If a Wave Doesn’t Come and Wash Me Away
by Ethan Brightbill
There is a ridge, almost a small cliff, made where the Atlantic bites into the sand. The waves have created a vertical face, a drop dividing the beach in two. It begins at our feet and extends before us beyond the curve of the shore, growing higher as it does. Above this ridge the shore is dry and shifts beneath our feet, making each step difficult. The way below is easier. The water still rushes up to wear away the sand, but it’s low tide now, and for now at least there’s room enough for a person to walk between ridge and the ocean.
“What if a wave comes and washes us away?” she asks.
I tell her it won’t and start down the way by the water.
She pauses before walking up the ridge, close yet farther and farther away as the escarpment rises. “But what if one does come? You won’t be able to get out in time.”
That’s true. The ridge is four or five feet high, and while I could throw my body over the side, the sand would collapse beneath me if I tried. But I don’t care. It has taken a long time to get here, and it hasn’t been cheap. I won’t wait, and I won’t walk a step farther where the sand is never cooled by the water, where broken shells remain far from the calming, smoothing influence of the sea. I tell her I’ll be fine.
We walk. I want to stand still, feel the sandy water swirl around my feet in maelstroms that go nowhere, but she walks, and I walk. Eventually she speaks again. “Once we get back, we won’t have long before we move. Are you worried?”
I don’t want to talk about whether or not I am worried, but that is okay because she is worried, worried about car accidents and families and futures. As she talks, I see rows of clams embedded in the scarp face. They’re still alive, but the colored stripes they form remind me of dinosaur bones buried in layers of rock, each one denoting a dead era. I think of the last time I saw my childhood room and the piles of textbooks on top of novels, toy dinosaurs on top of plastic whales, endings on top of endings. No force can sweep them away.
Then I realize she is done speaking, that now I must speak. And all I ask, all I say, is “What?”
She looks at me before she walks away. As she grows smaller, I think about how I have come here every year of my life, first with family, then friends, and now her, and how I will come here every year in the future as well. I wanted that once, and maybe I still do.
I feel sand and shells beneath my feet, between my toes, all around me, and I am sinking, sinking, sinking.
Ethan Brightbill lives in the Midwest and has a BFA in creative writing from Penn State. His fiction can be found in Transcendence Magazine, and he won Defenestrationism’s 2014 fiction contest. He’s visited the ocean every year of his life and intends on always doing so.