean muscle, casually flex and stretch as they talk and saunter down to the waterline. Girls equal in their perfection, tanned with tight bellies, giggle as their high ponytails swish across their backs and tickle the knotted bows of string bikinis. I can’t help but think it a travesty how high and round a teenage girl’s breasts can be. Warm globes filled with so much promise, but in the end – simply the height of false advertising. Nurse a child or two and things shift dramatically. Everyone’s disappointed then.

Wrangling a seven- and ten-year-old is more than I can take most days. Add the planning, the gear, the slow difficult trek across the sand, the constant comforting bake of the sun, and I feel myself pulled under by a heavy wave of exhaustion. Sleeping could be disastrous. I deliberately shift into an uncomfortable position – elbows grinding into the sand, a bright, green plastic shovel pressed into my hip – just to keep myself lucid.

I marvel at how strangely sound travels at the beach. The churning of the ocean waves and the whisper of the constant wind deadens hearing. My ears feel like they’re filled with cotton wool. Children not ten feet away sound like they’re miles off and I only discover people walking close when a sprinkle of sand scatters across my towel. Seagulls with their high mournful screams sound more like memories than actual birds fighting over an abandoned picnic lunch. And yet, through this deafness I hear snippets of conversation. A woman twenty paces away asks her husband to pass her a sandwich. An infant bothered by the sun mews. Wicked laughter from the cluster of teens, echoes over the sound of the pounding surf and slowly drifts passed my towel before it’s lifted and scattered by the ocean breeze. Maybe it’s a feature of the wind, or perhaps I’m being selective, but as I roll and shift on my towel I know the teens churlish laughter is for me. The wind carries it right to my ears, I cannot help but hear them.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The complete story is available in the Askance collection “Saltwater And Other Stories“.

Rachael Cudlitz resides in Los Angeles. She attended CalArts, receiving a BA in Theatre. A degree she no longer uses as she has spent most of the last 21 years parenting and traveling the world. She started writing seriously four years ago and loves the challenge of both short and long form. She has just completed her first novel Mother’s Girl, a Magical Realism Mystery and is currently working on the sequel The Girl in the Cage. Her first published short story, Some Souls Stay, recently appeared in the anthology Lost Souls, by Flametree Press.

Beach glasses photo credit: Sai Kiran Anagani via Unsplash.

If you enjoyed Rachel Cudlitz’s story please leave a comment for her below.

You might also like Blueprint For The End Of The World, another story from the Winter Story Competition.

 

27 thoughts on “Saltwater

  1. Excellent! I can identify with the mother to some extent. And the retired teacher in me would find the one misspelled word. Congratulations on the win!

  2. I felt like I was there at the beach and reminisced about watching salt water taffy machines. I also have obese friends and though Rachael does not appear to be obese she had perfect insight to their feelings, especially at the beach. It’s a beautiful story and makes you want to reach out to the character. Bravo! A definite winner!

    1. Thank you so much. Part of the enjoyment I get from writing is to ask myself what someone else’s experience of this life is. I may not get it “right.” But I hope, I find some kernel of truth that we all share.

  3. Wonderful, Rachael!
    You drew me in to the characters so that I could truly feel the environment, and identify with all people, as well as circumstances. You are so very talentented. Thanks for sharing it!

  4. You are like Stephen King you pull us into the story, the smells, feelings and joy loved it. As we ladies age we pretend some of us do, that we hear but do not believe it. We still think we are hot and everything is where it’s supposed to be, but they are not. Thank you for a good read

  5. Finding an author that writes so poetically, and with such great humor and depth of character, is now possible – please, if you could write a giant novel for us again! Congratulations on your win from this priceless gem!

  6. Wow! I wanted to know more about this lonely women. Kinda reminds me about me in my earlier days, 2 husbands ago. Congratulations #MamaCudlitz keep writing 👊👊

  7. Your words held me to the story, I tried to skip away but couldn’t. Some stories are easy to pull away from, this wasn’t.

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